Political Activism in Paint

lh 2

Image from diaspora-artists.net

When I first encountered Lubaina Himid’s paintings and installation pieces, I didn’t understand how such vibrant, vital work could have emerged from such a colourless place as Preston, a city in Lancashire close to where I grew up, and the place where Lubaina lives, paints and teaches. The streets of this place are visibly afflicted by the symptoms of Conservative Britain: chronic unemployment, abandoned infrastructure, and a serious lack of anything much to do. 

Lubaina’s house is a reprieve – she invited me in through her yellow door on a damp August afternoon, and made tea that we drank in her studio. The conversation was wide-ranging and at some points slightly combative. A month after the piece was published, Lubaina became the first black woman to win the Turner Prize

Lubaina Himid won’t read this article. As she will tell me later, the debates that happen in the headlines often represent the aspects she finds least important in her own practice. It is precisely her lack of interest in superficial debate that instils her work with a sense of energetic focus that she has held to steadfastly across four decades.

This interview was published by the excellent Corridor8, here.

Advertisements

On Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell Between Winston Churchill and TE Lawrence

Following the release of a documentary on her life and writings, I was desperate to write a piece on Gertrude Bell – archaeologist, linguist, traveller and politician. Despite her deeply problematic role within British colonial rule, I find it difficult not to be impressed by her strength of character, her style, her relentless intellect, and her fearless personal ambition. 

In July 1926, the funeral of an Englishwoman was held in Baghdad. Attendees included Faisal I, the king of Iraq, who was said to have observed the carriage of her coffin from his private balcony, to the cemetery that now lies unkempt and overgrown in a city scarred by a century of conflict.

Variously described as Queen of the Desert, Kingmaker, Nation Builder, and by one drastically misinformed man as “a little wisp of a human being, said to be a woman” (a remark made circa 1916 by General Sir George MacMunn, the inspector general of communications in Mesopotamia) Gertrude Bell is most regularly associated with the establishment of the nation of Iraq, known previously as Mesopotamia.

The full article continues here.

Acting Out

I was asked to write a survey of feminist performance art for Canvas magazine. The movement is strongly tied to the geo-political context of feminism in Europe and America during the 1960s and 70s, so I wanted to relocate the discussion within a global context, and particularly to consider artists from the Arab world. 

FEATURE-FEMINIST ARTFEATURE-FEMINIST ART 2FEATURE-FEMINIST ART 3

Beyond Boundaries

Sabr Dri Photography, The Deer on the Road, 2016. Photograph. Courtesy the artist, YSP and ArtRole

I travelled up to Yorkshire Sculpture Park on the first nice day of 2017, to review Beyond Boundaries: Art By Email, an exhibition that focused on how border controls exert limits on creativity. These restrictions helped to frame the boundaries of the exhibition itself, which invited work only from artists who would find travel to the UK prohibitively difficult. 

It is in the digital realm, in the dissolution of territory and nation, where art and ideas are made free. This, at least, is the philosophy at the source of Beyond Boundaries: Art By Email, a collaboration between Yorkshire Sculpture Park and ArtRole that brings art from the Middle East to the North of England. Initially conceived as a more conventional on-site exhibition, the curators were forced to review in order to circumvent the border restrictions experienced by artists who attempt to travel from the Middle East region to the UK in order to show work. An open call invited submissions that could be transmitted by email, from artists who would find travel to the UK prohibitively difficult. The outcomes are more interesting than might originally have resulted from a more general commission, as questions are posed about the function and efficacy of border procedures and the limits of creativity.

You can read the full review here.

The Sea Suspended

jala-aidun-evacuation-we-will-return
Shakir Hassan: Jala Aidun (Evacuation, We Will Return)

Next month, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art opens an exhibition of modern Arab art, extracted from the UAE-based Barjeel Foundation. The show – which marks a landmark cultural exchange between Iran and its Arab neighbours – comes in the midst of an ongoing wave of historicisation that seeks to rebalance art historical narratives that privilege Western artists.

What if you could suspend the cultural, political and geographical boundaries that separate and confine us? What if the sea that would drown you became solid, allowing you to walk across and greet your neighbours? In bringing Arab Modernism to Tehran, The Sea Suspended imagines such a meeting, and extends a historical invitation to reflect on a shared modern heritage.

The article continues here.

Creative Complaining

DEARBILLIONAIREARTCOLLECTOR.jpg

I was so excited to see the Guerrilla Girls in London. I didn’t know that their project was still as active as in the 1980s, or that they’ve been working so prominently in Europe. Their work continues to be performatively scandalous, but this exhibition is rooted in a dogged examination of data that reveals the enduring perversion of the art world: a tedious subservience to wealth and power. 

The Guerrilla Girls know how to silence a room. Dressed head-to-toe in black, their faces concealed behind snarling masks, the impression is something between a gang of bank robbers and superheroes in disguise. It’s unexpected when they speak in bright, amiable tones, approaching visitors to shake hands and pose for pictures. The somewhat jarring incongruity in this approach echoes the central tension between aggression and playfulness in their work, at its most distinctive in the lurid pink and yellow billboards that splashed shameful statistics on racial and gender imbalances in the art world during the 1980s.

Ms. and BUST have published the whole article here and here.

Around the World and Back Again

side-1

I was asked by Salaam Gateway to write a monthly column about Islamic Art. In this first piece, I looked at the restitution of an important Afghan bowl as a way of framing a larger question about cultural heritage. 

It’s difficult to get a grip on the meaning of cultural heritage. Notions of belonging, value, and memory can seem abstract and academic, but the discovery of a trafficked object has pushed these ideas into a more tangible framework. In a case that involved collectors, an auction house, and two museum authorities, the private market worked in tandem with the public sector towards a resolution that didn’t prioritise personal or corporate profit. Instead, a piece of cultural heritage, stolen over twenty years ago, was recovered and restored to its rightful context. The object in question, an Islamic tinned copper vessel, was ripped from its place in the National Museum of Afghanistan and condemned to obscurity for two decades before bobbing once again to the surface earlier this year.

The rest of the piece is here.