Anna Maria Nabirye and Annie Saunders have been collaborators since 2008. Nabirye co-founded the creative community dreaming space Afri-Co-lab in St Leonards on Sea and Annie Saunders is the founder of Wilderness, a performance company. This is a major new commission from these two multi-disciplinary artists which explores friendship, anti-racism and feminism.
The private view for Anna Maria Nabirye and Annie Saunders’ multimedia project, along with Angelo Madsen Minax’s new exhibition at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, was a packed, energetic Friday night event drawing in the vibrant community that has taken part in this project.
Bringing together “social practice, visual art and performance … to create meaningful dialogue amidst the complexity of interracial friendships,” Anna Maria Nabirye and Annie Saunders’s new multi media exhibition is a platforming of lively conversation about personal social experience. It feels healthy, of the moment and needed.
Conversational exchanges, inspired by the 1971 portrait of activists and friends Dorothy Pitman-Hughes and Gloria Steinem, are presented in mixed media format, the photographs and film in the centre of the space exuding confidence and belief in the power of raw, human exchange.
Honesty and humour pervade the process – a journey that the two artists are undertaking in catalysing conversations between friends. The chatter of every day experience is punctuated by sudden, profound utterances which strike a chord and are memorable. In the days after my viewing, I mused on moments, prompting sudden smiles in public places which might have disarmed the general public around me. Good.
In viewing the work at the packed and relaxed opening, I was drawn to perspectives of participants in their twenties and thirties, both in the exhibition and chatting with friends in the gallery. The building rang with the joy of energetic young voices, a celebration of the community cohesion this project has achieved. Chatter about the experience of the opening event itself was fresh and fun.
Repeat returns in quieter moments to view the many profound articulations of this multi-layered experience is something I look forward to. This is possible because of the free entry policy at De la Warr Pavilion, currently celebrating the news of their levelling up funding award. A lift to all floors and accessible WC facilities offers the experience to a wide viewing community. – Gail Borrow
Up in Arms (De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill – Saturday 4 Feb 2023 – Sunday 21 May 2023 – First Floor Gallery & Rooftop Foyer)
A Walk Down the Norman Road 16.2.2023 ‘Jeb takes the Biscuit’ – Project78 –
An in-between Thursday afternoon, in-between sun and rain, the week and the weekend and in-between shows – I popped into a few neighbours of ours on the Norman Road to see some of the work at local galleries.
First I visited Project 78 and caught the Jeb Haward show, ‘Jeb takes the Biscuit’. This is a popular show among my friends and I can see why. Jeb’s work is very witty, mixing mark makings and registers, playing with shape, rubbings, scribble, collage, whatever happens during the process may be included in the finished piece. TJeb is a Hastings based educator and has been head of the art school at East Sussex College Group enough time to make a real difference to the emerging art community. Now he is stepping back from teaching he can devote more time to his own practice although he has continued as a maker during this period.
Patrick Jones has been the owner of the gallery for over 20 years and also has taught at the Hastings College of Art for over 20 years. He is a passionate advocate of the wit in Jeb’s work and told me how this particular show consists of a series of drawings of the dried plants in the bathroom which made interesting shapes. The show refers to domestic objects – pots, cakes, vases flowers – the trinkets of the everyday we live with will appear in different guises. His approach tries to be non-hierarchical in its selection of what may be included in the work.. Everything that emerges during the making may be included. The colour scheme and mark making of Jeb’s work allows the process to shine through – pale pink watercolour and coffee stain, dark ink lines of varying thickness,, the crumpled canvas, the neutral palette encourages a writerly appreciation of the tales told from afternoons in a domestic environment. Although the work isn’t really representational in a literal sense I felt I was standing in the room where it was made, the window half open, my eyes being opened to this interior world. Jeb is a modernist writer who uses paint and visual techniques. – Jude Montague
‘The Mystery of the Unfinished’
Alan Rankle, Claudia De Grandi, Stephen Newton, Matthew Radford and Suzie Zamit – Rogue Gallery 18 Feb – 26 Mar 2023
Over the road at Ray Gange’s new Rogue Gallery another exhibition which works with the idea of ‘unfinished’ was just going up. A select group of work by artists curated by Alan Rankle was being prepared to be hung. Artists exhibiting alongside Alan include Claudia De Grandi, Stephen Newton, Matthew Radford and Suzie Zamit. Sculptor Suzie Zamit came up with the title in a conversation with Alan about how the rough study may capture the essence of the artist vision.
