“Art can teach us about ourselves and the world.”
So said Jennifer Scott, director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, as she launched its new exhibition Journeys.
This is not the usual kind of exhibition. Rather it is the result of many months of engagement with immigrant groups – very largely women of colour in South East London – who became community curators.
The idea was to explore whether and how paintings from the gallery collection could resonate with the experiences of immigrants to this country in terms of the journeys they had made and issues around identity and belonging.
Each group selected a painting – usually after much discussion – which told a story about journeys or in some way shed a light on migration.
The result is a fascinating insight into how paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries can be relevant to the contemporary viewer.
For example A Brisk Breeze by Willem van de Velde the younger, (above) painted in 1665, highlights the challenges and risks of migration journeys.
Nicolas Poussin’s The Return of the Holy Family to Egypt, painted in 1628, reminds us that not all such journeys are voluntary.
This is a small, but genuinely interesting show. The gallery is to be congratulated for the innovative way it has engaged with the community to make its collection relevant to today’s Londoners.
The exhibition and a range of associated events run until 24 June – the end of Refugee Week – in Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, SE21 7AD. For further information call 020 8693 5254 or go to www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk