Shirin Neshat latest body of work, ‘The Fury’, is a timely politically charged artwork

Still from The Fury by Shirin Neshat, 2023

Upstairs at the Goodman Gallery in London hang large-scale black-and-white photographs of women. Look closer at their naked bodies, parts of which are symbolically covered, and these women of various ages and ethnicities bear signs of abuse and mutilation. Meanwhile, downstairs in the gallery, the video installation tells the stylised, fictional story of a woman struggling with her memories of imprisonment and rape.

‘The Fury’ is the latest body of work by the New York-based Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat, who, since the 1990s, has captivated viewers — and in some instances caused controversy — through an art that investigates gender and society, time and memory, the individual and the collective, and the complexities and contradictions of Islam, told through a personal and diasporic lens.

Neshat’s mesmerising, cinematic, large-scale black-and-white photography is overlaid with handwritten Farsi calligraphy — poetry, prose — inviting the viewer to read more than the surface image. Likewise, with her feature films and film installations, she has created her own unique moving image language.

‘The Fury’ was shot in June 2022 near Neshat’s Brooklyn studio. In the film, the female protagonist is played by Iranian-American actor Sheila Vand, while the remaining cast are Neshat’s co-students from her African dance class. In the film, dance expresses liberation — it is fundamental to the storytelling. Choreographed by Neshat’s teacher, the climax scene is a stirring ritual of movement expressing protest and rage, performed to the haunting vocals of Tunisian musician Emel Mathlouthi, singing “Soltane Ghalbha” (meaning king of hearts, a heartfelt Iranian love song from 1968), the melody slowed down, and the lyrics retold in Arabic.

I spoke with Shirin Neshat to see what she hopes the viewer will take from this body of work.

See the full interview here

Shirin Neshat Flavia #2, from The Fury series, 2023 © Shirin Neshat/Goodman Gallery

‘Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011-2015’ opens at the Serpentine, London

Georg Baselitz “Zero Mobil” (2013-2014) © Jochen Littkenmann for Georg Baselitz At Serpentine

Ten wooden sculptures by the German artist Georg Baselitz, each shaped from an individual tree trunk, stand and recline and hover over the daylight-lit rooms of the Serpentine South gallery. Some are enormous, carved with twisting and turning shapes and crude, rough edges. They are at once overpowering yet soft and gentle. And there is humor and humanity in their interactions.

“Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011-2015” is the first public showing of this body of work, created between the dates on the title and modelled on himself and his wife Elke, a life-long inspiration and artistic partner, with subjects that reflect on history, personal life, childhood memories. “What is essentially being exhibited is like a cabinet of wonders: a sphere within a sphere within a sphere from a tree trunk with a chainsaw,” says Baselitz of the exhibition.

Read the full review here

Sanlé Sory and Kyle Weeks connect at ‘Meeting at the Volta’ at David Hill Gallery 

Kyle Weeks, “Spo and Holali,” Accra, Ghana, 2021 © Kyle Weeks

Two generations of photographers, displayed side-by-side, powerfully capture the lively energy of West Africa. ‘Meeting at the Volta,’ at David Hill Gallery in London, features Sanlé Sory’s gentle studio-shot monochrome portraits of Burkina Faso in the 1960s-80s alongside contemporary photographer Kyle Weeks’ bold and colourful body of work, taken within the last six years on the streets of the Ghanaian capital Accra.

Read more here

Artist And Filmmaker Steve McQueen’s ‘Grenfell’ Sends A Powerful Political Message

Still from Steve McQueen’s ‘Grenfell’ Photo © Richard Ivey

In December 2017, six months after the tragic Grenfell Tower fire that took with it 72 lives while destroying countless others, the artist Steve McQueen boarded a helicopter equipped with his camera. He filmed ‘Grenfell’ – a single-take 24-minute scene of the charred building, burnt to its bare bones. McQueen was adamant to capture the tower before the local authority covered it up.

