|National Portrait Gallery boss invited to exhibition of portraits by those hit by BP Gulf oil spill|
|Thursday, 10 March 2011 14:52|
PRESS RELEASE from' Facing the Gulf - Portraits of Oil', 7.3.11:
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY BOSS INVITED TO EXHIBITION OF PORTRAITS BY THOSE HIT BY BP GULF OIL SPILL
'To RSVBP or not to RSVBP?'
An invitation to the Facing the Gulf - Portraits of Oil exhibition in Grand Isle, Louisiana, dropped into Sandy Nairne's inbox on Friday March 4, 2011.
The exhibition shows eight portraits created by Gulf Coast residents to be submitted to the BP Portrait Award run by The National Portrait Gallery (NPG). It will reach London in June.
Each of the exhibition's portraits depicts a Face of the Gulf affected by BP's oil disaster, which followed from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon with the immediate deaths of 11 men. The ecological disaster has been compounded by BP's spraying of unprecedented amounts of the oil dispersant Corexit (a neurotoxin banned in the UK).
Sandy Nairne and the invitation have a backstory dating from February when the Facing the Gulf - Portraits of Oil project asked the NPG to waive the submission fee to the BP Portrait Award for artists affected by BP's oil/Corexit disaster.
Mr. Nairne put off refusing that request until the day after BP announced it was resuming its dividend payments. Recently, he said "I look forward to the BP Portrait Award 2011, and thank BP for their continuing support." The contract with BP is set to be renewed (or not) in 2012.
Will Mr. Nairne also refuse to 'RSVBP' to this invitation to Face the Gulf and his organisation's responsibility in taking BP's dollar/pound?
If Mr. Nairne does refuse, he will be turning down the chance to deepen his understanding of portraiture and to enter the new world of Spill Art. Were he to attend the Facing the Gulf Exhibition in Grand Isle, he would come face-to-face with residents who took up the brush to show the world the faces of BP's oil spill.
Robin Jerlea, who was inspired by Facing the Gulf to submit a portrait to the BP told the project, 'Sometimes, I'm glad my people died before the BP oil disaster. I don't think I could bear watching them see what I see.'
Dark thoughts such as these are as pervasive and toxic as as the oil sunk by BP's unprecedented spraying of Corexit (a neurotoxin banned in the UK) amongst the population of the Gulf Coast.
Robin, a professional artist and former university teacher has turned to portraiture to find some relief and some meaning in her poisoned world.
She has been inspired by Nick Viney and the Facing the Gulf - Portraits of Oil project which aims to empower Gulf Coast residents to use art to respond to Deepwater, by entering the National Portrait Gallery's BP-sponsored Award.
Robin continues: 'Every family event, every memory, everything about me and the people I love is tied to the Gulf. It's my identity. Portraiture is about identity, likeness and symbol and so I'm using it to face our situation and to make a difference in some way.'
Cathy Funk, a first-time portraitist says: 'Our dream was to retire on the Gulf and build a home where the whole family could gather. Well, despite Katrina, we have the home. But my youngest grandchild may never visit us on Grand Isle. His parents are too worried about the effects of the 'hidden oil' and the Corexit that was used to hide it. I'm saddened but fully support my children who are taking their parenting responsibilities seriously and trying to protect their child. So I've created a portrait of my grandchild. Now he's going from Grand Isle to London. We don't know if the portrait will come back but we hope it will accomplish its mission to give those people who care to look a chance to really face the Gulf.'
The BP Portrait Award opens at the NPG in London in June, and has been sponsored by the company for the past 21 years. Big Oil - in the form of British Petroleum - took over sponsorship in 1989 from Big Tobacco - in the form of John Player & Sons - and has sponsored it since. The presence of both sponsors has triggered protests, with the group Art Not Oil (www.artnotoil.org.uk) being responsible for most of those against BP.
Also, BP's Director of Arts and Culture Des Violaris has for some time now been a Portrait Award judge. Will that degree of intimacy be maintained in 2011, with BP's reputation in tatters over the Gulf spill and, more recently, its close relationship with Colonel Gaddafi's regime in Libya?
The driving force behind the Facing the Gulf project is Nancy Boulicault, author and filmmaker, who became involved through her work with French-speaking communities in Louisiana.
She said: 'At the heart of this project is a desire to create change through community arts, helping ordinary people facing extraordinary difficulties voice their plight through a creative process.'
Making it possible on the ground is artist Nick Viney (www.nickviney.co.uk) who is taking part to raise international awareness of the way BP is literally hiding the oil/Corexit in the water column of the Gulf of Mexico. The Devon-based painter and sculptor is to assist communities in the Grand Isle area of Louisiana, living in the shadow of the disaster zone, to create graphic portraits highlighting both the human and ecological catastrophe it has caused.
Nick was invited to take part in the project in the wake of her highly-acclaimed Gulf exhibition held at Duchy Square Centre for Creativity in Princetown, Devon, last October.
The show focused on the nature of corporate greed and excess using the Gulf oil spill as a topical theme. Exhibits included 11 striking oiled sea bird sculptures as an artistic tribute to the 11 lives lost when the spill happened.
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