Alberta Whittle ‘deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory’

Installation View, 'Deep Dive (Pause) Uncoiling Memory', 59th Venice Biennale, Venice, 2022
59th Venice Biennale, Venice

Taking time to imagine and reimagine is at the core of Alberta Whittle’s work, and central to her new presentation deep dive (pause) uncoiling memory. In an immersive environment, the artist encourages us to slow down, in order that we may collectively consider the historic legacies and contemporary expressions of racism, colonialism and migration, and begin to think outside of these damaging frameworks.

Across two rooms in a former boatyard, Alberta presents new works in tapestry, film and sculpture, connected through a shared vocabulary of motifs and ideas. Produced in collaboration with a network of artists, choreographers and performers, whom Alberta terms her accomplices, the installation reveals layers of meaning through the collaging of imagery, materials and form and continues the artist’s motivation to manifest self-compassion and collective care”¯as key”¯methods in battling anti-blackness.

Entanglement is more than blood, a new large-scale tapestry is imbued with Alberta’s rich symbolism of water, gateways, hands, snakes and shells. Acting as a portal, it continues the artist’s visual exploration into notions of birth and death; transformation and immortality; health and healing. Situated next to a portrait of the artist, aged 7, by her mother Janice Whittle the works intimately remind us of the significance of family, kinship and ancestral histories that echo throughout the presentation.

Imagery found in the tapestry echoes throughout Alberta’s ambitious new film Lagerah — The Last Born, a work anchored around theories of abolition, rebellion, ancestral knowledge and love. Shot on location in Scotland, London and Barbados and featuring footage from West Africa as well as from Venice, the film melds a collection of scenes that give focus to the strength of contemporary Black womxn, whose individual acts of resistance are bound together through the artist’s conceptual storytelling. Alberta situates Black love in proximity with historical sites of trauma, re-inscribed with rage, hope and exhaustion. Gestures, rituals and moments of intimacy are poignantly underpinned by a deep reflection on grief, loss and mourning, a resolute reminder of the trauma inflicted upon the Black body and of white privilege and power.

Both the film and tapestry are framed within gate-like structures The Choir is waiting at the threshold and (pause), which divide and contain the spaces, drawing associations with enclosures, barriers or thresholds. Fabricated in steel the deep green colours of the metalwork are offset by stained glass panels in rippling purple and pink tones that nod to the colours of the glass lamps that shine across Venice. It is within these sculptural forms Alberta invites us to gather, to pause, reflect and remember.

Echoing the artist’s ethos of care and healing, visitors to the space will be offered items of comfort such as handmade blankets and herbal teas created by family, friends and collaborators and are provided with custom made seating both inside and out in which as their title refers to take a great to rest. With students and early career practitioners from across Scotland and South Africa invigilating the exhibition and providing a warm welcome to all that come to the experience of the exhibition.

At a time in history when it is not enough for the world to merely acknowledge global injustice, the exhibition invites us to unravel contested and difficult histories and creates an open space for conversation, hope, healing, and reconciliation. Building on themes established in previous work, this new exhibition demonstrates the artist’s unmatched ability to tell difficult, and often painful, stories with empathy, vulnerability, and an abundance of love, something the artist is intentional about;

“The luxury of amnesia is a really potent idea in my practice. For so long there was this complete reluctance and avoidance in discussing Scotland’s role within slavery and within plantation economies. There’s this sense that racism and police brutality is an English problem or an American problem, something that isn’t happening on these shores. There are ways in which the luxury of amnesia has been nurtured by Governments, by the stories we tell ourselves, by ways we find to avoid our own complicity with our own privilege — and it’s interesting to think about the conversations that are still missing.
There’s a numbness that can happen when you just see names and that endless footage of George Floyd being murdered. I wanted to find a way to think about these ideas without re-traumatising myself or re-traumatising the audience, and I think there are other ways to do that — and that led me to really return to love. I wanted there to be that place for love in the work because it ends at such a place of sorrow when I think about the endless list of names that are growing.”- Alberta Whittle