Life Is More Important Than Art

  • Sarah Dobai The Donkey Field (still) 2021 copy

    Sarah Dobai, The Donkey Field (still), 2021, 2k video, single screen, 19:40 Courtesy the artist.

Past Exhibition

This exhibition was on 14 June - 3 September 2023

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Life Is More Important Than Art

★★★★ “It’s because we value life that art is so crucial..[this is] a show about the movement of people, about memory, personal and collective, and about human vulnerability… it’s inexplicably excellent” – Evening Standard 

★★★★ ‘This show reveals that art is a particular way of looking at life‘ – The Guardian

★★★★ ‘the best new (free!) exhibition that reflects what it means to be young in an age of crisis’The Strand 

This exhibition explores the intersection of art and everyday life and the role of the contemporary art institution at a time of uncertainty and change.

The title takes inspiration from African-American writer and novelist James Baldwin, who proposed that life is more important than art … that is why art is important. At a time when the cost of living crisis is causing severe financial hardship and the after-effects of the pandemic are still being felt, we consider the role of art and the art institution in everyday life. What importance can we attach to art alongside more pressing concerns?

Please note, Gallery 2 will be closed on 8 & 9 September 2023.

About the artists:

Rana Begum

Rana Begum  (b.1977, Bangladesh) lives and works in London. The work of London-based artist Rana Begum distils spatial and visual experience into ordered form. Through her refined language of Minimalist abstraction, Begum blurs the boundaries between sculpture, painting and architecture. Her visual language draws from the urban landscape as well as geometric patterns from traditional Islamic art and architecture. Light is fundamental to her process. Her works absorb and reflect varied densities of light to produce an experience for the viewer that is both temporal and sensorial.

William Cobbing

Starting from a sculptural sensibility William Cobbing’s (b.1974, UK) art practice encompasses a diverse range of media, including video, photography and installation. Performative encounters are devised with material, such as clay, in which the protagonists’ are engaged in a repetitive and absurd cycle of manipulating formless surfaces. The works allude to concepts of entropy, underlining the extent to which earthly material is irreversibly dispersed, giving rise to a definitive blurring of the boundaries between the body and landscape, whilst putting the possibility of conclusion on hold.

Sarah Dobai

Sarah Dobai’s (b.1965, UK) practice is based in photography and film and has in recent years extended into publication and performance. Her work reflects on the central position of a photography and cinema in relation to on-going debates around realism, illusionism and authorship. Dobai’s recent exhibitions and projects include the Principles & Deceptions, Or Gallery, Vancouver and Filet, London. The bookwork The Overcoat was published with Four Corners Books works from which were shown in the major group exhibition The Vanishing Point in History with Matthew Buckingham, Uriel Orlow and Lina Selander for L’ete Photographique de Lectoure. Recent performance/ screenings of the film Hidden in Plain Sight have taken at The Photographers’ Gallery, Deptford X & Rencontres International Paris. Her 16mm film Nettlecombe commissioned by Film London has been show as an installation and screening at CCA Glasgow, Picture This, Bristol, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Kamloops Art Gallery, British Columbia, Kuandu Museum of Fine Art, Taipei; Scope. Other recent exhibitions include Theatres of the Real, FotoMuseum Antwerp, Belgium; Darkside II, FotoMuseum Winterthur, Switzerland and Studio/Location Photographs, Works/Projects, Bristol. Previous exhibitions include Sarah Dobai: Photographs & Film works, Kettles Yard, Cambridge, Above the City, Artist’s Space, New York, Sodium Dreams, Bard College, New York, September Horse, Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin and Museum of Contemporary Art, Santiago di Compostella.

Susan Hiller

Susan Hiller (b.1940, USA – d.2019, UK) was a US-born, British conceptual artist who lived in London, United Kingdom. Her practice spanned a broad range of media including installation, video, photography, painting, sculpture, performance, artist’s books and writing. A key figure in British art across four decades, she was best known for her innovative large-scale multimedia installations, and for works that took as their subject matter aspects of culture that were overlooked, marginalised, or disregarded, including paranormal beliefs – an approach which she referred to as ‘paraconceptualism’.

Matthew Krishanu

Matthew Krishanu‘s (b.1980, UK) paintings explore topics including childhood, race, religion, grief, and the legacies of empire. Group exhibitions include: Dhaka Art Summit, Dhaka (2023); Prophecy, Mead Gallery, Coventry (2022); Mixing It Up: Painting Today’, Hayward Gallery, London (2021); ‘Coventry Biennial’, Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (2021). Recent solo exhibitions: ‘Playground’, Niru Ratnam, London (2022); ‘Undercurrents’, LGDR, New York (2022); ‘Arrow and Pulpit’, Tanya Leighton, Berlin (2021); ‘House of Crows’, Matt’s Gallery, London (2019); ‘The Sun Never Sets’, Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham, (2019). Collections include: the Arts Council Collection; Government Art Collection; Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery; Huddersfield Art Gallery; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi.


Jerome’s (b.1991, UK)  practice uses play to explore conversations around the ambiguity of identity. He is drawn to the fluctuating intersections that inform and are informed by external relative values, which all equate to the complexity of the human experience. He enjoys playing with traditional and non-traditional mediums of expression, often working on several projects simultaneously that can connect, overlap, and disconnect at multiple points as he explores new subjectivities. For Jerome, the multi-layered concurrent way of working is a natural process, a metaphor not only for the multifaceted interests and sources of information that inform his thinking but a representation of the layered and interconnected culture he lives in and that informs his own identity.

