Artist Profile: Permindar Kaur

1 June 2020

This month, curator and writer of art criticism, Eddie Chambers, explores the work of Permindar Kaur, whose work, Innocence, 1993 (pictured) features in the latest Arts Council Collection Touring Exhibition, Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women since 1945.

Around the time of her postgraduate study at Glasgow School of Art in the early 1990s, sculptor Permindar Kaur developed a remarkable series of work that, on occasion and with great artistic dexterity, intelligently reflected on cultural dimensions of her heritage and background. One such piece, Innocence had been included in The British Art Show of 1995. Kaur frequently employs scale as a dramatic and at times disquieting aspect of her sculpture, and in Innocence, we see a perfectly made dress for a small child, created of the orange-coloured fabric we associate with Sikhism, the Indian monotheistic religion that originated in the Punjab.

What enables us to link Innocence, with religious associations is the khanda or khanja, a small double-edged blade held in place by a sash that runs diagonally from a shoulder of the dress. The addition of the small sheathed implement (symbolising the kirpan, one of the five K’s of the Sikh religion) is what gives Innocence its arresting and unsettling characteristics. Set against a black background, Innocence is a perfectly balanced composition.

Kaur’s practices as a sculptor are also characterised by a bold and highly creative approach to the materials she uses. From scaled down cubic structures, evocative of simple, humble dwellings, made from sheets of plate glass, to an oversized representation of her own head, made from lengths of meticulously welded steel, there is a wondrous attachment to materiality in her work. Within all of Kaur’s pieces, such as Innocence, there is copious evidence of the highly skilled use of her materials. From stitching to welding, from carpentry fabrication, her visually striking work obliges us to engage no end of meanings. Playful yet unsettling, visually striking yet understated, Innocence is one of a number of works that define a particular period of productivity by a remarkable artist.


Artist Profile: Young In Hong

1 March 2020

The work of Young In Hong encompasses drawing, textiles, sound installation and performance. She aims to investigate the processes and ideas around authorship, translation and reinterpretation. 

Hong’s large-scale embroidered textile works are often based on photographs and archival imagery, including moments of collective experiences such as protests and demonstrations in recent Korean history. They also allude to the politics and economics of the global textiles industry. 

Burning Love, 2014 illustrates a scene from a candle-lit vigil that was held in Seoul, South Korea in 2008. The demonstration was triggered by the Korean government’s reversal of a ban on US beef imports and saw thousands of people take to the streets to join the protest, making it one of the most important democratic events in Korea’s modern history. However, very little was done to document this by mainstream media.

Composed using viscose rayon threads and cotton, the meticulously embroidered image in oversaturated blue, orange, yellow and red portrays the crowd, each person marked by a dot of light. Through her painstaking method, Young In Hong encapsulates this under-reported event in a way which is poetic and poignant. Burning Love was commissioned for the exhibition Spectrum Spectrum by PLATEAU museum, Seoul, 2014.


Artist Profile: John Sheehy

1 February 2020

John Sheehy was born in South-West Ireland in 1949. He moved to London in the late 1950s, where he worked as a builder and roofer, but endured spells of unemployment and homelessness.

He first began painting at the age of 51, encouraged by The Big Issue arts group. Since then he has produced a vast body of work, which includes painting, printmaking and sculpture, in addition to playwriting, poetry and music. He considers this collection a single, total narrative.

Sheehy’s paintings range between portraits, landscapes and the purely abstract. The pace at which he produces work is rapid, even his largest paintings (some 10 by 20 feet in size) take less than an hour to complete. He creates with a sense of urgency, immersed in the act of making and its therapeutic benefits. ‘Art helps me – it’s crucial, necessary; gets me through the day, gets me through the night,’ he says. ‘It’s a friend to me – a big time friend.’

With reference to both rural Ireland and London street scenes, Sheehy’s works detail seemingly familiar or everyday moments. He frequently returns to subjects which might initially appear folksy: sailing ships, terraced houses, shoe-shiners and chimney sweeps; however, when repeated across numerous works they gain a talismanic, otherworldly character. In particular, the recurring image of a watchful rider on horseback, as in Quickest Quickly (year unknown), functions as a representation of the artist himself. Rather than nostalgic, these works are a record of lived experience.


