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.

Melanie Pocock

We speak with Melanie Pocock, the newly appointed curator at Birmingham’s Ikon gallery, to find out more about her background, research interests and plans for the future.

Melanie Pocock

What attracted you to your role at Ikon?

Ikon provides the kind of environment that artists and curators crave: a beautiful, signature architecture, where it’s possible to take risks and create vision. I was also attracted to Ikon’s size. It’s large enough to create ambitious exhibitions, yet small enough to feel their effects on artists and audiences.

I knew Ikon from my time working at Modern Art Oxford during my MA in Curating Contemporary Art. When Ikon advertised the role, the gallery was presenting The Aerodrome, an exhibition dedicated to the memory of Michael Stanley, who was curator of Ikon from 2002 to 2004 and Director of Modern Art Oxford when I was there. While not a deciding factor in my application, the exhibition did feel like a calling card! Michael’s desire to work side-by-side with artists greatly influenced me and is an approach which Ikon’s programme directly reflects.

The role came at a time when I was looking for a new challenge in an institution closer to home (I’m originally from London). I felt that the internationalism of Ikon’s programme, fostered over many years by current Director Jonathan Watkins, would enable me to contribute my on-the-ground experience in Asia.

What are you most looking forward to about working at the gallery?

In addition to Ikon’s scale and focus, I’d say the opportunity to work with a highly skilled, multi-disciplinary team. In the three months I’ve been here, I’ve been amazed by the expertise and achievements of Ikon’s staff, from the Facilities team’s development of the ‘Ikon lights’ (the gallery’s bespoke lighting system) to the Learning team’s incredible work on artist residencies and offsite programmes.

Since last week, and because of the confinement measures owing to Covid-19, myself and the Ikon team have all been working from home. It’s a big change, but one which I’m embracing—in the interim, at least! We’re already starting to use digital platforms and communication tools more effectively. The Facilities team has been incredible, helping us to get set up for remote working in an incredibly short amount of time.

Ikon exterior


What do you hope to achieve in the role?

Bringing artists to Ikon whose work has not yet achieved adequate recognition from the global art ‘system’, or which remains less visible due to issues of language or access, is a priority. I’m interested in consolidating strands of Ikon’s current programme—the role and meaning of painting today, as evidenced in John Walker’s recent exhibition, as well as contemporary artists’ relationship to Indigenous practices. Creating exhibitions and projects which embed artists’ ideas within the socio-cultural and material fabric of Birmingham is also something that I’d like to work towards.

What has excited you so far about Birmingham and/or the West Midlands region?

The history of art schools in the region—the Birmingham and Wolverhampton schools of art, established in 1843 and 1853 respectively, for example—is one that I find fascinating, especially having come from the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Singapore, which is affiliated with an art school (Lasalle College of the Arts). The aim of art schools in the West Midlands to foster artistic approaches to craft and design is vividly reflected in the region’s art history. It’s also a strong current in the work of younger artists, who are reviving this history through their employment of craft techniques like glassblowing and welding.

Can you tell us something about your upcoming projects at the gallery? What can audiences look forward to?

Yes—I certainly can! One project is a group exhibition, which will survey Ikon’s programme in the 1990s. Focusing on Elizabeth Ann Macgregor’s tenure as Director, it will include photography, painting, installation and video by over 40 artists whose work was presented at the gallery during this time. Apart from major works by renowned artists—Mark Wallinger, Adrian Piper and Yinka Shonibare, to name a few—the exhibition will reflect many of the decade’s critical debates on race and class politics. I’m also working on an exhibition by Krištof Kintera, a Czech artist who is known for his macabre sculptures and installations critiquing hypercapitalist systems and societies. It will be his first major solo exhibition in the UK and will occupy both floors of Ikon’s galleries.

We speak with Melanie Pocock, the newly appointed curator at Birmingham’s Ikon gallery, to find out more about her background, research interests and plans for the future.

The artist’s great great grandmother escaped a massacre by hiding underwater and breathing through reeds. Such astonishing stories of Indigenous Australian experience feed into this beautiful show that packs a punch. Hannah Clugston reviews Judy Watson at Ikon – via The Guardian

Not Your Harem Girl (2018), Farwa Moledina, detail shot, (digital print on fabric)

Artist Farwa Moledina, who showed at the end of 2019 as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, has recently taken part in an exhibition in Lahore, Pakistan. Curated by Ikon’s Director Jonathan Watkins and Aisha Khalid, A Rich Tapestry featured works by Farwa as part of Lahore Biennale collateral activity. Her works were shown alongside those by Mahtab Hussain, Matthew Krishanu  and Osman Yousefzada, alongside Pakistani artists Ali Kazim and Imran Qureshi.


We spoke to Farwa to find out more about her experiences of the project.


Not Your Harem Girl (2018), Farwa Moledina, detail shot, (digital print on fabric)


Can you tell me more about how the project opportunity arose?


