We Face Forward at Manchester Art Gallery

I've been working behind the scenes of Manchester Art Gallery's new exhibition, We Face Forward; part of this summer's city-wide festival of West African art and music.
In the past weeks I've done mostly paperwork, researching the artists and organisations that are taking part in the events, but on Monday and Tuesday I had the pleasure of meeting and working with the artist Bartélémy Toguo
His newly commissioned work Redemption consists of two enormous chairs, one filled with the trappings of migration; bags, shoes, sacks etc and the other holding a number of border control stamps carved with words including "Liberty" "Peace" "No war". The installation turns the gallery into a waiting room full of the dreams of those migrants looking for a new life and their belongings.  

On Monday morning he explained to us that he wanted large knapsack type bundles making, he wanted them to be burstingly full. He had brought with him a number of beautiful pieces of wax printed fabric which he wanted making into bundles. 
Interestingly, the fabric was bought in Paris, Imported from the Netherlands, printed in Ghana using an Indonesian technique and designed in Manchester! 
a perfect example of the underlying colonial history within "traditional" African fabrics
In filling the bundles, we used all of the bubble wrap and packaging material within a five mile radius, and still managed to run out. The bubble wrap that had been ordered for the piece had not turned up and it took a huge amount of material to fill the fabric out fully. 
We got there in the end though. 
Whilst this was going on, Bartélémy was downstairs re-making his piece Transit 1, using a chainsaw to carve pieces of luggage. 
There were other bags to fill and shoes to tie on strings before the end of the day whilst Bartélémy cut new suitcases out of a huge log.
On Tuesday the chairs had been moved into place, ready to be piled high. Unfortunately, Bartélémy was running behind and was still working on his immigration stamp for the piece. He sent me to get some Ingres paper, and of course nowhere had any. After three shops, I found some but it wasn't heavy enough, I had to go back with a sheet and make sure it would be OK before committing to buy more. 
When his stamp was finished, Bartélémy pulled a few prints from it which looked great and then set about finishing the handles on his suitcases. 

After an interview and a wash he started filling the chairs, I didn't see the piece finished so it will be exciting to see on opening night!
I also had a nice chat with Emeka Ogboh, who has made three soundscapes for the festival. He has installed speakers which play sounds recorded in Lagos and as such was in a much more laid back mood than his friend Bartélémy!

We Face Forward runs from 2nd June - 16th September 2012 across Manchester Art Gallery, Whitworth Art Gallery and Platt Gallery of Costume.

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