As you walk into Alberta Whittle’s exhibition, you enter into a sacred pact with the artist: to ‘create dangerously’. Rejecting the notion of separation between viewer/artist, and defying the potential passivity of the viewing experience, she beckons you into her community of co-conspirators.
Each room is filled with comfortable punctuation-mark-shaped furnishings to rest upon and contemplate. And it is in this way that you can totally lose track of time when traversing the space, existing in a new plane where (and especially manifested in Alberta’s Afrofuturist montages), the past, present and future exist all at once.
Alberta invites audiences to consider all of these as a way of healing from centuries of continued oppression, of Scotland’s wilful ignorance of its part in systemic racism and profound connection to Barbados specifically (drawing upon her experience as a Barbadian Scot). These pause points between artworks invite viewers to quell the urge to ‘move on’, and instead (literally) sit with the work and contemplate it, moving through the rest of the exhibition increasingly light; not absolved, but subsumed into the work.
The heart of the exhibition, a screening of Alberta’s film Lagareh – The Last Born, really is the lifeblood that pulses between all other artworks. Its soundscape seems to spill out of Lagareh and into the rest of the exhibition; the swell of the sea, the soft shift of Barbadian sand, the rustle of a kilt in the breeze and the breathy swipe of a machete through Highland air are present in textiles, metalwork, and collage to form one living, breathing whole.
All pieces fuse together seamlessly to create an experience that is deeply meditative, as she shows in brilliant turquoise, royal purples and sticky fuchsias that remembering is important; remembering Scotland’s complicity in the construction and maintenance of white supremacy, and how cherishing one another is crucial to ending premature death at the hands of the government.
A particular favourite is A wiggle in the universe: Seven Sisters I; a constellation of bronze tongues, referencing looking to the stars of indigenous wisdom to light the way forward. There are samples you are invited to touch, and the intimacy of ‘touching tongues’ is one that further fuses viewer and creator in a way that is both playful and crucial; a perfect metaphor for Alberta’s plea that we invest in love and don’t take ourselves too seriously.
There will also be a new performance by Alberta supported by Edinburgh Art Festival, National Galleries of Scotland and Forma Arts, London, Alberta Whittle: The Last Born – making room for ancestral transmissions, Sunday 13th August.
Main photo credit: Matthew A Williams
Words by Lara Delmage