As we face the emotional, physical, economic, psychosocial and other consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and consider new ways of being in this time of global crisis, the notion of community and care is more pertinent than ever.
Located as the symbolic bond between care and community, the word ‘contagion’ – its original meaning being ‘together’, and ‘to touch’ – evokes images of close contact, as well as ideas of potential exposure and transmission. What are the new implications of touch, of close relationships between the self and the other, or the lack thereof in a time of isolation and separation? How might we be better together as a community in the future? How to protect those who risk their lives in their commitment to care for others, working on multiple frontlines? What kinds of support structures might we need, to help us navigate such unprecedented times, both collectively and individually?
Autograph commissioned ten UK-based visual artists – Mohini Chandra, Poulomi Desai, Joy Gregory, Othello De’Souza-Hartley, Sonal Kantaria, Ope Lori, Dexter McLean, Karl Ohiri, Silvia Rosi and Aida Silvestri – to create new work responding to the wider contexts of Covid-19, looking closely at their immediate environments. The interdisciplinary artworks they produced represent thoughtful reflections on changing conditions of existence: generous invitations for us to think about what it means to be human and to care for one another. Using primarily photography and video, the artists reflect both carefully and critically – and often very personally – on the impact of the pandemic, exploring ideas of loss, family, home, belonging and diaspora while considering different lived experiences, and the inevitability of change. The diverse range of works created for Care | Contagion | Community —Self & Other include a conceptual equation for humanity; intricate visual diaries; photo-action-paintings highlighting the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on communities of colour and essential workers; performative self-portraits; and experimental imagery inoculated with mould and bacterial growth, metaphors for the economics of care and control.
The ten artists’ work will be brought together for the first time in this group exhibition at Autograph’s gallery in Hackney.
Poulomi Desai, from the commission Our cultures are the portals - the gateways between one world and the next, 2020
This exhibition is part of Autograph's 2020-21 commissioning project Care | Contagion | Community —Self & Other. Initiated during the first month of lockdown in March 2020, Autograph's curatorial team Mark Sealy, Renée Mussai and Bindi Vora spent a year working closely with ten UK-based artists to support the creation of new work. We also invited ten writers – each paired with one of the artists – to produce a short essay contextualising these artworks, and produced a series of interviews with each artist.
We recognise that not everyone is able to physically visit our gallery. In March 2021 we made the commissions and texts available online, marking a year since the first national lockdown in the UK.
explores articulations of identity in globalised spaces, and the role of photography in relation to memory and migration. Her research-led visual arts practice is fuelled by a sustained interest in photographic histories and the processes of visual culture within colonial, anthropological and ethnographic discourses.
In her commission Belated, Chandra offers a visual mediation on ideas of place and belonging during the global pandemic.
is a multimedia artist whose activist community-based practice often utilises performance, language, photography, and sound to create art advocacy projects.
For Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other, Poulomi Desai created a series of images inoculated with bacteria, considering how we might attempt to control the uncontrollable. View her commission Our cultures are the portals - the gateways between one world and the next.
is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice explores the wider cultural politics of identity, race and gender. Her practice employs photographic media – both analogue and digital – from still to moving image and camera-less photography alongside installation, objects and sound.
Gregory created Madam Photo for the commission, a diary-like series of photographic and textual fragments drawn from her daily walks and encounters during lockdown.
is a visual artist whose artistic vocabulary encompasses photography, film, performance, sound, drawing and painting. Working across multiple interdisciplinary platforms, his practice is concerned with ideas around the human body as a site of embodiment, often engaging with self-portraiture, masculinity and vulnerability as visually performed ideas.
For Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other, De’Souza-Hartley reflected on the notion of stillness, loss and how to navigate grief in his series Blind, but I can See.
is a British Indian visual artist whose practice explores themes of movement, settlement, representation, and cultural identity. Her interdisciplinary research-led practice is concerned with history, trauma, and memory, investigating different forms of resistance through photography, video and text.
Kantaria's commission Ghar considers what 'home' might mean during a global pandemic and how it relates to her cultural heritage.
works across visual arts, activism, and academia, using lens-based media to investigate politics of difference, often in relation to cultural and sexual identity. Her research-led practice, which includes writing as well as image-making, invites viewers to question power dynamics in both private and public spheres, routinely challenging societal stereotypes, and myths.
Ope Lori created two film works for the project, a performative exploration centred on a shared lineage of philosophy between father and daughter. View The Lines Between Us / I, Becoming You.
is a photographer whose socially engaged practice is concerned with the representation of black and disabled communities. Drawing from his own lived experiences, he creates photographic portraits that emphasise the challenges and societal myths disabled people face in contemporary society.
McLean reflected on the impact Covid-19 has had on the community that surrounds him in his day-to-day life in his commission. View his series Untitled.
is a British Nigerian artist whose multifaceted practice focuses on the human condition and explores different social functions of art. Notions of self/other are central to his work, which routinely incorporates the use of photography, video, text and everyday.
For Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other, Ohiri developed a conceptual artwork that proposes a sociological equation for humanity. View his commission Equation for Humanity.
works with photography, text and moving image to explore ideas of memory, migration and diaspora. Inspired by West African studio photography, Rosi’s practice explores personal history through self-portraiture, drawing on her Togolese heritage and family traditions, especially matrilineality, and women’s labour.
In her commission, Rosi reflected on the different structures we build to protect ourselves and how the absence of touch can affect our social behaviour. View Neither Could Exist Alone.
creates mixed-media artworks that challenge the status quo of stigma, prejudice and social injustice in relation to issues of race, class, identity and health, often combining text, image and experimental techniques to manipulate the photographic surface.
For Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other, Silvestri created an experimental body of work that explores the impact of Covid-19 on frontline workers of colour, linking the present with the past. View her commission Contagion: Colour on the Front Line.
To accompany the exhibition, Autograph has published a new anthology featuring all ten artist commissions and twenty-two texts. Available from the gallery and our online shopShop
Everyone is welcome at Autograph. We care about our visitors, staff, artists and community, and are keeping measures in place to help ensure a safe visit for everyone. Have a look at our Visit Us page, it has full information about Covid-19 safety and accessibility at Autograph.
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Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list