Portraits of our mothers

I recently visited the newly opened photograph exhibition “Devotion: A Portrait of Loretta” at Autograph ABP in Rivington Place, east London.

Over a number of years, the artist, Franklyn Rodgers, photographed his mother Loretta and her close circle of friends, building up an extraordinary series of large-scale portraits. The size and grandiosity of the works combine with a remarkable intimacy, achieved by the artist’s close relationships with these women. They are portraits which reveal defiance, strength, vulnerability, pleasure and layers of personal history. These are women of the Windrush generation, but they are also a son’s view of them, and that relationship of love, adoration and fear is writ large across the walls.
It is fascinating to see “ordinary” people treated as historic subjects – on the scale of eighteenth century history paintings, and it is powerfully moving. We often think of the Windrush generation as they appeared in those black and white photographs in their porkpie hats and smart Sunday suits, but they grew up, had families and continued their histories for many years afterwards. For us to look at these photographs is a potent reminder that the world changes with them and we must too.
The show is paired with another exhibition upstairs – Marcia Michael “I Am Now You – Mother”. Michael’s photographs of her mother and herself are graphically intimate and at times uncomfortable to view. The closeness and nakedness is disturbing in such a small space, yet, it is also a familiar child-parent relationship. You can feel her same feelings of connection and searching in the past, yet, remaining trapped in the present. This is a visual essay on matrilineal history, but also an immigrant child’s yearning to find an identity in family and country. Like Rodgers’ portraits, it touches a raw nerve and is very much worth seeing. Both artists capture something of the complexity of second generation identity and the mix of emotions we share.
Both free and open till 7th July 2018.
http://autograph-abp.co.uk/ 
 Image: Franklyn Rodgers, Loretta Rodgers, 31 January 2006

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