Ikon Gallery is doing what it does best with 'wow' installations both inside their Brindleyplace walls and out and about. You know the kind I mean? The love-it-or-hate-it jumbo-sized statement pieces that take up entire rooms and will have you chatting about them over coffee for an hour and a half after you've left. Love 'em.
OUT OF FRAME
Their second floor is currently dedicated to a solo exhibition, OUT OF FRAME, by frustratingly well-dressed Nigerian artist, Abdulrazaq Awofeso. Having recently arrived in Birmingham from Lagos, Awofeso’s work is made entirely from discarded wooden transport pallets forming a metaphor of human migration, as well as Abdulrazaq's own frequent journeys between Nigeria, South Africa and Europe. His little figures (pictured, top) take the form of wall reliefs, freestanding sculptures and installations. Each is individually carved and painted by hand. Their physical traits and vibrant colours are inspired by the people he meets and subcultures he experiences — like Sape. Prevalent in Kinshasa and Brazzaville (Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of Congo respectively), the colourful, sartorial style of La Sape originated as a response to colonial rule and western ‘dandy’ fashion. The artist’s reference to collective identities give his figures the quality of universal portraits. Their individualised forms, however, resist cultural or racial categorisation. Perhaps most amazing is an installation of 3,000 individually-carved figures (above) filling the floor of an entire room. They embody the modern city, where people from all walks of life come together. Suspended above the miniature figures are wooden clouds, their subdued hues recalling the overcast British weather. In life, passing clouds often remind us of the ephemerality of human existence. Awofeso’s installation evokes this and the relative smallness of people in relation to the cosmos – at the same time as humanity’s collective strength. Perhaps not the best room for excitable children, was my first thought.
In a city where our bull spends more time dressed as a human than as a bull, you'll need to be a pretty staunch royalist to bemoan Queen Vic getting a lick of the madness brush from Guyanese-British artist Hew Locke. Presented by the Birmingham 2022 Festival (which I'm pretty sure 99% of the city is, right now) and commissioned by the heroes at Ikon, Foreign Exchange will remain on view through the summer and during the Games. Originally unveiled in 1901, Sir Thomas Brock’s marble figure of Victoria was recast in bronze by William Bloye and members of the Birmingham School of Art for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Seventy years on, Locke draws attention to the original craftsmanship, while bringing a diverse social and historic focus to it. Over seven meters high, Foreign Exchange wraps around the existing Queen Vic and depicts a boat carrying five smaller replica statues of Her Maj, each figure wearing a helmet, reminiscent of that worn by Britannia, and a replica medal signifying an important battle in the history of the British Empire. Exploring the symbolic power of public monuments, Locke’s vision is to create “an iconic image, leading a cohort of other statues to represent the home nation throughout the Empire”. Essentially he's depicting (I think) how many statues like ours were shipped to the far corners of the Commonwealth, for good or bad.
THE NEAR BREEDER
Of everything new on display it's Australian Aboriginal artist Yhonnie Scarce who wowed me most, showing a new suspended glass installation, The Near Breeder. Born in Woomera, South Australia, Scarce belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples. Working with glass, she explores the political nature and aesthetic qualities of the material – in particular corresponding to the crystallisation of desert sand as a result of British nuclear tests on her homeland between 1956 and 1963 in Maralinga. The Near Breeder comprises approximately 800 individually hand-blown glass shapes that resemble yams. Hanging from the ceiling, they evoke both an explosion and a cloud of inverted water drops, marking the many deaths resulting from the nuclear tests. Hard-hitting and heavy, try to visit during sunset as this room is positioned perfectly for the sun to hit the yams and cast foreboding, if beautiful, shadows.
SPACES OF TRANSCENDENCE
Following the success of his first moving image work, Her Dreams Are Bigger (2018), Osman Yousefzada returned to the subcontinent for the production of his new digital commission. Filmed in sites of ritual in Pakistan, Spaces of Transcendence (2022) is a story of environments, characters and gestures. Here a secret language and its repetition is deployed in accessing a space of transcendence where the needs of marginalised voices are fulfilled. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect for me, however, is how the gallery itself can go from total darkness (above) to bathed in light just two metres around a corner, with no doors, for The Near Breeder. Extraordinary curation. What a venue!
