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silenceTreason_A4-poster_PREVIEWAn exhibition of art and interventions exploring climate change, global justice and human displacement across five venues in Durham, UK.
5th June – 5th July 2015

Exhibition Preview and Launch
Thursday 4th June, 6pm-8pm at Durham Art Gallery
The preview evening’s gathering will include presentations by Kooj Chuhan (artistic director), Maya Chowdhry (co-producer), Dr Andrew Baldwin (Geography Dept, Durham University) and selected artists.  Includes live poetry, short screening + more to be announced…

You can join this event on facebook at

The exhibition runs 5th June – 5th July 2015 at five venues:
+ Special Events Weekend 27th-29th June

Artworks and contributions from:

A Metaceptive project in partnership with the international conference ‘Human Migration and the Environment:
Futures, Politics and Invention’ at Durham University 28th June – 1st July 2015 MailScanner has detected a possible fraud attempt from “” claiming to be

Popular ideas of climate change rarely connect with migration even though migration is probably the largest human consequence of climate change. The creative work presented here moves on from often didactic climate-art approaches from a decade ago without ducking strong critiques, and harnesses fresh perspectives from migrants and global voices.

Artists and activists at all levels from internationally acclaimed to local and emerging, and from countries including Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Iran, Brazil and Australia are involved. Footprint Modulation culminates in a fantastic weekend of public performance, film screenings and discussions involving artists, activists, performers, community members and researchers, and which dovetails neatly into the final conference at Durham University.

Artistic director, curation and project management – Kooj (Kuljit Chuhan) of Metaceptive Projects and Media.
Collaborative research partner and conference chair – Dr Andrew Baldwin, Geography Dept, Durham University.
Artistic producer and transmedia consultant – Maya Chowdhry.


Remembering Bhopal: Photo Exhibition

Venue: Durham Town Hall, Market Place, Durham
‪Date: 2nd-22nd April 2015

‪The Bhopal disaster was the worst industrial disaster of all time. In marking 30 years since, Durham Town Hall will be playing host to an exhibition from the 2nd to the 22nd of April titled: “Remembering Bhopal: 30 years of struggle for justice and life with dignity”.

‪The exhibition will feature photos taken by the award winning Magnum photographer Raghu Rai, highlighting 30 years of unimaginable suffering, an injustice never righted, crimes unpunished, and a community that most of the world has forgotten.

‪Free entrance for all. Open everyday from 9 AM – 5 PM.


‪Events page:
Contact: Madhu Dutta ( and Andrew Telford (​)

The Business of War Photography, at first hand in Paris

I have followed the career of the Berlin artist, Martin Dammann, for the past twenty years, as he has moved from video art to watercolour and drawing, while remaining true to his original inspiration, the complex, unresolved relationship that he (and the Germans) have to the Second World War. This obviously controversial subject matter has always been complemented by a highly reflexive engagement with artistic form and perception, informed by Paul Virilio and his considerations of warfare and the logistics of modern perception.

The key shift in Dammann’s career came around the turn of the millennium. Up to this point he had primarily in the medium of video art, in which he had engaged with archive footage of the aerial war in Europe between 1940 and 1945, in a series of works which toyed with conventions regarding the perception of movement and the archival trace. Now he began to dovetail his artistic production more closely with his ‘real’ job, which was as a collector of materials, primarily photography, for the Archive of Modern Conflict in London. These photographs were vernacular images from both the first and second world wars, primarily from German citizens or combatants. Dammann’s procedure, however, involved translating these (often small format) photographs into large format watercolour paintings. At the time (2002), a noticeable trend was emerging in German art production that favoured watercolours (‘Aquarelle’ in German), so Dammann’s formal shift also dovetailed with current developments that provided favourable market conditions for his paintings (that, and being represented by Barbara Thumm, one of the most influential of Berlin gallerists, with the likes of Julian Opie on her books at that time). Over the past ten years, Dammann has continued to produce large-scale watercolours, but has also worked with photograph enlargements as well as the occasional video work. He has also moved, more recently, beyond the frame of vernacular photography, to offer watercolour reworkings of photographs that he or others in his family circle have taken, as I see it, precisely in order to get his audience to think about the formal questions and provocations which his paintings pose with regard to originality, representation, legibility and the act of photography.

The past decade has seen Dammann’s reputation grow; he has had solo exhibitions across Europe (Vienna, Paris and Duesseldorf amongst others), and a retrospective of his work was staged at the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen in 2009.

