A review of “My Granddad’s Car” – Sayed Hasan and Karl Ohiri
New Art Exchange, Nottingham 12 November to 31 December 2016
As you traverse this compact exhibition space, one cannot help thinking of the extremely personal nature of the work. As a viewer, you are transported into the lives of both Karl Ohiri and Sayed Hasan and their travels together through each other’s Grandfather-lands. You find yourself peering at a family album or watching, listening and living extremely personal accounts of their journey. The exhibition follows Karl Ohiri and Sayed Hasan as together they attempt to bring back to the UK their Grandfathers car’s – one from Nigeria and the other from Pakistan. The artworks in the exhibition document the deep meditative collaboration that has enabled them to work together for five years and has physically taken them through Pakistan and Nigeria in the scorching heat of summer. It is worth remembering that this is an ongoing project with more artworks to add during future exhibitions.
On the surface, the exhibition explores the escapades of the two young artists as they attempt to retrieve cars belonging to their respective late grandfathers. Dig deeper and you will negotiate an intercontinental path through emotions and environments that bring into sharp focus the folly of an assumed identity.
Karl recalls a sense of bemusement when trying to manage expectations of his family and his roles as an artist within the project. In my experience most people don’t like mixing family with friends – so, close your eyes and for a minute and just imagine sharing with a close friend, your extended family that lives thousands of miles away. People who have never seen a foreigner like your friend and places where you yourself feel like a foreigner despite referring to them as back home.
Sayed is one of few artists who (in my opinion) acknowledges this, as he understands his British cultural identity as being equally important as his Pakistani heritage. As migrants or children of migrants, we are constantly reminded of our foreign ancestral culture and in this process of reaffirmation, there is also a process of attrition that can skew perceptions towards who we are and the origins of our home or culture.
Many artists plunder their own cultural history in order to draw out something of emotional value which ends up being paraded in public. It seems almost pedagogic for ‘diverse artists’ to whip out exotic stories and possessions for all and sundry to pour over. Whilst this could be said of this exhibition, it is the ways in which the artists have used the objects and become part of the objects mise en scène, that shows a great deal of respect for their own and each other’s culture and ancestry. The show respects the multiplicity of cultural contexts and milieus the two artists moved through and in particular their connections to their immediate families and extended families. The exhibition speaks of being a family member, a friend, a stranger, an outsiders and ultimately a native foreigner without changing breath.
The cars are ultimately transmogrified into metaphors of memory and ancestry and sit at the back of the gallery as a residue of the process of travel. The cars are no longer cars, they are casualties of the collision between a heartfelt memory and the mechanics of intercontinental politics and commerce. What makes a car a car? Is the car still the same once it is dissected and physically reconfigured? The original provocation was to collect their grandfather cars – yet, the fact that only parts of the cars made the journey are irrelevant. What is important is the boldness of the vision, the closeness of the friendship, the strength of family and the animated inspiration drawn from inanimate objects.
I would have preferred to have seen this project in a larger space and it will be interesting to see which other galleries are brave enough to look beyond issues of race and the profile of an artist to show this work. The exhibition is timely as it is not mono-cultural. It pushes you around the world without making foreign places seem exotic and forces you to think about your own sense of self. However, as a whole, the project is audacity in action.