by Catherine Peters August 16, 2022
August is a month many of us are lucky enough to travel and gain experiences, exposed to new cultures and creativity. James Walmsley, Artist, Curator, Gallery Director and Event Manager talks to us about his creative career and how he is directly supporting international artists to develop their art practice as a form of activism.
Q: Can you tell us about your Artistic background/education?
It started with theatre. I did a six month residency with Theatre in Prisons and Probation (TiPP) in Manchester and I was just blown away by the impact the workshops were having with the people we were working with. I wanted to celebrate the impact of participatory arts so I organised Manchester Community Arts Week, a long time ago now – back in 1998! It was important though as it shifted my work from leading drama workshops to managing events and projects. I sometimes wish I had just remained a theatre practitioner!
My first exhibition that I was involved with was Visions of Zimbabwe at Manchester Art Gallery in 2005. I was invited to Zimbabwe by a curator based at their National Gallery in Harare. We pitched the exhibition to Manchester Art Gallery and they said yes. It was a real baptism by fire. This exhibition led to more opportunities to curate. My main area of work has been in Kosovo and more recently in Palestine and Gaza.
'Longing Heart' Mohammed Al Hawajri, Gaza
Q. How has your creative journey evolved over the last 10 years?
After curating exhibitions for around 10 years I decided to do a Masters in Curating at Manchester School of Arts, MMU. I absolutely loved it. It was great to study other academics and curators who were exploring similar themes to what I was doing. My main areas of study were around issues of art and social justice, human rights, art and protest, Cultural Resistance, Artivism etc..
It was great just to know there were other people out there doing what I was doing. Curating can be quite isolating so it was wonderful to feel a solidarity with other creatives.
I am more confident as a Curator now – more willing to take risks, less interested or careful in following rules. Curating is difficult as it is a collaborative process. You have a vision for what you want to create. That vision is as clear as a painting or a photograph – however – in order to achieve that creative vision you have to work with many different people, which can be incredibly challenging if they try to take it in a different way. You meet diamonds though who make you better. This is the greatest joy. Working with people who challenge you and help you to be better.
Q. Who are your Art Influencers? Inspirations?
Ai Weiwei, Peter Kennard, David Lynch, Cold War Steve, Wim Wenders, Edward Hopper, Christian Boltansky..I also love the photographer/artist JR – the list is endless really! I get my inspiration from film, photography, design, architecture – all mediums really.
Q. What inspires your work?
The power of art to inform and educate and inspire.
Q. Do you keep a sketchbook? How often do you use it and do you travel with it?
I guess my sketchbook is my phone. I have over 30,000 photos on it!
Q.Where does an exhibition begin for you? Can you describe your process?
It’s different every time. It could begin with a passion about an issue, that leads you to investigate artists that are exploring that issue. Or it might start with a location. What would work in that location? What would be appropriate? Or you might just meet an artist that you like and respect so much that you just want to try and find them the best possible opportunity to share that work with a wider public.
An exhibition is like a painting or a photograph. It has similar properties of balance and light and style and tone and content. The exhibition might have many different artists participating with many different works – but the exhibition has to work as a single, cohesive, aesthetic entity. The exhibition as a whole has to work as a piece of art.
Q. What project are you currently working on?
I am currently setting up a new social enterprise called Gaza Art Partnership. I have visited Gaza a couple of times with Amos Trust and have met many artists there. I am trying to bring an exhibition to the UK of the leading artists there, also to promote their work online. The situation in Gaza is appalling yet the artists continue to speak out through their art against injustice and for human rights. I am also currently working on an exhibition at Banksy’s Walled Off Hotelin Bethlehem.
Q. What is the best advice you were given early in your creative career?
A quote that has stayed with me over the years is , ‘When words fail, art speaks.’
Another favourite is, “ The opposite of war is not peace. It is creation.”
Brecht nailed it though, “ Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, it is a hammer with which to shape it.”
I also like the Picasso quote, “What do you think an artist is? They are a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking and passionate things that are happening in the world. Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.”
Q. Where can we see more of your work online or in person?
Facebook: Gaza Art Partnership
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