Curator’s Statement

The Unfinished Conversation

Crafted Selves: The Unfinished Conversation is a multi-layered, dynamic, mixed group exhibition held at St Andrews Museum and Kirkcaldy Galleries in 2023 and 2024. The show consists of the work of 13 artists, with artworks ranging in genre from paintings to installations, from ceramics to mirror work to textiles, from written pieces to moving image films. The artists range from experienced to early career, all incredibly talented. 

The exhibition takes its title from the continuing discourse with the artists; What does it mean to have a Dual Identity, and how is this sense of self-reflection in work being made by Scottish craft artists today? With the artists based throughout Scotland, contemporary Scottish identity will inevitably be a part of the conversation. From lived experiences and histories that are experienced as pain and anger, the process of making and creating can express this pain but also bring a sensation and expression of joy and celebration in claiming Dual Identity.  

Craft is often seen as an activity, pursuit or occupation involving making things by hand.1 Historically, it is an action which requires a particular set of skills and knowledge of skilled work and is usually applied to people occupied in small-scale production of goods. Designing, creating and hand-making a crafted object connects the maker profoundly and personally to that object. Each of the artists taking part in the exhibition uses layered and complex elements of craft to create compositions that offer a unique iconography and hybridisation of references. Elements of historical and contemporary diverse cultures merge and create anthropological and dreamlike spaces outside of the geographic location, through which an artist can question the generational and geographical codes that create their identity.

Each artist balances their different genealogical cultures, which is sometimes a struggle. Nevertheless, they seamlessly mesh when these elements come together in their artwork. Having more than one home and a hybrid point of origin is no longer unusual. Social identity shifts into a more nebulous network of geographical and geopolitical locations, feelings, memories, and oral histories in our increasingly globalised world.

Art does not have to be constrained to one medium. In the same way, artists can embrace their multiple cultures and identities. For example, Crafted Selves allow the artists to explore their Identity through self-portraits and symbolism in works of art that relate to ancestry or culture. Craft and art objects intersect all cultural domains: economic, social, political, and ritual. Craft goods are social objects that assume importance beyond household maintenance and reproduction. They signify and legitimise group membership and social roles and become reserves of wealth, storing intrinsically valuable materials and the labour invested in their manufacture. Specialised craft producers (artists) are involved in creating and maintaining social networks, wealth, and social legitimacy. Artisans and consumers must accept, create, or negotiate the social legitimacy of production and the conditions of production and distribution, usually defined in terms of social Identity. The nature of that process defines the production organisation and the social relations that characterise the relationships between producers and consumers.

Without attention to artisan identity, our reconstructions of production systems and explanations for their form and dynamics are destined to be unidimensional and unidirectional, lacking in vital elements of social process and behaviour. Art can be seen as a stimulus for social transformation and political change. Identity in modern art is a broad and exciting theme, allowing viewers to gain new perspectives and understand other people’s lives. For the artists who draw inspiration from their identity, the work becomes a podium for exploration, expression, and connection.  

Of course, everyone has, in a way, multiple identities – you can be a wife, daughter, mother, sister, son, husband, uncle and so on. It is what the world sees and where society places you at a particular moment. Some individuals’ physical, social, and mental characteristics can define social identity. For example, social identities include race or ethnicity, gender, social class and socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, and religious beliefs. Dual Identity is defined as identification with both one’s ethnocultural minority in-group and one’s society of residence.2  This class of identity recognises subgroups’ differences and creates an overarching category. For example, group members can conceive two distinctive groups (e.g., White, and Black) within a superordinate (i.e., American) social identity.3

Within the exhibition there are artists who are transgendered and artists who define their disability as an identity. Even if the term Dual Identity is a specific term related to ethnocultural background – we are exploring other dualities as well.

Social identity is the way we perceive and express ourselves. Factors and conditions an individual is born with—such as ethnic heritage, sex, or body—often define one’s identity. However, many aspects of a person’s identity change throughout life. For example, people’s experiences can alter how they see themselves or others perceive them. Conversely, their identities also influence their decisions: Individuals choose their friends, adopt specific fashions, and align themselves with political beliefs based on their identities. Many artists use their work to express, explore, and question ideas about identity. 

Nevertheless, we stand in a moment where Britain goes back and forth, arguing about immigrants and people of colour’s role in the identity of Britain. Yet, I feel that as a result, Britain can become a place of togetherness through shared histories.

Scotland is undergoing a cultural shift as it repositions itself in the wider world, with Scottish art at the centre of the current discourse about Scottish social identity. For example, in 2022, Scotland was represented at the Venice Biennale by Alberta Whittle, the first black woman artist who openly claims to have a Dual Identity – belonging to both Barbados and Scotland equally.2 Art and craft can express aspirations, values, and national character.

