With its classical exterior and grand marble interior, the RWA (Royal West of England Academy, Bristol) is not the place you would expect to find an exhibition which labels itself as bringing the ‘unseeable and unsayable to the fore’.
Beginning with a series of portrait miniatures whose subjects are faceless with distortions of misplaced wigs, geometric patterns or eerie moss like growths, the exhibition progresses through the theme of selfhood and identity. It draws a particular focus on the ‘other’ as abject: the things that we really don’t want to think about. Between the life sized model of an almost nude young girl (except for the bandages wrapped around her pubescent breasts and pants) and the 2m high portraits of facial disfiguration, there is much that is designed to unsettle the viewer. With the exception of a few obvious works playing to the theme such as the mirror (complete with artist’s signature) and the sexually objectified women with a “sub/dom” switch, this is a thought provoking exhibition.
The second room was host to Sanctae, an artwork shaped to feel like a womb. The piece is particularly confronting, made up of around twenty larger than life photographs of naked women each sporting a figurative emblem of womanhood in all its visceral truth. Sanctae provides a serious challenge to a conception of the womb too, claustrophobic and uncomfortable as it is.
Overall the exhibition is powerful and presents a well selected range of works to reflect upon the concept of self and the other, that which both isn’t and is (often uncomfortably) part of ourselves.