Artist Profile: Bridget Riley

1 January 2020

Bridget Riley creates dizzying abstract paintings, which generate sensations of movement, light and space. A key figure in the development of 'Op art', which used a framework of purely geometric forms as the basis for its effects, she is one of the most distinguished and world-renowned artists working in Britain today.

Early in her career it is said that Riley confessed to feeling a great sense of frustration over what it meant to be a modern painter. Inspired by the optical effects of the works of the 19th-century pointillist Georges Seurat, she began her investigation of non-figurative painting in the 1950s.

Her seminal work Movement in Squares was acquired by the Arts Council Collection in 1962, the year after it was made. Here, Riley has found her style, signifying her breakthrough into abstraction. We can see the beginnings of her interest in visual disruption and disorientation. The artist initially pondered ‘is there anything to be found in a square?’

After sketching the design in one sitting and colouring alternate black squares, she was elated by what she saw: “ I drew, things began to change. Quite suddenly something was happening down there on the paper that I had not anticipated. I continued, I went on drawing; I pushed ahead, both intuitively and consciously. The squares began to lose their original form.” The simple unit morphs across the canvas and slowly disappears into a void, as though it is being pulled from below. Twelve rows of alternating black and white squares, their height remaining the same but their width slowly diminishing, develop into an optical illusion. In the present day Riley’s black and white paintings are some of her most famous, still visually striking in the way they are choreographed.

Movement in Squares, 1961 can be seen at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre until 26 January 2020. Developed in close collaboration with the artist and in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland, this is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Bridget Riley’s work to date.


Artist Profile: Helen Cammock

1 December 2019

Helen Cammock explores history and storytelling through layered, fragmented narratives. Using video, photography, installation, print and performance, she interrogates the ways in which stories are told, and acknowledges those who are rendered invisible by the hierarchy of histories.

The artist’s own story also impacts her work. Having worked as a social worker before becoming an artist, she remains attentive to the structural oppression and inequality across communities she saw during this time.

Cammock's Arts Council Collection work There’s a Hole in the Sky Part I (2016), which is currently on show as part of Super Black at Firstsite, Colchester, was captured in Barbados and asks questions about human worth and cultural value. In the work, Cammock interacts with workers from two sites: one of the last sugar factories in Barbados and a tourist sugar grind and rum plantation. Through prose and song, the dialogue between the artist and workers develops a disconnect between what is seen and what is heard.

Helen Cammock is one of four Arts Council Collection artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize 2019, alongside Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Tai Shani and Oscar Murillo. For the first time ever, this year's award has been given to a collective bringing together the four nominated artists: Abu Hamdan/Cammock/Murillo/Shani.

Cammock was nominated for her solo exhibition, The Long Note at Void Gallery, Derry (2018), which was subsequently exhibited at Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2019). Commissioned by Void, The Long Note is a film which explores the history and role of women in the civil rights movement in Derry Londonderry in 1968, a period generally acknowledged to be the starting point of the Troubles - the Northern Ireland conflict that spanned the 1960s through to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

The Turner Prize 2019 is on show at Turner Contemporary in Margate until 12 January 2020.

Super Black, an Arts Council Collection National Partner Exhibition is at Firstsite Colchester until 12 January 2020.




Artist Profile: Tai Shani

1 November 2019

Tai Shani was born in London and has exhibited her work extensively in the UK and abroad. She is one of four Arts Council Collection artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize 2019, alongside Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock and Oscar Murillo. Their presentations are currently on show at Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent.

Her project Dark Continent is a series of texts interpreted into performance, film and installation, as well as a commissioned soundtrack. The project is an expanded adaptation of Christine de Pizan’s 1405 protofeminist text The Book of the City of Ladies, in which dialogues with three celestial females, ‘Reason’, ‘Rectitude’ and ‘Justice’, build a metaphorical protected city for women, using examples of important contributions women have made to Western civilisation and arguments that prove their intellectual and moral equality with men.

