IT IS not every day that a local artist gets his work exhibited in one of London’s most prestigious galleries. It is even rarer for this accolade to be given to someone who only a year ago graduated from Staffordshire University.
It seems almost impossible that this has happened to someone who arrived in this country fleeing the persecution of Saddam Hussein only about a decade ago.
However, this is just what has happened to fine art graduate Behjat Omer Abdulla, pictured. His work has been chosen for an exhibition in The Hayward Gallery in the South Bank Arts complex.
This is at the centre of London’s artistic establishment. Make no mistake; this exhibition is a hugely prestigious coup for any artist to have achieved.
I have seen Behjat’s work, both at his degree show and also at Broad Street’s Airspace Gallery. I am delighted that it has been chosen for national exhibition, but I am not surprised.
He draws with a creative passion that brings to life the beauty of his subjects and the horror of the treatment that he knows many of them have received.
His graphite portraits are like ID cards and conjure the strength of his subjects as well as the evil of the police state. I hope that his work will go far, but that he will remain based in the city.
Behjat’s success demonstrates again the ability for our fine artists to lead the re-invention of the city. We were once famous worldwide for the creativity of our ceramic designs and the beauty of our hand crafted ware.
We are lucky to have clusters of artists, mainly graduates from the local universities, who continue to create and exhibit their work locally. Airspace Gallery puts on many groundbreaking shows every year on a shoestring.
The Burslem School of Art is a fabulous display area that showcases local talent. However, local policy makers don’t give the sort of credit or support to local artists that even the distant grandees of the Hayward Gallery know they deserve.
Behjat’s studio is in the Cultural Quarter. This is perhaps the city’s greatest unfinished monument. Dropped in terror by politicians following the scoffing of cynics and the overspending of project managers, this ambitious attempt to put creativity at the heart of the city was one of the bravest regeneration ideas that we have ever had.
Sadly, it never got beyond the pedestrianisation of Picadilly or the creation of two fabulous venues. Policy makers failed to recognise that whilst venues and infrastructure are important, it is artists, not buildings, that create culture.
Behjat’s success should remind us of the importance of completing this brave vision.
Luckily, the time has never been more opportune to complete the human development of the Cultural Quarter.
You see, in comparison to the huge cost of building the venues, this part of the project costs peanuts. Making the Cultural Quarter sing, paint and dance is still affordable. Giving it the energy of resident artists living above independent shops and galleries is still feasible. Making it a destination for local people in search of inspiration is within our reach.
Making it a natural stopping place on a thinking person’s holiday is possible.
We now need thinking, imagination and bravery. The opening of the refurbished Mitchell Memorial Theatre should breathe new life and youth into the area. Alongside that I would like to see a group thinking of ways to fill the Quarter with artists and fun. Artists can be trusted to come up with cheap, creative and novel ways of doing things.
Let’s dust down the 15-year-old plans for the Cultural Quarter and give them, along with a modest amount of cash, to a group of our talented young artists to deliver.
I suspect that the nation will be surprised and delighted with the result.