Cristina NualART

Tag: Diversity

Layers of Culture

‘It is work that the artist produce outside the demands, pressures, and expectations of others in the process of wrestling with their own selves and in the serenity or turbulence of their own solitude; that work that they produce when they have no need to be serious. It is in such work also that we find the truest moments of an artist’s career and his or her most relevant contributions to culture. Which is why, for the Zairean popular painter , it is referred to as work made for our own.’

Olu Oguibe in The Culture Game, 2004

Olu tells that African scholar T. K. Biaya in a conference in New York in 1995 explained that African artists made two types of art to sell: work conceived with certain devices suited for Mungo -the Western art buyer- and artwork made leisurely and free from constraints, that the artist would also show to local art lovers.

Made In – Oil without paint

Excited about being in Birmingham on a nice sunny day, I dashed to Ikon gallery first, and dove right in.

Seeing One’s Own Eyes is the current explosive exhibition by MadeIn artists collective. It is FUN! I went through, so absorbed in the objects that I didn’t read any of the blurb beforehand. What did I get excited about? Bombastic wall hangings, shodily made with chopped up kitch fake fur and sequined textiles, all tackily glued and stitched together. The colours are loud and the cartoons show people you will recognise from newspaper headlines. The text is as in-your-face as the imagery. The whole thing works! This is art that is cheap and cheerful, big and bold, and as amusing and meaningful as pop art can get.

There’s an instructive video by gallery director Jonathan Watkins on how he met Xu Zhen, one of the founding artists of MadeIn.

At this point, you can -like I did- realise that it’s all a fiction. These artists have nothing to do with Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East or a country at war. They are Chinese artists using made in China sarcasm to share with art consumers of the world, who are – of course – deeply interested in big issues like blood for oil and war in far-away countries full of invisible terrorist camps…

To give respite from the bomb-blasts on the second floor, the third floor welcomes you with some quiet anihilation, a breathing pile of rubble. Calm is the name of this surprising room of living destruction. You can watch 45 seconds of it:

I was lucky to see MadeIn’s exhibition the day after I visited Contemporary Art Iraq in Manchester’s Cornerhouse. The latter is, clearly, art made in Iraq. The Iraqi artists share their daily stories and creative pursuits without loud protesting of their county’s situation. Not that they ignore it, they just get on with life without making a song and dance about things. Had they done so, they might have come up with some strident, controversial artwork of the sort the tabloids would discuss. But it could pigeonhole them as protest artists, which is not for every artist to be.

Since Documenta 11, in 2002, there is a tendency for much contemporary art to function as documentary,* but living amidst irrational ruination for years, their museums plundered, current Iraqi artists do what artists do: make art, quite simply. MadeIn are taking on the documentary agenda and parading it in fancy-dress. It’s a fun party. But along with a good party, there’s nothing better than a soul-baring conversation – away from the pandemonium.

* See Materialist Feminism for the 21st Century, by Angela Dimitrakaki, in Oxford Art Journal, vol. 30, 2007.


Open Arts Cafe

64_OpenArtsCafe_photocnualartYesterday I had a lovely evening at the Open Arts Cafe. From the link a friend sent me on fb, I expected it to be geared towards fine arts performance, but instead of being all obscure and weird (mock stereotype alert!), it was entertainment of a very enjoyable ‘normal’ kind. Lovely singing voices, amusing poetry, short plays, hilarious comedy and a deeply striking contemporary dance piece by Drew Gordon (so powerful it was scary!) all rolled into one event, supported by (yes!!) an art exhibition featuring Elli Chortara‘s illustrations and Aleksandra Laika‘s glowing portraits inspired by internet communication, a topic closely related to my current art research. The selection of music and poetry was on funny little love stories. And so, I checked out the websites, and I really like the way that Erinkmusic’s one is going, albeit not finished yet.

