Jakomfrah 12
8 Jul 2016

Stories to be told in Birmingham as part of nationwide portrait events

Critically acclaimed artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah OBE participates in the first of a series of live portrait sittings by award-winning artist Tanya Raabe-Webber at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery this summer, exploring and celebrating the diversity of our common humanity.

Portraits Untold, funded by Arts Council England and in partnership with The Big Draw and other national venues including National Portrait Gallery will see acclaimed disabled artist Tanya Raabe-Webber undertake the first of the live portrait sittings at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery on Saturday 16 July with the respected artist and founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective. Their first film, Handsworth Songs (1986) explored the events surrounding the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London through a combination of archive footage, still photos and newsreel.

The sitting will take place in front of a live audience, who are encouraged to draw their own portraits of the sitter and explore their own creativity and diversity through traditional drawing and the use of digital drawing apps. The sitting will also involve a series of discussions about the lives of the two artists and their thoughts on diversity, which audiences will be able to take part in.

The event, which will also be streamed live online, has been devised to reach new audiences through a variety of platforms to make art more accessible – something that artist Tanya Raabe-Webber feels strongly about.

Midlands based Tanya Rabbe-Webber said: “As a disabled artist, the notion of my own diversity drives my interest in people and my belief that everyone has the potential to be creative if given the opportunity. I have developed this project to enable creativity to be as accessible as possible and am excited by the idea that both the physical and online audiences get to engage in the production of new work. I can’t wait to see how John Akomfrah’s story unfolds.”

Portraits Untold will take place in the Round Room at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery across three two-hour sittings. Throughout the sitting, Tanya will fuse digital and traditional drawings and versions of the audience’s drawings with her own to create a multi-layered portrait. Drawing materials will be provided, and audience members with smart phones and devices such as tablets are encouraged to download free drawing apps such as Sketch Book Pro before coming to the event. Audiences, both live and watching online will be able to send their digital and digitized drawings through to the artist on the day through social media. 

Andy Fowles, Learning and Access Manager at Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “Portraits Untold is a unique and inspiring project and we are delighted that Tanya will be using the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery as the stage for her sitting with John Akomfrah, who has strong connection to Birmingham through his film ‘Handsworth Songs’.

“We are always exploring exciting ways to reach new and diverse audiences and this session offers a truly immersive and engaging experience for those who attend on the day, but also through the online stream. The event will be a real celebration of culture and diversity and we look forward to seeing Tanya’s work and the creative responses that come through on the day.”

Portraits Untold will take place across three other well-known venues with high profile sitters from July – October. At the end of the project, the completed portraits will go on display in each venue. For more information, visit www.portraitsuntold.co.uk. Like Portraits Untold on Facebook at www.facebook.com/portraitsuntold and follow @PortraitsUntold on Twitter.


Notes to editors:

Tanya Raabe-Webber

Tanya Raabe-Webber is an acclaimed disabled artist challenging the notion of identity within contemporary portraiture, often creating portraits of high profile disabled people during live sittings in high profile public art galleries and venues.

The winner of Ability Media International Award, Visual Arts in 2010 and DaDa International Festival, Visual Arts Award 2008, Tanya has also appeared on the BBC programme The Culture Show, undertaking a live televised portrait of the actor, musician and performance artist Mat Fraser and was recently shortlisted for The National Diversity Awards Lifetime Achievement. 

Her recent collection Revealing Culture : HeadOn - Portraits of the Untold was delivered through a partnership between Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, where live portrait sittings took place during a series of residencies in these venues, sitters including Tom Shakespeare Sociologist - Bioethicist, Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton, D.B.E, Active Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords and Sir Bert Massie CBE Former Chair of the Disability Rights Commission.

She has worked on many commissions including Architects Inside Out: Tate Modern and Art Matters: Tate Britain and most recently co-presented her collaborative research with Project Ability at the Contemporary Outsider Art: the global context conference in Melbourne Australia.

John Akomfrah

John Akomfrah is a hugely respected artist and filmmaker, whose works are characterised by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality and aesthetics and often explore the experience of the African diaspora in Europe and the USA. Akomfrah was a founding member of the influential Black Audio Film Collective, which started in London in 1982 alongside the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, who he still collaborates with today. Their first film, Handsworth Songs (1986) explored the events surrounding the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London through a charged combination of archive footage, still photos and newsreel. The film won several international prizes and established a multi-layered visual style that has become a recognisable motif of Akomfrah’s practice. Recent works include the three-screen installation The Unfinished Conversation (2012), a moving portrait of the cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s life and work; Peripeteia (2012), an imagined drama visualising the lives of individuals included in two 16th century portraits by Albrecht Dürer and Mnemosyne (2010) which exposes the experience of migrants in the UK, questioning the notion of Britain as a promised land by revealing the realities of economic hardship and casual racism.

In 2015, Akomfrah premiered his three-screen film installation Vertigo Sea (2015),that explores what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls ‘the sublime seas’. Fusing archival material, readings from classical sources and newly shot footage, Akomfrah’s piece focuses on the disorder and cruelty of the whaling industry and juxtaposes it with scenes of many generations of migrants making epic crossings of the ocean for a better life. Shot on the island of Skye, the Faroe Islands and the Northern regions of Norway, Vertigo Sea has as its narrative spine two remarkable books: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) and Heathcote Williams’ epic poem Whale Nation (1988), a harrowing and inspiring work which charts the history, intelligence and majesty of the largest mammal on earth.

Akomfrah (born 1957, Accra, Ghana) lives and works in London. He has had numerous solo exhibitions including the Exchange, Penzance, UK; Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen, Denmark; STUK Kunstcentrum, Leuven, Belgium and Arnolifini, Bristol, UK in 2016; Bildmuseet Umeå, Umeå, Sweden (2015); Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan, USA (2014); Tate Britain, London, UK (2013-14) and a week long series of screenings at MoMA, New York, USA (2011). His participation in international group shows has included: ‘The 1980s: Today’s Beginnings?’, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; ‘British Art Show 8’, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2016); ‘British Art Show 8’, Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds; ‘All the World’s Futures’, 56th Venice Biennale, Italy (2015); ‘History is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain’, Hayward Gallery, London, UK (2015); ‘Africa Now: Politcal Patterns’, SeMA, Seoul, South Korea (2014); Sharjah Biennial 11, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (2013); Liverpool Biennial, UK (2012) and Taipei Biennial, Taiwan (2012). He has also been featured in many international film festivals, including Sundance Film Festival, Utah, USA (2013 and 2011) and Toronto International Film Festival (2012).

Birmingham Museums Trust

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is part of Birmingham Museums Trust, an independent charity that manages the city’s museum collection and venues on behalf of Birmingham City Council. It uses the collection of around 800,000 objects to provide a wide range of arts, cultural and historical experiences, events and activities that deliver accessible learning, creativity and enjoyment for citizens and visitors to the city. Most areas of the collection are designated as being of national importance, including the finest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. Attracting over one million visits a year, the Trust’s venues include Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Aston Hall, Blakesley Hall, Museum Collections Centre, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Sarehole Mill, Soho House, Thinktank and Weoley Castle. www.birminghammuseums.org.uk

Arts Council England 

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2015 and 2018, we plan to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. www.artscouncil.org.uk.