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Wolverhampton Arts and Culture Curatorial Officer Roma Piotrowska speaks to Contemporary Lynx about her career path and shares her insights for aspiring curators.

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In the latest instalment of National Highlights blog, featuring works selected by staff and volunteers at partner organisations, Roma Piotrowska, Curatorial Officer at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, chooses two very different works that both have a personal connection. – via The Courtauld Institute of Art

Keith Piper: Keith Piper: Body Politics. Work from 1982 – 2007, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, installation view, 2019. Photograph: Elona Photography.

Roma Piotrowska (right) with artist Phoebe Cummings during installation of her exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 2020.

We speak to Roma Piotrowska, Curatorial Officer for Arts and Culture at the City of Wolverhampton Council about her role, Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s collection and British Art Show 9.

 

Can you give us a little summary of what your job entails?

I am the Curatorial Officer for Arts and Culture at the City of Wolverhampton Council. My job involves coordinating and shaping the programme of exhibitions and events across Wolverhampton’s cultural sites, including Wolverhampton Art Gallery (where I am based), Wolverhampton City Archives, Bantock House and Bilston Gallery. I spend most of my time working on the Gallery’s exhibition programme.

 

What has it been like working with a collection?

Ikon Gallery (where I worked previously) does not have a collection, so I was keen to gain this kind of experience. I couldn’t have dreamt of a more exciting collection to work with than Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s. Our collection is vast, and part of our strategy is to link it closely to our contemporary programme, which excites me the most. Last year for example, we organised an exhibition of works by Keith Piper, which originated from the fact that we have two of his works in our collection.

In the 1960s the gallery started to amass a significant collection of Pop Art, including work by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Richard Hamilton among others. We now have the largest collection of Pop Art outside of London. This remains a collecting priority. We also have a significant collection of work by Black British artists. Building on the social and political issues inherent in the Pop collection, the gallery chose to focus on art which responded to contemporary society, especially looking at the themes of gender, identity and conflict. All these themes have been important to me in relation to art since I started my first gallery job at Wyspa Institute of Art, Gdansk, Poland in 2005.

Image: Keith Piper, The Seven Rages of Man (1984), installation view, Keith Piper: Body Politics. Work from 1982-2007, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 2019. Photograph: Elona Photography. Courtesy the artist and Museums Sheffield.

Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?

No, I don’t really. It is very difficult for an art professional to have a favourite work of art. There are pieces that I am proud we have in the collection because they are by artists whose practice I follow and admire, for example works by Yinka Shonibare, Richard Billingham, Keith Piper, Gillian Wearing, Larissa Sansour and Siobhan Hapaska.

Sometimes items that may seem to be less interesting, become fascinating in the right context. We have for example a collection of memorabilia connected to Royal Weddings, which normally wouldn’t be of my interest. We wanted to represent different stages of family life in relation to our Wolverhampton and Me exhibition, so we chose objects connected to Royal Weddings, such as stickers, commemorative beer bottles and ‘Charles & Diana’ brick. It was fascinating to learn more about those quirky objects and display them in a completely new context of an exhibition about family ties.

 

What are you working on at the moment? What are you looking forward to in the programme?

Before the Coronavirus outbreak we were working on our immediate programme but since the crisis started, the next few months are very much up in the air for us.

Very exciting and more in the future is British Art Show 9, which is planned to take place in Wolverhampton from February to May 2021. It is the most anticipated exhibition of cutting-edge contemporary art in Britain and it will be exhibited both at the Gallery and University of Wolverhampton. We are anticipating that the show will bring thousands of art-lovers to Wolverhampton from across the UK and beyond, putting our cultural offer firmly in the spotlight.

 

Find out more about Wolverhampton Arts and Culture here.

 

We speak to Roma Piotrowska, Curatorial Officer for Arts and Culture at the City of Wolverhampton Council about her role, Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s collection and British Art Show 9.

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.

Lucy McLauchlan, Birmingham Bt Pass showing at Centrala Art Gallery 8 July. Image credit Matt Watkins.

New Art West Midlands’ director Craig Ashley reflects on yesterday’s announcement from Arts Council England about investment to the region’s visual arts organisations through their National Portfolio for 2018-22.

Lucy McLauchlan, Birmingham By Pass showing at Centrala until 8 July. Image credit Matt Watkins.

