It’s been an astonishing few weeks.
Before we closed the gallery due to the COVID-19 crisis, this large painting by Sharif Persaud hung in the window. It now resonates in ways we couldn’t have predicted when Autograph opened Sharif’s exhibition Have You Ever Had
back in February. Even the show’s title now has a new urgency, as does its themes of health and care.
Sharif’s art explores his experiences of contemporary life and autism. He’s profoundly interested in his body as a site of investigation: sneezing, hospitals, gangrene, cities, flats, benefits and his independence.
His exhibition is a compelling and diary-like experience, as Sharif generously shares both the pleasurable and traumatic facets of his life. Sharif’s family, friends and his relationship to social care structures are the bedrock of his practice as an artist – addressing important questions of healthcare.
This painting is of the cast of Holby City
, where illness and hospital drama are brought together for weekly entertainment. Sharif is a big fan of the show, and the sister programme Casualty
it spun off from (the subject of another painting in his exhibition). Like Sharif, the original writers of Casualty
were also influenced by politics of healthcare. At the height of Thatcherite Britain in 1985, Paul Unwin and Jeremy Brock wanted to make a TV series that unmasked the critical condition of our health services. They’d both previously spent time in hospital, and created Casualty
to reflect the strains and stresses of frontline NHS staff, placing them at the centre of the storylines.
It’s nearly 40 years later, and the stories of NHS frontline staff have been a constant in the news, now more than ever as they battle COVID-19. We can’t thank them enough. #ThankYouNHS
Since temporarily closing, Autograph has taken a step back to ensure our staff, artists and communities are all safe, reflect on the way forward, and consider what ideas of care mean in these challenging times.