Spotlight: On and upcoming in Manchester

Sava Sekulic, Napoleon & his daughters, house paint and pencil, 1975. The Musgrave Kinley Collection, the Whitworth. © the artist

Sava Sekulic, Napoleon & his daughters, house paint and pencil, 1975. The Musgrave Kinley Collection, the Whitworth. © the artist


Holly Grange, newly appointed curator of the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Collection at the Whitworth shares upcoming shows at the gallery, and recommends other current exhibitions in Manchester.

I’m the newly appointed curator of the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Collection at the Whitworth in Manchester. When I introduce myself and my role, people often say ‘Mm interesting, but what exactly is Outsider Art?’ The truth is there’s no straightforward answer to this question. Outsider Art is a nebulous term that has been used to describe the work of autodidacts, spiritualists, eccentrics, the socially isolated, mental health patients, people who have experienced psychosis, those with learning disabilities, prisoners, and others who may face barriers to entering the mainstream art world.

The equivalent of being plugged directly into the mains electricity of the imagination’ is how Nicholas Serota describes the experience of viewing Outsider Art. A strong statement but one that I am inclined to agree with. Outsider Art exists in contrast to about 90 per cent of the art we currently see on the walls of contemporary art galleries. Often successful artists share broadly similar origins: having studied at university level, been exposed to an approved art history and frequently having consulted the same texts. With the work of artists operating outside the mainstream art world, however, none of these unifying experiences apply. Their motivations are wholly idiosyncratic and the work they make is often so radically different from what we’re used to seeing that we effectively have to learn a new language with each encounter, which makes for a highly complex but ultimately enriching viewing experience.

The collection I look after is the largest and most diverse collection of Outsider Art in any UK public gallery, with over 1200 works by 120 artists. It was amassed by a dynamic duo- Monika Kinley (curator and champion of the Outsider Art cause) and her late partner - the formidable Victor Musgrave (a poet, filmmaker and curator/founder of the radical Gallery One). Victor sadly passed away in 1984, but Monika continued their work of supporting a network of Outsider artists, many of whom had become close friends, and laboured tirelessly in order to bring these distinct visions of the world to a wider public attention. 

In 2010, Monika chose to give the collection to the Whitworth, a hugely generous gift that was driven by her desire for the collection become the source of academic research through the gallery’s links to The University of Manchester. I am currently engaged in an 18 month Esmée Fairbairn funded project to fully accession, catalogue and conserve this collection, providing unprecedented access to these incredible works, and hopefully establish the Whitworth as the foremost centre for the study and appreciation of Outsider Art forms in the UK.

For updates you can follow our Musgrave Kinley Collection blog here:

Sooni Taraporevala, Waiter at the Royal Opera House, Mumbai, Pigment print, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Sunaparanta © the artist

Sooni Taraporevala, Waiter at the Royal Opera House, Mumbai, Pigment print, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Sunaparanta © the artist

I’m very excited about an exhibition of photographs we’ve just opened by the Indian screenwriter, filmmaker and photographer Sooni Taraporevala. These photographs are a slice of life on the streets and in the homes of Mumbai - India’s most diverse city. With deftness and a lightness of touch, Taraporevala holds up a mirror to politics and culture by observing simple human interactions. The overwhelming feeling when looking at her works is of being admitted into a private and intimate world. As the travel writer Pico Iyer writes in his accompanying essay to the exhibition, these images tell you ‘everything that makes Mumbai reviving, touching and indelible.’

Taraporevala’s exhibition is the first outcome of a three year collaborative network called New North and South. Funded by Arts Council England and supported by the British Council it will bring together five organisations from the North of England (the Whitworth, Manchester Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, Liverpool Biennial and The Tetley) with five South Asian organisations (Colombo Biennale (Sri Lanka), Dhaka Art Summit (Bangladesh), Karachi and Lahore Biennales (Pakistan), Kochi-Muziris Biennale (India) it will unfold as a series of collaborations, exhibitions and events  which in the UK will showcase the best of contemporary art from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK, and will explore the unequal and contested histories of empire and the industrial revolution.