In the next 24 hours a new compilation album will be released featuring 11 tracks by local artists, celebrating Birmingham as it hosts the 2022 Commonwealth Games. It will be streaming digitally on all DSPs, and a limited run of 1,000 copies will also be available in yellow vinyl. Huhmanah-huhmanah, amirite? Billed as a sonic love letter to Brum, the album presented by the Birmingham 2022 Festival has been specially produced and commissioned by Birmingham Music Archive and the track-listing for On Record reads like this: 1. Friendly Fire Band – It’s a Brum Ting
2. SANITY ft Black Voices – Midlands Child (video) 3. Kate Luxmoore & Lekan Babalola – Willmore Road
4. Cherry Pickles – I Don’t Wanna Go Home 5. Elle Chante – Dynasty
6. Xhosa Cole Quartet ft Soweto Kinch – Hanging With Mr Hamilton 7. Dapz On The Map – Born & Raised
8. Bambi Bains – My City 9. We Are Muffy – Eel Song
10. Tj Rehmi – Midnight in Sparkhill 11. UB40 ft Gilly G – Champion
Each artist was given the brief to react to the word “Birmingham”, and create a track based on that reaction. Spanning Afrobeat, Asian electronica, folk, garage rock, hip-hop, jazz, neo-soul, reggae, RnB, trip-hop, and grime, On Record reflects Brum's diverse communities and rich, vibrant music culture which is currently experiencing a renaissance thanks to an explosion of creativity across the city’s cultural industries. The release – engineered and mastered by Grammy nominee and acclaimed producer Simon Duggal (who used to be my nextdoor neighbour, uninterestingly) — will kick off at 10.30am, tomorrow, when a music truck will set off on a journey banging the album out around the city. Yes, Brum! More
MEZCAL & MARGARITAS
To break kayfabe for a moment, I went to Manchester a few weeks ago and, despite all my best efforts, the bastards at Crazy Pedro's made me enjoy myself.
Pedros, for the uninitiated, is a Mancunian restaurant (there's two there, and one in Liverpool) that opens in the Custard Factory tomorrow, June 17. Their "thing" is pizzas, tequilas, mezcal and margaritas (they should pay oodles for that slogan) and they're taking all four floors of what was once the Medicine Bar — a building that has laid depressingly dormant since the forgettable Alfie Bird's. Crazy Pedro's is anything but forgettable, a wildly branded, breakneck speed experience of colour, flavour and frivolity. I bloody loved it and not just because it was free. Any pizzeria that I'm willing to eat at at both 4pm and midnight on the same day is doing something very right.
The toppings situation is fittingly batty but not, if you order right, at the expense of flavour. New York-style, and up to 24 inches if you're sizeably-inclined, they've got a little more chunk to them than most, with some of the wilder toppings including fried chicken, smoked bacon, maple syrup and waffle (god this one made me wish I had the munchies — whatever they are), their pulled pork take on an Hawaiian and a wild mushroom, spinach, garlic ricotta and truffle oil belter. The absolute standout, though, pipping a preposterously good pepperoni to the crown, was from the specials board — so ignore that at your absolute peril. The 'Cactus Jack' included Mexican chicken, pickled cactus (yep, those), mixed peppers, pico de dallo, mezcal and cholula mayo with roasted corn. It was so damn good that when one of the lovely chaps from Brum's Breaking Bread podcast asked if he could have the last slice, I hated myself immediately for instinctively nodding. I then preceded to watch the poor guy eat the piece of pie through my cold, dead eyes.
Aaanyway! The on-tap frozen margaritas come in incredibly cool (and overly stolen) paper cup-emulating ceramics and they also hammer out a 90-minute Bottomless Pizza Brunch, which includes unlimited slices, frozen margs, beer, Prosecco and Hooch of the old school Hooper's variety. Mark my words, you won't stop smiling from start to finish. Nothing about this place is taking itself too seriously (just checkout their website with the music switched to 'on'), but the pizzas and the spirits are no joke. Welcome to Brum, Pedro, and thanks for reviving a once-lost iconic building. Book
THE DESIGNER'S DESIGNER
It pains me to admit it, but there's a slim chance the strict confines of the width of this email isn't doing justice to the work of the most revered and influential artist of the Northern Renaissance.
