The Contemporary Art Society has just acquired two works by Alberta Whittle for the Atkinson Museum in Southport.
Currently a PhD student at Edinburgh College of Art and a Research Associate at The University of Johannesburg, Whittle will represent Scotland at the 59th Biennale di Venezia in 2022. The artist was born in Barbados, spending most of her childhood there before moving to Birmingham as a teenager to get a diagnosis for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. She moved to study in Glasgow and has been based between Scotland and Barbados ever since.
Whittle works with a variety of media including film, interactive installations, sculpture, collage, and performance, aiming to unsettle people from their positions of privilege and passivity to elicit collective care and compassion. She finds research an important part of her practice, drawing from trans-national sources which allows her to link narratives across the Atlantic. This has been shaped by seeing the difference in acknowledgment of the legacy of colonialism, and how some in the UK have the luxury of forgetting these histories, compared to those in the Caribbean and wider diaspora.
Mammmmmmmmywata presents life solutions International (2016) is a video collage, with tongue-in-cheek humour and borrowed elements from self-help videos. The short film serves to remind us that active effort is needed to combat white hegemony. We are guided by an avatar based on ‘Mami Wata’, a creolised, mythological figure, who disrupts binary identities by personifying a culture of mixedness, rooted in both miscegenation and love.
Business as usual (2018) is a digital collage filled with phallic and yonic imagery, with a combination of natural forms and technological objects. The pineapple, orchids and diamonds symbolise wealth and luxury. Combined with the pose Whittle takes, it seems to tell us that we will reach liberty and decadence through emerging science and technology. When looking through an Afrofuturist lens, perhaps the audience is being told that freedom will be found among the stars after escaping the inequalities on Earth.
The two works were chosen because of the strong thematic links to the existing Fine Art collection at The Atkinson, which includes self-portraiture, mythic female deities, and watery beings such as sirens and mermaids. They also add to the diversity of the Atkinson’s collection, helping to rectify a previous lack of representation which is important for staff and visitors alike.
Alberta Whittle (b. 1980, Barbados) is an artist, researcher, and curator based in Glasgow. Recent solo shows include Johannesburg Gallery (2021); Grand Union Birmingham (2020) and Dundee Contemporary (2019). Recent group shows include Tate Britain (2021/22); Jupiter Artland and Lisson Gallery (both 2021); British Art Show – Aberdeen (2021) and The Showroom (2018). Whittle has won several awards, including the Frieze Artist Award (2020), Turner Prize (2020) and the Margaret Tait Award (2018). Additionally she was a RAW Academie Fellow at RAW Material in Dakar in 2018.