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12th December 2018

Perspectives at The Whitworth: Thursday Lates Takeover in contemporary art

Saoirse Akhtar-Farren reviews Venture Arts’ PERSPECTIVES at The Whitworth: a show to open the discussion of ‘outsider’ art and its relevance in contemporary culture
Perspectives at The Whitworth: Thursday Lates Takeover in contemporary art
The Whitworth. Photo: Charlesdrakew @Wikimedia Commons.

Resisting the unforgiving wind and biting cold last Thursday evening, I made my way to the Whitworth Gallery for Thursday Lates Takeover which hosted an invigorating and inspirational exhibition on learning disabled contemporary artists.

Perspectives is an exhibition which aims to open the discussion on the “visibility” of learning disabled artists in contemporary art spaces, including the relevance, or rather, irrelevance of terms such as ‘outsider’ art within the artistic community.

The term ‘outsider’ art was the central theme of perspectives. Coined by Roger Cardinal in the early seventies, ‘outsider’ art was originally translated from the French, ‘art brut’ meaning ‘raw art’ which aimed to encompass those ‘outside’ of conventional culture, and with no exposure to an education in art.

However, ‘outsider’ art has evolved into what, Jennifer Gillbert described to be, an “umbrella term” that encompasses disabled or mentally ill artists in contemporary art, including individuals from an low economic background and subsequently had no access to art education. This raises questions into the appropriateness of terms like ‘outsider’ art to encompass minority groups. Indeed, it would seem to ostracise individuals and group them as ‘different’ from educated and ‘mentally sound’ artists.

In true contemporary style, Venture Arts’ artists, such as Ahmed Mohammed and Lesley Thompson, found space on a table and peacefully crafted live drawings during the introduction speech which outlined the core aims of Venture Arts.

The intended goal of “inclusivity” for disabled artists into mainstream contemporary art was one way Jennifer Gillbert advocated Venture Arts’ message. This is in order to break-down socially constructed walls that separates disabled artists within contemporary art. An emphasis on the similarities over the differences of contemporary artists are a means that Venture Arts suggest to eradicate assumptions attached to minority groups.

Perspectives explored how Venture Arts empowers artists through providing spaces and exposure to mixed media. Barry Finan Anthony and Terry Williams are amongst some artists supported by Venture arts, who have been — or are to have — their work displayed in exhibitions.

The Whitworth Gallery are among the contributors who are celebrating learning disabled artists, and have purchased Barry Anthony Finan’s ‘YES I WANNT TO DO TRRICKSSERRS’, which will soon be part of Whitworth’s permanent collection.

I was privileged enough to observe Finan’s piece, purchased by the Whitworth, in a private room beneath the main gallery. Here, Holly Grange, the curator of the Musgrave Outsider Art Collection, gave a detailed history on selected pieces of artwork from the Musgrave Kinley collection.

A favourite was Dusan Kusmic’s shoe sculpture created from chewed up bread, spat out, and moulded into miniature shoes.

In the closing Q&A of the private art tour, Grange remarked the point of being “open and transparent” within the realm of ‘outsider’ art. This I felt was poignant to the function of art as knowing no boundaries or limitations.

Despite the limitations associated with the term ‘outsider’ art, integration of  ‘outsider’ art into mainstream contemporary art may be the gateway into freeing all art of preconceived assumptions and expectations, making art truly “open and transparent” for all.

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