New exhibition explores island life

A NEW exhibition at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA) explores ‘Island’ life in the UK after 1945.

The Island exhibition features photographic artworks loaned from the Arts Council Collection as part of Sunderland Culture’s three-year National Partners Programme, alongside rarely seen paintings from Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens’ collection.

Island incorporates work from renowned British photographers including Martin Parr, Chris Killip, Ingrid Pollard, Tacita Dean and Tony Ray-Jones alongside a major new commission by John Kippin and Nicola Neate, and artist-led community projects.

While some of the artwork reinforces a romantic vision of the UK’s coastline, other work is more challenging, exploring current debates including environmental change and rising sea levels, unemployment, poverty and our difficult relationship between land and sea.

One of the central pieces in the exhibition is a video by artist Alberta Whittle. Her piece, Between a Whisper and a Cry, is a projected on to a representation of a Barbadian chattel house, and explores the ‘privilege’ of weather and lack of visibility and resources available to support against the effects of adverse weather.

Jonathan Weston, Curator at NGCA for Sunderland Culture and the Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme, explained: “It’s a really powerful and striking piece that makes you think. We are excited to present the full installation for the first time since it entered the Arts Council Collection.

A rising star in the world of arts and culture, Alberta is representing Scotland at the 59th Venice Biennale this year.

Artworks from Turner Prize 2022 nominee Ingrid Pollard and Rhea Storr also challenge the visibility of Black bodies in rural and coastal locations.

Meanwhile, photographers Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones document family holidays taken at the seaside during the 1960s and 1970s. These photographs are juxtaposed with rarely shown paintings depicting Roker beach and the Roker lighthouse taken from Sunderland Museum’s collection.

And while Ken Baird, Christine Pearcey and Chris Locke’s work portray romantic seascapes, other works challenge this idealised view of Island life.

John Blakemore’s studies of sand erosions, for instance, hints at the threat posed by climate change and rapidly rising sea levels, while Chris Killip’s artworks Man, Whitley Bay and Rocker and Rosie Going Home document the changing landscape of the North East in the 1970s and 1980s and the increasingly challenging economic climate.

Graham Smith’s South Bank Teesside does the same, foretelling Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty’s Health in Coastal Communities report from last year which highlighted a lack of high-quality jobs, poor housing and transport connections, and a lack of healthcare provision as reasons for the decline in coastal towns and communities.

On the other hand, John Benton-Harris’ Children’s Outing South East Coast and Untitled (Girl in the sea) demonstrates the health benefits of living by the sea and green spaces, exuding the enjoys of fresh air and play. Hamish Fulton’s Fourteen Coast to Coast Walks. British Isles celebrates the abundance of picturesque coastal walks throughout the British Isles, while Ingrid Pollard’s Pastoral Interlude series challenges this simplistic ideal of the British countryside questioning the ownership of land.

Jonathan added: “Island is divided into three sections: coastal communities; environmental change such as coastal erosion, and the sea and seaside section which looks at the boom in seaside holidays during the 1960s and 70s, their demise during the 1980s and the more recent phenomena of staycations.

“With summer just around the corner, the exhibition is well timed. Island is on until September 11, and in July artwork created through two artist-led community projects will be added to the exhibition.”

Arts Council Collection is an important national loan collection of modern and contemporary British Art. Sunderland Culture is part of the Collection’s National Partners Programme which supports regional galleries and museums to present and curate exhibitions drawn from the Collection.

NGCA can be found within National Glass Centre and for more information on Island, go to 

Image: Martin Parr, Beauty Spot. Land’s End, 1975, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

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