Blog / Texts

Announcing new artist commissions

by Renée Mussai

POSTED: 03 July 2020

Autograph has commissioned ten artists to create new work in the coming months, responding to the wider context of the Covid-19 crisis. Our Senior Curator Renée Mussai introduces the project, and why it is important now

As we face a myriad of emotional, physical, economic, and psychosocial consequences in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and consider different ways of being, the notion of community and care is now more pertinent than ever – new communities, familial communities, allied communities, virtual communities, communities of care, and ­­other constellations being curated in numerous realms. Located as the symbolic bind between care and community, contagion – with its etymological Latin origin comprised of con which means together, and tangere, to touch – relates to notions of contact, connectivity, and collectivity – as well as concepts of exposure, transmission, and communication.

How might we interpret contagion otherwise or in different ways, beyond its association with the devastating global impact and transmission of the virus? What ideas, ideologies and ecologies of care might we wish to spread and communicate instead at this complex and taxing moment in time? In this current climate, how do we care for each other, within our local and global communities, and how might we care for our environment? How might we be better together as a community in the future? What are the new implications of touch – of close contact between the self and the other – or the lack thereof in a time of isolation and separation? What shifts (emotional, psychological, social) may occur as part of this process – or do not occur – when the self temporarily becomes a community of one? What might self-care look like in times like these? And what about those who risk their lives in their commitment to care for others, working on the front lines? Where does our duty of care reside, and how might we resist and refuse the continuous spread of dangerous ideologies unfolding globally, amidst the multitudinous challenges, violations, and threats posed by the politics of Covid-19 and otherwise? What does solidarity look like, when a virus spreads and structural and social inequalities are exposed openly in its wake?

Phoebe Boswell, details from On The Line, 2019. Commissioned by Autograph.

Zanele Muholi, ZaKi, Kyoto, Japan, 2017. Commissioned by Autograph.

Phoebe Boswell, details from On The Line, 2019. Commissioned by Autograph.

Initiated during the first month of government-mandated lockdown, Autograph’s curatorial team Mark Sealy, Renée Mussai and Bindi Vora have been in close dialogue with a constituency of creative practitioners in our immediate artistic community, to develop this new series of artist commissions under the overarching title Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other. For the first phase, we have invited ten UK-based artists working with photography, film and lens-based media to create a new small-scale, open-ended visual arts project in response to the current crisis (or continue an existing project related to the theme). The second phase will encompass ten new writing commissions, where each writer – paired with one of the artists – will be tasked to produce a short essay contextualising these newly commissioned works in a critical cultural framework for dissemination.

Care | Contagion | Community  — Self & Other will initially launch on our website in 2021 and in the meanwhile, we will be sharing project updates, curatorial reflections and in-conversations with the artists throughout the R&D process over the summer. The new commissions will reflect Autograph’s long-standing work advocating photography and film in relation to visual politics of rights, race and representation and as such, they reside within a well-established trajectory that began in 1989 with Joy Gregory’s seminal Autoportrait series; our first artist commission. Over the organisation's thirty-year history, we have commissioned numerous celebrated contemporary artists – such as Yinka Shonibare CBE, Zanele Muholi, Franklyn Rodgers, Ingrid Pollard, Faisal Abdu’Allah, Sammy Baloji, Omar Victor Diop, Phoebe Boswell, and Lina Iris Viktor, to name but a few.

Autograph was founded in 1988 by constituency of young artists, curators and activists from African, Afro-Caribbean and South Asian cultural heritage who campaigned for their critical voices to be heard and artistic practices to made visible within a visual arts landscape marked by systemic exclusion and structural racism. Many of these conversations are ongoing to this date and the process of dismantling unequal systems of power a continual campaign of resistance, and refusal – now more urgent than ever, crucially invigorated by Black Lives Matter movements unfolding world-wide. In this climate, Autograph continues to work internationally as agents for social change within the visual arts, advocating for artists from diverse cultural backgrounds and for our critical mission ignited more than 30 years ago.

Joy Gregory, Autoportraits, 1989/90. Commissioned by Autograph.

Joy Gregory, Autoportraits, 1989/90. Commissioned by Autograph.

Joy Gregory, Autoportraits, 1989/90. Commissioned by Autograph.

The ten artists commissioned for Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other, whose work collectively addresses complex themes including social justice, cultural identity, sexuality and gender politics, race and representation, disability and ableism, memory, history, migration, human trafficking, and social activism, are: Mohini Chandra, Poulomi Desai, Joy Gregory, Othello De-Souza Hartley, Sonal Kantaria, Ope Lori, Dexter McLean, Karl Ohiri, Silvia Rosi and Aida Silvestri.

We are deeply excited to be working with such a wonderful line-up of creative minds – and look forward to sharing the work in progress and final outcomes with you over the coming months. Stay tuned… 


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