Turner Prize win places Wolverhampton at centre of art debate

She was a founding member of the British Black Arts Movement – which grew out of Wolverhampton in the 1980s. The ARTS FOUNDRY assesses reaction to the latest winner of the UK art scene’s most controversial prize…

 

When Professor Lubaina Himid won the Turner Prize, opinion was divided, as it often is.

Her supporters felt it had taken far too long for this much-lauded artist and academic to be recognised. Detractors were more concerned with the retrospective aspect of her work, claiming this alone should have taken her out of the running for the Prize.

In fact, had the rules not been changed to allow artists over 60 to enter, Himid, at 63, would not even have been eligible.

Lubaina Himid giving her acceptance speech at the Turner Prize 2017

 

A painter, writer and curator, Professor Himid has built an international reputation for her work on the art of the Black Diaspora.

In addition to her status as a key figure in the British Black Arts Movement, her curatorial work involves bringing hidden or neglected objects in museum collections to life, allowing artists to explore identity, invisibility, and history.

Recent exhibitions at Spike Island and Modern Art Oxford, and her archival work at Nottingham Contemporary have brought her work to new audiences and been met with widespread acclaim.

Her Turner Prize win comes not long after a revival of her 1986 cut-out installation A Fashionable Marriage, which, based on William Hogarth‘s Marriage A-la-Mode, blends commentary on international politics and British art.

Himid is both the oldest artist and the first woman of colour to win the Prize, praised for her focus on ‘difficult, painful issues.’

What is, perhaps, more difficult and painful is the continuing underrepresentation of minority groups in the art world.

For it to have taken Himid a whole lifetime to achieve acceptance is telling, according to Su Fahy, who as a principal lecturer at the Wolverhampton School of Art recently took a group of students to see an exhibition surveying the work of Himid and other key players providing commentary on the politics of the 1980s.

Nottingham Contemporary

 

The Place is Here brought together photography, film, paintings, sculpture and archives from a decade of unrest, featuring the work of more than 30 artists and collectives in an exploration of the emergence of the British Black Arts Movement.

Wolverhampton hosted the First National Black Art Convention in 1982, held at the then Wolverhampton Polytechnic and organised by the Blk Art Group.

The local Art Gallery holds important works in its collection by artists including Himid, Chris Ofili, Tam Joseph, Keith Piper, Claudette Johnson and Donald Rodney.

Much of the movement’s work sought to address racism and the ‘Othering’ that persists in the art world, and Fahy adds: ‘Himid and many other black artists put on their own shows because nobody else would.

‘She is a seminal artist of the movement – and she insists it is a movement rather than a collective –  setting the scene for black women artists, and working with black artists from Wolverhampton back in the eighties.

‘She is also an academic working very hard to explore the continuing impact of the British Black Arts Movement.’

Central themes include challenging accepted notions of beauty, interrogating the politics of the day, exploring collective history, and, perhaps most notably, expressing anger.

‘Some of their work was very raw, and male critics and commentators haven’t always responded well to the anger in Himid’s work,’ Fahy continues.

‘This was, and is, anger against the male patriarchy. The artists of the Black Arts Movement were also challenging the hegemony of the institution. They could remember Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. They felt they had something different to say.’

Next year sees the publication of a book exploring the concept of curatorial activism, by American curator and arts writer Maura Reilly who has long campaigned for better representation of minority groups in the art world.

The book will explore how curators can avoid the exclusion of artists currently not able to break through the closed ranks of the art world. Reilly defines curatorial activism as

‘a practice that commits itself to counter-hegemonic initiatives that give voice to those who have been historically silenced or omitted altogether—and, as such, focuses almost exclusively on work produced by women, artists of color, non-Euro-Americans, and/or queer artists.’

from Curatorial Activism: Towards an Ethics of Curating, by Maura Reilly (out April 2018)

 

Himid herself praised the network of women behind her Turner Prize win, paying tribute to them in her acceptance speech: ‘I know dozens of strong, clever artists and curators, mostly women, and I talk to one or other of them every day. I love them dearly.’