The project draws on multiple references in addition to de Pizan’s text, including feminist science fiction, postmodern architecture and feminist and queer theory. These create both a physical and a conceptual space to critique contemporary gender constructs and imagine an alternative history.

In 2018, Dark Continent culminated in DC: Semiramis, a large-scale, sculptural, immersive installation that also functioned as a site for a 12-part performance series presented over four days at Glasgow International. Each documented episode focused on one of the characters of an allegorical ‘City of Women’.


The scale and scope of Tai Shani’s project challenges conceptions around traditional feminist art, which has historically centred on the domestic, craft, DIY and the personal body. Rather, Dark Continent considers feminist art practice in light of recent and ongoing rapid political shifts in regards to gender, race and class and how might art contribute in a meaningful way to these conversations.

Shani is nominated for the Turner Prize for her participation in Glasgow International 2018, her solo exhibition DC: Semiramis at The Tetley, Leeds and participation in Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance at Nottingham Contemporary and the De Le Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea.

One of the best known prizes for the visual arts in the world, the Turner Prize aims to promote public debate around new developments in contemporary British art. Established in 1984, the prize is named after JMW Turner (1775-1851) and aims to promote public interest in contemporary British art. It is awarded to a British artist for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the past twelve months. The Turner Prize award is £40,000 with £25,000 going to the winner and £5,000 each for the other shortlisted artists. The Turner Prize 2019 is on show at Turner Contemporary in Margate until 12 January 2020.


Artist Profile: Vanley Burke

1 October 2019

This month’s Artist of the Month is Birmingham-based photographer Vanley Burke, whose iconic images of the Windrush generation in his native Handsworth have established him as the ‘godfather of black British photography’. A number of Burke’s works from the Arts Council Collection go on show at Firstsite in Colchester this month as part of Super Black, a new National Partners exhibition.

Vanley Burke first picked up a camera as a ten year old boy in rural Jamaica, where he was born in 1951 in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. In 1965, at the age of fourteen, Burke followed his mother to live in Handsworth, Birmingham, where he immediately began capturing the lives of the community surrounding him.

Vanley seriously started photography around 1967, making a conscious decision to document the black community and lifestyle in England at the time. "I remember realising that all history had to start somewhere and that we were at a unique stage in history in this country." Burke has since reflected.

Burke set about documenting the lives of those around him, capturing key moments in the lives of individuals and families around him, while at the same time distilling an important era of migration and settlement in Birmingham. "History is a by-product of life and it will be written whether we participate in the process or not.” Burke recently commented, “I felt as a group of people who are living this history it is important that we get involved in documenting it.”

Today, Burke is often referred to as the ‘godfather of black British photography’ and his work has been exhibited widely both internationally and in the UK, including solo exhibitions at Cornerhouse in Manchester, Walsall Museum and Art Gallery and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.


The Arts Council Collection holds a number of works from Vanley Burke’s ‘Inside’ series from the late sixties, a selection of which will feature as part of Super Black at Firstsite in Colchester, in what will be the first exhibition in the second round of the Arts Council Collection National Partner programme.

Super Black, an exhibition exploring the complex questions of identity and the experiences of black people living in Britain today is led by people from Essex’s black community. The exhibition presents artworks from the Arts Council Collection, alongside new work by Southend-based artist, Elsa James, and objects from the Vanley Burke Archive.

In creating the exhibition, Elsa has been joined by Lawrence Walker, Chair of Black History Month Colchester, Rachel Walton, co-founder of African Families in the UK (AFiUK), and Simone McLean and Yasmin Carr, of Colchester-based S&S Caribbean Café.

The artworks they have chosen for the exhibition reflect the group’s discussions, consisting of pieces that they feel give an expression of black consciousness, and the representation of black artists in galleries across the UK.

The Arts Council Collection : Artist Profile: Vanley Burke
The Arts Council Collection : Artist Profile: Vanley Burke

The three black and white images from the ‘Inside’ series included in Super Black variously capture a wedding, a sorrowful and lonely-looking widow and a baptism, their subjects depicted caught in private, unguarded moments of introspection at ease and apparently oblivious to Burke’s lens.