The land of Rosie Lee


I just found this information in an Arts Council report. No surprises, really. It’s all a vicious circle: the more arts you get, the more you want!



·  See the arts, culture and nightlife as among the top five reasons for living in London.

·  Attend more arts events than people in other regions – 82% attended at least one arts event in the last 12 months.

·  Have the most eclectic taste in the arts – they are more likely than people from any other region to attend several types of event.

·  Are more likely to participate in the arts – 90% took part in at least one artistic activity in the last 12 months.

·  Appreciate the arts – 79% think that the arts play a valuable role in the life of the country.

·  Appreciate cultural diversity in the arts – 80% think that arts from different cultures contribute a lot to the cultural life of the country.

Disclaimer: contrary to popular international pseudopinion, London isn’t England, and certainly not the UK.

Singh Twins

China may be doubling the value of its art market every year, but the superpower is not sending as much Chinese art to this neck of the woods as the other future superpower, India. It may be post-colonial guilt, or better connections, but Indian art in some form seems to make a grand exhibition every few months in London.

The Garden and the Cosmos in the British Museum last year was one of my absolute favourite exhibitions of the last couple of years (along with, I think, Antony Gormley and Annette Messager, both at the Hayward). Then the Serpentine threw in an awe inspiring, spectacular show of contemporary art from the subcontinent, Indian Highway, stunningly powerful, it thrilled me to the bone, ah…

The V&A’s recent show on the Maharaja’s treasures was not quite as fun as Waldemar Januszczak’s damning review of it in The Sunday Times, but the riches still had you holding your breath at the craft, the beauty and the retro appeal.

Now it’s the National Gallery’s turn, and it is flamboyantly promoting its Indian Portrait special exhibition:

The show, roughly chronological – and thus more informative, is worth a visit, though it lacks the inspirational scenes of awkward perspective and magic encounters that Indian landscapes offer. The paintings here can be almost photographic, and the cross-fertilisation with Western art is most amusing.

However, the jewel in the crown has been kept well hidden, and not advertised anywhere that I have seen. Down in the basement galleries there is a superb and scousestastic exhibition by The Singh Twins.

The identical sisters collaborate arm-in-arm, literally, to create exhilarating satires of politicians, fast food joints and family life, with the vibrancy of fresh jalebis and the immaculate technique of Persian miniatures. How I never came across their work all those times I went to Birkenhead to see family (and Tate liverpool…), baffles me. They should be everywhere!

Some months ago I visited the Shazia Sikander (apologies to anyone who is offended by my comparison of a Pakistani-American with British-Indians – it’s the Persian tradition poking through) show in Pilar Corrias gallery, hoping to find what the Singh Twins are doing: a multicultural cocktail of modern afflictions with traditional know-how. Not quite, this time.While Sikander’s recent work tends to the conceptual, and plays with the formal qualities of calligraphy, the Singh Twins are banging their drums riotously, and having a ball of a party. I utterly recommend it. Oh, and the animation is a must! No pictures, sorry, but here is a link to a video.


Eco art

Currently, Madrid’s Casa de America presents a group exhibition of Spanish and Latin American artists, Mientras sea posible’. The brief is not one I’ve come across elsewhere: to show humankind’s adaptability and potential for change. This topic has been explored in many a new media/digital art exhibition, but here the focus is on natural materials and homeostasis: the tendency to equilibrium between interdependent elements, in particular that of the body, or even the earth, as a unified organism.

Transforming the environment is something all of us who live in cities forget about, because the built cityscape shows change less dramatically than sites in transition from a rural to a more urbanised status. This exhibition offers no reflections on the loss of natural landscape, however, but enough on that can be found in any publication by Greenpeace España.

The questions asked by the curator have been interpreted with more references to local mythology and traditions than I would have expected, and I enjoyed that surprise.

