Speech Acts Manchester Art Gallery Photo by Andrew Brooks

Speech Acts at Manchester Art Gallery Photo by Andrew Brooks

Showing until 22 April 2019

A seminal exhibition led by the work of UAL researchers running at Manchester Art Gallery interrogates the role of museums in telling our collective stories. Mainstream art histories in Britain and national collections are dominated by white artists. Speech Acts: Reflection-Imagination-Repetition proposes an expanded mainstream by including the work of British artists of African and Asian descent with a focus on the work itself, rather than the identity of its maker.

Featuring material from over forty artists, Speech Acts places little known works – primarily shown in non-mainstream contexts around diversity or difference – alongside works that would be considered collection highlights. The works are arranged thematically, asking viewers to consider how new stories and meanings can be formed when the works are shown through this juxtaposition.

Showing in Manchester until April 2019, the exhibition marks the culmination in May 2018 of the landmark three year University of the Arts London and Middlesex University research project Black Artists and Modernism, led by artist and Professor Sonia Boyce, Chair of Black Art and Design and Member of TrAIN (Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation) at UAL.

Professor Boyce said:

“Since childhood I have been fascinated by the museum. Professionally, as both an artist and as an academic leading the research project, that fascination has turned into a curiosity about what kind of stories are told by the museum, and how. What is held and displayed by the country’s public art collections? When the artwork makes its way into a display, what kind of contexts frame that display, and how are those works interpreted?”

Conroy Sanderson 05-06 copyright Copyright Conroy Sanderson

Conroy Sanderson 05-06 Copyright Conroy Sanderson

Comprising more than 70 works and archival documents ranging from the 18th to the 21st century, Speech Acts is drawn primarily from four public collections: Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford, John Rylands Library (The University of Manchester), Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth. The exhibition is curated by the project’s Senior Research Fellow Hammad Nasar together with Kate Jesson, Curator at Manchester Art Gallery.

Hammad commented:

“Through the artworks they collect and the exhibitions they produce, Britain’s national art collections and museums are one of the vehicles through which societies build collective meaning. Speech Acts is an intervention in this existing system. It invites viewers to generate new meanings, to complicate and expand the stories that circulate.”

Speech Acts Manchester Art Gallery Photo by Andrew Brook

Professor Sonia Boyce speaking at the launch of Speech Acts Manchester Art Gallery Photo by Andrew Brooks

Alistair Hudson, Director of Manchester Art Gallery and The Whitworth said:

“Speech Acts is an exhibition that contributes to the ongoing debates around the function of art collections and museums in public life. It is vital that we continue to provide a platform to ask questions about power, representation and the civic role of public museums and galleries in the 21st century.”

Kim Lim Spiral II 1983 Reproduced with permission from the artist

Kim Lim Spiral II 1983 Reproduced with permission from Turnbull Studios

The parent Black Artists and Modernism project (BAM) is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and was launched by UAL and Middlesex researchers in May 2015 to set out to rewrite modern art history. Outcomes include the Black Artists and Modernism website, a study day for curators that explored how works by black-British artists feature in public collections and a national audit and database listing BAME artworks in public collections.

UAL’s Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation, TrAIN is a forum for historical, theoretical and practice-based research in architecture, art, communication, craft and design. Central to the Centre’s activities is a consideration of the impact of identity and nation on the production and consumption of artworks and artefacts in this new global context.