This naturalistic intimacy that characterises Burke’s photography is a reflection of his perspective as a member of the same community rather than the dominant ‘outsider’ position of much documentary photography.

“The idea was to photograph everything between birth and death really” Burke has commented, “I live as part of the community I photograph and I’m very much aware of what’s happening around me.”


Super Black, an Arts Council Collection National Partner Exhibition, opens at Firstsite Colchester on 11 October until 12 January 2020.

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Artist Profile: Sean Edwards

1 September 2019

This month we look at the work of Welsh artist Sean Edwards, whose solo exhibition for Wales in Venice, Undo Things Done, is currently on show as part of the 58th Venice Biennale.

Known for his sculptural approach to the everyday, Edwards (b.1980) often begins with seemingly unrelated elements linked by autobiographical and cultural connections. Through investigative processes including time spent in local archives, museums and libraries, he gathers together images, stories, quotes, and clips. It is in the teasing out of these things in the studio, in isolating, abstracting, and bringing them together, that their political and formal resonance comes into play.

Edwards’ Arts Council Collection film, Maelfa, 2010 (pictured), is one of a number of works produced during a residency undertaken by the artist in 2009 at the Maelfa shopping centre in Llanedeyrn on the outskirts of his hometown of Cardiff. Built in the 1970s around a block of high-rise flats in a council estate, the Maelfa shopping centre was once a well-used and popular institution, before falling into disrepair and was, at the time of the Edwards’ residency, the subject of a multi-million pound regeneration scheme. Meditative and sombre, Maelfa reflects both on the disappearance of once vibrant communities, and failed utopian aspirations.


Undo Things Done, Sean Edwards' solo exhibition for Wales in Venice 2019, similarly takes inspiration from the Welsh Capital. The exhibition includes sculpture, film, prints, Welsh quilts and a live daily radio broadcast, and takes its starting point from the artist’s experience of growing up on a council estate in Cardiff in the 1980s. Edwards is interested in capturing and translating what he calls a condition of ‘not expecting much’ into a shared visual language; one that evokes a way of living familiar to a great number of people; of making do and getting by.

The works are installed across the interlocking rooms of the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice where the church, corridors and classrooms have been left largely untouched. Signs of wear and everyday use have been deliberately incorporated into the staging of the show. Edwards is drawn to these traces that reflect the passing of time: days lived according to the rituals of mass and the timetable of a school; the quiet stories.

The exhibition was one of a number by Arts Council Collection artists visited as part of our recent Curators' Day event in Venice. As part of the event, we invited delegates to share their thoughts on the exhibitions, including Helen Nisbet, curator and Art Night Artistic Director who discusses Edwards’ exhibition for the Welsh Pavilion.

> Watch our full series of Curators' Day films.

Undo Things Done is presented by guest curator Marie-Anne McQuay and lead organisation Tŷ Pawb. Commissioned by Arts Council of Wales for the Collateral Event of the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Edwards’ exhibition marks the ninth Biennale presentation by Wales and is the artist’s first major presentation at an international biennale.

Artist Profile: Eva Rothschild

1 August 2019

To coincide with our latest Curators' Day video interview series, this month we look at the work of Irish-born Collection artist Eva Rothschild, whose exhibition, The Shrinking Universe, is currently on show at the Irish Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale.

Eva Rothschild was born in Dublin in 1971, and lives and works in London. One of the leading sculptors of her generation, Rothschild’s work demonstrates a great awareness of the modernist tradition while maintaining its own distinctive sculptural language. Her works also engage with signifiers and objects from her surrounding urban environment, and the eternal forms of geometry and classicism. Her sense of materials, scale, monumentality, colour and line reflect a refined aesthetic sensibility that redeploys and subverts familiar sculptural formats.

She has undertaken large-scale commissions for Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries (2009) and Public Art Fund, New York (2011). Her work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2018); The New Art Gallery, Walsall (2016-17); The Hugh Lane, Dublin (2014); Nasher Sculpture Centre, Dallas (2012); Kunstverein Hannover, Hanover (2011); South London Gallery, London (2007); and the Kunstalle Zürich, Zürich (2004). Rothschild’s 2011 solo Hot Touch was the inaugural exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield.

