My Highlights of 2013 at NAE

A look back at the last year of events and exhibitions

by Bethan Davies, Marketing Assistant

As we begin to get excited about the launch of the new spring season here at NAE, it seems an appropriate time to look back over the last year and reflect on the highlights that made it so special. For me personally in my first year working here, it was hugely exciting to discover how an arts organisation really works, from national press campaigns for our main exhibitions, to covering myself in glitter helping out with our Family Friendly workshops. The launch of every new exhibition always has such a buzz, and it’s really satisfying to see new faces coming through the door to see what’s happening. Then begins the daily panic of making sure I turn on the exhibits correctly without blowing anything up.

A definite highlight for me was Realism in Rawiya, a main exhibition launched in January. Featuring the work of the first all-female photographic collective to emerge from the Middle East, Rawiya, these were images of everything from an all-female car racing team, to transvestite performers. They revealed a Middle East more varied in culture and emotion than the standard Western representation found in the press. This presentation of unseen stories and an unseen politics by a group of women was inspirational, as their unity as a group of female artists demonstrated not only huge strength and talent, but also a variety of aesthetic process and subject that belied a hope for the future where such exhibitions defined in part by gender, would no longer be necessary. I’m excited for that egalitarian future.

Another favourite has to be the charismatic Charlie Phillips, who exhibited The Urban Eye, a collection of photographs and objects from 1960s and 70s Notting Hill, London. These images captured fleeting moments of life for the residents of this area, turning the mezzanine gallery into a time capsule, engulfing the viewer in a world of street life, interracial relationships, Carnival, fashion and bohemia. I was lucky enough to be a part of a guided tour of the exhibition by Charlie himself, whose casual yet confident delivery, surrounded by his work and personal history, really brought the images to life. A highlight was the revelation that a photograph of a black man and a white woman, seemingly glowing with affection for each other, was not the scene of a then radical interracial relationship, but two party goers who Charlie put together because they were in the room at the same time. This juxtaposition of circumstance and spontaneity and the viewer’s tendency to project their own narrative onto an image worked brilliantly throughout.

John Akomfrah’s The Unfinished Conversation, a multi-screened film centred around the life, work and politics of academic and cultural critic Stuart Hall was a fascinating education into the background and beliefs of a man whose papers I have read many times. Its installation, as the viewer was confronted by three screens, each presenting another layer of the narrative, worked brilliantly in immersing the onlooker in the history of not only Hall, but the British Black community.

As the main gallery walls were painted back to white, Bill Ming’s Out of da Wood brought a refreshing lightness to the space, as his colourful wooden carved sculptures spoke of sand and sea, youth and culture in his birth place, Barbados. The tiny finger prints found at the end of the day in the sand surrounding a scene of sculptures were a sign of the excitement and engagement the exhibition inspired, especially in our younger visitors.

Engagement with the community became the focus again with Common Culture’s Not Necessarily in the Right Order. The film, featuring local singers, musicians and actors depicted a rehearsal for a festival of the future, celebrating Nottingham’s many vibrant festivals, such as Carnival and Mela. Commissioned to coincide with NAE’s fifth birthday, it was a real opportunity to connect with the local community and local talent, and thank them for their support over the years.

Beyond the exhibitions it was a year packed with events. Common Culture were in conversation, MOBO award winner Zoe Rahman gave us some breath-taking performances and the paper and prit-stick were flying in our Family Friendly workshops to name a few, but my personal favourite had to be the Reggae vs Bhangra: Silent Disco. As the winter weather closed in, our amazing creative and technical team turned the main gallery space into a colour and film backed dance floor worth seeing, even if your dance moves were feeling a bit forgotten. It was great way to wind down at the end of the year, and DJ Deesh and DJ Trew kept the tunes going well beyond closing.

If 2014 is anything like last year, we’re in for a year of hard work and some truly brilliant exhibitions and events that make it all worth-while.

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