Exhibition Review: Roger Palmer, REFUGIO - after Selkirk after Crusoe, Kirkcaldy Galleries

In 1704 Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor and privateer, was marooned on an island in the Pacific Ocean. His story may have inspired Daniel Defoe to write one of the first English language novels The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Selkirk was born and raised in Lower Largo on the Fife coast. 

In the novel, after twenty-five years of solitude, Crusoe encounters cannibals visiting his island. A man who is about to be eaten escapes, hotly pursued by two of his captors. Crusoe kills the pursuers and the escapee bows before him in submission and gratitude. Thereafter he becomes Crusoe’s dutiful servant. In return Crusoe gives him three unsolicited gifts: the English language, Christianity, and the name Friday. One reading of the Crusoe story is as an apologia for imperialism. Crusoe’s mission before being shipwrecked was to fetch slaves from Africa. Once on the island he is presented as a white European Christian bringing his civilising influence to bear upon dark ski…

Exhibition Review: Arpita Shah, Nalini, Street Level Photoworks

Naliniis a family portrait. In fact it is an exhibition full of portraits, including the artist Arpita Shah’s self-portrait as a white flower rising up from a pond with petals about to burst open. Nalini is the Sanskrit word for lotus, it is also the name of Shah’s maternal grand mother. The lotus and other flowers are used as symbolic motifs throughout the exhibition alluding to femininity and the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Nalinispeaks of four generations of women who were all born in India, but who spent significant parts of their lives elsewhere.

Shah’s pastel infused photographs were made in Ahmedabad, Mehmdhabad, Mumbai, Mombassa, and Nairobi. The collection is enhanced by old black and white photographs plucked from her grand father’s attic. She also uses objects to enrich this story of family, time and migration. Those pastel shades of pink and blue and occasional greens and yellows are soft and gentle in the warm light of both India and Kenya. Gentle is a word that spea…

WIP: Edyta Majewska, The Other White

Edyta Majewska came with her daughter to live in Scotland in 2006. Ten years later while she was working as a cleaner in a school in Glasgow, the sports hall was set up with polling booths for the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. As a Polish national, Majewska had become worried for her own future. Although highly educated, language barriers and economic necessity sometimes led her to take on jobs where she felt socially invisible. Now the voices of bigoted politicians were making her feel she could very shortly be made to disappear altogether. Majewska turned her anger and frustration in a positive direction. On the day before the referendum she filmed herself sweeping up around the polling booths. Later she coupled this footage with Nigel Farage’s grating voice to make a short but powerful video, The Other White. Farage was gloating over the Brexiteers’ historic victory that came, he claimed, because of the EU’s open door policy on immigration. Seventeen million people …

WIP: Frances Scott, Untitled (Walking Orkney)

When Frances Scott was a child her pilot father would take her up in an aeroplane on Sundays to look down upon the islands of Orkney. He taught her to recognise each one by its shape alone. “To give you a feel of the place, to make you aware of your heritage and understand where you fit in.” Over a three-year period following art school, Scott flew over Orkney more than a thousand times. She worked as a steward for an airline that served the Northern Isles. In the ten minutes of take off and just before landing Scott would see through her window slithers and fragmented shapes of those familiar islands and she longed to make them her own.

Slack water is a point of stillness in a tidal flow. It is a point in time when, for a moment, opposing forces are in balance and the water appears not to move. It is a phenomenon that is strangely pleasing to see.Slack Water was once the working title of Scott’s project to map the islands of Orkney through walking their coastlines. It is no surprise t…

Exhibition Review: Andres Serrano, Torture, Stills Gallery

Torture has arrived at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh. Supported by arts organisation a/political Andres Serrano has produced an extensive body of work picturing borrowed torture devices and staged acts of torture. As part of his creative process he visited concentration camps and interrogation centres. He also took advice from torturers and victims of torture alike. Many of the photographs were made at The Foundry, a disused factory in the industrial town of Maubourguet. Since 2015 the work has toured galleries in France, Italy, the USA and Northern Ireland and now reaches Scotland in the form of eight very-large-scale photographs. 
What we see in the exhibition are four, obviously simulated, photographs of people being tortured, three still lives of historic instruments of torture and a portrait of CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou. The photographs reach almost from floor to ceiling, mounted behind plexiglass, supported by thick black wooden frames. The vast size and scale of the photogra…

Film Preview: Beatrix Wood, San Fhuil/ It's In The Blood

Many crofters on South Uist have second jobs to help make ends meet. Some work at the hospital, others at the local missile firing range. Beatrix Wood’s second job is filmmaker. San Fhuil/ It’s in the Blood is her three part documentary series showing the annual cycle of crofting and its twenty first century challenges. The films are centred on the township of Drimsdale where Wood and her family have lived and crofted for the last eight years. 

Every aspect of the crofting year is covered (brace yourself): collecting and spreading seaweed to fertilise the fields before ploughing, sowing and harrowing, cutting and drying peat for fuel, driving the sheep out onto the hills where they winter and gathering them back in again after lambing for castrating, shearing and dipping, dosing and pedicuring cattle, calving, muirburning, roof thatching, taking lambs and calves to market in Lochboisdale, harvesting the oats and barley and preparing silage for winter feed, stacking hay, digging up Kerr…

Book Review: ACWA, New Shoots Old Roots

History is not what happened it is what we remember happened. There are significant gaps in our understanding of Scotland’s history. To borrow the opening quotation from New Shoots Old Roots: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Chinua Achebe This simple publication contains photographs and interview transcripts. It brings to life the stories of eight African and Caribbean women who came to Scotland between 1958 and 1996. It places value on their experience as migrants to this country where they were welcomed for their skilled labour but often left feeling socially isolated because of racism.
The book is dedicated to Edith Meheux. There is a Polaroid photograph of her as a young woman on the front cover of the book. She is a vision in pastel shades: a light green coat over a pink dress and yellow leggings. But she also wears thick gloves and dark boots and scarf because the earth is covered in blue white snow. She faces the …