Exhibition Preview: ‘Habitat’

‘Habitat’ at Contemporary Six, Saturday 19th February – 5th March

We have written a couple of articles across Cotton On MCR and Cotton On Leeds discussing women artists and lack there of showing their work in galleries. It’s still an ongoing battle, where the majority of galleries show predominately male artists. Which is a baffling fact, as there are a higher percentage of female art students and graduates. So what happens to these artists? Why isn’t their being displayed in galleries?

One gallery right in the heart of Manchester City Centre is doing their bit to change the scale and balance out their statistics, with a new, female-led exhibition named ‘Habitat.’

Contemporary Six is based on Princess Street, directly opposite Manchester Town Hall. We chatted with the Gallery owner, Alex Reuben, about the upcoming exhibition and what we can expect from it, and why he has chosen to do this open call now.

Hersilla Leoca, Plot twister, mixed media on paper, 70 x 100cm

Cotton On MCRHow did you come to the decision to host this open call exhibition?

Alex – ‘It is always exciting to find artists that you are unfamiliar with, and an open call is the perfect way to do that. Over the last few years, I’ve been aware of the gap between male and female artists that the Gallery exhibits. I’ve been trying to look for ways to correct this and saw a great opportunity to invite new and established artists to submit work.’

It is a tricky subject, as some people have said, that creating exhibitions for any form of minority, can come across in itself as discrimination to those not in that minority group. It’s one we have struggled with also as I personally think that the best art should be shown, no matter what gender/race/sexuality the artist is. But something is missing clearly. We put this thought to Alex:

Cotton On MCRSome people think doing exhibitions solely for females is sexist, or positive discrimination, what would you say to them?

Alex – ‘I am taking the opportunity to correct the imbalance in my own Gallery and feel it should be seen as a celebration rather than segregation. This is a pressing issue I want to resolve – the idea is to integrate more women artists into my shows and hopefully other private galleries might be encouraged to join suit. In a 2018 study, 68% of those represented in commercial galleries were male whereas 65% of all graduates in creative art and design were women. This is why we need to take action to increase opportunity and representation across the sector.’

Jess Allen, The shadow light, oil on canvas, 50 x 55 cm

We have seen a selection of work that will be featured in the exhibition, and recognise a few names coming from Manchester also! There seems to be a great mix of work, which is making us super excited to see the whole exhibition. We asked Alex about the open call and what’s to come in ‘Habitat’.

Cotton On MCRHow did you manage the selection process?

Alex – ‘The selection process has been very interesting for me as I’ve not worked in this way before. The Gallery was inundated with over 300 submissions from all around the country. I’m used to dealing with artists that I’ve worked with over many years and in this new format we were making decisions based on a photograph. Both my colleagues and I picked our favourites, we then sat down together and narrowed it further to around 50 artworks that we felt would create a dynamic and strong exhibition. We are now receiving the artwork daily and I am delighted to say we have made good decisions!’

Cotton On MCRWhat can people expect from the exhibition?

Alex – ‘Because it’s an open call, we’ve not worked with these artists previously and therefore much of the work is very different to what we normally show. The exhibition will include ceramics, etchings, photography, and paintings with work starting at £180 up to £4000. We deliberately chose a theme which was quite broad, consequently the subject matter couldn’t be more varied! We have portraits, interiors, landscapes, and abstract scenes.’

Henrietta McPhee, Market Jar, glazed ceramic, 35 x 20 x 20cm

I do think it is important to have exhibitions like this, to balance what is shown in our galleries, and I am so happy that Contemporary Six are putting this on. Alex has noted what work he previously exhibited, and is now taking steps to expand the work he shows, and expand the list of artists he works with. It celebrates a fantastic range of incredibly talented, female artists. And for those that think this is some form of positive discrimination, just note, it’s one exhibition in one gallery. The art world is still very much male driven, but exhibitions like this just go a little way in balancing that out. And if you are really against the celebration of minority groups showing in galleries, then hey – you don’t have to go!

Cotton On MCR – Can you give me more details about the show?

Alex – ‘Of course, the exhibition will start with the preview which will take place on 19th February between 10am-5pm, the exhibition will run until 5th March. All of the work will go live on our website www.contemporarysix.co.uk the morning of the preview. Work can be purchased online or by phone on 0161 835 2666. Please note we are open Tuesdays to Saturdays.’

Ghislaine Howard, Blindfolded Self-Portrait with Chair, 121.9 x61cms, oil on board, 2010

Alex Reuben was a previous Manc of the Month, click the link to read his featured article here.

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