Culture, national identity, family relationships and the legacy of colonialism will be explored in two DCA winter exhibitions, steering audiences through the last weeks of 2021 and into the new year.
‘At the shore, everything touches’ by Welsh-Gambian visual artist/filmmaker Tako Taal and ‘Rae-Yen Song’, by the Glasgow-based artist of the same name, will run concurrently from December 11 until March 20 at Dundee Contemporary Arts.
Taal’s exhibition features a new film and accompanying collage, painting and archival materials based on family photographs and documents belonging to the artist and relating to the changing nature of her family’s home in Juffureh, The Gambia.
This village is renowned for its proximity to the former British slave fort established on what was once known as James Island, now named Kunta Kinteh Island referencing the central protagonist in Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots.
Taal’s new body of work centres on this village – its geography and historical significance as a trade post and fort during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The artist also explores the present-day reality of Juffureh as home, a tourist site and a point of departure for recent migrations.
At the shore, everything touches
‘At the shore, everything touches’ is the outcome of a project that has been in steady development for three or four years,” says Taal, a 2015 graduate from Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen.
“I’m at once excited but also have this slightly sick feeling about sharing it with an audience.
“The exhibition centres on the writings and photographs of my father Seedy Taal who died in 1990. In some ways the exhibition feels like our combined life’s work as I have wanted to make work alongside him for a long time.
“Making the exhibition is a process of collapsing all these timescales in this one location, my paternal home village, Juffureh and being able to see where and how everything touches.
“Unlike a memorial, which is this static object in time and space, I want the exhibition at DCA to become a site where people feel like they can linger, gather together and share within a loss and a landscape.”
Over in the next gallery space, Rae-Yen Song’s first solo exhibition in Scotland will debut a new body of work across sculpture, installation, printmaking and video in order to create a multi-sensory environment.
Song’s work explores self-mythologising – using fantasy to re-create one’s personal history in order to project a certain image – as a survival tactic.
This process draws on autobiography, family stories, relationships and memories.
Song’s work also explores broader issues of race, gender, culture, identity and what it means to belong – or not.
The artist’s work is experimental, rejecting traditional Western narrative structures. But above all, it is personal – the cornerstones of family connections, from storytelling to sibling dynamics to ancestry, sit at the heart of this project.
“I think of it as a temple, built from memories, ancestral stories and family treasure to honour a distant but ongoing journey,” says Song.
“It is a refuge. Guided by my mother’s tongue, this architecture is an enclave, a backdrop for an imagined dialogue with a long-departed grandfather.
“He was a being from another time and place, and my conversation with him addresses crossing, migration, loss, survival and labour.”
Open for business
Visitor numbers to the DCA have steadily increased since the venue reopened in April after many months of lockdown.
With the future still not completely certain, the cultural hub is moving “slowly and carefully” into winter.
“We’re taking all necessary measures to keep DCA a calm and safe public space to spend time in,” says Eoin Dara, head of exhibitions.
“We have no way of knowing what the world might throw at us, but as long as it is safe to do so our gallery doors will be open for everyone to come and spend some time with these two beautiful exhibitions.
“I believe Rae-Yen and Tako to be two of the most exceptional artists working in Scotland at the moment, and it’s been a real privilege working with them both over the last 18 months.
“These are exhibitions of slow emergence and deep connection, which will allow us and our audiences to gently move through the last weeks of 2021 into a more hopeful 2022.
“A significant part of our remit in the galleries at DCA is to nurture and uplift artists living and working in this part of the world.
“Beyond this, in our programme for some years now we have been making space for voices that have been underrepresented or overlooked by the dominant culture to date, and this absolutely means supporting work that looks beyond White Western European narratives and championing artists such as Tako and Rae-Yen.”