The wake of the Turner announcement has involved criticism of Himid for not presenting ‘new’ work, in accordance with the Prize rules.

Fahy argues: ‘Her work is modern, in that it is revisting. Her work has always looked at a sense of place, and critiques the idea that people of colour can’t question a sense of place.

‘A central tenet of her work is Making Histories Visible, and she does this through the implicit and repeated challenge to conventions, to accepted norms. It is important for her as an artist to establish where her making, and her spirit of making, comes from.’

Fahy found the reactions of students interesting when she took them to see The Place is Here.

‘What was interesting was how they responded to themes, and the media students in particular were interested in the honesty of the reporting in her work.

‘Himid is trying to evoke, both through her art and her research, a criticality around exploring the impact of the Black Arts Movement.

‘In winning the Turner Prize, she is demonstrating the relevance of work with a cultural back story. It’s a hugely significant moment. In fact, the only thing I can compare it to is when Frank Bowling was made a Royal Academician. It was remarkable, and yet Frank essentially made his reputation in America, and, like other artists of the movement, is not sure he could have done it here.

‘It’s time Lubaina Himid was made an RA. For years she has broken through, and proved she is not an artist with only one story to tell. She is making whole histories visual, and visible.

‘People are saying she’s too angry, but perhaps that says more about her critics than it does about her.’

By Louise Palfreyman

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Found photos of holiday haunts… the ghosts with a second life

The anonymous holiday snaps of a whole generation are finding a new audience through the work of  artist Annette Pugh.

Art historian and blogger RUTH MILLINGTON explores how photographs found in charity shops and flea markets are being reinterpreted to create art playing with place, time and narrative…

 

“I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone” 

Daphne Du Maurier, ‘Rebecca’

 

Annette Pugh paints the places she visited as a child: the pleasure gardens of Somerset; the holiday camps and coastline of Devon; the English Riviera.

Encapsulating the typical haunts of the British working class, she creates both a personal and collective memory, invoking in viewers a sense that they too once went ‘somewhere like that.’

‘The Pathway’

 

Her paintings and large-scale drawings, defined by rich foliage, palm trees and light, are not what they first appear to be. Ostensibly exotic, her landscapes are, in fact, British places that have been ‘a little bit forgotten’.

Annette Pugh is one of a number of contemporary artists who assimilate archival material into their practice, projecting and up-scaling found photographs into her oil paintings and descriptive ink drawings.

Whilst she uses some personal family archives, most are discovered in flea markets or charity shops in the Midlands. She is particularly interested in amateur photography from the 1950s and 1960s; the figures in many of her canvases could originate from any number of working class family albums from this period.

‘The Fence’ features a formally-dressed couple seated side-by-side on grass in a park, a bandstand behind. This intimate, in-between moment seems startlingly familiar, representing a past era.

‘The Fence’

 

The artist’s interest in photography comes, in part, from her MA in Art and Design Histories at the University of Central England, during which she examined the use of the digital in fine art, and particularly painting.

Pugh cleverly alludes to, and incorporates, the nostalgic quality of historic photographs in her practice.

In her large painting ‘The Muses’ muted orange and golden tones give way to a blurred, dissipating vignette which frames four tall and delicately drawn palm trees.

the muses
‘The Muses’

 

There is also a digital quality to the impressionistic patterns of the black and white foliage cast across the ink-drawn image ‘Indian Summer’.

The artist painstakingly painted this work with a fine brush in just two sittings.

In his 2004 essay The Archival Impulse art historian Hal Foster defines archival art as a genre that makes ‘historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present’. 

Indian summer 1
‘Indian Summer’

 

Pugh, beyond bringing archives into the present, also investigates the point at which the photograph becomes ‘more than just a copy’. She deliberately displaces it within mystical settings and what she refers to as ‘uncertain moments’.