14164284398_517cfbb6d5_bThis May I had the opportunity to observe Dammann as he prepared for another solo exhibition in Paris, at the In Situ gallery in the Rue Michel Le Comte, just on the western edge of the Marais district. Dammann also had another exhibition already running in the Rue Paul Valery, ‘Dieses Feuer’ (‘This Fire’) and I visited this first. It was staged in the Atelier Ruart, which had formerly been the studio of Berthe Morisot, and was thus a hybrid space, part of living area, part atelier, which did not lend itself himself to gallery display. Dammann had thus sought to engage with the ‘studio space’ by exhibiting a number of ‘Vorarbeiten’ to his watercolours, alongside three finished works in the ground floor room and corridor.


Crucially he had used a small cube-like room under the main studio space to install a haunting set of photographs from his archive. This radically different choice of material and staging lent something very dramatic to the whole, and gave the ‘fire’ of the exhibition title a darker resonance (two of the photographs are of burning buildings; only in conversation with Dammann does it emerge that the images are of Russian villages torched by the German army).

This sense of the exhibition space as determining the installation is something that became very apparent as I observed Dammann prepare to populate the rooms in the Rue Michel Le Comte before the opening of his ‘Zeichnung’ (‘Drawing’).

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This exhibition exemplifies Dammann’s ongoing exploration of the limits of his chosen form. In some cases, he has painted watercolours on the hard boards which he previously used to hold the pinned-on watercolour papers of an earlier painting.

14247706601_17a0c310a3_bThis lends a very different material quality to the dried paint, compared with the traditional shapes which he tests and pushes in the watercolours in the Atelier Ruart. The centrepiece of the exhibition are a series of pencil drawings which are not ‘Vorskizzen’ to larger works, but finished artefacts. Yet the openness which marks the whole exhibition is underlined by the refusal to frame the works, meaning that a fluidity across the display walls is ensured.

14164248418_c60846f1cb_bDammann’s engagement with the exhibition space becomes evident in his refusal to simply fill the walls with ‘product’. One wall was left entirely blank, another wall was empty until the last day of hanging. There was a quite specific choreographed rhythm to the display; including the use of a ‘dead-end’ space (with black walls), in which Dammann hung a watercolour that he only finished over the three days of the hanging period.

The ‘war’ was much less thematically evident in this exhibition than it was in the Atelier Ruart, or indeed in Dammann’s very recent Berlin exhibition in the Kuenstsaele on ‘Schilderwaelder’ (Sign Forests’) which was largely composed of enlarged photographs of the forests of signs that were erected in the occupied regions of Soviet Russia during the Second World War by German troops to orientate themselves in a foreign country.

That exhibition actually alludes to the questions Dammann asks of the viewer in ‘Zeichnung’: if a photograph captures a past time, then what are the mechanisms by which we orientate ourselves when confronted by a sign from that past, where the referent is invisible, and indeed in a process of dissolution (here, the watercolour as the medium of dissolution is now transferred to the line of the drawing). One of the games one can play here is how is precisely think about how the drawings/paintings invite the identification of figures (which after all only offers a brief indication towards what might have been).

What continues to fascinate me about Dammann’s work is this engagement with the question of the mechanisms by which we are fascinated with the past, with the idea of the photographic image as trace of an elusive past. Hence the use of colour, which has resonances with the relatively contemporary fascination with the ‘war in colour’. Dammann’s use of colour evokes emotional response (his own!) to the photographs, which is then transmitted to us as viewers of his paintings. Moving to drawing is interesting in that it replaces that ‘Farbenlehre’ with the violence of his lines, the almost eradication of the figure from the past at the same time as its evocation.







Simon Ward (


10 Poems from Hafez

Jila Peacock exhibited her Artist’s book, Ten Poems from Hafez, at a recent event held at the Oriental Museum, Durham University and organized by the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures. She offered the audience an absorbing insight into the creation of the book and its translation into animated film.

In  Ten Poems from Hafez, exhibited at New Hall Cambridge and later at the British Museum in the 2006 exhibition, Word into Art, Iranian-born Jila Peacock uses the Persian text of whole poems from Hafez, the fourteenth-century metaphysical poet of Shiraz, to create images from symbolic animals mentioned in each poem.

Using subtle colours and a Persianate script, Nastalique, developed in fifteenth century Iran specifically for writing poetry, she has designed legible shape-poems by squeezing the words into the creature’s silhouette.  In a recent interview she said, ‘I am really a painter and printmaker, not a calligrapher, and my aim in making these images has been to use a ’visual language’ in translating what are in the original Farsi, luminous, musical, inspirational love poems’.

