If you’re Christmas shopping in Birmingham and need something more stimulating to get you through the day, there are a few exhibitions which offer a bit of a respite. Well, they worked for me anyway.
At the Ikon gallery, Imran Qureshi’s exhibition is a mixture of his miniature paintings and site-specific installations made for the gallery.
Qureshi is known for using the disciplined miniature painting style of his native Pakistan in the Mughal courts of the sixteenth century and recreating it for the modern day. The miniatures look lovely, all delicate colours and shiny gold, but close up there’s more to see.
After watching on TV the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a marketplace in Lahore in 2010 Qureshi saw the blood-splattered surfaces, and felt a colour in his studio matched it. That red seeps into some of the miniatures, in splodges but also in delicate flower drawings or other patterns, overlaying the original image. In other miniatures, missiles are part of, and also not part of, what is drawn there.
There’s also red patterns across the floor, and on two huge gold ovals made from acrylic and gold leaf, called They Shimmer Still.
The image that has been most recreated from this exhibition in its favourable national reviews is the huge room full of thousands of sheets of crumpled paper. It’s called And They Still Seek The Traces of Blood, and is amazing in size and design.
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as usual has several exhibitions on show. True to Life? New Photography from the Middle East is interesting and thought-provoking, especially in its works related to depictions of women and gender issues.
Static: Still Life Reconsidered is easy to overlook in the Waterhall gallery, and is quietly attractive, with lots of detailed and skilled works. There are also some larger more striking works by Patrick Caulfield, and for me William Nicholson’s work also stood out.
The West Midlands Open in the Gas Hall is large and varied in type of work and quality. Shaun Morris’s large and dramatic painting stood out for me. It was inspired by the land under the motorway around West Bromwich, and painted in the year of Margaret Thatcher’s death. The caption says Morris was struck by how the landscape around there had changed after she came to power, moving from manufacturing to distribution centres.
Also of interest were works by Bethany Kane. Originally from Rugby, she studied at City College Coventry, then the University of Derby. Her photographs are part of a Hidden Hunger project which looks at food poverty in the UK today. Foleshill Baptist church in Coventry and the Chace Hostel feature in this exhibition, both lacking people but with facilities provided to hopefully feed the needy. They are stark and lack warmth, but provide the sort of help no one ever wants to need.
Other paintings might be more cheery, but as a touch of reality in the run up to Christmas both Shaun Morris and Bethany Kane’s works spoke volumes.