The last couple of weeks we’ve been learning about the origins of curating, collecting and museums. I’m interested in how modern museums, galleries and other arts organisations are critically questioning or rejecting their eurocentric legacy and focus. Many are committed to presenting a diverse range of work that challenges or casts new light on collections, and to showing new work created from a range of experiences and perspectives.
The New North and South is a network of 11 arts organisations in the North of England and South Asia (Whitworth Art Gallery, 2017). The Tetley in Leeds is part of the network.
There are some wonderful exhibitions over in Manchester too, as the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery are members of the network. I had time to pop into the latter after protesting outside the Tory party conference last week with Disabled People Against Cuts! How handy that the gallery was so close, it was great to be inspired by many of the works. Some highlights for me:
Beautiful, immersive, mind-boggling drawings made up of millions of tiny dots and pen strokes. In a dimly-lit room you have to get up close to see the patterns created, particularly in smaller works (Waqas Khan, 2017). Then I found myself drawn in even closer, wanting to see every separate mark and to really appreciate Khan’s dedication and technique. For the artist there is a meditative and spiritual foundation to his work. I certainly thought that these drawings reflected the wonder of nature and science, evoking microscopic forms as well as the vastness of the universe. Phew!
South Asian Design
Some of the best of contemporary design and craft, alongside objects from Manchester Art Gallery’s collection spanning the last three centuries, were shown in South Asian Design (2017). The screens by Adeela Suleman pictured at the top of this post, entitled After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies (2010), being a good example.
The bright shining steel and flocks of sparrows look so attractive and innocent, but the birds serve as symbols for the countless victims of gangland and politically motivated killings in Karachi, where Suleman is based.
I found this powerful message was underscored by the delicacy of the design and indeed by other items in this gallery, which included several gorgeous garments.
I enjoyed both moving image works by Patel that were on show in Manchester (Hetain Patel, 2017), but Don’t Look At The Finger (still image above) was so complex and unexpected, it made a strong impression. Hard to categorise, it’s a mash up of cultural references, styles and unspoken languages that adds up to something highly intriguing. It invites a myriad of questions: Where and when is this set? Who are these people? How has this ritual developed? It grabbed my attention at first with some effective use of sign language, but the staging, choreography and particularly the costumes had me hooked. I was even more impressed after I’d watched the series of behind-the-scenes interviews with Patel and the main collaborators.
Thinking about the curation of these exhibits:
- Individual artists were assigned different exhibition or installation titles and listings. They were part of an overall project, the New North and South, but were not grouped as one exhibition. Each therefore was given space and attention and, I feel, made more of an impact.
- Old and contemporary items were shown together in the design exhibition. This showed the vibrancy of all designs and clearly illustrated design traditions, whether these were upheld or subverted by contemporary designers.
- It was really helpful to be able to view behind-the-scenes filmed interviews – they added to my understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the work.
- The installations and exhibitions were in different parts of the gallery. So it felt like a takeover was going on and it was great that these works filled much of the gallery. However, it was easy to lose track of where everything was and perhaps not see it all.
Hetain Patel (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 30 September 2017 – 4 February 2018.
South Asian Design (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 19 May 2017 – 27 May 2018.
Suleman, A. (2010) After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies [Installation]. In South Asian Design (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 19 May 2017 – 27 May 2018.
Waqas Khan (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018.
Whitworth Art Gallery (2017) New North and South. Available at http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/whats-on/events/newnorthandsouth/about-the-programme/ (Accessed: 8 October 2017).