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British Museum presents its first exhibition of emerging artists

The inclusion of emerging artists is a radical step for the historic museum
The inclusion of emerging artists is a radical step for the historic museum Copyright AFP Photo
Copyright AFP Photo
By Theo FarrantAP
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A new exhibition at the British Museum lets visitors discover some of the most compelling emerging talents in the field of contemporary drawing, displayed alongside highlights from the Museum's collection dating back to the early 1500s

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For the first time in its history, the British Museum is dedicating an exhibition to emerging artists.

The museum acquired drawings which raise awareness to issues like police violence and LGBTQ+ identity.

The 24 drawings are exhibited in conjunction with older works related to them, either because they were used as an inspiration or because a similar technique was used.

A radical shift for the historic art institution

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'Funny Girls' by Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quilan - named after an eponymous gay bar in BlackpoolAP Photo

The exhibition called "Drawing attention: emerging British Artists," is a play on words both for the format of the artworks — drawings — but also for their message: they all draw attention to issues of identity, social justice and queer expression.

"I think it's incredibly important because we're bringing stories and perspectives that aren't currently represented in the collection, and we can show how they relate to the existing collection that we have here," says Isabel Seligman, Monument trust curator of modern and contemporary drawing at the British Museum.

To make this exhibition happen, Seligman travelled to exhibitions and art schools in Turin, Paris and London.

To find older artworks to show next to the contemporary drawings, she tapped into one of the best resources at her disposal; the 2 million-strong national collection of prints and drawings of the British Museum.

Seligman wanted to draw attention to the purpose of the drawings as final products rather than an early sketch of a bigger work. 

"I think it has moved from being more of a kind of personal or functional and preparatory medium to one that is more public and loud, and used to really highlight issues and bring attention to them," says Seligman.

What are some of the highlights of the exhibition?

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'The Death of Trayvon Martin' by Catherine Anyang Grünewald, depicting police violence in AmericaAP Photo

One of the standout artworks of the exhibition is "The Death of Trayvon Martin" by Catherine Anyango Grünewald.

The graphite drawing is based on a photo of the crime scene following the shooting of the African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.

"The soft and hard graphite creates sort of alternating areas of matte and reflective graphite that really changes as you move around it," says Seligman.

Next to it is Andy Warhol's "Electric Chair" from 1971.

He worked in a similar way by using a press photo and using the mechanical silkscreen technique, but his intention differed from Anyango Grünewald's. 

"So you have Catherine Anyango Grünewald who's really using this process and repetition in a way trying to invest it with emotion. And then you have Warhol sort of almost stripping all emotion out really, by using this very mechanical, commercial technique, but really both looking at the same subject and engaging with them in very interesting, comparable ways," says Seligman.

On a completely different topic, "Funny Girls" by Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quilan is named after an eponymous gay bar in Blackpool. The drawing transfers the venue to a Renaissance setting.

The characters are posing in the style of Michelangelo's ceiling for the Sistine Chapel, according to Seligman.

Another artist using their queer perspective is Jake Grewal, 28, making him one of the youngest artists ever collected by the museum during their lifetime.

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His artworks are often set in nature and inspired from Romanticism but drawn in a contemporary way with disorientating perspectives.

"Drawing attention: emerging British Artists" runs from 17 March until 28 August. The exhibition is free and was supported by the charity Art Fund.

Check out the video above for a look inside the exhibition

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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