Ikon will be showing the work of Aisha Khalid as part of their winter exhibition, and so this project came about through conversations on possible cultural exchanges between artists in Lahore and Birmingham.


Which works are you showing? How have these been developed?


I am interested in 19th Century Orientalist artworks and the way in which Western male painters depicted highly exotic and erotic versions of Muslim and Arab women from the Middle East and the Maghreb. Through my work, I try to subvert and reclaim the Orientalist narrative that is still so prevalent in current society.


For A Rich Tapestry, I am showing two new works entitled No one is neutral here and You must choose your part in the end. These works are a series of digital prints on polyester. In these an anonymous woman is photographed wrapped in a cloak that has been designed using elements of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque, a well-known Orientalist artwork from the 19th Century. The pattern includes a scanned-in image of an embroidery I created with the words ‘Not Your Harem Girl’ and also an image of a hand with a henna design I made from the same text; when combined these elements form a pattern that resembles Islamic geometric art.


I often work in layers, taking time to create embroidery and henna that then feature in the work – so even though the pattern is not entirely obvious within No one is neutral here and You must choose your part in the end, the process of making the cloaking fabric itself together with the text is an act of defiance and challenging Western male perceptions of Arab, Muslim and WOC, both in the 19th Century and even now.


The images are taken at the Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia) in Turkey, although that isn’t made obvious. I have attempted to negate the ‘exotic’ that is often associated with the East by steering away from the elaborate mosaic tiles and stereotypical ‘otherness’ that we are often identified with. Even though the location is not evident, I felt it was important to take this fabric back to Turkey and physically carry it around to photograph. This was part of the process for me, and my practice is as much process as it is the final work. The images are taken beside a column and beside a window, when paired, they speak of enduring gender politics both past and present, whilst also challenging the West’s voyeuristic view of Muslim and Eastern womxn.


You must choose your part in the end (2019), Farwa Moledina, Lahore Biennale: A Rich Tapestry, Aisha Khalid Studio 2: January 2020 (digital print on polyester)


How do these works respond to the sites they are shown in and the contexts of Lahore?


I feel the works respond really well to the sites and to Lahore in general. There are some incredible female artists in Pakistan, Aisha being one of them. Showing my work in spaces that she has created and lived in, surrounded by farmland that she has cultivated is a real honour. Pakistan is no stranger to the effects and consequences of colonisation and British rule and I feel strongly that displaying the series in Lahore served to elevate the pieces, which reflect the difficulty of reclaiming a sense of self separate from the colonial gaze. As such, I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to showcase my work in such an appropriate context.


No one is neutral here (2019), Farwa Moledina, Lahore Biennale: A Rich Tapestry, Aisha Khalid Studio Gardens, January 2020 (digital print on polyester)


What has been your experience in Lahore and as a part of collateral events for the Biennale?


Visiting Lahore was such an incredible and enriching experience. There is a rich history and culture in Pakistan that is sometimes forgotten. The Pakistani people were incredibly kind and hospitable, and constantly went out of their way to make us feel welcome and cared for. Pakistani art has also been incredibly inspiring, and I have so much to think about and reflect on.


What do you hope the impact of this exhibition might be upon your work?


Showing work in South Asia and the Middle East is really important to me given my roots and the nature of my work and I am grateful for this opportunity. The art scene in Lahore is really thriving and I hope this leads to further exhibitions within the region.


What do you hope to make/research/show next?


As always, I’m interested in the issues surrounding Muslim/womxn of colour and hope to continue making work around these themes. I will be undertaking a research residency at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in the next few months where I will have the opportunity to respond to their collection, so I’m very much looking forward to that!

Artist Farwa Moledina, who showed at the end of 2019 as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, has recently taken part in an exhibition in Lahore, Pakistan as part of Lahore Bienniale collateral activity.

Meryl McMaster: As Immense as the Sky

Anneka French reviews a solo show of work by Meryl McMaster, her first in the UK – via Photomonitor

Betsy Porritt reviews ZouZou Group: – door open at Ikon Gallery – via this is tomorrow

Photo: Ken Cheong

Melanie Pocock who has been appointed as curator of Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, will begin her new role this month – via Art Review

Two new publications launched in the region last week, at events at BLAST! Festival in Sandwell and at Birmingham School of Art respectively, aiming to forefront some of the best photography, art and writing happening in the West Midlands.

Photography for Whom? is edited by Anthony Luvera, with support from Grain and Multistory. Published bi-annually, its focus is upon socially engaged photographic practice. Bringing together past projects with contemporary practice, the publication aims to connect themes and concerns that continue to resonate within the field.

Issue 1 of Photography for Whom?, available to buy online, and in bookshops around the country, features a text by Luvera that situates community photography in grass roots political activism while considering its lack of profile in contemporary accounts of the medium. Heinz Nigg’s article explores the WELD Photography Project (the Westminster Endeavour for Liaison and Development) in Birmingham in the 1970s, while Kieran Connell considers the political nature of community photography. Photographs by Trevor Appleson, John Reardon, Derek Bishton, Brian Homer, many of which have been recently on display at MAC Birmingham, are interspersed throughout the publication.

