Art / Exhibitions

Revolt and Revolutions

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This year marks 50 years since the great French general strike when 800,000 students, teachers and workers marched through Paris; the explosion of the peace movement; the rise of an international student movement of revolt; anti-racist riots in US cities; and the Prague Spring.

This exhibition, mostly drawn from the Arts Council Collection, is of work by artists who have wanted to make a difference. It aims to capture aspects of counter-culture and resistance and to stimulate a sense of solidarity with past and present struggles.

Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberté 1938-48

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Surrealism grew out of the Dada movement and the carnage of the First World War. Since then it has been associated with Europe. This, the first comprehensive UK exhibition of African surrealists, seeks to address this imbalance and places Egyptian artists firmly at the heart of surrealism.

Many Egyptian artists were influenced by or had studied in Europe, but the art that evolved throughout the period covered here deals with both universal and profoundly African issues.

Queens of Industry

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Queens of Industry is a small but fascinating exhibition focusing on the women chosen to represent the industries of coal, wool, cotton and the railways as “queens” between the 1920s and 1980s. It would be easy to dismiss the whole concept as merely a sexist anachronism, but that would be to miss a more complex picture and dismiss the experiences of the women themselves.

Hannah Ryggen: Woven Histories

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Representing Norway at the Paris World Fair in 1937, where Pablo Picasso first showed “Guernica”, was the artist Hannah Ryggen, with her 1935 tapestry “Ethiopia”. The two works were exhibited next to each other in the pavilion of the Spanish Republic — Picasso’s cry of anguish against the Nazi bombing of the city in the Spanish Civil War, Ryggen’s epic heartfelt response to fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, with a bullet-headed Mussolini speared by an African fighter (folded over by the fair’s organisers to avoid offending the Italian government).

How does Russia remember its revolution?

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When a group of us visited St Petersburg and Moscow last month to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution we were not expecting much by way of official commemoration. We were pleasantly surprised to find lots of exhibitions marking the anniversary and even more gratified to discover that many portray the revolution sympathetically.

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism

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Art that attacks the establishment is not new. The Dadaists in Berlin from 1919 held a series of events aimed at the ruling class — they hung from the ceiling carcasses of dead pigs dressed in the uniforms of generals of the German Imperial army; they released a herd of cows among the critics at one of their openings.

Just as the horror at the First World War led to Dada so the current state of Russia has given rise to an art fuelled by anger, Pussy Riot being the most famous.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

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Any attempt to root opera in a broader social, political and cultural context is to be welcomed. The leitmotiv (so to speak) of this new exhibition, staged in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, is the link between an opera and the city of its first performance. It starts with Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea in Venice in 1642, and ends with Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Moscow in 1934.

Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz

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Käthe Kollwitz was a leading German artist, whose work spanned the end of the 19th century and both World Wars.

Not as well known in Britain as her male contempories Otto Dix and George Grosz, she comes from the same socially critical tradition and her keen interest in politics is reflected in all her work.

In the exhibition powerful woodcuts and prints depict the realities of hunger, motherhood, death and bereavement and offer us an insight into the experience and struggle of working people during one of Germany’s most turbulent periods.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power

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This is a celebration of the work of Black American artists in the 1960s and 1970s. While the art on display is inspired by the mass Civil Rights Movement in the US during that time it is incredibly poignant that the issues raised remain so relevant today.

Norman Lewis’s America the Beautiful, for example, is an almost abstract painting depicting the KKK and burning crosses that could be a representation of Donald Trump’s America.

The Life and Work of Marx and Engels

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The Working Class Movement Library, in the heart of Salford, hosts a large collection of socialist literature and materials. Their latest exhibition focuses on the lives of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. There is a particular spotlight on the lives of the working class of Manchester and Salford in 1842.

Among the many photographs and examples of their writing on display, the library gives detailed accounts both of the works and personal lives of the pair.

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