Four works that consider family life have been acquired by the Contemporary Art Society at Frieze London through this year’s Collections Fund at Frieze: two 1974 photographs by Sunil Gupta (Hales Gallery) that show the artist with his parents and queer “chosen family”, a family portrait born out of a traumatic event by Hetain Patel (Copperfield London) and a hand-stitched silk collage by Billie Zangewa (Lehmann Maupin) depicting a child with his uncle.
This year the CAS Collections Fund at Frieze is supporting the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston, who felt that this was an especially crucial time to acquire an artwork that explores family life and all that it means to come of age in 2021.
Councillor Peter Kelly, Preston City Council Member for Culture, said: “The Harris is embarking on a major refurbishment – including designing a new art gallery and library space for families. Although the Harris collections are rich in historic and idealised representations of families, curators were keen to identify artists who present a more complex range of insights into family life today. An important part of the selection process has been consulting with families and these new acquisitions very much respond to themes raised by local people. Sweetest Devotion by Billie Zangewa captures a touching moment of family life during the pandemic; Hetain Patel’s Baa’s Gold transforms a traumatic experience into a powerful story of family strength and spirit; and Sunil Gupta’s photographs illustrate how a variety of family relationships – both chosen and biological – can provide the support network in which our identities develop.”
Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston city centre opened in 1893 as a bequest from local solicitor Edmund Robert Harris. Currently undergoing a £10.7million refurbishment through National Lottery Heritage Funding, it will reopen in 2024 with the Collections Fund acquisition presented as part of the reopening programme.
The CAS has acquired two photographs by Sunil Gupta, both from 1974. Over a career spanning more than four decades, Gupta has used his own lived experience of race, migration and queer identity as a point of departure for photographic projects. Sunil and his Parents (Ram & Penny), c. 1974/2018 is a portrait of the artist with his mother and father. His parents hold each other while he stands slightly apart. The second image, Shalini, Rudi, Sunil, Léo, 3425 Stanley, c. 1974 was taken in an apartment in Montreal that he shared with his sister and partner, both of whom feature in the image. The two photographs feature the people he was closest to: his biological family on the one hand and his “chosen family” of friends and lovers he made through gay liberation movement in Montreal at the time.
Hetain Patel’s Baa’s Gold (Family portrait), 2021 comes from a body of work that grew out of a burglary that his grandmother (called ‘Baa’, which means ‘Mother’ in Gujarati) suffered in 2015, during which her gold jewellery was forced from her wrists. Patel’s deeply personal paintings “seek to retrieve Baa’s Gold”, which for the artist is a metaphor for everything that has been taken from his family via the systemic racism experienced in the UK since Patel’s birth and before.
Hetain Patel, artist, said: “The geometrical drawing style I chose references the design of the 80’s Transformers cartoons — a recurring metaphor for cultural and social transformation in my work. As for the gold, as a family survival has always been about alchemy – turning adversity into opportunity, lead into gold.”
Billie Zangewa’s work is autobiographical and centralises Black femininity, everyday domesticity and motherhood – what the artist has termed “daily feminism”. Sweetest Devotion, 2021 is a hand-stitched silk collage depicting a quiet scene with Zangewa’s son Mika and his uncle, at home in Johannesburg. They both sit comfortably together, lost in their separate activities. It comes from a body of work inspired by the artist’s appreciation for family during Covid and its importance in making her who she is. Mika’s uncle spent the first lockdown with them and he was a source of strength and feelings of safety.
Caroline Douglas, Director, Contemporary Art Society, said: “We come through this pandemic period with a heightened awareness of the networks of relationships that sustain us. The works that have been chosen for the Harris Museum and Art Gallery reflect the life experience of different generations and geographies; we hope they will reinforce the museum’s position at the heart of the community in Preston, bringing new audiences and encouraging new conversations.”
The Contemporary Art Society’s Collections Fund was set up in 2012 and is designed to support the acquisition of significant contemporary works for Contemporary Art Society Museum Members across the UK, drawing together the knowledge and experience of private collectors with that of museum curators.
The Collections Fund at Frieze was awarded to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery after a competitive application process open to the Contemporary Art Society’s 70 Museum Members across the UK. The work acquired through the Collections Fund at Frieze will form part of the opening displays at the museum when it re-opens in 2024.