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Art(icle)50: the question of British identity in the era of Brexit

Written by Arts, Exhibitions

Last weekend marks two years since Article 50 was invoked in February 2017… yikes. To “celebrate” the shambles that has followed, the BALTIC exhibited a collection of artists’ work on the question of British national identity for the anniversary weekend: Art 50.

Amongst the increasing division, citizens from every background have united together to flex their creative muscles and speak out through the chaos. I paused the episode of Question Time I had been desolately witnessing from my bed and concluded that I had no better way to spend my sunny Sunday.

If you read my last review, you will know that I visited the BALTIC for the first time earlier this month and spoke in high praise. I would especially recommend it on a Sunday, though, as we caught the Quayside market en route and enjoyed some lovely food samples from the stalls. The BALTIC’s distinctive building looked even more striking in the sunshine and the river was literally shimmering. Funny how easily one’s spirits can be lifted in a country crumbling at the seams!

The exhibition itself was spread throughout all floors of the BALTIC, as well as in performances at the Sage Gateshead (giant slug) next door. There were several instalments in various forms (short films, visuals, paintings, sculptures), all of which explored what it means to be British.

Art 50 provides a restorative recess of creativity and expression

I enjoyed “Me, Nan and Oldham” by Connor Coulston, a working class perspective of Britishness in the form of handwritten words on a large slab. Without punctuation, it messily encapsulates a moment of conversation between a Nan and her grandson in their living room, aiming to provoke a sense of nostalgia and normalcy to the ordinary British onlooker. It is loud and comical: cries like “PISS OF YA BLOODY BITCH” and “YOU’RE GOING SENILE” scribbled all over in caps. More subtly it critiques the distance between government and every day British life, highlighting the experience of those overlooked in the UK’s “most deprived town”.

I later attended the “Declaration of Independence” showing, a performative forum by Barby Asante focusing on the intersection of women of colour and how historic declarations and legislations have affected their lives. There was a mixture of spoken word, music and meditation, held on an intimate circular stage that mirrors the assembly spaces used to negotiate such treaties. Each performer took turns to take their microphone and reclaim their own voice: “I declare myself freedom’s keeper… keep it”, spoke one woman.

The exhibits as a collection were a powerful insight into what Britain will feel like post-Brexit, and how the lives of those unheard will be affected. In a country crippling under the weight of false facts and broken policies, Art 50 provides a restorative recess of creativity and expression. They won’t listen, but Britons will shout!

Last modified: 21st April 2020

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