Forward, a free publication edited by Dion Kitson and Tom Glover, locates critical writing, interviews, poetry and artworks at its core, and is available to buy online or free to pick up in galleries across Birmingham. The editors describe Forward as “your principal port of call for art in the West Midlands: what’s good, who’s good, where’s good … It is the beating heart of art in Birmingham and the West Midlands, celebrating the connection between the region and its cultural output.”

Forward’s inaugural issue features contributions from artists Fred Hubble, Foka Wolf, Abi Mardell and others, and interviews with Ikon Director Jonathan Watkins and drag queen Twiggy. A feature on the elitism of the art world by Charlotte Russell, the painting practice of Annette Pugh written by Ruth Millington, and a playful feature by Kitson that connects a historic Halesowen park and a bench proposed by artist Ian Hamilton Finlay to Saddam Hussain and the ‘Iraqi Super Gun’ are all included in this wide-ranging issue.

Two new publications launched in the region last week – Photography for Whom? and Forward, which aim to forefront some of the best photography, art and writing happening in the West Midlands.

A new exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery feels at once reminiscent and foreboding. Aurella Yussuf reviews the Ikon Gallery exhibition – via Frieze

Currently exhibiting at Ikon Gallery, Hew Locke discusses monarchy, nationhood, bigotry, boats, Brexit and the seductive silliness of TV’s historical dramas – via Studio International

Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, 2017. Photo: Stuart Whipps

Selina Oakes reviews Ikon gallery’s current exhibition of work by Indian artist Sheela Gowda.

Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, 2017. Photo: Stuart Whipps

Resembling abstract cut-outs from a constructivist painting, Sheela Gowda’s newest work draws an unwavering line between geometric form and everyday materials. The circular bowls that litter Ikon’s concrete floor – lain down in a choreographed and communal manner – bare the markings, scathes and scratches of their previous life as metal drums used to transport resin and oil across vast distances. Flattened into uniform sheets and reformed into traditional ‘Bandlis’ – objects used to carry building materials in India – these pieces create a synergy between mass transportation and individual craftsmanship. Whilst the sourcing of these materials remains undisclosed to the viewer, there is a sense of a conscientious recycling of materials and skill-sets.

Much of Gowda’s work looks at handmade processes – typically those from her hometown of Bangalore – and how, in a fast-paced and technology-driven society, these local skills can be revered, transferred and shared with new audiences. At Ikon, the bowls within Gowda’s walk-through installation have been shaped by hand-operated machines; their perforated counterparts lay propped on the walls to provide a ‘workshop’ aesthetic. Whilst tarnished with abrasion and rust, the drums’ original colours are used to their optimum potential; they become layered, sculptural gradients reminiscent of a symmetrical Rodchenko graphic revamped into three-dimensions by a John Chamberlain workmanship aesthetic. The material’s uneven surface is made uniform through Gowda’s composed pulling together of objects. This also reflects on themes of community; the bowls in particular resonating with the mechanics of a communal meal.

An interconnecting room filled with plaster-covered objects creates a displaced purgatory; one that is colourless and almost formless as the white props fade into their stark background. The familiar shapes of bowls can be distinguished amongst items that resemble piping – all of which lay propped unceremoniously on the outskirts of the space. The viewer’s desire to rejoin a sense of colour is met by vivid, jauntily-cut bunting which half-heartedly clings to a collapsing black frame. Oddly enough, this make-shift assemblage – titled It Stands Fallen – simultaneously hints at a dystopian abandonment of place as well as a celebratory and ritualistic space. The intentional convergence of abstract line and colour creates an installation where interior and exterior aesthetics collide: the red pigmented fabric provides a reminder of the domestic and handmade, whilst its unsteady support enables the bunting to pour outwards, into a violently-strewn pile on the floor.

Opposite, a riot scene of lawyers throwing stones at the media, and in conflict with the local police, suggests a breakdown of society; their censored eyes adding an element of obscurity and anonymity – a visual that displaces culpability and is perhaps suggestive of the media’s irresponsible free reign across digital platforms. This vast print, which spans the width of the room co-occupied by It Stands Fallen, contrasts harshly with the highly sculptural and handmade aesthetic of Gowda’s other pieces. It does, however, establish a political and social backdrop with which these handmade traditions and rituals must now compete; perhaps Gowda’s intention is to illustrate the potential of age-old craftsmanship to reference humankind’s ever-changing yet cyclical way of life.

The exhibition runs until 3 September 2017.

Selina Oakes reviews Ikon gallery’s current exhibition of work by Indian artist Sheela Gowda.

Emilia Terracciano reviews Ikon’s Sheela Gowda solo exhibition in Frieze magazine.