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Emii Alrai, A Core of Scar – Future Collect Commission, The Hepworth Wakefield, April 2022. Photo: Michael Brzezinski / Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield
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Emii Alrai: A Core of Scar - Future Collect Commission

7 April – 4 September 2022

Emii Alrai (b.1993) presents a new commission at The Hepworth Wakefield this spring.

Alrai, who lives in Leeds and has a studio in Wakefield, creates works and installations that subvert the traditional visual language of museum displays. Alrai weaves together ancient mythologies from the Middle East and oral histories from her own Iraqi heritage in objects which imitate archaeological artefacts. Alrai’s work draws attention to the contrast between the polished aesthetics of museums and the states of ruin which befall archaeological objects and the landscapes they are excavated from.

For The Hepworth Wakefield, Alrai has created a series of hand-blown glass vessels that evoke ancient funerary urns. The vessels are marked by scars and seams, which emerge from the making processes of casting and joining. In archaeological artefacts, such scars can hint at the violence of the object’s separation from its homeland – a separation that parallels experiences of migration and diaspora.

These glass vessels are shown together with engravings from Wakefield’s collection of historic Yorkshire landscapes, depicting gorges and scars formed by melting glaciers. In these distinctive and dramatic landscapes, Alrai finds affinities with bodily scars, which were once open wounds. Alrai’s commission investigates these physical markers of the past, weaving together body, landscape and object as sites of memory. Photographs, sketches and small sculptural objects will also be displayed to reveal Alrai’s research and creative process in developing the commission.

‘Following the ideas of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, Alrai is concerned with the container—she doesn’t want to tell the same old stories through the same forms; she wants and needs to tell new stories, the stories of migration and diaspora in Britain today.’ Sculpture Magazine, May 2022

Future Collect

Alrai was selected by curators at iniva and The Hepworth Wakefield for the second year of Future Collect, owing to her sensitivity in navigating complex diasporic narratives and her imaginative exploration of materials. The commission will be acquired into Wakefield’s permanent art collection. Future Collect is iniva’s three-year programme aimed at transforming the future of public art collections across the UK to better reflect our culturally diverse society. It offers a year-long paid Curatorial Trainee position, which this year was awarded to Amber Li, who is working with Alrai to curate the commission.

Sepake Angiama, Artistic Director at iniva said: “Commissioning the work of Emii Alrai has given iniva and The Hepworth Wakefield the opportunity to raise an important debate of the culture of commissioning and collecting. Who are our collections for? How do they reflect contemporary society? The commission has been supported by the excellent work of young curator, Amber Li who has worked with The Hepworth over the last year. We look forward to seeing the impact that Emii’s work will have in engaging new audiences in Wakefield and beyond through an innovative education and public programme supported by the Arts Council, Esmée Fairbairn and Art Fund.”

Future Collect is supported by Art Fund, Arts Council England and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

A Core of Scar study days programmed by iniva