To mark the last year of a five-year collaboration between the Barber Institute and Royal Collection Trust, a new exhibition — co-curated by eight uni of Brum students — showcases a selection of works by the great German artist, engraver and end-of-the-world obsessive, Albrecht Dürer. The work is all owned by the Queen, coming as it does from the Royal Collection, and includes 15 prints, 3 drawings and a rare painting — spanning his incredibly productive career as a master innovator.
Dürer had a gift as a draughtsman, painter and printmaker and was extremely effective at getting his "brand" across — yep, even in 1500s. He understood that printing work was the key to, well, mass marketing his pieces — effectively avoiding relying entirely on one painting selling or not selling. He was running prints off on the Renaissance equivalent of the Epson printer, even roping in his nearest and dearest to get out there and flog his work. Albrecht even had a funky little monogram going on, which needs seeing. A proper designer's designer, this guy.
Dürer was born in the German city of Nuremberg, a pivotal political and artistic centre of Europe at the time. Here, he took advantage of new printmaking technologies, the growing social mobility of artists, and an expansion in travel and communication. While Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo were eating pizza in the sewers (just kidding — establishing themselves as principal players in the Italian Renaissance), Dürer was a key figure in the parallel movement north of the Alps.
The exhibition explores some of the ways that Dürer made his name. Fundamental to his success was his mastery of drawing, painting and his elevation of relatively new techniques in printmaking. He was also big into the apocalypse — there was a widely held belief that the four horsemen were going to show up in 1500 — and you can see both death (the goat-like fella on the right) and the devil (the devil-like fella on the left) in the masterpiece, pictured. "Is everything alright at home, Albrecht?"
*Lord Kitchener pointy finger*
"Your City Needs YOU!"
Birmingham's biggest tap dancing event takes place in Brindleyplace, on June 18 and your presence is very much requested. Tappin’ In, a project by Stephanie Ridings in association with Lou Lomas, is presented by Birmingham 2022 Festival and part of Birmingham International Dance Festival. The free event starts at 2pm with the participants’ performance at 3pm followed by a mass tap lesson at 3.45pm, that you can join in on, ahead of the large-scale shim sham — the national anthem of tap. Some 130 people from Brum, Cov, Stoke, Rugby, Cannock, Chelmsley Wood, Tamworth and Telford have been learning to tap dance – with one hourly session each week for 12 weeks — whilst also listening to each other’s stories and experiences. In this finale event all 130 come together in the heart of Birmingham for the city’s biggest outdoor tap lesson — an afternoon in celebration of the joy of dance, supported by a team of professional performers, choreographers, music directors and set designers. More
WE ARE BIRMINGHAM
On June 18 at the Library, Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham (CSB) and photographer, Brian Homer, will launch an exhibition of self portraits taken of and by the people of Birmingham. Over the last couple of months Brian and the CSB team travelled to multiple locations across the city inviting people and communities from all backgrounds, but predominantly those who arrived over the last 20 years, to document themselves with selfies, of sorts. The photographs were done in the style of Brian’s famous and truly splendid 1979 project, Handsworth Self Portrait, passing the shutter release to the person in the frame and giving them the freedom to take a top to toe shot, with or without friends and family. Moments later they were handed a printed self portrait to take home. The project is part of CSBs year long We Are Birmingham campaign which showcases 20 years of social impact work with musicians, artists and communities from refugee and migrant backgrounds and represents the diversity and culture of Birmingham in 2022, giving visibility to its migrant communities. More
Current darling of the national press, the splendiferous Yikouchi, will be putting on a chicken burger battle at their Stirchley home, Saturday (June 18). Details —
Harborne Carnival is next weekend (June 26) and finding any information about it whatsoever is proving tricky. This'll do. —
Independent Bookshop Week starts Saturday and Bournville's The Bookshop on the Green are going big into it. More —
Loki’s Summer Wine & Spirits Fair takes place July 23, at Millennium Point. They’ll be showcasing 200 different wines and spirits, and a free t-shirt goes to anyone who samples them all. That's not true. You can, however, sample as many as you like for £30 per person, but don't get like you did last time, eh? Book —
JQ-bound new Italian restaurant, Trentina, are whetting appetites with a one-off Harvey Nics pop-up night. Details —
The Rep are offering 500 tickets to Playboy of the West indies for just 50p a pop. More
WORDS: Tom Cullen
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