Some further thoughts: Tales of Valiant Queens, an Insight into Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s Latest Exhibition

A couple of weeks ago, Alice and I went along to the MIMA in Middlesbrough after receiving an invite to come and check out their new exhibitions. Alice and Rosie had been along before and did a podcast on their initial visit, but this was before their new exhibitions were there.

The three new exhibitions being shown this time were Making, A Life by Peter Hodgson, Living Beyond Limits and Tales of Valiant Queens by Chila Kumari Singh Burman. They were all amazing exhibitions and we spoke about them all in our most recent podcast episode. However, in this blog post I’ll be talking solely about Burman’s exhibition.

While we were there, there were talks by the artists on their exhibitions. We listened to Chila speak for over an hour and a half in what was meant to be a half hour talk, and I only wish she spoke for longer. She told us of how she grew up in a working-class Punjabi family in Liverpool in the 1970s and how the things she grew up with and experienced have influenced her art from then till now.

In the room, her work dominated the walls and took over the senses, printwork in vibrant colours, a video playing with loud music and amazing visuals, and who could forget the beautifully decorated tuk-tuk at the top of the room? Her printworks have been the main focus of her work over the years and each of them tell a different story and showcase different themes.

Some of them are collages that look innocent at first, but upon further inspection they contain some sexual imagery. As Burman explained in her talk, this was her way of expressing her female sexuality in a culture which didn’t allow it. Other prints of hers are much more obvious, including her body print in sugar which was shown in the seminal black feminist exhibition The Thin Black Line (1985). Burman uses her work to fight against stereotypes of Asian femininity and as part of the movement for women to take back control of their own bodies.

Her work also tackles issues of politics and race, with printwork which showcases her feminist and anarchist ideals. Symbols of immigration policies and systematic racism in Britain are highlighted in her works, including a print which shows Margaret Thatcher standing across a barbed-wire Europe and a British passport. It represents issues of colonialism and empire and it  shows the struggle of people coming from Asian countries into Britain and the hardships they faced from the Government.

Her work is incredibly inspirational and frankly very fun to experience in person. Every piece tells a story and I truly believe there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this exhibition. I look forward to seeing more of Burman’s works and after this visit, I’m confident that I’ll be coming back to the MIMA for more amazing works.

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out our most recent episode of Hey Art, What’s Good to hear about more of the exhibitions at the MIMA.

-Amy Smith

Episode 19 – Middlesbrough Institute for Modern Art Autumn/Winter 2018 Exhibition Openings

This week the girls went back along to the MIMA to check out their new exhibition openings which was complete with artists talks, curators talks and a community lunch!

(Don’t forget we’re also on iTunes!)

More information: here

Location: here

Opening hours: Tuesday Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10.00am – 4.30pm
Thursday 10.00am – 7.00pm Sunday 12.00pm – 4.00pm. Closed Mondays and Bank Holidays

The Wonder of Documentary Photography

Last week we all went to check out The Last Ships by Chris Killip, a fantastic series of black and white photographs that present the viewer with a multifaceted insight into the declining ship-building industry on the Tyne in the 1970s. (If you haven’t listened to it check it out here). This was an exhibition that really exemplified the power a photograph has to freeze a time in place, and offer a remarkable point of reference for future generations.

Immediately after seeing this exhibition myself and Amy got the Metro over to Byker to check out the opening of another documentary photography series, titled Byker from the 80s by Tom Ingham, who lived in the area at the time and has recently returned. This too was a black and white series, photographed on film I’m assuming given the decade, and sought to document Byker upon the completion of the Byker wall which was a massive change for the area. During the Great Exhibition of the North the BALTIC had a great exhibition called Idea of the North (which we did an episode about), and as a part of it there were several photographs by documentary photographers of the Amber Collective. One of the series here portraits of residents who lived in the wall in around the same time as the 1980s, and I recall reading some information about the intention of the wall’s construction and what it meant to the residents of the Byker area, who lived as a close-knit community in Victorian-era terraced houses (much like the ones seen in Killip’s photographs). The idea was to offer the current Byker residents a modern and nice place to live and to remain as a community, however after the wall’s and the surrounding estates completion only around 20% of the original residents remained in the area, breaking up the community.

