Some thoughts on some of the artists featured at Format 2017Lia Darjes – Being Queer, Feeling Muslim c2016
How do I feel when a self confessed non-muslim heterosexual woman decides to speak up for a queer Muslim minority of which she surely has little in common or understanding. I came to view this exhibition with some trepidation after all there is a very sticky quagmire you must navigate when it comes to representing ‘the other’ especially when you are not part of the group yourself. The images reassured me wholeheartedly that this was no sensationalist documentary piece, but a gentle series which allows the subjects involved their voice to be heard. With a mixture of simple portraits; some featuring signs and symbols that speak of their religion, some in the safety of four walls and others outside under the warm glow of natural light. Darjes has photographed these people with a tender eye proving they are just another small sub-section of this rich species we call humanity. Rather than focusing upon people who their religion has failed or others who embrace their sexuality along with the teachings of the Quran, she has brought us a broad cross-section that show how complicated it can be trying to reconcile your sexuality with your religions beliefs. Darjes project can be seen on her website – http://www.liadarjes.com/portfolio/being-queer-feeling-muslim/
Lida Abdul – What We Have Overlooked 2011
Although this video piece was shot some 6 years ago it’s message could not be any more relevant today. Shown as a diptych; the left half has a strong masculine figure, brooding and threatening, knees deep in water holding a flag for a sword. The right side of the diptych shows this same figure lost in the landscape, floundering up to his neck in the water desperately holding the flag above him eventually being swallowed beneath the surface. Short snippets of phrases overlayed like subtitles explain the hopes and despair of the nation and the man. With the exodus of peoples fleeing areas of conflict in the Middle East and North Africa you are forced to question your feelings about this man and his representation of a nation. Would you be willing to allow this man refuge in your country or would you be willing to stand beside him in defence of his own homeland. This piece is a very obvious political metaphor, but done with such a beauty; there could be a danger of the message being lost under such an aesthetic, but we are entranced with it’s power. As Abdul herself says ” I would like to seduce the audience with images”. Abdul’s video piece can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gltw7s0paJ4
James Finney – Ritual-Magic 2016
(Fig. 1) Describing the Domus is an exhibition by students studying photography at the University of Derby. Exploring and reacting to the notion of ‘Home’ this held a broad mix of approaches. I was particularly drawn to James Finney’s Ritual-Magic. Creating a façade specifically to be photographed he questions the ‘Photographic Truth’ as well as our beliefs in the ethereal, insubstantial and otherworldly – things we cannot touch or usually feel yet draw us with the potential to influence our existence. Inventing these ceremonies highlights the absurdity of our customs of superstition and on a deeper level our reliance upon religion. The images themselves are subtly ambiguous; it would take little imagination to believe them to be traditional documents of the Catholic, Church of England or Aztec rituals. With a love of the works of Edgar Allan Poe it is little wonder I was drawn to these intriguing black & white prints.
Julia Fullerton-Batten – Ferral Children 2015
Exhibited at Deda in Derby this was a series that I have trouble fully appreciating. They are beautiful images, cleverly constructed, rich, detailed and glossy with colour. The subject of children found running feral is a worthy tale to represent. I feel, however that the resulting images do not do justice to the sobriety of the stories. You are left with the feeling they were researched simply as a way to create some stunningly clever tableaux. I am left with the feeling they are all surface and no meaning. The well-fed and chubby-armed models are poor representations of their true-life counterparts and the whole series is just too contrived. There is one image that could be read as distinctly racist in tone. The Monkey Boy of Uganda may be a true story, yet photographing a young black boy surrounded by Macaques; with all good intent surely the artist could foresee the visual message this creates (i.e. equating black people to monkeys). Another image (Prava The Bird Boy) uses a model with an obvious lazy-eye, at least I hope it was natural to the model as, if the artist asked the model to squint then this would be even more worrying. The visual metaphor here could read that a youth with learning difficulties is unable to do anything for themselves and left alone would degenerate into madness. I struggle to find worth in this series of images and am left feeling the stories have been sensationalised simply to show the skills of the photographer.
Fullerton-Batten’s work can be seen on her website at http://juliafullerton-batten.com/projectmenu.php?catNo=1&gallNo=1
Lida Abdul quoted at http://publicdelivery.org/lida-abdul-what-we-have-overlooked/