The Arts Council Collection currently holds two works by Rothschild: Heavy Cloud, 2003 and Your Weakness, 2004 (pictured), which was shown as part of Occasional Geometries, a National Partners exhibition guest curated by artist Rana Begum.


Curated by Mary Cremin, The Shrinking Universe, a wholly sculptural exhibition of new work produced for this year’s Venice Biennale, engages with current political and environmental concerns arising from our on-going climate of global uncertainty. The exhibition employs a diverse use of materials and sculptural formats to construct an immersive environment that allows the public to be both viewer and participant.

The Shrinking Universe was one of a number of exhibitions by Arts Council Collection artists visited as part of our recent Curators' Day event in Venice. Alongside the Art Fund-supported event, we invited delegates to share their thoughts on the exhbitions visited. In the first film, Helen Pheby, Head of Curatorial Programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park discusses The Shrinking Universe explaining: 'What really excites me about Eva’s work and what you really get from her pavilion here is the tension – this isn’t art that is passive which you stand back and look at, this is art that immediately confronts you and engages you.'

> Watch our Curators' Day films

The Shrinking Universe by Eva Rothschild, the national representation of Ireland at the 58th International Venice Biennale, is on show until 24 November 2019.

Artist Profile: Michelle Williams Gamaker

1 July 2019

This month, Bethan Lewis, Project Curator (Arts Council Collection) at the Walker Art Gallery focuses on Michelle Williams Gamaker, whose work can be seen in Walker Art Gallery’s current National Partners exhibition, As Seen on Screen.

Michelle Williams Gamaker is a London-based moving image and performance artist. Her work explores the legacy of 20th-century British and Hollywood studio films by restaging them and recasting their characters. The resulting alternative narratives redress the marginalisation of people of colour in the original films by restoring them as central figures who challenge their fates. The artist calls this ‘fictional activism’.

Williams Gamaker's Arts Council Collection work, House of Women, 2017 (an extract from which can be viewed below), portrays auditions for the role of Kanchi in a re-make of the 1947 film Black Narcissus. In the original film Jean Simmons played the Indian character. As Simmons was white, her face was painted with dark makeup, and she wore a jewel in her nose in order to portray the ‘exotic temptress’ of Rumer Godden’s novel. In House of Women the artist auditions only Indian expat or first-generation British Asian women and non-binary individuals living in the UK. They read an alphabet that refers to the history of photography and gender politics. This artwork reflects on how cinema has reduced race and gender to clichés.


House of Women is part of a trilogy called Dissolution. In each film, characters from Black Narcissus unravel as they become self aware. The trilogy also includes The Eternal Return (2018), which considers the career of Sabu, an actor from India who starred in the films The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and The Jungle Book (1942), and who wears the scent in Black Narcissus that lends the film its title.

Sabu was the son of a mahout (an elephant driver) and became a mahout himself in the service of the Maharajah of Mysore. Sabu was riding an elephant when he was spotted by documentarist Robert Flaherty, who cast him as Toomai in Elephant Boy (1937). Williams Gamaker compares his treatment to that of the elephants alongside whom Sabu so often appeared in films.


The Dissolution trilogy also includes The Fruit is There To Be Eaten (2017). In this film, the Black Narcissus characters Kanchi and Clodagh realise they are on a film set in 2016. Decolonisation means Clodagh has lost her role as sister superior. Kanchi introduces her gods and challenges the imposed belief system of Christianity.

Writing scripts, working with actors, collecting film paraphernalia and producing props are all key elements of Williams Gamaker’s practice. She has also performed roles herself, such as her alter ego ‘Violet Culbo’, a mute stowaway from Asia. Collaboration is also an important aspect of Gamaker’s work. She has worked with artist Julia Kouneski and artist and cultural theorist Mieke Bal. Williams Gamaker also co-founded the Women of Colour Index (WOCI) Reading Group with Samia Malik and Rehana Zaman.

As Seen on Screen is at Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool until 18 August 2019


The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.