Tongue of the Hidden (2007) is a beautiful animated film directed by David Anderson, and based on  Jila Peacock’s hand-printed Artist’s book.  Here, the hand-printed images twist and turn, form and reform, dance and glide, creating  a magical landscape of startling luminosity and complexity.

Tongue of the Hidden from Jila Peacock on Vimeo.

Shifting Sands

16 SAD_750-001-589Shifting Sands

The curator, Zoe Cormack, explains what lies behind the exhibition.

‘Photography was secondary to the research, and snaps were taken simply when it was convenient’ wrote the anthropologist Ian Cunnison in the introductory note to his collection of 621 photographs of fieldwork from Sudan, now housed in the Sudan Archive in Palace Green Library.

The creator’s idea that his ‘snaps’ were of secondary importance might seem like an odd place to begin a description of an exhibition of the photographs. But there is every reason to see beyond this modest turn of phrase. This exhibition, which highlights a small part of Ian Cunnison’s photography from Sudan, shows what we can learn from his unique and fascinating visual enterprise.

Ian Cunnison (1923-2013) is an important figure in British and Sudanese anthropology, in addition to his publications on Zambia and Sudan he was instrumental in establishing social anthropology departments in both Khartoum and Hull. His reticence over the value of his photography probably reflects the anthropological thinking of the time. He worked in the heyday of structuralism when anthropologists were more concerned with the deeper structures that underpinned the functioning of society – things that were not necessarily photographable (a point also made in Chris Morton’s study of Evans-Pritchard’s photography). His diffidence may also reflect a man who was modest about his abilities. But – modest or not – Cunnison was a skilled amateur photographer. The photographs currently on show demonstrate purposefully composed portraiture and a striking use of light and framing.

Cunnison was studying the political culture of Misseriya pastoralists. Shifting Sands focuses on mobility and community within a single nomadic camp. The photographs illustrate different stages of the annual migration, as the camp moves from the edges of the desert, to the lush pastures of Abyei: an areas which is now disputed, on the border between Sudan and South Sudan and claimed by both countries.  The selection on display includes photographs illustrating human relationships in the camp – in the context of the wider social and inter-ethnic networks with neighbouring communities – especially the Ngok Dinka in Abyei. Sudan was often thought of as a starkly culturally divided county, marked by conflict and slavery. This is partly true, but in these border communities it has never been the whole story. There is also a long history of complex interrelationships and mixed ancestry. Even slavery could be transformed into the bonds of kinship. Cunnison’s photographs destabilize a narrative of division.

His photography is remarkable for the personal stories it tells. This is almost a family photograph album (captured by a professional anthropologist), enlivened by the biographical information about the subjects of the photographs included in Cunnison’s ethnography. We don’t only look at these individuals; we know the songs they sung, the friends they had, their struggles and small disappointments. These are refreshingly ‘unexoticised’ pictures of daily life, indicating a familiarity between photographer and subject that make them quintessentially the product of a close ethnographic relationship. This relationship was poignantly marked when I learned from people who had known Ian Cunnison in Sudan that he and one of his closest friends in the camp, Sheybun, had (quite by coincidence) died on the same day.  There are three photographs of Sheybun in this exhibition.

These photographs are a site of cultural encounter and exchange. This is not only a story about members of the camp, it is about the process of acquiring anthropological understanding too. Our reinterpretation of them today shows this is an ongoing process as they generate (and we participate in) new understandings of meaning and new forms of knowledge. This is a visual contribution to the history and ethnography of border communities in Sudan and South Sudan.

Photographs take on different cultural and historical significance over time. This is powerfully the case with Ian Cunnison’s photography (and his wider corpus of work on the Misseriya). Since these photographs were taken the political situation in Abyei has violently transformed.  Civil wars in Sudan and unresolved border issues have devastated local relationships in Abyei. The Misseriya migration and their rights in Abyei go to the heart of the contested claims and political deadlock.

The current disruption makes these images of Abyei more entrancing. These pictures depict scenes that it is impossible to imagine today’s political climate. They show how tantalizingly possible a more peaceful relationship between the Dinka and the Misseriya in Abyei was in the 1950s; that intermarriage, political negotiation and peaceful sharing of land was possible, even after years of slavery; and that war in Abyei is not inevitable – its history is not only one of violence.

Shifting Sands: Babanusa to Abyei 1953/54 is at Palace Green Library 12 March to 1st April and The Oriental Museum  4th April to 5th October.

Fish Out of Water

fishoutofwaterTim Mitchell’s Fish Out of Water series which was recently exhibited at the National Glass Centre Sunderland comes from a 2 year collaboration with academics in the Durham Geography department. It is a study in obduracy, perdurance and disappearance. Ships, objects, places and people are all cast in the light of what is transient and what is enduring. It is a light that reveals much that is often hidden, unnoted yet essential.

