City Art Centre, Until 19th October
In an exhibition that showcases the works of artists from Winnipeg to London, ‘Where Do I End And You Begin’ is a well-timed and riveting exhibition which interrogates the ideas, ideals and myths which underpin notions of community, the Commonwealth and the commons. It highlights the difficulty in defining and artistically representing the ‘Common’, a task made even more challenging by its relation to ‘Wealth’.
From the outset, the exhibition invites conversation and contemplation. Derek Sullivan’s installation ‘Kiosk’, based on a typical street-corner kiosk found in turn-of-the-century Paris, is both a sculpture and a functioning kiosk. The piece too has a clear political message, the Kiosk features the repeated question “When was the last time you left the camp at Saadiyat Island? Oh I haven’t left, except to work, since I came here seven months ago”. This question highlights the difficulty in defining the ‘Common’, as its wealth is built on the back of the economically underprivileged. Yet ‘Kiosk’ cleverly allows the audience to paper over its message, or contribute to the discussion, as the piece invites viewers to post printed material to the sculpture itself.
United by a common narrative, the exhibition explores the kaleidoscopic experiences of countries once united by economic reasons and utopian dreams. Charting a spectrum of emotions, the exhibition features works that hum with understandable rage at the outright injustice and violence that runs like a bloody undercurrent throughout colonial history. Naeem Mohaiemen’s work ‘Kazi in Nomansland’ for instance seethes with concentrated fury; his minimalistic memorial narrates the horror of the partition that gave birth to India and Pakistan in 1947 and subsequently Bangladesh in 1971.
Other works, such as Kay Hassan’s ‘My Father’s Music Room’ are warm with nostalgia. A child’s rocking horse sits in the middle of a room with an extensive vinyl collection. The piece speaks of childhood and those too young to understand the significance of these symbols of modernity, trophies of revolution in a time where oppressive regimes sought to exclude South Africans from modern developments.
The star of the show was Canadian artist, Rebecca Belmore. Her work ‘Wild’ is a visually arresting mixed media art installation which features a four-poster bed remade with long black hair and beaver pelts. This majestic, sensual but also unsettling piece is reminiscent of the splayed hair of a sleeping woman. Playing on the tradition of the reclining woman in European art, the piece also hints at the exoticisation of the indigenous people. However, Belmore appropriates this tradition with the suggestion of violence, as it is reminiscent of the indigenous practice of scalping and the luxuriousness of the bed simultaneously suggests the reclaiming of a historical narrative. The piece, alongside Belmore’s other work, ‘Fringe’ beautifully illustrates the intertwining of the histories of colonized and colonizer.
Wonderfully put together and thoughtfully curated, ‘Where Do I End And You Begin’ is an exhilarating exhibition that explores the Commonwealth’s push-and-pull relationship to its colonial past. It is a heart-rending exploration of questions of history, identity and artistic representation and the complexity of such a process.