Environmental theme at gallery in the park for this year’s New Art West Midlands exhibitors


New Art West Midlands has opened its doors again to shine light on some of the stars of the region’s art colleges – with one of the exhibitions having a particular theme this year.

The exhibition is held across four venues and shows works by artists who have graduated from the region’s six art schools – Coventry University, Birmingham City University, University of Wolverhampton, University of Worcester, Staffordshire University and Hereford College of Arts – in the past four years.

More than 180 people entered and just 31 were chosen to show their work across this year’s galleries: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, mac Birmingham, Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

NAWM was launched this year with a private view at mac, and it was soon clear there was a thematic choice to the works. The mac exhibition had been curated by Jessica Litherland who moved there from Rugby Art Gallery and Museum last year. She said she noticed a lot of artists were working with environmental themes, and she thought this would link in with the gallery being in a park, and wanting to get more involved in its setting.

I could only find one Coventry University graduate showing at the mac, and she is Renata Juroszva, whose works explore the “relationship between femininity and domesticity” and are based on her photographs of domestic spaces filled with female models. Domestic Routine is a set of nine monochrome drawings showing women doing small tasks such as taking a bath or going upstairs, creating ideas of privacy and intrusion.

Jade Hamilton (ex University of Wolverhampton) has combined (above) various found objects around the idea of a post-apocalyptic future where humans have used up the earth’s resources to such an extent they have created an environment where it’s virtually impossible to breath normally. Mannequins wear gas masks attached to small ‘microcosm planted biomes’, glass domes full of greenery. They are impressive if sobering.

Some of the other works on show at the mac are not easy to look at.

Megan Evans (ex BCU), is showing Natural Collection, a selection of works made from pastel, and cosmetics, looking at people’s ideas of self presentation through deciding to change their appearance. There are some slightly gruesome images of faces cut open for facelifts, dental work and other facial surgery. They make their point about the ugliness and unpleasantness gone through in the search for beauty.

Halina Dominska’s work is quite fun. It looked at first like a big pink canopy, with flesh picky bits hanging from it; it relates to the skin, to senses and reactions. Called Bound to, it is made of soft silicone, fishing wire and pressure sensors, with bits that start pulsing in a triffid-like manor if you stand close to them.

Sarah Zacharek (ex University of Wolverhampton), is interested in travel, and also inspired by the work of Hamish Fulton. In Re:Discovery she traced a route determined by photographic negatives of her late father’s journey to Torun, his home town in Poland, although she had no first-hand memories of him and no connection to his heritage. She has combined his photographs with ones taken where he had stood, also photographing the street she stood on, together with sounds from the journeys.

Hair stitched on hand.

Natalie Ramus (ex Hereford College of Arts) has produced large photographs of hands that at a distance look as though they are painted with henna; but no, it’s a hand stitched lightly with human hairs. Hand Stitched is apparently about using shock to prompt the spectator to reconnect with their body. It’s certainly quick shocking.


Jenna Naylor (ex Staffordshire University), has created some charcoal and marker pen drawings, one bravely on tracing paper reaching across the room and others on the wall, called Botanical Hybrids, which show her interest in classificatory systems and taxonomy, and “use the space between fact and fiction”. They look like a mix of under sea life and plants.

All four exhibitions of NAWM are on until May 14. Looking at the exhibition catalogue other works I’d like to track down (both by Coventry University graduates) are some colourful mixed-media anti-capitalist, anti-austerity landscapes created by Coventry University graduate Daniel Smart, and Natalie Seymour’s digital photo collages of an empty college building in Smethwick which fuse images of the interior and exterior to create monumental images.





The Last Known Pose – a camp parade makes for a memorable night at the mac

qasim riza shaheen the last known poseQasim Riza Shaheen, The last known pose of Xavier Leroy Frasier (autoportrait, photograph, 2012)

There are art exhibition opening nights – then there was the opening night of Qasim Riza Shaheen’s exhibition The Last Known Post at the mac in Birmingham.

Elegant women clad in white saris paraded slowly around a marked route. A man fell gracefully to the floor, his profile then marked out in red tape in a crime-scene style.

A tall woman in enormous spiky heels and what looked like an Asian wedding outfit joined the parade, followed by a young man with a topknot and enormous platform boots.

A woman who may or may not have been a gallery assistant approached people and recited to them, as did the man. Then another young man in, er, underpants, boots and a long trail made up of squares of paper incorporating a flag sashayed around. Camp did not begin to describe it.

Traditional Sufi music was played live, and slightly incongruously the drinks came courtesy of Absolut so for the first time ever I viewed an exhibition, and one by a Muslim artist at that, with a vodka and orange in my hand. And I rather liked it.

The performance was called One, and was apparently researched and developed earlier this year with local residents and artists at the National Visual Arts Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

It certainly made for a memorable night, as did seeing Quasim Riza Shaheen urging on the performers, nattily dressed in a stylish outfit incorporating high boots and a neckerchief. It was no surprise at all that he’d once studied fashion, and at Central St Martins in the late 1980s-early 90s, and the outfits of the performers were all his work. Though he said that now he designs only as part of his artworks.

So on to the main show – which takes some effort to interpret, and that is best done with some careful reading of the excellent guide by mac visual arts producer Craig Ashley.

The story of the exhibition is that it’s based around a love letter to the artist before his 40th birthday, reflecting on their love and proposing marriage. The letter is part of the exhibition.

Other works include a two-screen film of the artist dressed as Amy Winehouse telling of his admiration for her in I Lost My Passport in Your Dream, and a set of photos under the title Father Rock Me, showing the artist’s father and the actor Rock Hudson.

In the photo Samson and Delilah the artist looks worried as actress Vanessa Ahmed caresses his lovely long hair, and in the two-screen film A Bride of Khusro he appears as a woman to perform Kathak Dance moves to a Qawali soundscape, in front of a Sufi shrine in Karachi.

In A World Where There Are Five Women I Am The Seventh is a new commission which allows Shaheen to display his costume-making again, showing five sari blouses around a wedding dress; this apparently leaves space for another woman, a space he describes as ‘gender atypical’.

The obvious interest in gender raises questions, but the vital exhibition guide tells us that the adoption of a feminine persona echoes the gender transformation of the Sufi saints into the eternal brides of their masters, apparently.

Shaheen is an artist who has moved away from the ideas of autobiographical work to play with ideas of what may or may not be true, and create from that. The love letter, the guide tells us, is actually a creation of the artist. At the exhibition opening he said that he likes exploring ideas of relationships, but these are always viewed as romantic relationships – whereas to him his most important relationship is with his Kathak dance teacher of the last 20 years – Nahid Siddiqui, who was at the opening and who appears in his video diptych Arya with him, where he reads the love letter aloud.

It’s a striking exhibition, with layers of meaning and misinterpretation possible. And possibly best approached with a vodka in hand.

* Opening the same night, and which I also managed to visit, was the new exhibition at Eastside Projects.

In the large gallery, Turner Prize winning artist Susan Philipsz has created a new site- specific work called Broken Ensemble: War Damaged Musical Instruments (Brass Section).

It consists of speakers from which come the sounds of instruments damaged in various conflicts in the late nineteenth century, including the Balaklava Bugle, used to sound the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, and another military bugle damaged by a bullet.

The sounds are as you might expect – but the idea is interesting.