The poor little Shipley Art Gallery gets a bit forgotten about doesn’t it? Way over there on the wrong side of the river it can seem somewhat neglected. A quiet and peaceful ‘hidden gem’, this art gallery never gets as busy as the more overtly child-oriented places, which makes a visit infinitely more pleasant for fingers-on-lips types, such as myself. Yet in the current economic climate (posh-speak for ‘the UK is skint’) being an oasis of calm is a double-edged sword as the potential of budget cuts looms large.
(I should probably take this opportunity to mention that you can get the 21 or 24 bus from Newcastle City Centre to the Shipley Art Gallery and it only takes about 15 minutes. Rather accessible, really.)
I’ve visited the Shipley Art Gallery before, but never on such a quiet day. I pretty much had the place to myself, which was surprising considering the scale of the place, and the variety of exhibitions and facilities on offer. Those with small children, you know who you are, are extremely well catered for. A play area/tea room is sitting patiently, waiting for your visit and every exhibition has something for your darlings to play with. One day I’ll get my way and there’ll be special rooms where people without children can go to swear and eat food without sharing and talk about fun stuff. I can dream…
More of a craft gallery than an art gallery, the Shipley is currently hosting two exhibitions, Journeys in Beadwork: Culture and Tradition in the Eastern Cape and Dialogues in Contemporary Style.
Both exhibitions explore the history, practise, and cultural legacy of South African beadwork, focussing on the Mfengu people of the Eastern cape. From catwalk collections to Primark’s £4.99 ‘tribal’ print kneggings (knitted leggings), traditional African dress has had an undeniable influence on the fashion industry. The style section of the exhibition showcases a new range of knitwear from South African designer Laduma Ngxokolo as well as some rather fabulous dresses, including a design created by Thorunn Arnadottir which features a beaded QR code that links to a website. As sparkly and fabulous as this dress is, I really hope scanning each other’s clothes doesn’t catch on. It’s extremely creepy.
The majority of the items in the exhibition are loan from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth and while the history of the beadwork itself is all very interesting, this section of the exhibition seems a bit lacking in bite. Traditional tribal courtship, for example, is only mentioned in relation to what type of beadwork is exchanged. A few videos show interviews with African teenagers and older people, but the messages are brief and mixed, offering no space for any real cultural commentary. Perhaps the exhibition errs a little too much on the side of caution where more contentious aspects of South African culture are concerned. South African history is as fascinating as it is disturbing and as I’m a bit lacking in the world history department, I would have appreciated a bit more context.
Overall, the exhibitions are an important addition to the Shipley’s crafty permanent collection and definitely worth a look. On display until 2nd December.