Arts Council England’s National Portfolio for 2018-2022 will include thirteen West Midlands’ Visual Arts organisations, up from the current number of seven. This almost doubling of the visual arts contingent is great news for the region, and the sector is strengthened further through the inclusion of more organisations working under the categories of Museums and Combined Arts where there is increasing work in the widening realm of visual arts, and exploration of the innovative spaces between art forms.

With the exception of Birmingham’s The Drum, which closed last year due to a number of challenges and was consequently not in the running for this next round of funding, the current cohort of West Midlands-based National Portfolio Organisations working across Museums, Visual and Combined Arts remains unchanged and will continue to receive investment.

This is an active and positive endorsement of the great work being done in the region, and Arts Council’s decision provides a degree of certainty in uncertain times. Investment from other sources of income must continue to be a priority over the next four years, and the impact of this stabilising fund will allow the time to further develop and grow the opportunities for a wider and more diverse funding mix.

It is important of course that, within the context of some much needed good news for the arts, there is a balanced view. Where other areas of public funding for culture have been consistently cut in recent years, particularly the investment from our challenged local authorities, the National Portfolio money awarded through Arts Council demonstrates the absolute necessity of public money to secure and strengthen our creative output.

As recognised by the Creative Industries Federation, public money sits at the foundation of our £84b-a-year-and-growing creative industries sector, providing essential support at the start of careers and initiatives that go on to bring great success to Britain. Furthermore, anticipating the gap left by the withdrawal of EU funds beyond 2019 – subject of course to the ongoing Brexit negotiations – how do we shore-up and sustain future public investment in the arts? Arts Council England cannot do it alone, and a wider valuing of the arts in society must be a collective concern that we need to address together, within and beyond the visual arts.

The important and integral partnerships between our National Portfolio Organisations and others, both within and beyond the Creative Industries, will help to strengthen a platform for the visual arts over the coming years, and provide a firmer base to build upon for the future. From artists to arts organisations to educators and business, the benefit of the National Portfolio investment is channelled through the relatively few to the many.

So now is definitely a time to celebrate the achievement of those organisations and their supporters and partners that have strived to creative something crucial, critical and valuable. The National Portfolio status is something to be proud of, and an indicator of the valuable contribution organisations make as instigators, protectors, mediators, collaborators, risk-takers and trailblazers.

The inclusion of more organisations in the National Portfolio reflects the region’s growing confidence and the breadth of the work we do. Distinctively here in the West Midlands, the support for the smaller-scale, diverse, innovative and artist-led outfits bolsters the resilience of the visual arts ecology.

The collective strength of Birmingham’s Eastside organisations demonstrates the importance of working together to mutually support. Joining Eastside Projects in the National Portfolio are Centrala, Grand Union and Vivid Projects, all based in the Minerva Works complex in Digbeth, alongside Friction Arts at The Edge on Cheapside. This critical mass is a model that New Art West Midlands is keen to support elsewhere in the region, to ensure sustainability alongside critical success.

Our museums continue to get the support they desperately need and deserve, with Birmingham Museums Trust and The New Art Gallery Walsall receiving continued investment in the face of challenges with their respective local authority funding. Encouragingly, Wolverhampton Art Gallery receives an uplift from 2018 and they are joined in the National Portfolio by Culture Coventry (The Herbert Art Gallery) and Compton Verney, both of whom become regularly funded through Arts Council for the first time.

The region’s reputation for distinctive festivals shines through the Portfolio, with BE Festival and Fierce now joined by Flatpack, Shout, Capsule’s Supersonic Festival, and the Stoke on Trent-based British Ceramics Biennial. And in terms of innovation, BOM and Hereford-based Rural Media are supported to continue their leading roles in developing the territory within the scientific and digital realms. Wolverhampton’s Newhampton Arts Centre adds to the region’s complement of multi artform venues, widening the cultural offer in the Black Country.

These decisions demonstrate Art Council’s commitment to diversifying the National Portfolio, in terms of practice and geography as well as the protected characteristics including disability, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Among the existing National Portfolio, the Shropshire-based Disability Arts organisation DASH has received a significant uplift in their regular funding to expand their partnership work to commission disabled artists. DASH’s director Mike Layward commented:

“[This] is not only great news for the organisation as it secures our work across England for the next 4 years, but it’s also great news for the disabled artists we work with. The uplift will allow us to develop a new area of work with disabled children and young people who will be the disabled artists of tomorrow.”

