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Art Review: Crying Shadows, Flesh and Bones at Surface Gallery

25 February 20 words: Adrian Shaw

Our writer Shaw had a lot of thoughts about this...

This solo-show is a highly complex and moving exhibition with themes of life, birth and cruelty, and contains a huge amount of work by the artist, Brian Mander over the past few years, which occupies both the bottom and top-most exhibition spaces. Mander worked collaboratively with assistant Righteous Mposi – an asylum-seeking Malwian refugee – who helped him to gather found-objects, such a wooden hoes, ju-ju items, etc, and centrally, bones obtained from illegal operation. Make sure you see the ground-floor accompanying investigative video Zero Zero The Ghosts, made by a Greek team investigating the forcible removal of limbs from albino kids and teenagers which were sold, with huge profit, to and by black-magic practitioners. Grieving parents, as well as victims, testify on camera, making for powerful watching.

He draws on themes ranging from sci-fi (think Alien) to biblical, and philosophical writings by literary and other sources. Mander also incorporates his own and other text at each ‘work site’ to illustrate his pieces and poems, as well as bags of white plaster (also located at each site) for his skeletons and effigies. After graduating from Nottingham Trent University, he worked for a time in the construction industry: he clearly draws from this experience.

The central debate, worked out to a painful degree here, is the prejudice and cruelty meted out in African (here Malawian) societies to children and adults suffering with melanin-deficiency, and by extension to all those, throughout history or are rejected by societies the world over because of skin-tone or disability.

The choice of white plaster in moulds to form bones, heads and other body-parts, is deliberate besides perceived racial-difference. White points to African Magic rituals incorporating ju-ju and themes of life versus death – those afflicted are seen as ‘ghosts’ – and witch-doctors often cover themselves with ash to act as go-betweens, linking the spirit and ‘real’ worlds.

Mander’s work poses the question ‘why’ some dominant African societies sometimes espouse a cultural ‘reverse racism’ in comparison to the more evident western/white ones. Unfortunately, there are certain stylistic aspects to some of the forms here, which could be construed as stereotypes. As well as this, some of the alleged human bones seem unnaturally large and indicative of larger-mammal origin.

The placement of the work and themes around the gallery spaces continually challenges, and presents positivity and acceptance of our rejected offspring, against the despair of our too-often evidenced negativity and destruction. Overall, the entire show points to hope, life and possibilities of human triumph and salvation over the too-often self-debilitating failure and rejection of our children who are different.

Crying Shadows, Flesh and Bone is on at Surface Gallery until Saturday 7 March.

Surface Gallery website

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