This is Chilean artist Catalina Bauer’s contemporary rendition of quipu, an Andean accounting system. I am fascinated by how many knowledge systems exist that most Westerners like myself never hear about. It makes me question dominant paradigms, and the increasing spread of them. Will the minority ones become extinct, or preserved as a token, like older languages that carry a culture but have little use since they are only used by bilingual people who communicate mostly in their ‘stronger’ tongue? Either way, the artist is pointing to what is on the other side. It is up to us to glimpse through the grass curtain, and discover an alternative paradigm or a message on the inside vs. the outside.

Argentinian artist Ana Gallardo uses a Mexican tradition as a source of inspiration for her installation. The religious rituals of pilgrims to Oaxaca’s Virgen de Juquila are re-enacted by visitors to this space. Viewers, like pilgrims, may give material form to their wishes, out of mud, and leave them en route to the sanctuary, which is here reduced in size so it looks like a room-sized train-set. Because of the miniature landscape feel, it bears similarities with Jake and Dinos Chapman’s now defunct Hell, but made by a younger sibling. Gallardo asks us to make a wish for our own old age, so a resonance of proximity to death is inferred too. However, this is a home-made and interactive kind of artwork which grants hope, and sees people united in good will rather than a bloodbath. Believer or not, making mudcakes is a pastime that kept me happy for hours as a child, and I therefore wholeheartedly recommend it. Even if your wishes don’t come true, it will do you good.

Catalina León is another Argetinian artist, whose curtains of fallen and falling leaves give no indication of their origin or intention. By way of an artist statement, Catalina says only: ‘May nothing trouble you, may nothing frighten you, everything passes’. Such buddhist-style wisdom fits in well with the calm beauty of the piece, but leaves you wondering if you are indeed feeling cheated out of a deep theory for the artwork. Of course I had enjoyed in the work of the other artists learning about legends and stories new to me, here I get no such education. But the cascading sheets of leaf-shaped blankets filling the space with a warm foresty smell, carefully made of hand-stitched leaves, provoke plenty of imaginings of tribal crafts and the cloak of nature to keep one satisfied.

Body image terrorism

MUA, Museo de la Universidad de Alicante, has 4 wonderful spaces (usually showing contemporary art) that are always empty of people. It must be because it’s well off the beaten track, but the handful of times that I’ve been there since I discovered it (I think in 2002), have offered excellent exhibitions: Joan Fontcuberta, Albert Agulló, Damià Diaz and a number of other artists whose name I have regrettably forgotten.

All 4 current exhibitions are typically solid. Mulier Mulieris is the one I preferred. A yearly competition, some of this years’ works are not highly challenging, but the good ones made me laugh or cringe, either of which is what you want art to do, unless it wows you with aesthetic emotion. Rustha Luna Pozzi-Escot is the artist in this self-portrait as a make-up terrorist. Playing  stereotypes, she dresses up as a cowgirl, a samurai, etc. using lipsticks, eyeshadow and other cosmetics-in-plastic as ammunition. I’m very amused by the idea that so-called ‘beauty products’ can be construed as weapons so literally.

The next installation really made me laugh out loud. Sandra March’s La Silla de la Reina, eloquently subtitled ‘distribution and consumption of myths’, is a wall display divided in sections: art, science, politics, literature, music, etc. Columns of little packaged chairs, each in the style of a woman known for her contributions to the field, feature a humourous biography, a photo and a title. A toy shop would have many products packaged in a similar way, just not half as witty. From the Guerrilla Girls to Mata Hari, discover female wisdom dating back two millenia, and educate yourself with this mini-encyclopedia of herstory.

Yolanda Dominguez, in her work below, mixes the fun (sarcastic?) use of toys with the criticism of make-up as a constraint in the form of photographs that represent, she explains, the nourishment of education. These dishes of mock omelette contain hyperpink toys (for girls only!), lipsticks and all sorts of ‘girlie’ objects. Eat your eyes out.