Although, the ostensible subject of the series is the naval ship the Grey Rover, it is in some ways the most attenuated presence in the pictures. In the time lapse sequence, we see her arriving at the dock painted in what the navy call ‘No See Grey,’ becoming visible in her destruction and then disappearing. Indeed, such a muted presence seems fitting for this unassuming workhorse of the military. Built at Swan Hunters on Tyneside and launched in 1969, it served as the fuelling tanker for more glamorous ships for 37 years. It is a reminder that so much of the military is about support and providing infrastructure for others. In this the Grey Rover is no less anonymous and no less essential  than the 27,000 or so merchant ships and their sailors that plough ceaselessly across the oceans to sustain our societies – bringing the oil, the grain, the chemicals, the materials and the products that are the stuff of modern life.

For a maritime nation, that depends on goods brought and sent by sea for almost every part of our lives and economy, such a muted presence is emblematic of how the ocean has receded from society’s view. These images render it visible once more but at the moment of passing and decay. The dock is a piece of decaying Victoriana, once intended to launch and maintain ships, now used to end their lives. The workers who stare so resolutely back into the lens are what remains of the shipbuilding workforces and communities, so diminished and still exhibiting both a pride in physically handling the material of our economy yet also the costs of such hard labour. And yet these are not the epic celebrations of industrial modernism, like early twentieth century pictures of vast machines, towering buildings and infrastructure being assembled. The work done here is not sacralised by creating something. Instead, it is about destruction and disappearance.

Yet the ship is loathe to disappear. The pictures render the ship visible through its very substance that enabled it to endure the ocean’s might – the metal plate, the pipes and the rivets. Hard metal and hard work are coupled with dirt and disorder to show a messy end as eventually it succumbs and is pulled apart. Its interior workings made visible, in the ripped open cabin, the pile of scrap material or the boiler cast down on the ground. Instead of the ordered symmetry of the ship, there is the tangled, twisted and torn fabric that made the vessel. It is ship shape no more. The raw metal of the interior refuses the melancholy pleasures of nostalgia. For four decades these spaces rang with bustle, hopes and fears of ordinary lives of a community encased in steel and cut off from the land. The closed in view points of the pictures stage a vision of that confinement – of life surrounded by steel. In the unsentimental world of material recovery there is little room to hear to the echoes of the crew’s laughter, their fears or their comradeship. Instead of the bittersweet language of reminiscence for lost community, the pictures speak to the ongoing life of the metal of the ship. Instead of the haunting silence of abandoned ruins, here is noisy destruction, detritus on its way to being salvaged. The centre piece then is the timelapse of the ship disappearing before our eyes, through fire , wind and rain it is rent apart.

These pictures offer a voice for the places and people who earn hard and precarious living from destroying things so that materials may live on. This is the dirty work and dirty world that we call recycling. It is the end of the ship but a new beginning for the masses of scrap. And yet the true subject in these pictures seems not to be the people who made, sailed in or even broke up the ship, nor the place of her destruction, but the metal itself. This metal shown in all its lumpy, obdurate and intractable forms that is being prized apart and sent onto new lives to be remade. The ship is dead, long live the steel.

Mike Crang

Shifting Sands Babanusa to Abyei 1953/54

16 SAD_750-001-589Mobility and community through the ethnographic photography of Ian Cunnison.

12th March 2014 to 1st April 2014 at Palace Green Library, Durham

4rd April to 5th October at The Oriental Museum, Durham

Shifting Sands is an exhibition of rare and beautiful photographs from Sudan taken by the anthropologist Ian Cunnison.  It tells a story of migration, everyday lives and inter-ethnic relationships in late colonial Sudan, as well as offering a vivid glimpse of how anthropological knowledge is gained.

From 1952 to 1955 Cunnison conducted ethnographic research on the Misseriya-Humr, cattle-keeping pastoralists whose annual search for water takes them from the edges of the desert in Kordofan to the lush pastures of Abyei, where Dinka people grow crops and graze their own cattle. Today, Abyei is on border between Sudan and South Sudan; claimed by both states, its future is uncertain.

These images chronicle Cunnison’s growing understanding of Misseriya culture and throw light on the daily life of a pastoralist community in Sudan at the end of British Imperialism. Through portraits and brief biographies of the people Cunnison got to know, this exhibition explores relationships – both within the camp and between members of this camp and Dinka communities in Abyei in the 1950s. Shifting Sands tells many stories: one of slavery and disrupted relationships, but also of interdependence, political negotiation and intermarriage between these two communities. It illustrates a complex history of coercion and cooperation in Sudan and South Sudan’s now bitterly contested borderlands.