This powerful film opens with an aerial view of suburban, leafy west London, the camera moving deliberately towards the tower block to the sound of the circling blades and city soundscape below. On approaching the tower block, the film falls absolutely silent as the helicopter circles and hovers around the building.

McQueen’s steady gaze takes the viewer in and out of the building, occasionally lingering on a blackened, broken window, a discarded object, trash bags, and forensic teams in PPE. Recalling Hitchcock’s seminal scene in the ‘North by Northwest’, the silence only helps magnify the sense of absolute terror and (in this case) absolute grief.

The Grenfell fire should never have happened. It was due to the cheap combustible cladding (banned in Europe) that was installed on the social housing high-rise only a year earlier. And the building had inadequate fire extinguishers and sprinklers.

In a powerful essay ‘Never Again Grenfell’ Paul Gilroy, author and scholar of race, culture and nationalism, writes:

‘To me, Steve McQueen’s work suggests that there is much to gain in confronting the meanings of the damaged structure and making the shock of our painful contact with it instructive. Opening ourselves humbly to that possibility can be accomplished without betraying the tower’s plural traumas or the political complexity of this moment in which closure is not an option. We cannot understand Grenfell unless we keep the reality of this building firmly in mind.’

On the day I went to the ‘Grenfell’ preview screening at the Serpentine, the collective expression was solum; most of us had cried. McQueen’s lens is spellbinding. It makes us meditate in that moment on the memory never to be forgotten.

The film is being screened until until 10 May, after which the work will be placed in the care of the Tate Gallery and the Museum of London ’s collections.

Read my full review here

Exhibition: ‘Alice Neel: Hot off the Griddle’ at the Barbican Gallery, London

Alice Neel at the age of 29, 1929 © The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy The Estate of Alice Neel

Alice Neel, activist, feminist, humanist, warm and passionately non-conformist, is one of the leading painters of our time. Working predominantly in New York, where she lived most of her life, and in the intimate surroundings of her home rather than a studio, from the start of her long career Neel was drawn to raw moments of intimacy, painting neighbours, artists, activists, labour leaders, Black intellectuals, queer couples — often painting those excluded from portraiture. “I’m a collector of souls,” she wrote. “I paint my time using the people as evidence.”

‘Alice Neel: Hot off the Griddle’ at the Barbican gallery captures the spirit of this remarkable painter of the 20th century who, despite her figurative work being so unfashionable, refused to conform to the art movements of her time.

Andy Warhol, 1970 © The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy The Estate of Alice Neel.

And she was a gifted portraitist; her gaze penetrates deep inside each of her subjects, all of whom are treated with respect, compassion, humour and equal attention, be it her fellow artist Andy Warhol caught at his most vulnerable (1970), the youthful poet and writer John Perreault (1972), head of the US Communist Party Gus Hall (1981), a couple of privileged Wellesley College girls (1967), her neighbour Carmen and child (1972), or indeed herself, painted in 1980 at a ripe age of 80. 

As a side note, it’s interesting to compare Neel’s self-portrait with Lucian Freud’s ‘Painter Working, Reflections’ (1993), also his only full-figure naked self-portrait, painted as the artist turned 70. Whereas Neel reveals a touch of vulnerability in her pose, seated in an armchair, paintbrush in hand, cheeks flushed, Freud stands arrogant, full of ego, tough – yet both artist appear triumphant.

The Barbican’s gorgeous exhibition, with its warm colours and textures, offers an intimate encounter with the artist. Neel’s work is as fresh and relevant and powerful today as it was then. And, as the exhibition catalogue nicely points out, it speaks of our concerns and struggles, who is represented and why, highlighting the political nature of how we look at others, and what it is to feel seen.

‘Alice Neel: Hot off the Griddle’ is at the Barbican gallery in London until May 21, 2023.

Self-Portrait, 1980 © The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy The Estate of Alice Neel.