Protest and Remembrance brings together four women artists, Miriam de Búrca, Joy Gerrard, Mary Griffiths and Barbara Walker, who use drawing to examine elements of protest and/or remembrance through a range of subjects that include war, political demonstration, burial sites and lost industry, set in both the urban and the rural, past and present.
As a society we often come together, in times of celebration, in times of crisis, to protest or to mourn, or simply to remember. Whether we are reflecting on our past or trying to change our future, these artists are telling us the story of something that should not be forgotten.
Miriam de Búrca
Miriam de Búrca focuses on the ancient burial sites in Ireland called cilliní which were used to bury unbaptised babies (until as recently as the 1980s) and many others considered ‘unsuitable’ for consecrated ground: unmarried mothers, the mentally ill, unknown strangers, disabled children (or ‘changelings’) and suicides were all laid to rest here, exiled to a state of eternal limbo. One way she responds to these landscapes is to select samples of plant life that grows from the grounds, making detailed studies as a way of interrogating the land and the charge that it holds.
‘The peripheral nature of the locations that were chosen for these sites is like a metaphor for the alienation and marginalisation of those buried there. They are often found on geographic, territorial or spiritual boundaries; townland ditches, at crossroads, on river banks, lake shores and where the land meets the sea, outside graveyards or inside pre-Christian sites, as if being handed over for the Pagan gods to deal with… Hidden in dark spaces, set far back from the road, or vaguely somewhere in a wide, open expanse of land, cillíní exist somewhere in the twilight of our subconscious.
The underlying message we are to understand from these subtle, sequestered graves, is that there is nothing to see here – so leave well alone…. Cillíní, to me, are the legacy of how unhindered institutional power can turn into legitimised madness. There are at least 2000 of these unmarked burial sites dotted throughout the country. Most of them forgotten, or better said, ignored, except by those directly affected. To this day, there are many people who will remember someone in their family being buried in one, even their own child or sibling.’
‘What happens when democratic processes express, even produce, social and political divisions? How are the outcomes of such processes – sometimes only narrowly won – resisted and critiqued? How moreover, do such processes make use of visual-cultural means to, as the writer Rebecca Solnit puts it ‘make injury visible’? As a spectacle of resistance, public protest has a long history, but persists as a powerful form of expression in a time of conflict and instant ‘citizen-enabled’ global media.’
Drawing on over a decade of image-making and research on themes of protest and urban space, Joy Gerrard archives and painstakingly remakes crowd images from around the world, sourced from the media. Gerrard’s crowds are viewed from above, suggesting the depersonalisation of media observation, while the fluidity and drama of their movement is expressed through precise, expressive mark-making. The large paintings allow a shift in scale, disrupting the photographic schema of the smaller drawings, and thereby allow greater freedom from the original mediation of the image.
Working in Japanese ink on both a small and a large-scale, for this exhibition she has made new paintings and drawings of protest scenes from London, including the recent anti-Trump demonstration, and the anti-Brexit march which actually passed by the doors of the gallery in which the work will be exhibited. More poignantly, the looming Brexit deadline of March 2019 will pass while the exhibition is taking place, making these protest images even more relevant.
Mary Griffiths investigates the lost industry of coal mining, through the study of a colliery in Lancashire which has been transformed from a place of work to a place of leisure, from mine to museum. Griffiths’ carefully rendered graphite drawings on gesso panels pay homage to the miners who used to work there, the volunteers who now run the museum, and the intricate machinery that was used to bring up the coal from the depths below.
‘Many of my drawings are of industrial sites and engineering and they are always tied in with the history of the site and also the working-class history of the place. In Wild Honey, I wanted to valorise the beauty of the engineering at Astley Green Colliery which closed in 1970 but is kept alive by a group of volunteers. I spent a year visiting and drawing and very quietly getting to know the men and women who run the museum, keep the locomotives going and the magnificent winding engine working. The challenge to myself was to make art that had the same tone and gravity as a finely worked engine part or steel rope, and that the ex-miners would feel did some justice to the beautiful machinery and the black stuff that they heaved out of the ground.’
An additional group of drawings takes the graphite mines of Seathwaite in Cumbria as their starting point. It is from this mineral that the revolutionary ‘graphene’ is made and Griffiths makes new work by bringing together the arduous landscape of the mine with the precise geometry of the carbon atom.
Barbara Walker’s works depict people who are often cast as minorities, inviting the viewer to look beyond the anonymising act of categorising or classifying citizens. This particular body of work is part of a series of drawings which highlight a forgotten history of black soldiers who fought for Britain in the First and Second World Wars.
‘At the outbreak of WW1, thousands of West Indians volunteered to join the British army on the basis that, if they showed their loyalty to the King, they would be treated as equals. However, in the beginning, only white soldiers were allowed to fight, so the West Indians were relegated to carrying out arduous physical tasks such as loading ammunition, laying electrical wires and digging trenches for their white colleagues…. I intend to challenge and then revise history in order to make the men and women from colonial empire visible, validated and centre stage where they belong.’
Working from public photographic archives, Walker creates beautifully drawn portraits of these men and women that effectively transfer visibility back to the subject, offering an alternative and balanced interpretation of a nation’s history that celebrates the contribution of African and Caribbean servicemen and women to the two World Wars. Walker makes these portraits in a range of media and formats, from small embossed works on paper to paintings on canvas and large-scale charcoal wall drawings.Courtesy of Alan Cristea Gallery, London. Photo: Jack Hems