As two blaggers in the world of visual arts, we felt somewhat fraudulent attending this exhibition with the responsibility of reviewing it for you. But the relaxed and open atmosphere of the New Art Exchange on Gregory Boulevard was far from intimidating.
The building is small but with resourceful and attractive use of space, and a stark modern façade that stands out on the residential street. With free admission, diverse exhibitions, a programme of workshops and music events, and a café for those pretentious arty discussions afterwards, there are loads of reasons to take an afternoon off and begin a journey of cultural enrichment… As the NAE is Nottingham’s first dedicated facility for Black contemporary arts, together with the fact that the exhibition opened on the anniversary of the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian political and environmental activist, we went with some preconceptions which, although not completely off the mark, certainly did not do justice to the experience.
The exhibition displayed in the main gallery is that of Sokari Douglas Camp, who chooses to construct her large-scale sculptures predominantly in steel. Viewing one piece in isolation could perhaps prevent anyone but those with a full understanding of the politics behind her work from a full appreciation, however the collection as a whole (combined with a documentary film playing on the wall) allowed a more informed response and prevented any feeling of ‘arty’ elitism.
The artist portrays principally human figures, simultaneously addressing the political and environmental issues that concern her, often through the attitudes, dress or accessories of the figures depicted. The use of cold steel risks inhibiting any personal interaction with the life-size sculptures, but for the warm character and facial expression in each. The bold symbols such as weaponry or images of 9/11 show the pieces to be highly politically motivated, often juxtaposed against traditional African figures in domestic roles, displaying both the international and the personal, human elements to the artist’s concerns.
Anthony Jadunath’s ‘Red’ is exhibited in a mezzanine overlooking ‘Strength of Feeling’ and whilst there are certainly areas of overlap in theme, the two artists portray their concerns in very disparate ways. An overriding initial response to this collection as a whole is of anger and, surprisingly enough, the use of one colour more than any other. His pieces are constructed principally from found pieces of wood and rope, and create a series of nightmarish, even satanic, depictions of violence, corruption and ultimately death. One piece refers specifically to the murder of Stephen Lawrence, locating the artist’s concerns around racial tensions in Britain. There are clearly spiritual issues being explored as well, although a feeling of cynicism towards organised religion prevails. Any recognisable human figures have a cartoon-like quality that comes from bold, surreal faces and the brutal use of black and red. The pieces are multi-layered and engaging, if far more aggressive than the work of Douglas Camp, through the appearance that each piece has been finished with a generous dousing of blood!
We would encourage anyone with a couple of hours to spare to check out these exhibitions, which run until January 18th 2009, particularly anyone with an interest in art, politics, race, religion, history….almost anything to be honest!
Emily Shirtcliff & Katie Terzeon