Nicola Green: Encounters / Reviewed by Caroline Molloy / 19.10.18
The Crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square is the current host of two bodies of work, ‘The Encounter Series’ and ‘The Light Series,’ by the artist Nicola Green, under the exhibition title of Encounters. Working in collaboration with King’s College London, Cambridge University, Coexist house, and a decade in the making, these works aim to build bridges between divergent religious beliefs.
‘The Encounter Series,’ is a compelling body of work which sees a collection of portraits exhibited alongside of each other within a standardised typological grid of faces. The images originate from Green’s photographic portraits, which were made when in conversation with key global religious leaders, over the past ten years. The images adhere to a traditional art historical method of depicting portraiture. That is to say, the portraits include head, shoulders and sometimes hands; and the sitter (the subject of the portrait) is either directly, or partly facing, the viewer of the portrait.
What is remarkable about this body of work is how Green builds additional meaning into the portraits using a number of different visual methodologies, such as painting, textiles and embellishment. She selects specific colours, textures and socio-religious motifs that draw from various religious sources, for example the Torah, Christian Biblical emblems, Zoroastrian tiles and Hindu architecture. Using these appropriated visual emblems, she constructs allegoric backgrounds around the portrait images. What is fascinating about the final presentation of the portraits is that the facial features and skin colour of each sitter have been muted. In doing this, Green distances the portraits from the original sitter. The consequence of the blurring of faces is that the ethnicity, age, facial expression and sometimes the gender of the portraits becomes indistinguishable. This process repositions the reading of the portrait images. They no longer speak of one individual person, instead the images adopt a more generalised but iconic status.
The importance of this work is in seeing the collective portrait, that is all of the portrait images assembled together. Whilst the audience negotiate their relationship with the images, they are invited to make connections between them.
The ‘Light Series’ works on a reversed psychology to that of ‘The Encounter Series’. Instead of anonymising key contemporary religious figures, Green presents twelve recognisable religious leaders as illuminated full-length life-size figures. These figures, adorned in their religious regalia, are captured in time. ‘The Light Series’ is an interfaith encounter, in which for the first time, these leaders meet and greet each other on the same platform.
These are visually seductive bodies of work that have been created against a political background divided by religion. It is a timely exhibition that reminds the audience that there are commonalities and connections that can be drawn on when thinking through religious similarities, as well as differences.
– Reviewed by Caroline Molloy
Encounters is on display in the Crypt, from September 17th until November 2018. The works compliment the scheduled programme of talks (inclusive of Green speaking about her work) which focus on encounters with God, one and other, and the ‘stranger’. Further details can be found at www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org
Encounters will next be shown during the Kochi Biennale from 12th December 2018 – 29th March 2019.
Installation views of ‘The Encounter Series’ © Nicola Green 2018 and ‘The Light Series’ © Nicola Green 2018 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.
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