Her imagined narratives show an artist frequently altering the found archive imagery which she reuses. Often, she will separate women from the group compositions of the original image, isolating them, and has said:

‘I do change the found imagery quite a lot…I like lone women, I think they are fascinating’.

Many of her solitary women protagonists embody an aura of romanticism. Particularly striking is ‘In the Pale Blue Light’: the female form, sheltered by large, hanging trees, is poised elegantly beside a full rose bush. With hands enclosed in the pockets of her narrow-waisted skirt, painted in an intense cornflower blue, she looks contemplatively into the grounds beyond the frame of the image.

‘In The Pale Blue Light’

 

There is a disquieting sense that all is not as it first seems, recalling Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic tale of Manderley. As in Du Maurier’s fiction, which Pugh enjoys reading, the artist’s female characters find themselves in places infused with memories and mysterious atmospheres which border on threatening.

Annette Pugh’s paintings tell of a journey into place and memory.

Her images invoke in the viewer a question about what makes memory, particularly in a post-photographic world. The artist shows how subjective recollection is entangled with visual imagery, created by both the camera and the artist’s hand.

This emotive series also shows memory to be both personal and universal, stored and recalled as fragments in the individual and collective consciousness. As the artist so eloquently says, these images are about capturing and constructing:

‘memory or moments that feel familiar to an audience, rather than being anyone’s particular history’.

By Ruth Millington

 

Biography

ruth photo

Ruth Millington is an art historian, arts writer and blogger based in Birmingham. She specialises in modern and contemporary art, and during postgraduate study at the University of Oxford researched the influence of fairy tales on contemporary women artists including Paula Rego, Kiki Smith and Cindy Sherman.

She has had work featured in a variety of publications, from ArtsBrum to the Telegraph, and blogs about Birmingham-based artists and exhibitions on www.ruthmillington.com

Romalyn Ante: this year’s rising star of the poetry scene

Her poetry is described as ‘exquisitely detailed’ and ‘a real feast for the senses’… packed with original imagery, it announces a bold new talent.

Romalyn Ante is a poet who came to Wolverhampton and found not only a vocation but also a voice.

Awarded the prestigious Manchester Poetry Prize alongside Laura Webb, Romalyn’s trajectory is set firmly on course as she continues to explore themes of identity, loss, homeland, and what it means to be a Filipino nurse in the UK today.

Her mentor Pascale Petit says: ‘When I first read Romalyn Ante’s submission for the Jerwood/Arvon scheme, I was struck by her sheer raw talent and the naturalness and freshness of her images and language.

‘The twin themes of her Filipino heritage and her work as a nurse combust into poems that shimmy on the very edge. They are vital and full-bodied, yet delicate as a petal that is also a scalpel.

‘They are compassionate and full of warmth, but don’t flinch from the realities of nursing and being a foreigner in Britain. It is a privilege and a delight for me to mentor her.’

Romalyn spoke to ARTS FOUNDRY about her recent win, and about how she approaches writing her poetry…

Romalyn receiving the Manchester Poetry Prize

 

Here’s a karaoke mic.

Sing your soul out till there’s El Niño in your throat

and you can drink all the rain of Wolverhampton.

from ‘Antiemetic for Homesickness’

 

The Manchester judges describe your poems as ‘rich and scrupulously attentive’… which ones did you enter for the prize?

I entered a manuscript of four poems – Nightingale Pledge, Molave, Transform, and Antiemetic for Homesickness. All poems reflect my work as a nurse in the NHS and private sector, and the last one touches on the story of Filipino nurses in the UK and coping with homesickness.

Can you tell us when and how they were written?

They were all written this year. I’ve been trying to write new poems since my debut pamphlet Rice & Rain came out. My 2017 goals were to write much stronger poems and to improve as a poet. I wrote on the theme of nursing experience.

Nightingale Pledge is a found poem which takes from the version of the Hippocratic Oath for nurses, while the idea for Antiemetic for Homesickness came from the medical term ‘antiemetic’ or ‘anti-sickness’.

