Diaspora Pavilion/Venice to Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
10 February – 29 April 2018

Reviewed by Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography, Coventry University

susan pui san lok. ‘Untitled (West)’ (2018), shimmer curtain installation at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Image courtesy Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Diaspora Pavilion/Venice to Wolverhampton, is an exciting exhibition which is not aligned to a specific artistic practice. The topic of the exhibition is to showcase contemporary practices that respond to themes of displacement, migration and identity. Originally exhibited as part of the 57th Venice Biennale, this reconfiguration of the Diaspora exhibition, curated by David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor, features the work of seven multi-disciplinary artists; Larry Achiampong, Kimthi Donker, Michael Forbes, Paul Maheke,  susan pui san lok, Erika Tan, and Abba Zahedi. Each of the artists deal with concerns around diasporic identities, in different ways. Having seen the Diaspora Pavilion exhibition in Venice, I was expecting to make comparisons between the same work in a different space. However, this is not the case. In rethinking the work for Wolverhampton Art Gallery, the emphasis has changed. There is a smaller selection of artists involved in this reiteration of the exhibition. In doing this, each practice has the freedom to stand independently of each other and has the space in which to breathe.

 

The integrity to the hang is a crucial factor when looking at this work. It has been curated to respond to a permanent collection in the art gallery. Careful attention to how and where the works are situated is evident. This achieves fascinating inter-connections between the Diaspora exhibition work and other exhibitions on display. Such as placing pui san lok’s Golden, which is inspired by nostalgia, in the same vicinity as the V&A Museum of Childhood’s exhibition Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. Although the intention of both exhibitions are disparate, there is a synergy to playful treatment of the two exhibits. The hanging of Donker’s paintings is another good example of the highly considered curation. The theme of Donker’s paintings draw on historical figures associated with black emancipation. However, his work candidly challenges official visual storytelling of enslavement. What is inspiring about the hang, is in where the paintings are positioned in the gallery. They sit in first floor Victorian and Georgian Galleries. In terms of content, historical context and style, they fit well within these spaces. Nonetheless, in confronting traditional Euro-centric depictions of enslavement, power and ownership, these paintings directly challenge the historical paintings and artefacts they sit alongside. This combination creates an unsettling visual disjuncture which cannot be ignored.

 

Kimathi Donkor, ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture at Bedourete’ (2004), oil paints on linen, 136 x 183 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

 

The works on show as part of the Diaspora exhibition are visually stimulating and conceptually important bodies of work to be showcasing in Brexit-ing Britain. I am certain that is it is no coincidence that the showing of Diaspora Pavilion/Venice to Wolverhampton, overlaps with the Apna Heritage Archive exhibition, which also focuses on themes of diaspora and migration. Both are exhibitions that seek to remind us that there are many voices that make up this sceptred isle, voices that need to be seen and heard.

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