Imran Qureshi at the Barbican

Where the Shadows Are So Deep – The Curve Gallery at The Barbican

Qureshi had graduated from Lahore University in miniature painting, and he returned to this theme for his commission at The Curve gallery in the Barbican.

The Curve is a somewhat unusual gallery as it is long and narrow and, as its name implies, is curved. You can’t therefore see the end of the gallery when you first enter it. This means that it is not suitable for all types of exhibition, in this case, though, I felt that the nature of the gallery enhanced the exhibition (or to put it another way the artist produced an exhibition ideally suited to the gallery). The exhibition consists of a series of miniature paintings and the deeper you go in to the gallery the darker the paintings become. The miniatures are displayed at different levels and in some instances seem to burst out of the frame as the design continues on the floor and the wall surrounding the paintings. It was very interesting to see such a large number of miniature paintings diplayed together. You might think that a display of 35 miniatures could be lost in a large room. But the power of the paintings and their theme, together with the exquisite nature of the technique meant that it worked very well.

Some of the images evoke beauty, but many of them have a violent undercurrent running through them. In some instances, the blood-red colour continues on to the wall around the painting and runs down the wall to the floor where it spreads out into a blossom like pattern. Perhaps as a symbol of an end to the violence or of hope.

The paintings themselves seem very much in the tradition of Indian miniatures with fine details of trees and landscapes. There does not, however, seem to be any representation of people in the scenes. There is a very strong use of colour in the paintings – especially red!

I found the work equally challenging and stimulating, forcing the viewer to consider what the artist is presenting and his intentions behind it.

There is an interesting interview with Qureshi by David Shariatmadari in The Guardian

The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals

This is a very well-known painting, but it seems that it is mainly in seeing the original that you come to appreciate the skill of the artist. The embroidery on the clothing is rendered in the most intricate detail. But it is also by  examining it close-up that you can see, from the swagger and pose of the subject, why it is called “The Laughing Cavalier” – even though he was not a cavalier and may be faintly smiling – but he is certainly not laughing.

Hals Cavalier


My notes can be found here: Laughing Cavalier

Perseus and Andromeda by Titian

Titian Perseus


On a previous OCA History of Art course I had made an annotation of Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne which is in the National Gallery, so I found it interesting to look at another of his depictions of a classical myth.

This time is the story of Perseus and Andromeda. The sense of movement and power in the figure of Perseus is remarkable. To me seems to come, not just from his pose, or the composition of the scene, but also from the flowing shape of his scarf which really imparts a sense of energy.

My notes on the painting are here: Perseus and Andromeda 2

A Dance to the Music of Time – Nicolas Poussin


Poussin Dance


It was interesting to consider the allusions in this painting

  • the dancers representing the four seasons
  • the seasons dancing to the music of Time
  • Bacchus facing in and out

Old Bacchus facing the present and young Bacchus facing the future

I was fascinated to observe the painting and try to analyse it. Fortunately the Wallace collection notes nearby were a real help.

My notes are here: A Dance to the Music of Time












The Sainsbury Centre catalogue describes this as “an exceptional sculpture of the Papuan hornbill”. It also details the problem of trying to interpret the combination of figures found in this carving “the relationship between the hornbill, frigate bird (on the back), two skeletal fish and prone human figure may have been interpretable in the original context of display, but no longer”.

It is thought that it formed part of a “mortuary or death boat” which was formed of “human and animal carvings mounted in a canoe which was displayed at the climax of Malagan rights”. According to the Australian Museum “Malagan refers to both the memorial ceremonies carried out after burial and mourning as well as the masks, figures and posts made for use in these ceremonies”. Something else that I learnt from this exercise!




My notes on the work are here Hornbill




This appears as quite a scary mask when you first approach it – perhaps its original purpose!

It is from Northern New Ireland which I had not heard of until I visited Sainsbury Centre to see the mask. I have now learned that it is close to (if not part of) Papua New Guinea.

The Sainsbury Centre catalogue notes that the mask “is both sculpturally exceptional and unique in form” noting that “similar masks have not been found in the literature”.




My notes are here Mask

Standing Maori Figure


According to the Sainsbury Centre catalogue, these figures may “represent deified ancestors” and that they date to the period prior to missionary activity.” The catalogue also details how this is not a complete figure as “it has been emasculated and the feet are damaged at the front and back”. The hair is also missing from the statue.

As well as learning about Maori art form from this image I also came across the term “tutelary God” which I had not come across before. According to Collins dictionary tutelary means “invested with the role of guardian or protector”.



My notes are here Maori figure

Olmec Figure

Apparently many visitors to the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts consider this figure to be a baby (sometimes even a Chinese baby) because of the proportions and facial features. Some scholars have suggested that the head shape may “represent natural or intentional cranial deformation of infants”.

I had not heard of the Olmec people before I went to the Sainsbury Centre for this exercise – so I am pleased to have added to my existing knowledge of Central/South American culture.



My notes are here Hornbill Olmec figure

Baby Carrier



I was quite taken by the concept of a baby carrier as a work of art, in the UK at the present time they are simply functional objects, so it was really interesting to read on the SCVA notes how this was made and the meanings of the different aspects of the carving and decoration.


I was surprised to discover how recent this work is, it is 20th century work from Borneo. According to the Sainsbury Centre catalogue, the examples of baby carriers such as this “would not have been used for daily use” presumably, then, mainly being used on special occasions.

My notes on it can be found here Baby carrier

Shrine figure of a mother and child

This figure is from Nigeria, I was really interested to learn how the Yoruba people carved these sort of pieces for a shrine, but not to be worshipped directly rather as a symbol of a spiritual being.


My comments are here Shrine figure of a mother and child

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