Janette Parris

Janette Parris (b.1962, UK) is a contemporary artist who uses everyday people as the basis for much of her work, often reflecting the pathos behind an individual’s desire to become successful and well known. She works across different media including drawing, animation, and performance (musical and theatre) to reflect a dry and self-effacing look at the world and how we are all performers within it. Parris captures the humorous essence of life but always notes the sharp melancholic edge that goes with it.

In 2016 Peckham Platform commissioned Parris for Peckham Promenade. The resulting body of work takes inspiration from the characters, lives and daily interactions of the people living, working in and visiting Peckham’s bustling Rye Lane. Her work was also part of the 2016 Peckham Platform Retrospective exhibition, a timeline of all 20 artists commissions realised by Peckham Platform between 2010 – 2016

John Smith

John Smith (b.1952, UK) was born in Walthamstow, London. He studied at North-East London Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art, after which he became an active member of the London Filmmakers’ Co-op. Inspired in his formative years by conceptual art and structural film, but also fascinated by the immersive power of narrative and the spoken word, he has developed a diverse body of work that subverts the perceived boundaries between documentary, fiction, representation and abstraction. Often rooted in everyday life, his meticulously crafted films playfully explore and expose the language of cinema.

Since 1972 Smith has made over sixty film, video and installation works that have been shown in independent cinemas, art galleries, museums and on television around the world. His films have been awarded major prizes at international film festivals in Oberhausen, Leipzig, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Graz, Geneva, Uppsala, Pamplona, Bordeaux, Lucca, Palermo, Split, Cork, Seoul, Ann Arbor and Chicago. He received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists in 2011, and in 2013 he was the winner of Film London’s Jarman Award.

Solo exhibitions include Centre d’Art Contemporain de Noisy-le-Sec, Paris (2014), Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2012), and Royal College of Art Galleries, London (2010), Museum of Contemporary Art, Leipzig (2015) and Kunstmuseum Magdeburg (2022). Major group shows include Image Counter Image, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012), Has The Film Already Started?, Tate Britain (2011), Berlin Biennial (2010), Between Film and Photography, FOMU Museum Antwerp (2017), Atlas of Modernity, Museum Sztuki,Lodz (2021), and Face It, Kunstmuseum Ravensburg (2019)

Alia Syed

Alia Syed (1964, UK) is an experimental film maker who’s work has been shown extensively in cinemas and galleries around the world. She is interested in story telling, time and memory and the juncture of personal realities which she explores through different subjects positions in relation to culture, diaspora and location.

Syed’s films have been shown at numerous institutions around the world including BBC Arts Online (currently), The Triangle Space: Chelsea College of Arts (2014), Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2012-13, 5th Moscow Biennale (2013); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2009); XV Sydney Biennale (2006); Hayward Gallery, London (2005); Tate Britain, London (2003); Glasgow Museum of Modern Art, Scotland (2002); Iniva, London (2002); The New Art Gallery in Walsall (2002); and Tate Modern, London (2000), Reina Sophia Museum of Contemporary Art, Madrid (2009), Courtisane Festival, Belgium (2019) WKV, Stuttgart (2019) and Yale Centre for British Art (2019). Syed’s films have also been the subject of several solo exhibitions at Talwar Gallery in New York and New Delhi.

Mitra Tabrizian

Mitra Tabrizian is an Iranian-British artist and filmmaker. Her photographic work has been exhibited and published widely and is represented in major international museums and public collections. Solo museum shows include Tate Britain (2008). She has exhibited at the Venice Biennale, (2015)- received the Royal Academy’s Rose Award for Photography (2013) and the Royal Photographic Society ‘Honorary Fellowship’ (2021). Her latest photographic book off screen is published by Kerber Verlag (2019)

Her critically acclaimed debut feature Gholam (2018) had a successful theatrical release in UK. The film is now available on BFI player, and released on vod worldwide. Her short films include The Insider (2018) in collaboration with the Booker Prize Winner, Ben Okri, commissioned by the Coronet Theatre to accompany Albert Camus’ play The Outsider. She is developing her second feature film The Far Mountains with BFI.

Mark Wallinger

Having previously been nominated for the Turner Prize in 1995, Mark Wallinger (b.1959, UK) won in 2007 for his installation State Britain. His work Ecce Homo (1999–2000) was the first piece to occupy the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2001. Labyrinth (2013), a permanent commission for Art on the Underground, was created to celebrate 150 years of the London Underground. In 2018, the permanent work Writ in Water was realized for the National Trust to celebrate Magna Carta at Runnymede.

Osman Yousefzada

Osman Yousefzada‘s (b.1977, UK) practice revolves around modes of storytelling, merging autobiography with fiction and ritual. His work is concerned with the representation and rupture of the migrational experience and makes reference to socio-political issues of today. These themes are explored through moving image, installations, text works, sculpture, garment making and performance.

Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London and a visiting fellow at Cambridge University. His work has been shown at international institutions including: Whitechapel Gallery, London; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (solo 2018); Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, V&A (solo 2022): Wapping Project, London; Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio; Ringling Museum, Florida; Lahore Museum, Pakistan; Design Museum, London; Lahore Biennale, Pakistan; and Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh.

Generously supported by:

Sir Frank Bowling

the Life Is More Important Than Art Exhibition Circle

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