Molave reflects the story of a man with lung problems (his lungs are compared to an ‘upside down tree’, particularly, the molave tree, native to the Philippines), and Transform is a poem set in a nursing home that transforms into a  mythical, legendary landscape.

When I have an idea in mind, I try to explore it as much as possible to ensure that the poem that will emerge is ‘extra special’.

My Jerwood/Arvon mentor once told me (and I’m paraphrasing):

‘It’s easy to write a very good poem, what’s hard is to write a special poem.’

Now, I always ask myself  ‘is this poem only a ‘good’ poem or a ‘special’ poem?’ What’s the difference between a very good poem and a special poem? I can’t tell you, you’ll have to figure it out yourself…

What are the main themes in your poetry?

The main theme of my poetry, apart from migration and diaspora, is my work as a nurse. The hospital in the city where I live looked to recruit 300 extra Filipino nurses in 2013.

I feel that Filipino migrant nurses’ stories are vital in the culture of poetry in the UK, because we have been an integral part of its healthcare history and yet very little is known of us, our personal and professional struggle, and our culture.

I also want to explore the theme of loss, not only from the perspective of someone who leaves a homeland, but also from the perspective of any human being who suffers loss through the illness of a loved one.

Moreover, in November this year, I travelled back to the Philippines to write about the theme of reconnections, and I hope to develop these poems in the coming year.

Romalyn dancing…

How do you explore loss and your experience of moving across the world without veering into sentimentality?

It is quite hard to explain. I guess I recently started to ask myself:

How much are you willing to give? How ‘cruel’ do you want to be to yourself and to your readers?

This can be interpreted in many ways. I do not have a censor in my head that tells me ‘Ooops, I think I am getting too emotional here’ when I produce a first draft, but when I begin to edit, I try to be more aware of my own vulnerabilities and pain, and share what only I can share.

And of course, I try to be kind to the readers too.

Who are some of your favourite poets, and why?

Wordsworth, Rita Dove, Li-Young Lee, Francisco Balagtas, Rio Alma, Simeon Dumdum Jr. – because their poetry is very accessible yet resonant and timeless.

How do you achieve the very clear voice and sense of place common to your poetry?

Oh thank you!

I guess I just try to be me, and sound like me in my poetry. I’d like to sound more ‘eloquent’ but I’m crap at that! Also, I think having a clear idea of what you want to write is important.

Sometimes I may need to explore an idea over and over again before I get to pen down the first line – but that’s okay – because once that idea has matured, I know I am not just writing it for the sake of writing it but because the poem itself has a purpose and it has something to say.

Having said that, I also have a lot of poems with no clear voice or direction, but I try not to give up on them easily. I am learning to find that one word in a draft that came from my subconscious and tells me:

‘I’m an important idea, explore me’.

jerwood-arvon.jpg
Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Programme 2017-18 

How has mentoring and the support of other poets helped you along the way?

Being a Jerwood/Arvon mentee is one of the best things that happened to me this year as a person and as a writer. My mentor, Pascale Petit, is very supportive and is always challenging me as a poet.

Moreover, I met my poetry-sisters Alice Hiller, Yvonne Reddick, and Seraphima Kennedy. I am learning a lot from them through discussion, feedback, and observing their own writing.

I always say that all the success I have had this year is not only my success, but also the success of those who have helped me develop as a writer.

RR

What was it like being published by V. Press earlier this year?

It gave me a good foundation to introduce my work to the public. My editor, Sarah Leavesley is very supportive and it’s good to know that I am in the company of reputable writers. It also reinforces my belief that I can be a poet.

What would you say to people just starting to write poetry?

Keep writing, keep reading, keep trusting yourself and your voice.

Also, dream – and really believe in it. Enjoy every struggle and piece of bad luck – one day, your struggle will be a sweet reminder of your journey to success.