Ian Cunnison’s photographs are kept in Durham University’s Sudan Archive. This exhibition coincides with the donation of his papers to the Archive. The Sudan Archive ( is a Designated Collection holding printed material, maps, museum objects, cinefilms and over 50,000 images from Sudan and South Sudan. This exhibition is supported by the Centre for Arts and Visual Culture, University of Durham.


An Installation by
Opening and Talk: 26th of February, 7 – 9pm (Talk 8pm prompt)
Taking place in the Norman Chapel (installation), Tunstall Gallery (reception & drinks) and Tunstall Chapel (talks). Pay bar also available.
Exhibition: 27th of February – 14th of March. 10am – 5pm Daily.
Sponsored by University College SCR and the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures

Heritage in Focus: Franz von Rohden’s Crucifixion at Ushaw College

rohden1st February 2014 to 28th February 2014

World Heritage Visitor Site Centre, 7 Owengate, Durham DH1 3HB

Opening Hours: 9:30-16:30 (every day) – Free Admission

This exhibition focuses on a rare and largely neglected masterpiece by the Nazarene artist Franz von Rohden (1817-1903) currently preserved at Ushaw College. The painting, which depicts the Crucifixion of Our Lord with the Virgin Mary, St John and Mary Magdalene (1854), exemplifies the artistic creed of the Nazarene school of painting, founded in Rome by a group of dissident German artists in the early nineteenth century and characterised by the radical recourse to the pictorial repertoire of Italian pre-modern masters. While still relatively unknown in England today, the Nazarene movement exerted a tremendous influence on European Romanticism, the Gothic Revival and the British Pre-Raphaelites. The exhibition is organized by Dr Stefano Cracolici (MLaC) under the aegis of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, the Centre of Visual Arts and Cultures, the Institute of Advanced Studies and the Centre for Catholic Studies.

Ushaw College presently preserves the largest and most revealing collection of Nazarene art in the country, and, in particular, the largest collection of Rohden’s paintings in the world. The exhibition is Strongly connected to the ‘Rome in the World Project’, led by Dr Cracolici and sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust. The project investigates the role of sacred art in today’s increasing secular society by charting the massive dissemination of devotional artworks from Rome to the world during the long pontificate of Pius IX (1846-78), the last Pope consciously exploiting the arts as powerful vehicles of his political and religious propaganda. The inclusion of the Ushaw artistic collection in the RIW project aims to promote a local heritage site by unravelling its global transnational dimension.

The Rohden’s exhibition illustrates the commitment of the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures (CVAC) to explore and engage with the heritage collection of Durham University and its partner institutions (‘Durham Hidden Heritage Initiative’). Furthermore, the devotional dimension of Rohden’s Crucifixion showcases a particular area of investigation that CVAC has elected among its research priorities – the interplay between religion and visual culture. Organised in collaboration with a veritable consortium of Durham institutions (IMEMS, IAS, CCS, C19S), the exhibition also exemplifies the kind of collaborative works it intends to foster at Durham, by offering students, colleagues and visitors alike a public forum to explore research questions in a thriving multidisciplinary environment.

Contemporary art critics praised Rohden’s art for his special use of light and colours. During the time of the exhibition, the World Heritage Visitor Site Centre will transform itself into a laboratory – Dr Cracolici and Prof Beeby (Chemistry) will conduct a pilot spectrographic analysis of the painting’s colours, through a non-invasive technique already adopted to study the ink of Durham Cathedral’s manuscripts. This would allow the Durham team to verify whether Rohden employed pigments commonly used in the pre-modern period. If confirmed, this would suggest that not only Rohden was inspired by pre-modern models stylistically, but he also tried to revive the pictorial techniques of the great old masters, opening new and exciting vistas on current Nazarene research.

Contact for more information about this event.

Ten Poems from Hafez

Horse HRThe Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures and the Oriental Museum at Durham University have great pleasure in inviting you to view and celebrate Ten Poems from Hafez, an artist’s book by Jila Peacock, which has recently come into the Museum’s Collections.  The artist will speak about her work, and there will be a chance to see all the openings of the book before it returns to its case, open at the poem about the horse – the Chinese year of the horse has just begun.  This will be followed by a reception.  Please visit the artist’s website to view the short animated film based on her work as well as the book itself and information about her:

Thursday 27th February 2014 at the Oriental Museum, Durham, 5.30-7.15  All welcome