Places, perceptions and pictures

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdvances in travel mean that we are able to see more of the world than ever before. Advances in communication mean that we can see pictures of more of the world than ever before. And yet, somehow it seems as if in order to manage the vast amount of information we might have about any one place, we sink back into flat, two-dimensional perceptions of places. The pictures we carry in our minds are often stereo-typical and overlook the complexity and people of a place.

In 2011 I visited Karachi in Pakistan on an arts scholarship and made some films and still images. The response from a British audience was staggering:

“I never realised there were beaches in Pakistan”

“Everyone is smiling”

“It looks like a big, modern city”

Before they saw my art-work they considered Karachi a medieval city of covered women, war lords and car bombs. I wrote a lot about it at the time. Some Pakistanis also wrote about it!

Last year I visited Baghdad in Iraq. When I returned I made some pictures – small sketches of the everyday moments that I encountered. The Iraqi Cultural Centre kindly exhibited the collection, and again the audience comments, even British Iraqi ones were eye-opening:

“It’s so good to see Baghdad like this”

“Yes, there are gentle moments in the beautiful city”

“I love to see kids going to school, people walking to work”

I have just come the end of making a series of work for an exhibition in San Pedro del Pinatar in Spain after spending several months here. Many of the 16 paintings capture moments instantly recognisable by locals and visitors to the small town in Murcia on the south eastern coast of Spain. Outside of Murcia, I imagine most people won’t of heard of this place. The perceptions that I want to address this time are those of the people who live in the town. There is no “old town” of charming historical architecture here. This small functional town lives on a tourism and fishing industry. The exhibition is called “Mientras Hablamos” – which roughly translates as “Whilst we are speaking”. Many of the paintings include two people talking and I wanted to get a sense of there being in a bubble of communication, that often means we ignore the environment around us. I want to ensure that gentle moments of beauty found in San Pedro del Pinatar are not over-looked. It is my parting gift to the town.

I have enjoyed staying in Spain, but looking forward to my return to Britain in the new year. I have recently canvassed for ideas and invitations from other under-represented and misunderstood places. So far I have been offered Sheffield (grim, unfortunate, industrial north with snooker), Swansea (Welsh?), and Swindon (which Eddie Izzard once called “A Knackered Fresno town”)

These places will be easy to access for me, but advances in travel and communication mean that I can go much further in my quest – so the ideas and invitations are still open. I’d especially welcome ideas from Africa, Asia and the Far East – whose countries carry many negative connotations and two-dimensional perceptions.