Oct 2011 Journal

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Art notes (review)

The Austrian Cultural Forum’s summer exhibition, Double Exposure: Jewish Refugees from Austria in Britain, included artists and musicians of every genre in its focus on 25 refugees who came to Britain to escape Nazi-occupied Europe. All took part in the AJR ‘Continental Britons’ and ‘Refugee Voices’ audio-visual history projects, whose testimony included views on tolerance, history, humanity and identity.

From the Jewish diaspora to that of the African Caribbean: in RCA Black, the Royal College of Art has collaborated with the African and African Caribbean Design Diaspora to celebrate 60 years of their artistic achievement. Conscious of its own image as a predominately white university, the College is showcasing the work of 22 postgraduates in the hope of attracting more students from the African and African Caribbean diaspora. In his preface to the catalogue, RCA Rector Dr Paul Thompson describes the barriers that often prevent artists in this area from achieving academic qualifications. Some of the art is highly original; some is merely crying out to be seen and heard.

Frank Bowling OBE, RA has a political message in his paintings, one of which offers lurid images of abortion. It suggests the tortured semi-abstracts of Francis Bacon, with a touch of Chagall in the mystical figures flying around the canvas.

Barrington Watson trained in several European art academies and says his mission is to educate aspiring Caribbean artists. His portrait of a girl entitled Beauty shows a subtle interplay of light on features and is certainly one of the most striking works, being both unpretentious and authentic.

Swedish-Kenyan artist Catherine Anyango’s graphic novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was commissioned in 2009 as an attempt to understand the horrors of colonial Congo. It was named The Observer’s Graphic Novel of the Month. Her extract is a graphite, watercolour rendering of a haunted face, somehow reminiscent of Michael Jackson. Anyango has worked in many creative spheres and has produced live film events for London spaces, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Film Theatre. She teaches at the Royal College.

Emamoke Ukeleghe is a devout Christian storyteller who works in printed fabrics to tell her story of displacement.

One of Britain’s leading textile designers, Althea Mcnish, sees herself as an artist of all cultures. Golden Harvest, a series of three screen-prints, recalls her final year at the RCA in an Essex artists’ community, when the sun shining through golden wheat fields inspired her vibrant designs. The prints have been exhibited and sold internationally as an example of colourful British textiles. They are represented in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Whitworth Museum. Althea entered the RCA with a scholarship in graphics, but opted instead for printed textiles under the influence of Eduardo Paolozzi and the colours and sensations of her native Trinidad. Described as Britain’s first and most distinguished black textile designer, Althea has undertaken many commissions for Liberty.

Gloria Tessler

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