New Art West Midlands’ director Craig Ashley reflects on yesterday’s announcement from Arts Council England about investment to the region’s visual arts organisations through their National Portfolio for 2018-22.

Aimee Millward, installation shot from Line.Form.Space at Eagle Works Gallery, Wolverhampton.

Aimee Millward was a New Art West Midlands exhibitor in 2016. Now studying for an MA in Fine Art at the University of Wolverhampton, she has recently developed an exhibition in collaboration with Dudley Archives and Local History Centre. Titled Virtual Mirrors (Intersection of the Real and Unreal), the exhibition explores the mapping of the Black Country through new paintings. Locations include Wren’s Nest Estate, Upper and Lower Gornal, Sedgley, Dudley and Wolverhampton.

Aimee Millward, installation shot from Line.Form.Space at Eagle Works Gallery, Wolverhampton.

 

How did the collaboration with Dudley Archives come about?

In the middle of my MA in Fine Art, I was developing and experimenting with new ways to interpret space and place. While producing a painting for the Mander Centre in Wolverhampton I was predominantly referring back to maps found on Google. However, I wanted to physically study some of these maps, so I decided to visit Dudley Archives to view their map collection. After that visit I found out that they had an exhibition space and approached their Senior Archivist Richard Lewis to see whether they would be interested in a collaboration of their maps and my paintings.

Can you tell me more about your fascination with maps and with the Black Country?

I’ve always enjoyed studying maps. It’s a simple pleasure to look at the variety of colours and shapes from a location that you are familiar with. I’m interested in looking at how that landscape has evolved over 150-200 years. I find it interesting how perspectives and locations are changed by looking down on to that environment, instead of studying what is physically around me. The view and sensations of walking through an estate or a public garden is totally different compared to looking down at a 2D map. That estate I have just walked through or the public garden I walk my dog across every day is dramatically simplified into a shape that you could not visualise within that area. The image that is painted on the reflected surface is an abstracted view of a location that has been reworked. The Black Country has a history and wealth of industrial heritage and can still evoke the 19th Century image of a dark and dingy landscape. By taking motifs from maps of this location, I explore and re-interpret the area that I have been surrounded by since birth, using vivid colours to juxtapose with this landscape.

How are you approaching the material through your painting?

For this exhibition I have experimented with painting on mirrors and canvas in acrylic paint. The use of a mirrored surface creates a space within a space. Using a mirror – a real useable object – instead of a traditional canvas surface allows for interaction and juxtaposition between the painted surface with the smooth, sleek reflection and an unreal space and a real space. The painted surface is a space which has been placed on top of a reflected surface that automatically creates a space. Both the painted space and the real space that is now on the other side of the mirror are all reflected, spaces within spaces. I am very interested in the writings of Michel Foucault in relation to his metaphor of a mirror acting as a heterotopia. I use the painting to act as a heterotopia.

By studying the maps I have selected a variety of motifs and reworked the composition, to bring an abstracted view of the Black Country. In some of my paintings I have focussed on one area of the Black Country but looked at maps from different eras. For instance the ‘Museum’, which is analysed by Foucault, contains artefacts from different times and places, one can literally travel through time in one place. In those paintings, motifs have been selected from a specific area alongside motifs from maps approximately 100-200 years previous.

What can visitors to the exhibition expect?

They can expect to view maps in a completely new way, in an imaginative way as something that they would not usually see. My paintings will be shown alongside some selected maps from Dudley Archives so the audience can study my process of developing the compositions and shapes from those maps.

What do you hope the project’s outcomes might be?

I hope to tour this project by maybe using different locations to work with and re-interpret.

What plans are upcoming for your work?

I am nearly coming to the end of my Master’s degree at the University of Wolverhampton and will be exhibiting my work at Wolverhampton Art Gallery – which is very exciting. I am currently expanding my paintings in size and within installation work so I am looking at locations to experiment in and exhibit in.

The exhibition runs Tuesday 6 June – Saturday 19 August 2017.        

 

Aimee Millward was a New Art West Midlands exhibitor in 2016 and has recently developed an exhibition in collaboration with Dudley Archives and Local History Centre titled Virtual Mirrors (Intersection of the Real and Unreal).