The artists each consider themselves to be Scottish. This is where they live, work, and contribute to society. For some of them/us, however, there is the bonus of geographical heritage or birth, which influences our social identities, where we have a foot in a different geographical location and heritage. However, having a Dual Identity can burden us as we often face ethnic, racial, emotional, and systemic biases. Each artist looks at the world through their own eyes and also through the eyes as seen by society. The world is inevitably complicated. Our origins are composed of histories, pasts, memories, and places that are layered and stitched together. So, there is a fight to show that we belong to Scotland and are Scottish irrespective of having a passport, partner, wife, husband, family, friends, and home. We fight those resistant to foreigners claiming something that does not belong to them. We are still seen as ‘othered’.

However, claiming Dual Identity allows us a shared history, culture, and identity – a route towards reinvention, possibilities, and positionality. We can use this to speak of social identity, culture, collective memories, shared past, and experience reimagining history. For example, one artist asked what visual markers from a photograph make up our identity to others. Race? Gender? They stated that their work shows how an individual’s identity is inseparable from the culture and how people see her. They have found looking at the work compelling. It questions society’s assumptions about identity because of how you look, which can lead to stereotyping and racial prejudices.

In cases where the work explicitly explores identity issues, the artists often question where they think they belong. For artists who grew up in Scotland, their duality is constantly changing. Nevertheless, for the artists who relocated to Scotland, the question of ‘Where are you from?’ becomes the most feared question, with their identity constantly challenged. Indeed, one only has to look at the Windrush Generation and take on board that these people came from British colonies, gave up their homes and came to Britain as the government requested. However, depending on the darkness of their skin tone, they needed help finding the jobs that had been promised. They were given the worst situations. Nurses fully qualified within the Caribbean suddenly were treated as trainee nurses, and even train and bus drivers were abused. Nevertheless, these people forged lives and families to have homes, all while being known as ‘other or less than others.

Stuart Hall suggests that the search for culture and identity is a continuing conversation about who we are and how it feels to live in a country with a complex history.3

No direct comparison exists between one’s birth country, cultural heritage, and Scotland. Instead, geographical heritage and cultural dominance are balanced with Scottish and world-view influences concerning daily life and creating artworks.4

Everyone who has embraced the term Dual Identity does so with pride as we prefer to embrace the term rather than have it used against us. Therefore, within the artworks, they are signifiers, perhaps of the trauma one is going through, but not necessarily articulating to the world. However, there is also a joy because each artist becomes more vital in claiming and embracing a Dual Identity as self-identity. Each artist becomes stronger. The artworks become more dynamic. There is true joy within the artworks, along with sorrow and pain. So, the works must have all of these elements to speak.

Having Dual Identity can be used to celebrate social identity, or it can be used as a platform to express and teach others what life can be like from another perspective.

From experiences and histories that are experienced as pain and anger, the process of making and creating can express this pain but also bring a sensation and expression of joy and celebration in claiming Dual Identity.

This exhibition provides a focal point for the artworks of the most exciting and dynamic artists working through craft in Scotland, bringing together powerful, beautiful, expressive works to introduce a broad audience in Fife and further afield the power of making as self-expression and exploration of identity. A soundtrack of thoughts and spoken words from the artists, with subtitles for hearing-impaired audiences is integrated into the exhibition. This is especially important to me as a Curator, as I want the audience to hear each artist’s words and emotions. In the physical exhibition the work was installed to interact, juxtapose, and speak to each other while allowing the audience to navigate the space safely. An interpretation area allowed interactive responses and incorporate ‘insights’ for conversations. Through the run of the exhibition, satellite events encourage the audience to think through and confront all aspects of Scottish identity, from gender-based to race to culture.

“For everyone who has embraced the term Dual Identity, we do so with pride as we prefer to embrace the term than have it used against us … Each artist becomes stronger. The artworks become more dynamic. There is true joy within the artworks, along with sorrow and pain. So, the works must have all of these elements to speak.”

Fife Contemporary have curated an associated programme of workshops and activities in collaboration with community groups and partner organisations to explore themes from the exhibition, offering a space for all to celebrate and communicate their own social, personal, and cultural Identity.

“Having Dual Identity can be used to celebrate social identity, or it can be used as a platform to express and teach others what life can be like from another perspective.”

We invite you to join the conversation.

Cat Dunn 

2023  

References

1 Ratten, V., 2022. Defining craft making. In Entrepreneurship in Creative Crafts (pp. 29-38). Routledge.
2 Platt, L., 2016. Is there assimilation in minority groups’ national, ethnic and religious identity?. In Migrants and Their Children in Britain (pp. 46-70). Routledge.
3 Schaafsma, J., Nezlek, J.B., Krejtz, I. and Safron, M., 2010. Ethnocultural identification and naturally occurring interethnic social interactions: Muslim minorities in Europe. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), pp.1010-1028.
4 Wendt, S., 2023. All the World’s Histories: At The 59th Venice Biennale. Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, 52(1), pp.120-135.