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Unfinished Conversations and Cut Ups Sharon Walters: Seeing Ourselves and John Akomfrah: The Unfinished Conversation, 2012 At the MAC, Birmingham

Unfinished Conversations and Cut Ups

Sharon Walters: Seeing Ourselves and John Akomfrah: The Unfinished Conversation, 2012 At the MAC, Birmingham

by Tim London,
first published: June, 2022

approximate reading time: minutes

Two shows running currently at the Mac in Birmingham

Mac Arts ExhibitionSharon Walters: Seeing Ourselves
John Akomfrah: The Unfinished Conversation, 2012
At the MAC, Birmingham

Cut it out! Sharon Walters makes art from cutting out the ‘fill’ in various images - found from magazines and also photos she has taken. Into the gaps flows light. When presented in a boxed frame or hung, behind the images the silhouettes of shadow that reverse the image appear. You see both, in 3D and, with cut outs made from flimsy paper and hung on tree branches, constant motion, as if the image comes alive, warping gently like a flexing face or body, the ‘skin’ becoming whatever is behind it, changing in the light, blushing green, yellow brown and reacting to life.

It’s such a simple idea but so very effective. Sharon’s subject matter, mainly Black women or herself, becomes present in a living way. You really have to experience in person, the flat pixels above do not do justice.

John Akomfrah’s meditation on the historian and sociologist Stuart Hall, split across three screens, is a bombardment of image and sound that warrants a couple of views. It felt strange to walk in as it was under way, presented as it is as video/film art. This has a narrative and deserves the build from ‘start’ to climax. So watching it like a more regular film is worth it.

The footage is ‘found’. But the curation, the choices of image, the juxtaposition of the clips to the previous and next and to each other on the three screens is breath-taking. History told as it should be, with the essence of age created by showing what was happening elsewhere as this or that massive moment occurs in the forefront. So there will be a political assassination but life continues its grimy wind in a British northern city. Oppression in Kenya, Teddy Boys in Lambeth. Liberation here, mass bombing in Laos, Vietnam, in other words, ‘there’.

Mac Arts

As a tribute to the kind of learning proposed by Stuart Hall it couldn’t be better. It’s both the end result of his mission to get the study of the minutiae of modern life set against its cultural, economic, sociological background taken seriously and a celebration of Hall’s life. It does what ‘the news’ never manages - it tells the truth, the devastating truth of how power and wealth drive cruelty, how militarised human endeavours always fail to be human.

Epic. And it’s fucking free, so go along while you can.


Essential Info
Sharon Walters: Seeing Ourselves
John Akomfrah: The Unfinished Conversation, 2012
At the MAC, Birmingham website here

Tim London

Tim London is a musician, music producer and writer. Originally from a New Town in Essex he is at home amidst concrete and grand plans for the working class. Tim's latest thriller, Smith, is available now. Find out more at timothylondon.com


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