Lydia Blakeley, Plenty of Fishes, 2019
Cancelled art fairs, contracting economies and the looming spectre of a second coronavirus spike dont offer the most auspicious climate for launching a new gallery. But grim times have not deterred the intrepid Niru Ratnam whose new first floor space opened for business this week in the heart of Londons West End, just off Carnaby Street.
“Its an absolutely crazy time to open a gallery” says Ratnam, who for the last two years was a director at König gallery in Marylebone. “I was going to open in April, then Coronavirus happened and if Id been sensible I would have thought it was a sign not to go ahead, but instead I thought OK, lets do this.”
From its one room above a Thai Café, Niru Ratnam Gallery embraces what Ratnam describes as “a minority-majority perspective”, focusing on the work of artists of colour and women artists, but with a light touch. “I don't want to be too polemical about it, but just to switch things around so instead of being 80% white and a few people from other parts of the world, its probably the other way round,” he says.
Ratnam has been a vocal critic of the art worlds inequalities for many years. Hes written widely on race, identity and the art worlds white bias in the arts press and beyond (his first piece written while an intern at Frieze was on Freddie Mercurys concealment of his Indian origins) and in the early 2000s he even ran an Arts Council programme devoted to placing non-white trainee curators in institutions such as Tate, the Serpentine and the Hayward Gallery. Other roles have included a three-year stint lecturing in Post Colonial art history at the Open University, a directorship of Aicon Gallery which specialises in Indian and Pakistani art, and the heading up of various art fairs—Art 13, Art 14 and START—all of which had a particular emphasis on representing global art. He also admits to being one of the anonymous contributors to the brutally critical art world website, Cathedral of Shit.
“Having been an angry young, but now middle-aged, man, instead of going on Twitter and shouting at people, it seemed a good time to do something that was a bit more concrete,” he states, adding that “working for a big gallery made me realise I didn't want to be spending the rest of my life trying to sell work that I might not fully believe in.”
Kobby Adi, For Now, 2020
The opening exhibition at Niru Ratnam Gallery brings together the work of three artists, Lydia Blakely, Jala Wahid and Kobby Adi, under the collective title of "Suture". The word refers both to the stitching up of a wound as well as being used by cultural theorists such as Stuart Hall to suggest how an individual may identify with a particular group or discourse in often precarious ways. In the case of each artist there is no easy reading of the work—as Ratnam puts it, “the subtle thread that unites them is the way that you negotiate your identity.”
Lydia Blakely makes meticulous, deadpan paintings that each depict various aspects of Britishness—a besuited white male swigging from the neck of a champagne bottle, mackerel being sliced at Billingsgate market and the wearing of very particular branded leisurewear—while the three shimmering luridly metallic sculptures by Jala Wahid are the hollow disembodied jesmonite casts of womens legs, draped in fabric and frozen in time as they perform a special Kurdish dance performed on New Years Eve. On Kobby Adis pub mirror the artists glassed-in fingerprints smear the swashbuckling Captain Morgan, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica and the trademark of the worlds most popular rum who was also a plantation and slave owner. More subtle illusions to the CaRead More – Source
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