No Borders in Bristol

While we were in Bristol recently we called into the Bristol Museum and Art gallery intending to take a look at their collection. Unfortunately due to refurbishment that’s taking place at the moment a number of the galleries were closed. But there was a good exhibition of international contemporary art, “No Borders”, featuring works by artists from Asia, Africa and the Middle East

The exhibition includes 25 new works of art by artists acquired by the Gallery with a £1million grant from the Art Fund aimed specifically at developing a new collection of international contemporary art. The works, which were selected with assistance from the Arnolfini, Bristol’s contemporary art gallery,  included paintings, sculpture, photographs, videos and installations. I didn’t like everything, but there were a number that particularly appealed to me.


All are the colours of my heart II by Imram Quershi (2011)

Walking into the gallery the first thing we saw, as they were hung on the wall immediately opposite the door, were a number of paintings by Imram Quershi, an artist from Hyderbad in Pakistan. There was only one colour – blood red. The patterns in all the paintings were reminiscent of blood splatters. That’s intentional as they’re part of a series of works made as a memorial to two young men who were beaten and killed in the Punjab city of Sialkot in 2010 in a tragic episode of mistaken identity and mob vigilantism (Source: Art Fund website).


I liked this “textwork” made from yellow tape by Shipa Gupta, who lives and works in Mumbai.


There is no border here by Shilpa Gupta (2006)

The words are a poem arranged in the form of a flag, set out using the type of bright yellow tape that is used at crime scenes

Shahzia Sikander was born in Pakistan and currently lives in New York. She is an exponent of Indo-Persian miniature painting. At first glance this seemed surprising as the work on display in the gallery was anything but a minature. The term is applied to the style of painting – painting in a fine and small-scale manner – and the use of minium, red lead oxide pigment, rather than it’s size.


Encapsulated Confrontation  by Shahzia Shikander (2011)

female figures arranged into a spinning wheel; animal silhouettes; the gopi-hair/black crows; the scrambled Urdu text; the French horn; and the East India Company Man who is the only character in colour. The densely layered surface of the drawing ‘encapsulates’ the confrontation staged by the artist between ‘East’ and ‘West’. (from the Art Fund website)

The exhibition also included a video work by her which can be viewed on Vimeo.

Here she is talking about her work.

The “star” exhibit was this rather large cube made from compressed tea by the well known Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

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A Ton of Tea by Ai Weiwei, 2007

Ai has chosen the Pur Er blend of tea as it is drunk by ordinary Chinese citizens across the country. The tea leaves have been dried and compressed into a block form, a traditional means of preserving and transporting tea. (From the Art Fund website)

And according to the Art Fund director, Stephen Deuchar,

“Ai Weiwei’s allegorical A Ton of Tea illuminates both the international trading links intrinsic in Bristol’s history and the DNA of the artist’s home country of China, one of the world’s biggest exporters of tea.

I’m sure quite a few people would scoff at the idea of a cube made of compressed tea being displayed as a work of art, but I thought it was very clever and attractive. Looking closely, there were distinct layers and textures and patterns. And being made of organic matter it had developed fractures as the tea dried out. It will change over time, rather like the outdoor works by David Nash. But  that is part of it’s attraction. There was also a distinct odour, not unpleasant.

Other works that I liked were the photographs of South African workers in the sugar cane fields  by Zwelethu Mthethwa and a miniature installation of an art gallery containing works inspired by the Lebanese civil war by Walid Raad.

While we were in the exhibition we got talking with one of the gallery assistants who was very enthusiastic and keen to tell us about the works on display.


2 thoughts on “No Borders in Bristol

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