Lastly, do not forget the people you meet along the way and do not forget the friends who helped you.

Also, treat yourself to chocolate or a cookie from time to time.

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Romalyn  (left) with her mother, sister Regine (centre) and brother Marion (right)

 

Biography

 

Romalyn Ante grew up in Lipa, Philippines. She now lives in Wolverhampton.

A Jerwood/Arvon mentee, she is joint winner of this year’s Manchester Poetry Prize, and her debut pamphlet, Rice and Rain, is published by V. Press. She was recently selected to be a part of Primers Volume 3, won the Poetry category of the Creative Future Literary Awards, and was commended in the Battered Moons Poetry Competition 2017.

Romalyn came back from the Philippines in November following her Artists’ International Development Fund project, which allowed her to research and write about culture, identity and reconnection.

She blogs at www.ripplesoftheriver.blogspot.com

Debut Pamphlet Out Now!
V. Press_ Rice & Rain

 

Rice & Rain, Romalyn Ante’s debut poetry pamphlet is available now from V. Press

“She has an instinctive talent for crafting precise and finely-tuned poetry that captures the exact sensations – potent, close to home and as incisive and accurate as a scalpel’s first cut… life’s preciousness is measured here carefully in its proximity to death. These poems are gracefully poised and balanced perfectly, alive with their own irresistible songs of love and longing.” Jane Commane 

 

Writing the past… from local legend to diaspora tales

If you are interested in creative writing and story-making, have you considered taking inspiration from your family history or place of origin?

Some of the best poetry, fiction and non-fiction comes from a strong sense of place. By looking to the past you can find an anchor for your characters and achieve authenticity and emotional impact.

Place and family can yield a wealth of material for writers, from local legends and diaspora tales to sources for memoir and powerful narratives.

Mandy Ross is a published writer whose latest children’s book Dominic Grows Sweetcorn is based on her neighbour’s story of growing up in Jamaica and arriving in 1950s Birmingham.

Mandy believes both living memory and the distant past can provide inspiration, and reveals that her own family history stretches back to the pre-war Jewish settlements of Eastern Europe.

Mandy’s grandmother and great-aunt, circa 1910

‘We have quite extensive family trees on both sides,’ she says. ‘But the idea for this course emerged when I realised that apart from Fiddler on the Roof, I have no idea of my ancestors’ life in the shtetls of the Polish-Russian borderlands.

‘What was day-to-day life like? What were their fears, irritations and dreams?

‘I know that my great-grandparents left Russia because they were afraid they would lose their sons into the Tsar’s army. So they found their way to Manchester around the turn of the twentieth century.

‘How did they adapt? What kind of homes and communities did they live in? What did they miss? How must it have felt to leave all they’d ever known? And what emerged for the young men and women launched in a new country because of their parents’ protective ambition?’

Mandy is teaching a course called Writing Your Roots in January at the Birmingham & Midland Institute in Birmingham, where participants will be able to draw on their own photos, letters, and books set in their place of origin.

If you’re interested in creative writing or have started to write a personal or family history, this could be the course for you! It could also make a fabulous Christmas present for someone.

‘I hope we can use family photos and historical sources to conjure up real voices,’ Mandy says. ‘We can then imagine the hopes, rivalries and longings that might have driven the lives of our ancestors or figures from legend.

‘We will also weave in the threads that remain in our 21st century lives – whether that be through our food, our DNA, or our communities.

‘Whether you are aiming to learn more about story-making, produce creative writing or memoir for publication, or write for family record, I hope we can bring the past to life.’

Mandy’s course starts on January 4, and you can find full details at the Writing West Midlands website.

 

Biography

mandy-ross-wwm.jpg

 

Mandy has written over 60 children’s books and also writes poetry and plays for grown up audiences.

She is artistic co-director of Secret City Arts and has worked with CBSO, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham Libraries, mac, various poetry festivals, Birmingham Museums Trust and has taught at Birmingham University and BCU.