One of the joys of this job is the range of work we take on, and how it is so easy to be intensely focused on one task while your colleagues are immersed in quite different ones. The storm and buzz of our forthcoming exhibitions All Dressed Up and Secret Egypt have largely ignored me, which his just as well given we have Spotlight: Belsen Head fast approaching and the planning for our summer early years exhibition started to gather speed.
Spotlight: Belsen Head continues a thread of exhibitions focussed on a single powerful object, in this case a recently acquired sculpture by Raymond Mason. We’ve asked some local artists to create responses to the piece, and I feel their approach is testament to the quality of the local arts community, that we have artists prepared to accept the challenge of this commission. I feel pride in the way Coventry marks Holocaust Memorial Day each year, and it sometimes shocks me that I am part of that process.
Although, on the face of it, completely different, we take our summer exhibition for early years just as seriously as commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.
Over the past 8 years, we have been able to explore how a gallery can offer creative play opportunities, and to consciously experiment and push boundaries. We’ll keep most details secret for now, but we are building on developments in 2010’s In the Big Treetop especially in the use of off-ground structures and light. We’ve invested in more multicoloured lamps, and while the Studio was quiet over New Year, we built a test bed “Iglow” to try out lighting effects – the sense of movement feels wonderful in this clip:
Another area we are exploring is how we can make the growing field of pervasive gaming appropriate to the family and early years audiences we receive throughout the summer. Lots of reading, then lots of trialling and, lets face it, lots of playing, to do on this one.
The office windows behind the Herbert open onto a strange landscape, particularly with the recent weather. When I raise my eyes from my screen, I am greeted by a steel sky, grey-clad university buildings and high grey lamp posts on the ring-road. At the front of the building we have the richer palette and sharper details of the Cathedrals, yet this wash of subtle greys offers an urban alternative to the coastal landscapes evocative of 20th century heroes such as Britten and Jarman..
The Herbert has recently acquired two new art works as part of its permanent collection. The purchase of these artworks has been supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Collecting Cultures scheme. The Collecting Cultures scheme has allowed galleries all over the country to apply for grants of up to £200,000 to strategically enhance their collections in a specific field. The purchases have also been supported through grants from membership charity the Art Fund, who gave £24,000 in total towards the two works, and MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, who gave a total of £4,000.
The two works are Belsen Head by Raymond Mason and Bloodlines by Iftikhar Dadi and Nalini Malani. Both works explore the impact of conflict, violence and division. These artworks are part of the gallery’s ongoing work towards developing collections which explore Coventry’s important links with themes of conflict, peace and reconciliation. Natalie Heidaripour, Project Officer for the Herbert’s Peace and Reconciliation Gallery has been working hard to find two works that are not only visually striking but represent a theme close to the heart of the city. She has shared some thoughts on both pieces of work:
‘Bloodlines is a visually stunning artwork of intricate detail developed by Indian artist Nalini Malani and Pakistani artist Iftikhar Dadi. It is possibly the first collaborative work between artists from the two countries. It was created in 1997 to mark the 50th anniversary of the partition of India. Using gold, crimson and blue sequins the panels map the Radcliffe lines, which defined the 1947 borders of Pakistan.
The partition of India is of key importance in British history and to communities living in Coventry, but is not currently represented in the visual arts collection. This artwork will address this in a meaningful way. Although specifically referring to the partition of India the work also has a much wider resonance, exploring the human impact of colonialism, civil conflict and division.’
‘Belsen Head by Raymond Mason was created in response to images released from the concentration camps at the end of the Second World War. The head lying back on a wooden plinth is seemingly screaming in pain or protest. The link to the now familiar images from the camps can be seen; however this work has a continuing resonance, reflecting the universal impact of hate and violence. This sculpture is a captivating work which has a powerful and moving effect on those who view it.’
These works will be displayed in an exhibition in 2012 which will highlight new items bought through the HLF Collecting Cultures project which has benefitted many galleries across the country.