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Headway East London at Modern Couples

Illustration of two faces
11 Jan 2019
4 min read

Barbican Community Partner, Headway East London visit 'Modern Couples' and reflect on what constitutes collaboration and share their artwork in response to the exhibition. 

What constitutes collaboration? If it’s not visible on the page is it still important? Wandering around the Modern Couples exhibition these questions began to hold particular significance to the members of brain injury charity and Barbican community partner Headway East London

More than 40 artists regularly create work in Headway’s onsite art studio Submit to Love; an open space where collaboration is explored and acknowledged in many different forms. For some, like Lee Miller and Man Ray, this could be about collective work created in partnership. For others, it may be more nuanced – a word of encouragement to another, or a shared paint pot. 

Keen to explore these connections further, Headway members including Dave, Mike and Chris, visited the exhibition over a number of weeks: discovering a host of new artists and unique insights in the process. 

Browse the image gallery above to see some of the Headway members' artistic responses to Modern Couples

First impressions

Dave: 'The exhibition was amazing… It was interesting, as someone who’s new to art, I didn’t have a base of knowledge of creative people, so I didn’t really know of Frida’s work and so it’s all new, and it’s fabulous. It’s nice to appreciate things I didn’t before my brain injury.'

Mike: 'I loved the variety of stuff; I loved the costumes on the second floor. And seeing Rodchenko and Kandinsky. It is about discovery; there were couples there I didn’t know existed! I was surprised to see Rodin there with his pairing for example. The fact the women’s names are first is quite a statement too. You can tell it’s a 21st century decision and that’s good I think. Looks like I need a partner to work with and then we can become famous together!'

Living in a difficult world, for a disabled people (like me and Frida) can feel like being shot by arrows coming from all directions

Artistic highlights

Mike: 'Man Ray was a complete innovator in the world of photography; I actually studied him in my art foundation course. It’s hard to believe their surrealist experimental photography is a century old as it still looks so fresh and forward thinking. It was a real privilege to see the original framed prints. They’re still a massive inspiration to many for their use of lighting and composition. 
They worked together (Lee Miller and Man Ray); Miller was his muse and lover, but I think she was in his shadow at that time. It was important to see their work together: as they were a real partnership. If you share a studio and the same bed, things are going to rub off aren’t they?'

Chris: 'Like me, (Frida) is an untrained disabled artist – she had polio as a child and later was injured in a horrific traffic accident. Like me (in a much smaller way) she seemed to be obsessed with her own image, her body, and especially her face. Her image and her art was a way that she could have a voice about her body, about her sex, her nationality and her disability, and her place in the world….Her art is about her feelings about being Mexican, its relationship with USA, politics, being a woman in what was a predominately man’s world, and her relationship with Diego Rivera. 

If I was to pick one artwork from the exhibition it would be Kahlo’s 'The Wounded Deer'. I am working on my version – substituting my face for hers. The arrows can be your own inability to do various things, the pains in your body, the way you are looked upon by strangers and sometimes by those close to you, the ways you are more vulnerable to an often hostile world and the bureaucracy that can make things harder, not easier. Living in a difficult world, for a disabled people (like me and Frida) can feel like being shot by arrows coming from all directions.'

Collaborative work at Headway is so unique, it’s a process that just doesn’t happen anywhere else I’ve been

The power of a partnership?

Mike: 'If it influences their work, it’s good to know about their private lives. Like with Picasso, you can’t help but look at his work and see how he lusted after his models (like Dora). It’s so lush and full of energy and brightness, and… passion, really. The way he paints her body is so flowing and beautiful, you can tell he just loved her.

I tend to work solo, but there’s definitely a benefit to sharing a studio together. It’s nice to be around other creative people, that always helps so you don’t work in complete isolation. Just to be able to bounce ideas off someone – so there is a parallel in the way that we all work together in one big space…. We do often think of artists as solo, so it’s good to unpack that.'

Dave: 'Collaborative work at Headway is so unique, it’s a process that just doesn’t happen anywhere else I’ve been. Also, when you can’t really paint and draw, just adding a little piece onto a collaborative work feels like you’ve done something and been part of a bigger community project. To think maybe twenty thirty people have added to a painting, it’s really special.'   

Headway East London will be running several creative workshops in response to the exhibition at the Modern Couples Community View event Monday 14 January.

About Headway East London

Headway East London is a charity supporting people affected by brain injury. Working across 13 London boroughs they offer specialist support and services for over 200 survivors, family, friends and carers in the local area each week. Their vision is to build a community where people with brain injury are valued, respected and able to fulfil their potential. 

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