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The 6 bursary artists for Living Memory have been announced. Working alongside 6 commissioned artists, the bursary artists will be working with partner venues across the Black Country to undertake new research circling community, archives and photography in Sandwell.

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

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.

Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography, Coventry University, reflects on her experiences of and the wider impact of Diaspora Pavilion/Venice to Wolverhampton.

Apna Heritage Archive Exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Apna Heritage Archive Exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

The Apna Heritage Archive 
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
13 January – 18 March 2018

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

 

In a triangular exhibition space, in Wolverhampton Art Gallery sits the current exhibition, the Apna Heritage Archive. This exhibition brings together different strands of research that seek to raise the visibility of the Punjabi community in the West Midlands, a community that makes up 15% of the local population. There are four threads to this exhibition.

 

The first thing the audience encounters on entering the gallery are a wide selection of vernacular family photographs that are drawn from the Heritage Lottery funded Apna Heritage Archive. The archive, which took two years to collect, brings together historic family photographs of the Punjabi community in the West Midlands, taken between 1960 and 1989. These photographs document and memorialise personal moments such as births, marriage and leisure activities. In doing this, they stand as testament to three decades of sociocultural change within the British Asian diasporic narrative. In the gallery space, the archival photographs are historically indexed and projected on rotation across the wall. On an opposing vivid pink wall, sit contemporary photographic portraits of the first Punjabi settlers in the West Midlands. These photographs were taken by Anand Chhabra and Sarvji Sra, the founders of the Apna Heritage Archive, who are also part of the local Punjabi community. The third wall presents photographic portraits made in collaboration with Chhabra, Sra and students at St Luke’s Primary School. In the centre of the gallery, are four glass cabinets that house the ephemera collected alongside vernacular family photographs. These include both open and closed Punjabi family photography albums, vintage cameras, negatives and historical identity cards.

 

Apna Heritage Archive Exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

 

It is in an inclusive exhibition that uses multiple methodologies with which to engage different generations of participants. Each strand of the exhibition draws from broader bodies of work. For instance, only a fraction of the 2000 vernacular Apna Heritage Archive photographs are on display. In working with photography and photographic objects in different ways, the exhibition appeals to a diverse range of visitors. To date, it is well attended and has seen new audiences enter the gallery space. Beyond the curiosity of looking at other people’s family photographs, visitors from the Punjabi community are invited to find photographs of themselves, friends and family members using the catalogue system provided. Connections have been made between the contemporary photographs and the Apna Heritage Archival photographs, with the same people appearing in both collections of photographs, at different historical moments.

 

Apna Heritage Archive Exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

 

Patricia Holland, when writing about family albums, reminds us that their value is in preserving family histories. She points out personal histories also belong to wider collective narratives. In exhibiting this archive, rich in sociocultural information, the audience are invited to examine or re-examine the British Asian diasporic narrative. This is an important exhibition in terms of community recognition and without doubt, will be a rich research resource in the future.

 

APNA HERITAGE ARCHIVE EXHIBITION, WOLVERHAMPTON ART GALLERY

 

References

Spence, J., Holland, P. (1991) Family Snaps: The meaning of domestic photography. London: Virago Press Bottom of Form

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apna Heritage Archive exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery is reviewed by Caroline Molloy.

Jonny Bark, Inhabiting Edgelands

The Old Print Room, CET Building
25 November 2017 – 14 April 2018
Reviewed by Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer, Coventry University

 

Jonny Bark, Inhabiting Edgelands

 

 

Inhabiting Edgelands, sees the re-visualisation of Jonny Bark’s final BA (Hons) Photography degree work, as an immersive experience in the Old Print Room at the CET Building in Coventry. Once housing the printing press for the Coventry Evening Telegraph, the Old Print Room has transformed into an experimental space in which new installation strategies are investigated. This space has enabled Bark to conceptualise and produce his first independent solo exhibition, the re-imagining of Inhabiting Edgelands. Originally conceived in book format, the work has been reconfigured to occupy the vast 30 x 20 metre Old Print Room. The work inhabits three of the four walls, punctuated on one side by neon yellow pillars. The images are pieced together in a mosaic of low-fi A4 prints to create life-size landscape images. In the centre of the room lays collected ephemera from the edge lands research site. Accompanying the visuals, Bark has created a soundscape that situates the audience back into the edge lands.

 

Jonny Bark, Inhabiting Edgelands

 

Bark’s work moves away from traditional depictions of the picturesque landscape, redirecting us to the unnoticed and mundane. With the aim of drawing attention to the transitional spaces between the urban and the rural, Inhabiting Edgelands looks at these neglected liminal spaces. In order to investigate his research site beyond a tourist gaze, Bark camped out in the edge lands. In a formative showing of the work, the audience were required to travel to the edge lands to see the work on exhibition, in the environment where it was made. In placing the work within the research site, Bark demonstrated an understanding of the relationship between his images and the landscape. The weather conditions of the edge lands interacted with the images on display and the longer they were left situated in the landscape, the more they deteriorated. This became the inspiration for the low-fi presentation strategy used in both the Inhabiting Edgelands book and this exhibition presentation.

 

Jonny Bark, Inhabiting Edgelands

 

In Inhabiting Edgelands, Bark reminds the audience of what it is like to ‘feel’ the geography of the landscape, as well as look at it. The overlooked and the everyday are at the centre of his work. It is a conceptual response to the landscape that raises questions about the politics in representing the environment. Using multi-sensory methodologies, the work succeeds in transcending its original photographic roots. This is not a spectator’s exhibition; it requires participation from the audience. To capture the essence of Bark’s large-scale work, the audience are required to move around the space, and whilst doing so they are accompanied by the blended environmental soundscape. Through this interaction, the audience are encouraged to think of the landscape as an experiential place.

 

The opportunity of using the CET building to exhibit Inhabiting Edgelands has proved to be an excellent opportunity for Bark to realise the work without restriction of space or time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caroline Molloy reviews Jonny Bark’s exhibition Inhabiting Edgelands at the CET Building, Coventry.