The remarkable thing with this series of photographs compared to that of The Last Ships is that I recognise the Byker area very well through them, as it hasn’t really changed at all since Ingham’s images were taken. And it is this that makes me marvel at documentary photography, and indeed any kind of photography of people and places: the images we take today are documenting what we do and where we live, and future generations might see them in a variety of contexts, able to compare and contrast them with whatever comes after us. The capacity to entirely freeze a moment or an era in time is something I adore about photography, and it is something I endeavor to do whenever I take my camera out and start shooting.

I really hope you go check out these fab exhibitions, The Last Ships is on at the Laing Art Gallery until 23rd December, and Byker from the 80s is on at Byker Community Centre, but you might have to get in touch with them to find out when you can visit (here’s a link with some more info).

Thanks for reading!

-Alice

Beyond Compare: Art From Africa in the Bode Museum

‘Every visit to a museum prompts viewers to compare and interpret objects, but what does it mean to identify similarities and differences?’

The Bode Museum is a historic art museum located in the centre of Berlin. Like the others around it on Museum Island, such as the Altes Museum and the Pergamonmuseum, it’s old and has an emphasis on traditional pieces of art and specific time periods, and includes pieces typically found in other Berlin museums. The particular focus of this museum is that of Byzantine sculptures, and it is amazing to see such a vast collection of such age and from a range of different countries. What makes it quite notable, however, is the museum’s most recent endeavour.

The latest exhibition of the Bode Museum is one that places European and African artworks side-by-side, grouped by theme, style and history, in such a way that has rarely been seen before in such a space. As is written on the website for the exhibition, “many objects from Africa were defined as ethnological artefacts, while other objects of comparable artistry from European ritual contexts remained in art museums” – why is this the case? Why is one artistic and the other ethnographic?

It was a delight walking through the halls of this historic and ornate museum, being able to see the stark contrasts and unexpected similarities between these geographically and ideologically different pieces of art. One thing I’ve noticed is that art is often divided by era and location, such as the Italian Renaissance or French Modernism, and African works are often also separated, so the opportunity to see them together is usually quite rare. As a result, however, you are able to draw the conclusion that every society has the same ideals being creating these types of art, the same idols to revere, the same lessons to teach, regardless of geography.

Amazingly there’s an app which has images and details of every paired items in this exhibition, with far more information than was available at the actual exhibits (which you can download here if you want to have a look). And it is because of this I can actually show some images of the different pieces (because I’m a fool who forgot to take any pictures myself).

Opposite or Complementary?

The theme of this pairing is balance. The one on the left shows a woman and a skeletal figure back-to-back, serving as something of a memento mori (a reminder that you must die), and the one on the right shows a man and a woman back-to-back, equals in life. These pieces, I would argue, are simultaneously both opposite and complementary. Life and death are opposites, and man and women is often also seen as such, however they complement one and other as without one the other would not be defined as existing.

A stark difference here, however, is that the ideologies are contrasting. On the left, the piece of European descent, serves as a warning that beauty fades, and death is the end for us all, therefore one must live life virtuously. On the right, however, a Luba figure originating from the Congo, we are confronted with a somewhat more heartening comparison, which is that men and women are in balance and two parts of an ideal whole. This would contrast heavily with the traditional European notion of the balance between men and women, where the women are definitely seen as lesser.

There are dozens of other pairings within this museum, and therefore dozens of other ways to make some interesting and previously unknown contrasts and comparisons between some awesome African and European sculptures. Since we can’t all just hop on a plane and head over to Berlin (it’s only been a few weeks and I want to go back already!) I would definitely recommend to download the app and check see them through that – the museum has done a fab job and there’s just so much information about every piece and some insight into their meanings and implications.

That’s all for me for this one, I hope you enjoyed it!

-Alice