Raqib Shaw, Self Portrait in the Studio at Peckham (After Steenwyck The Younger) II, 2014–2015, acrylic, enamel, and rhinestones on birchwood © Raqib Shaw. Photo: © White Cube (Ben Westoby)

Raqib Shaw, Self Portrait in the Studio at Peckham (After Steenwyck The Younger) II, 2014–2015, acrylic, enamel, and rhinestones on birchwood © Raqib Shaw. Photo: © White Cube (Ben Westoby)

As part of New North and South, contemporary artist Raqib Shaw will have a solo exhibition at the Whitworth, opening on 24 June and co-curated by the artist, Dr Maria Balshaw (Director of the Whitworth and Manchester City Galleries) and Diana Campbell Betancourt (Director of the Dhaka Art Summit). Shaw’s sumptuous and jewel-like paintings draw on classical renaissance imagery to create mythic spaces populated by hybrid beasts. His paintings will be shown alongside historic textiles, furniture and drawings from across the Manchester museum partnership relating to Kashmir and the aesthetic of the East.

Raqs Media Collective, Coronation Park, Venice, 2014. Image courtesy of the artists. © the artists

Raqs Media Collective, Coronation Park, Venice, 2014. Image courtesy of the artists. © the artists

Last but not least, in the Autumn we will host the first major UK exhibition by Raqs Media Collective, a group of three Indian artists who variously adopt the positions of philosophers/researchers/provocateurs and curators. Over the last year, Raqs have immersed themselves in the libraries and museums of Manchester and have made a group of new commissions that will add Mancunian themes and images to their ongoing investigations. They will be taking over the galleries and the Whitworth Park with an exhibition which they hope will (in their words)- ‘unravel worlds, make questions, haunt memorials, and follow the tangled threads of how histories and ways of thinking about emancipation intersect.’  Intrigued? You can keep abreast of what’s happening at the Whitworth here.

Sadie Lee, Erect, oil on canvas, 1991. © the artist. On display at The People’s History Museum for ‘Never Going Underground’ (until 3 September 2017)

Sadie Lee, Erect, oil on canvas, 1991. © the artist. On display at The People’s History Museum for ‘Never Going Underground’ (until 3 September 2017)

I am a new arrival in Manchester so I’m enjoying discovering what the vibrant art scene in the city has to offer. Manchester has a wonderful DIY ethos and there are a plethora of artist-run spaces, as well as a host of arts festivals and events.  It’s probably the hardest place to live if you suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), as I do, there is just so much to see!

My current recommendation exhibition-wise would be ‘Never Going Underground’ at the People’s History Museum. The exhibition takes its title from the campaigning against Section 28. This was an infamous piece of legislation that forbade the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ and which saw the UK’s largest ever gathering for LGBT+ rights in Manchester in 1988. The exhibition presents material relating to the political and legal fight for LGBT+ rights over the last 50 years and was curated by a group of 9 volunteer community curators with links to the LGBT+ community.

The exhibition features a wonderful portfolio of etchings 14 Poems by C.P. Cavafy (1966-7) by David Hockney, on loan from The Whitworth’s collection. With a lightness of touch and an economy of line, Hockney captures intimate scenes of homosexual love set alongside poems by the Egyptian poet Constantin Cavafy. Cavafy was one of the earliest modern authors to write about same-sex love and proved an inspiration to the young Hockney, who stole a copy of Cavafy's translated poems from Bradford Library in 1960. The publication of Hockney’s etchings in 1967 coincided with the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales in July of that year.

Sadie Lee’s painting Erect, 1992 (above), shows two women sat bolt upright with linked arms, staring defiantly out at the viewer. There is a timelessness to the portrait that makes the period difficult to date, this could well be 1920s Weimar Berlin or it could just have easily been painted yesterday. The identity of the two women are the artist and her then partner. It was selected for exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery’s annual BP Portrait Award in 1992 and was used as the main image to publicise the show. It was made into posters that caught the imagination of a production company who made a short film screened on Channel 4, showing how the poster was defaced with homophobic graffiti.

Our museums and galleries have the power to shape the way people think and talk about LGBT rights and the People’s History Museum are doing crucial work in this respect. With homophobic hate crimes on the rise, trans people still facing legal barriers that prevent them from being able to fully be themselves and more than 75,000 young people having experienced bullying last year for their sexuality, museums cannot and should not sit on the side-lines, but must recognise that they have a responsibility to educate against this prejudice. As the superb Ian McKellan said at the opening of the exhibition:

‘We should all accept the simple fact that we should love each other.  Radical non-conformist passion defines Manchester and it’s wonderful that the People’s History Museum should be telling this story.’

Sooni Taraporevala: Home in the City, Bombay 1976 - Mumbai 2016 can be seen at the Whitworth until early 2018. Never Going Underground: The Fight for LGBT+ Rights continues at the People's History Museum until 3 September 2017.