Opera North

Art Review: Hurvin Anderson and Beverley Bennett Exhibitions

20 July 16 words: Georgia Guirguis

Two exhibitions have landed at the New Art Exchange that deal with the subject of diversity, and they are well worth checking out

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Hurvin Anderson: Dub Versions at New Art Exchange

There are two art exhibitions currently at the New Art Exchange; in which artists Beverley Bennett and Hurvin Anderson show two very different approaches to the topic of diversity.

Commissioned by the NAE, Bennett’s exhibition, Dissonance, is collaborative, her very serious, monochrome pieces are used as a point of departure by a number of local artists. Each one interprets Bennett’s pieces through their own medium – be it music, spoken word poetry or dance – the whole thing was very alternative and thoroughly exciting. The room where the work was presented was stuffed with the ideas of each artist and as a result, despite the fact that visually the work was quite easy on the eye, the vibe of the room felt quite chaotic and cluttered. This wasn’t a negative thing; it added to the excitement and made you really want to listen to what each artist had to contribute. It is really worth a visit even just to see the brilliant contemporary dance piece by Antonio Abatangelo, who I thought resonated with very well the precision of Bennett’s work but with a bit of a spin, and the spoken word poetry that I think always adds great emotion. 

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Graphic Scores (Ink on paper), Beverley Bennett

Hurvin Anderson’s work is much more subtle and calm, I first saw his work in London at the Tate Britain, which makes me feel a little proud that his work is being showcased in Hyson Green. And, until September. Perhaps we are more connected to the big LDN than we think.

In the aftermath of the referendum, or apocalypse, or revolution… or whatever you want to call it, it’s refreshing to see an exhibition quietly asking those taboo questions about what it’s like to come from a different background.  Being half Egyptian, quarter Polish and quarter English, I really have a lot of time for that age-old concept. So, when you walk into the New Art Exchange building – which is wicked by the way – and are confronted with the sensitivity and thoughtfulness of Anderson’s work, it is definitely inspiring.

Despite his work being abstract, you get the feeling he has really arrived at the image he wanted – yes an image of diversity, but also you can tell he is really just interested in composition, layering shapes and of course colours. The bright colours strike you first and are exactly what draws you in, particularly a stunning piece of work on the far left wall, which is a symphony of squares and rectangles – very pleasing to the eye.

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Is It Okay To Be Black? (2016), Hurvin Anderson

Yes, the question of race and diversity should be constantly examined, but the real one is “When will equality be so firmly embedded that the question will cease to exist?” In his interview with Melanie Kidd, NAE’s curator (which I read in the leaflet on display), he talks about his interest “in how black men are depicted; often as the sporting hero or in some form of extreme context, but very rarely are we depicted in an ordinary and everyday way.” This idea inspires a series of pieces in the exhibition about his brother, who grew up in Jamaica before moving to Birmingham. There is a beautiful progression and experimentation of patterns, colour and size in these works, showing his brother scrumping for fruit in Jamaica, which he then continued when he came to England. For Anderson it is significant that his brother carried on his hobby in both countries, two lifestyles becoming one – which I can imagine resonates with a lot of people who have lived and been part of more than one culture. But perhaps most importantly, it emphasises the normality of life.  Anderson further discusses this, saying “there is a lack of imagery within both art history and popular culture that depicts black men in these ordinary ways.” He is normalising these images – which is something so simple but so necessary, done in such a subtle but meaningful way.

Is It Okay To Be Black, a pretty powerful name for one of his pieces, shows the images of leaders of the Civil Rights Movement – Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. At first you assume Anderson is celebrating them and all they have done, and while there is an element of that, there’s also a collection of anonymous mini portraits that represent all those ordinary people that he is keen to remind us of. Also, on a less politicised point, these portraits within a painting, pay homage to the barbershops of his childhood – an epicentre for the Jamaican-British community where they often had images hung on the walls. His work is down to earth and a genuine showcase of settings he finds visually interesting. Certainly Hurvin Anderson recognises that todays climate is calling for racial equality, but as he puts it, his work “does not intend to be a statement and my paintings aren’t statements in themselves. I’m just reframing what is already there and my work is a means of discussing what is in front of us.”

Hurvin Anderson’s Dub Versions and Dissonance: Beverley Bennett in Collaboration with Nottingham Collective, New Art Exchange, until 18 September, free.

New Art Exchange website 

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