This general idea applies differently for each artist. Stephen Newton’s thick impasto work focuses on empty space and interior objects and people who float in a thick earthy crust of paint. He is a thinker and educator considering psychoanalysis and psychometry of art and his work has been described as psycho-conceptual. A new artist to me, I was drawn into his spaces and the feelings of loss, disconnection, floating on the heavily painted background. I said to Ray that I thought he was a wonderful discovery for my eye and I appreciated the mental experience of gazing at his pieces. The colour palette is earthy and brown but also suggests the inner digestive works of the body. I feel something of bile, shit, and vomit in his choices of oches and venomous green. His work embodies, for me, something of the simple healing environments of hospital interiors although this is changing with the visual stimulus being brought into interiors through the introduction of art installations.
I was lucky enough to visit Suzie Zamit at her nearby studio to Norman Road just before the show and got to see her at work with her clay, building forms. We chatted and ate nuts as she worked and discussed her sculpture and the demands on the sculptor, financially and physically. Beautiful work is made from struggle and devotion. Also, the multiple commission takes its toll on time and energy. An artist in commercial work, whose skills are bought has to give over something of their life to others and cannot fully be led by their own desires. More solo and group exhibitions this year will enable her to spread out into new territory.
Charlotte Snook’s work lets the allure of the study shine through her renaissance oil studies. I feel myself in a heavenly boudoir of floating angels, naked buttocks, bedtime goings on in velvet, luxurious fabric, the illusion of grace and the magic of intimacy., Clouds, shadows, red velvet and the cyan fresh sky speaking through, this is a sensuous series of studies and embody the title of the show – unfinished. The bedroom door is open but our eyes are wide shut.
Matthew Radford’s work is reminiscent for me for years spent archiving film material for Reuters Television News. Crowd scenes, destroyed buildings, these are rendered beautifully in painterly expression. I appreciate an artist who works well with scale and the miniature crowd pieces are particularly enchanting Like a video scene, stare inside and join the people moving, breathing, running humming. I could be staring at raw footage from various war zones.
Claudia De Grandi’s storm pieces with the moon and sea are immersed in nature. People-less, animal-less they slip and roll and tug with forces of the environment. As someone who lives by the shore here in Hastings I imagine they are painted on the shoreline or walking there and bringing that experience back into the studio. The human fascination with the moon,the sky rock that pulls the tide, is forcefully present. Her subject, the cycle of time, the movement of plasma, the ever rolling world, this space-ball.
Alan’s own work has something in common with Charlotte’s.He explores issues through landscape art. He manipulates styles from diverse periods but there is a dominant influence of 18th century and renaissance light and design – the way he paints trees, the way he paints light. His work is very enjoyable and uplifting despite dealing with social issues, and his style latches onto the uplifting effect of light and the way oils bring that otherworldly experience well to a landscape. The power of Poussin’s travellers resting, rocks and ‘those trees mixes in with other post-modern influences, using style to encourage attention shifts.
Talking of attention shifts, there is so much gallery experiences today on the Norman Road that I make my way down to one more gallery in this short break from my own studio, round the corner but right now the King’s Road feels far away. – Jude Montague
‘Closer to Home’ Emily Allchurch – Lucy Bell Gallery
Affectionate impressive large scale photo-collage prints Emily Allchurch has brought the Sussex countryside into a new life. Her skills and the artifice with which the pictures are constructed are mind-blowing but also she re-immerses the viewer in local visions of nature and the walks we take and the things we think. I was transported into rambles I had either taken or wanted to take locally but never found the time. And as I looked at the scenes I felt myself taking the same kind of mental journey that I would take on these walks as I looked at a piece of discarded litter in the sand dunes or viewed the council control notice that you are in an alcohol free zone alongside the Himalayan balsam and dandelions. Emily works with photography as material and uses photography and digital collage to create a contemporary narrative which references Old Master paintings and prints and here she is applying this approach to her local area, having been based in Sussex for about seven years I believe.
The Lucy Bell photography gallery is an important part of the fabric of Hastings photo scene and art life in general and this exquisite illuminating large scale work by Emily is worth a visit.
