“ I think of myself as a storyteller when making an exhibition – I aim to create an environment where a particular issue can have the time and space to be explored. I want to create an open space for visitors to unravel these issues and speak about them with their friends and family”, says Alberta Whittle, a multimedia artist and curator whose work is informed by her research into anti-racist work, histories of oppression and practices of unlearning. Storytelling is often a great medium to get across difficult tough thoughts elemental to our worldly understandings. Find out more here In Alberta Tells Stories
Image on left Alberta Whittle Cosmopolitan dreamings (London), 2022 Acrylic, Florida Water, deconstructed, British army jacket on linen in wooden artist’s frame 60 x 55 cm, 23 5/8 x 21 5/8 in Courtesy of the artist, The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow and Nicola Vassell, New York
Her first solo exhibition ‘Alberta Whittle: Dipping Below A Waxing Moon, The Dance Claims Us For Release’ is being displayed in Bath’s Holburne Museum. The exhibition is on till 8th May and narrates 18th-century histories, particularly those belonging to Ball’s plantation in Barbados, Whittle’s native country. The Ball plantation was owned by the great-grandfather of the Holburne Museum founder Sir Thomas William Holburne. Hence the moving yet slightly uncomfortable facets of this set of works.
Alberta Whittle by Matthew A Williams
The exhibition includes “Matrix Moves”, seven sculpted figures dressed in Caribbean carnival attire frozen in time to capture the dance movements of enslaved Africans which were forcefully performed to entertain their owners.
With this exhibition, Whittle aspires to garner compassion and empathy despite underlining some harsh realities about Bath and Britain. To commemorate those who lost their lives on Ball’s plantation, Whittle also wrote an epitaph in 2019 which is available as readable text and audio work.
Alberta Whittle Tracing Shadows amongst the Crows, 2022, Raffia, acrylic, cotton, doilies, hooded sweatshirt, wool, felt and sequins on linen 165 x 172 x 20 cm, 65 x 67 3/4 x 7 7/8 in Courtesy of the artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow Photo: Patrick Jameson
Multimedia artists like Whittle are using art to examine historical beliefs and instigate conversations and inquiry into societal systems and human experience by also involving the viewer in the process.
This two-way artistic experience can be rendered into a simple thinking routine designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “See, Think, Me, We” connects the viewer to the bigger picture in four steps. It encourages the viewer to observe the artwork closely, generate self-directed thoughts, make self-connections and then think of greater connections beyond personal experiences.
Alberta Whittle Smoke and Mirrors, 2021 C-type digital collage, diasec mounted on aluminium 64.1 x 90.3cm, 25 1/4 x 35 1/2in Edition of 5 plus 2 artist’s proofsCourtesy of the artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow Photo: Patrick Jameson
Speaking exclusively to .Cent, Whittle believes that art can provide a space and environment for difficult ideas and subject matter to be thought about and considered. It can instigate conversation and moments or reflection that can go on and extend outside the gallery.
“The rhythm and pacing of the work is always carefully considered – what clues do we give the audiences so their mood, their body are prepared to receive and consider the complicated ideas and subject matter – in order not to overwhelm. I am always thinking about the audience and the space I am inviting them into – I am also thinking about comfort and care – how can I make the audience feel physically comfortable (through seating, warmth etc) that may help support the discomfort they may feel through the ideas being explored, how can I care for the audience and remind them of the joy and positivity that exists alongside the pain and or anger. I try to situate pain, anger, grief alongside moments of love and care also as a way to approach these issues,”
Whittle has choreographed installations by playing with film, sculpture and performance as artworks which are site specific displayed in private and public spaces.
“As an interdisciplinary artist, I often feel guided by my body to work in different disciplines – I may feel something is missing – maybe a bit of text or a sculptural object – much like how a full stop or an exclamation mark can change the tone of a sentence. In my work you’ll find imagery, text, you’ll find objects – both personal to myself but also potentially to others – that all tell a story or contain a message or prompt, providing other layers in which to explore and engage with the work. I work in a bodily and instinctive way thinking about how the work can make the audience feel and think. I often describe my work as collage – a piecing together of mediums and messages that hopefully unravel to tell a story”.
Her work embodies the ideas of self-love which she manifests through meditations and prompts.
“I think about spaces for rest and contemplation within the exhibitions and the works I make – this may manifest itself in the physical space as seating, lighting, readings or items of comfort like quilts and cushions to contemplate the work. Within the digital sphere, more often it’s my films that are shared and I work with rhythm, pacing and often poetry or prompts for meditation to speak directly to my audience. Punctuation plays a prominent part in my work, I use it to emphasise the need to slow down or pause. Working with performers and sometimes performing myself I make breathwork visible and show people at rest.”
Storytelling is often the best way to confront difficult subject matters. colours, textures, and words all add to a way of exploring subject matter that may well be uncomfortable, but Alberta Whittle does it brilliantly here.
If you enjoyed reading Alberta Tells Stories then why not read Twisted Love here
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