Graphic Witness

untitled 2007 (demonstration drawing #78), 2007

Rirkrit Tiravanijauntitled 2007 (demonstration drawing #78), 2007
Pencil on paper, 24 x 33 cm (framed)



Opening 17 May, 6.00-8.30pm.  Curator's tour, 6:00-6:30pm 

This exhibition considers the notion of the ‘graphic witness’, a term that harnesses the power of drawing to challenge and question the status quo, to record and reflect protest, as well as to bear witness to social injustices and the horrors of war. Graphic Witness explores the way drawings can both document injustices and become agents that encourage us to act. The artists here use drawing to produce evidence of conflict and suffering, commentaries on injustice and as tools to prompt social change.

To witness is to have observed, either as a participant, as a bystander or remotely; to create a graphic response to this act of witnessing is to reconstruct this experience in the immediate aftermath or at a later point in time. Drawing is particularly suited to representing evidence as it is a legible medium; to look closely at a drawing is to trace the history of its making and in this sense each drawing acts as its own witness.  When photography is unavailable or inappropriate, drawing can act as witness, and produce subjective commentary on injustice.  Often less explicit than photographs, drawings can prompt a more wide-ranging debate about miscarriages of justice and conflict, and act as tools to prompt social change.

Graphic Witness brings together artists working from the 1930s to today, and features new work made for the exhibition. Each artist produces consciously political art in response to particular situations, and the work is characterised by figurative representations of people and actions. Eschewing naturalism and reportage, the artists develop drawing modes that question accepted histories and speculate on alternative socio-political trajectories. Throughout the exhibition, we find the artists returning to the same image over and over again, to build evidence, as commentary, and to stimulate change for the better. Drawing is used to mediate acts of observation, archival material, the canon of art history, orally transmitted stories and documentary evidence of the effects of war and incarceration.

Graphic Witness is related to a chapter of the same name by Kate Macfarlane (curator and co-director, Drawing Room) commissioned for The Companion to Contemporary Drawing edited by Kelly Chorpening and Rebecca Fortnum to be published by Wiley Blackwell in 2018.