@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Guest Review: Paula Rego Exhibition @Tate by Matt White @soupdragon2000

    July 8th, 2021mardixonCulture

    This week, I went to Tate Britain to check out the new Paula Rego exhibition. I’d never heard of this artist which is surprising as she was the first Associate Artist at the National Gallery – a place where I once worked! Still, I was intrigued to see what it was all about and what an artist with over 70 years’ experience had to offer. To be clear, I’m neither artist, art historian or art critic. Any chance of that was beaten out of me in my school years when I was made to stop art in favour of ‘proper subjects’ that would get me a ‘proper job’! These are just the thoughts of a random guy so feel free to disagree!

    So anyway, it was a lovely day to visit the Tate and lovely to be back by the Thames in the sunshine for the first time in a year. For those of you who aren’t Londoners, that’s a long time to be separated from our beloved river!

    The show is largely chronological and the first room was of early works from the 1950s. This room for me was the most challenging and I found it a bit of a struggle. One of the first things we learn is that the artist who was born in Lisbon, Portugal, was sent to a finishing school in Kent at age 16. This stirred up the inverted snob in me and made me expect yet another exhibition by some privileged person who went to a fancy art school. That’s my own prejudice to get over though and I thought I’d need to separate the art and the artist. Maybe if I had been to art school, I would have ‘got’ that first room more too. Some of the works were very much on the abstract side and I just couldn’t see what the wall captions were telling me I was looking at.
    I’m glad the captions were there though. For one, they reveal that the art and the artist are very much intertwined and can’t be separated. It also explained why I couldn’t see what was going on – I probably wasn’t supposed to. You see, these paintings were all painted at a time of dictatorship in Portugal where political freedoms and women’s rights were suppressed. These paintings criticised the regime and those who led it and exposed women’s stories including her own. This is not something you could do openly and shows what a brave and determined woman she was and is. Though a difficult start, this room was essential to set me on track for the rest of the exhibition. My one piece of advice for anyone visiting would be to read the labels in this room!

    From there on, the exhibition becomes more accessible for the average punter like me. No less impactful though. Room after room, you’re belted round the chops with powerful artwork after powerful artwork. The variety of media is phenomenal too – collage drawing paints, pastels… Is there nothing this artist cannot master? There are works that are grotesque, beautiful, uncomfortable and full of humour. There’s a lot to take in but it’s all portioned up into manageable themes while keeping to the chronology so it never feels like too much.

    In terms of simply beautiful artwork, my favourites had to be the series of prints of nursery rhymes, including Little Miss MuffettThree Blind Mice and Baa Baa Black Sheep. All beautiful in their creepiness!
    One room is dedicated to subverting the male dominance of art in The National Gallery by re-interpreting works to include female representation. Another room contains a delightful 3m long diptych inspired by Disney’s Show White and the Seven Dwarfs’.
    There’s an entire room dedicated to a series of paintings of a woman in a series of poses expressing sexuality but are inspired by the similarity of the depiction of female saints in Catholic paintings and 19th-century images of women ‘diagnosed with hysteria’. There’s a lot going on here so I’d recommend checking it out yourself rather than have me trying to explain here!

    There’s a lot more to see but the last room for me was the most important. My only criticism of it was that the room itself was beyond the exit so you could avoid it if you so choose. As I write the word ‘criticism’, it already feels like the wrong word. You see, in this room there are some horrific depictions of different forms of female abuse including trafficking and female genital mutilation. It’s quite right that these images are horrific as the acts they show are unspeakable. And that’s the point. We should be speaking about these things and putting an end to them. This final collection of works has been placed as a ‘provocation for action’ and is a fitting endpoint for a retrospective of someone whose entire life has been about fighting injustice for women.

    This is an outstanding show by an outstanding artist. One I cannot hesitate in recommending.

    Paula Rego runs from 7 July – 24 October 2021 at Tate Britain. £18 / Free with ticket for Members. Concessions available. £5 for Tate Collective.

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