A harsher view of what being a woman means is given by Rosa Mascaró’s videos inspired by Tanzania, where the oldest known human footprints are found, and where sex slaves and female genital mutilation are also, deplorably, still found.


Oscar Wilde

Had today been a leap year, it would still be February, LGBT month. Throughout the month, national institutions and public bodies in the UK have done their bit to raise awareness, erase prejudices and flag rainbows, no doubt. For my part, I went on an LGBT tour at the Victoria and Albert, a museum held its LGBT weekend alongside a very well puclicised digital festival. While the crowds were flocking to workshops that taught how to programme robots to self-destruct and all of that, I was listening to the story of ‘aesthetic dress’, and all things Wilde. I can now share with you that Oscar was a rather precocious wit, moulded by his Oxford rhetoric lessons as much as by his personality.  However, it wasn’t just a desire to shock or stand out that determined his choice of luscious, softly cut velvet clothing. As a Mason, he wore jackets that were tailored differently to run-of-the-mill ‘prèt-à-porter’. I did learn, however, that the short trousers and stockings were entirely his own addition to the outfit, and nothing to do with Freemasonry.

Among the exhibits mentioned on the tour, none were ever owned or worn by the playwright, but connections could be made anyway. Oscar, at a rather young age, it seems, felt that it was ‘difficult to live up to his blue and white china’. In the days when most men wore slippers embroidered with flowers, it seems hard to believe that this sensitive soul struggled to compete with the beauty of his dinner service. Ah, the demands of luxury!

Photographing Travellers: Eva Sajovic

Until the 20th March, 198 gallery is presenting an exhibition that is supported by so many workshops and seminars, that the whole show functions as a long-running performance.

Eva Sajovic is a photographer and illustrator whose links with the Traveller community underpin the present exhibition: ‘Be-Longing: Travellers Stories, Traveller’s Lives’.


198 is a curiously shaped space, very welcoming, in which Eva’s photographs are arranged in clusters or homogenous rows to fit the location. You might not notice the different arrangements, however, as you are taken in by the stories of the people you’re looking at. Many of the photos lack the high contrast and powerful graphic quality that much documentary photography has used to punch its way into our psyches. The Traveller photos here have the impact of the invisible lives of their subjects. They make their mark by revealing alien worlds slowly and gently. Ghostly smoke screens, lace-filled mantelpieces and portable homes in low saturation report on the lives of Travellers in the UK and Slovenia. The images are accompanied by texts that add to the stories in each series. Displaying the writing next to the images is a practice that many curators seem to frown upon in white cube spaces (not to add distractions to the visuals) but the system makes the ideas more accessible and immediate. The artist intends for us to empathise with the subjects, and the warmth of the user-friendly display removes any coldness the camera has mediated.

Check out the events at the gallery in the coming weeks to meet the artist and get a chance to discuss prejudice and marginalisation towards the Roma.

Drawing History: Kara Walker

A few days ago the Institute of International Visual Arts (InIva) in London, showed a selection of artists films on the theme of Cultural Diversity. I enjoyed an hour of varied short films Steam that made me smile (in amusement, in creative awe, or in revelation…) although I went specifically to see the 16min Kara Walker shadow puppet film.
8 possible beginnings‘ is as intriguing as its title. I had never seen Kara’s film work, although I have been a fan of her silhouette wall pieces for wholesale nba jerseys a long time. Her work is beautiful, skilled and potently charged with political messages where history and present get blurred.
As watchable as any other contemporary animation – though this one seems to lack any digital input (which is neither good nor bad), wholesale nba jerseys this little film is a gem. Amidst dark tales of horror and Jerseys abuse, of slavery, prejudice and paedophilia, Ms Walker concocts new legends to define the birth of a nation. She imbues them with such poetry and inventiveness that the gorish events, as with all Interviewing known ancient mythology, are understood as symbols that we There can take in without feeling the need to vomit. This is not journalism after all, this is wholesale nfl jerseys art, and it does its job splendidly.

Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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