with Emily Butler
‘A really large part of me wanting to participate of the Open is invite some of the local community groups I’ve worked with to see themselves reflected in this space that is an institution’.
Listen to full interview here:
My name is Hussina Raja. I am a multidisciplinary artist. My work focuses on identity politics, diasporic migration and a sense of belonging.
What are you showing in The London Open 2022?
I’ll be showing several short video works. One is Roots (2019), which was shot on 16mm film, and is about the shedding of one’s cultural identity. Londoners (2021) is a film made up of conversations that unravel the nuances of what a metropolitan city might do to – and for – an individual. I am also sharing a new film made up of archival footage, called Station (2022) that chronicles the migrant experience from the 1940s to the early 2000s, revealing the treatment of immigrant communities on arrival in an unwelcoming UK, fighting injustice and going on to embracing their identities.
Looking specifically at Roots, there’s a certain timelessness to the work, which is in part due to your use of 16mm film. It features a couple who have moved to the UK and their possible adaptation to the UK context and then another couple, and one’s not quite sure whether it’s the same couple, or if it’s the second generation, as the roles are played by the same actors. Can you talk about this, your use of film and also the question of time and timelessness in your work?
Roots was specifically shot on 16mm to give that timeless feeling, so any audience can recognise or have some kind of connection to the film. The couple that you see later that are dressed in more modern, in what one might call Western clothing, are supposed to be the next generation, born from the couple that we see at the beginning of the film. It’s supposed to question how much British society has changed over time since the migration of communities from colonised countries and their contributions to the UK.
There is a scene in the short film, which is set in Chrisp Street Market in Tower Hamlets, an area highly populated with the Bangladeshi community, that are gradually being pushed out due to the regeneration process in recent years, making way for a new demographic. Roots is about how the contributions by all these diverse communities make London the rich melting pot it is. Yet this process of regeneration rarely preserves these cultural contributions and instead ends up eliminating them.
You’re showing these works on several different monitors. The works themselves are looking at the different forms of displacement and social change. How is the audience meant to experience the work?
Rather than sharing all the works on one screen, the audience has a choice in what they watch, what they interact with, what they are drawn to. I’ve chosen these specific monitors so as to replicate an older aesthetic, so that there’s a connection to a time and quality of the past. I’m hoping people will be able to move around the work. I don’t want them to just observe. I want them to participate, to pick up those headphones and listen to those voices and what’s being said. I’m interested in what and how they connect to the work. I like the idea of bringing people together as a group or as strangers, sharing a moment, an experience.
I wanted to pick up again on Roots, and it reflecting on a very local community, based in Poplar. What does it mean to you to be showing as part of The London Open?
It’s special for me to be showing at The London Open, which is at Whitechapel Gallery situated in the heart of Tower Hamlets, a predominantly South-Asian borough. I specifically chose to share Roots to connect with this large community. Being of Kashmiri descent myself I have a real keen interest in my parents’ journey to the UK. It’s an experience of migration that is likely to resonate with some of the local community in the borough. The area itself is so layered, the history so diverse: the Jewish community, the Huguenots, the French, the old East Enders that used to inhabit this space. It’s really important that I can engage with the local community who might not necessarily access the arts the way artists, or people who have a keen interest in art, do so. A large part of me wanting to participate in the Open is to invite the community groups I’ve worked with from the area to come and see these pieces of work, to see themselves reflected in the work, in a space that is an institution, that they might otherwise feel quite disconnected to. It’s about changing the demographic of Whitechapel Gallery, specifically during The London Open.
Works in the exhibition:
Hussina Raja (1986, Luton, UK)
2017 MA Acting, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff
2011 Graduate Diploma in Law, College of Law, London
2008 BA (Hons) Criminology, University of Greenwich, London
Selected exhibitions: STATION, Brixton House, London (2022); Bidēśi Mahilā, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2021); CONTESTED DESIRES D6 Culture in Transit, Portugal, Newcastle, Barcelona, Cyprus (2022); Done Begging: Arts & Rights, Autograph Gallery, London (2021); 80s’ to Lately, SEAS Gallery, Brighton (2021); ROOTS, PhotoFringe, Brighton (2020); Three Sisters, Black History Month, Tower Hamlets Council, London (2020); We Stand Together, Brady Arts Centre (2020); 80s to Lately, RICH MIX, London (2016)
What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?
This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.
Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.
The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.
The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.
The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.
Gallery 1, Downstairs
The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.
Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.
Gallery 9, Upstairs
This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free 2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.
Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.
Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?
Gallery 8, Upstairs
The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.
Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.
On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.
The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.
Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.
See the full list of works here.
An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.
Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.