These artists and shows are only a fraction of what is going on in in this area of the south coast – Sussex and this corner where it meets Kent – in our art world. There is such a thriving art scene here and long may it grow and continue to flourish. It’s truly moving to see our own environment through the eyes of artists and to have these gallery window onto creativity beyond our local space. Viewing art physically is a real thrill when it is presented by curators who take care on behalf of the artists and viewers. – Jude Montague
Gail Borrow attended the private view to explore Alice Roberts-Pratt approach to the first in a series of exhibitions showcasing some of the donations that have been made to the town’s museum over the years.
Running till 19 March 2023, Donations: The Went Tree Trust is notable as an opportunity to view the museum’s one watercolour by JMW Turner, only on display periodically to preserve its quality, as well as work by the names significant in Hastings’ history: John Logie Baird, James and Decimus Burton and Robert Tressell.
With only one female, Claire Sheridan, listed in promotion of this exhibition of artwork connected with Alderman Tree, a Mayor of Hastings four times no less between 1891 and 1904), I came to this exhibition interested to see if and how Alice Roberts-Pratt had included female and diverse narratives.
First up, viewer Laetitia Yhap, a significant female UK artist who has made the town her home for over fifty years, took me straight to a watercolour by Francis B Tighe, The Stade. It is named after the fishing area of Hastings.
Laetitia explained, ”I am attracted to this work because it’s women on the beach and they are carrying the washing. It looks as though they hung it out to dry down at the water’s edge -you can see that in lots of watercolours of this period and earlier. Fantastic drying grounds apart from fishing.”
Laetitia Yhap shared that she had selected this 1923 watercolour for her own curation of the museum’s collection, Laetitia Yhap; My Vital Life, hence her familiarity with the work. That exhibition viewing period was, unfortunately, impacted by covid.
The painting draws me in and Laetitia’s voice fades. The sand is furrowed to the extent of almost being a series of waves and I wonder how two young women in the painting carry a big basket of washing to the water’s edge without tripping over. It sure is a workout.
A more distance figure is unloading what might be sand out on the base of the poles holding the washing up which explains how the tall frames holding the lines of washing in the wind stay upright. To the left of the painting are other unfamiliar structures suggesting significant low tide human endeavour. The people at work here, a hundred years ago, were busy. I sense multiple narratives just out of the frame.
My focus is interrupted as curator Alice Roberts-Pratt leads me to a case simply entitled, ‘Dress’. The stunning red, gold and green textile work, rich in texture, is over one hundred years old, hand stitched and dyed by women from the Blackfoot nation. It was given to sculptor, journalist and writer, Claire Sheridan. The label details Sheridan’s relationship with Turtle, Lone Wolf and Chief Last Rider of the Blackfoot First Nation.
Alice discusses the museum’s Indigenous Engagement Policy published in 2020, the first of its kind in the UK. This was the result of collaboration between the museum, research associate Jack Davy on behalf of Beyond the Spectacle and a number of Indigenous North American contributors. It feels like the museum is genuinely excited about and committed to ongoing work in this area.
Alice explains, “I’m not just focusing on telling the story of the collectors but highlighting the narratives of the indigenous communities. Changing it all up.” She leads me through to the permanent seaside gallery beyond.
“I have been putting culture sensitivity warnings into our cases because I want to adjust interpretation, make it more inclusive and change wording so, for instance, in our seaside case we have a puppet called Jim Crow who is a black puppet. When I looked at the records I found that he was actually the significant figure, the master of ceremonies in the The Boxing Match which was a famous puppet show. So it’s important to highlight his story.
I study the master of ceremonies puppet, surrounded by his puppet troupe, for some time. Hastings Museum and Art Gallery is a gallery of treasures in which you can find multiple entry points and immerse. Viewing this case in the Seaside Gallery, I could be the last to leave the building.
I’ve somehow slipped beyond the exhibition I came to review. Isn’t that what a brilliant town museum is all about?
Hastings Museum and Art Gallery is a FREE ENTRY venue open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am – 5pm and on Sundays between 11am – 4.30pm. Flat access includes lifts and an accessible toilet. There are no café facilities; there is a dedicated area for visitors bringing their own refreshments. – Gail Borrow s
Top Photo: De La Warr Pavilion presents a major new multimedia commission by artists Anna Maria Nabirye and Annie Saunders