The Art at MIF 2021

Co-written by Alisha Hallam

What better way to celebrate Summer and the ending of Coronavirus restrictions than a visit to Manchester International Festival!

The festival will run from 1st-18th July and as always, showcases the city’s unique and creative soul with a dazzling line-up of artists, musicians, and creatives for everyone to enjoy! With music from Patti Smith and Arlo Parks, as well as an impressive list of visual artists to get your teeth stuck into. Below is a short round up of some of the visual art, installations and exhibitions included this year:

Big Ben Lying Down With Political Books 

Commissioned by Manchester International Festival specifically for this year’s line-up, “Big Ben lying down with Political Books” is Argentine artist Marta Minujins’s first significant commission in the UK. Specialising in large-scale works and performances that highlight social engagement within the arts, Marta Minujins’ piece for the festival plays on Manchester’s’ unique, independent spirit. Comprised of a colossal replica of Big Ben, the installation will be covered in over 20,000 books which have helped to shape British politics. The work reimagines this well-known national symbol at a time of social and political unease by uniting us all through ideas of democracy and equality.

Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books‘ will be on display in Piccadilly Gardens from 1st – 18th July. The installation will be ceremoniously dismantled at the end of the festival, with each of the books available for you to take home!

Portraits of Black Britain

Cephas Williams is an artist, activist, and photographer commissioned by MIF to create this major public exhibition of evoking portraits of black British people. Cephas Williams uses this work to reclaim the narrative of what it means to be Black in the UK right now; a powerful affirmation that Black Lives Matter every day and not just at times of tragedy and despair. The exhibition is the first phase of a much larger project by the artist, eventually becoming the largest collection of photographic portraits of Black British people ever created.

Portraits of Black Britain‘ will be on display at the Manchester Arndale Centre from 1st-18th July, no pre-booking or tickets needed to be accessed.

Poet Slash Artist

An expansive exhibition exploring the works of artists that use both visual art and poetry as their medium, ‘Poet slash Artist’ aims to transform the streets of Manchester into an art gallery with specially commissioned pieces for MIF.

While most of the works will be out on the streets of Manchester to be discovered, there will also be a day of spoken word and music at HOME’s brand-new open-air stage, ‘Homeground’. In addition to this, HOME will also host a range of film screenings by some of the artists involved in the exhibition.

You can catch ‘Poet Slash Artist‘ from 2nd- 18th July based at HOME with some of the works staying to be displayed until 30th August. The event is entirely free, although you will need to book tickets in advance via the HOME website where you can find more details and locations of the works from 4th June.

The long waited, weighted, gathering 

Following a significant redevelopment costing around £6 million, Turner prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost welcomes back audiences to Manchester’s Jewish Museum with a major installation for the MIF line-up. The museum was initially used as a synagogue and was a landmark at the heart of Manchester’s thriving Jewish community. Within its Ladies Gallery; Prouvost uses textiles created by the museum’s own women’s textiles group and an immersive film experience to help rediscover the lost voices of the women who found sanctuary and community within the building’s walls.

The long waited, weighted gathering‘ will be part of the MIF line up from 2nd-8th July; however, the exhibition will remain on display at Manchester Jewish Museum until 3rd October.

Tickets for the exhibition go on sale from 13th May at the Manchester Jewish Museum box office. 

Captioning the City

Christine Sun Kim is part of a group of deaf artists reclaiming sound as part of their art; through exploring her relationship to sound, verbal language, and the environment around us. For MIF, Kim’s installation challenges ideas of deafness representing loss and deficit and instead offers a valuable new perspective of the world around us. Her works for MIF involve captions wrapping around buildings and across streets for you to seek out, challenging our relationship with the sounds around us in the city and how we interact with it.

Captioning the City‘ will display these works will be across the city centre from 1st-18th July and require no pre-booking or tickets to be accessed.

Cloud Studies

In this new exhibition, which is the first phase of a new Forensic Architecture investigation, ‘Cloud Studies’ explores how state power reshapes the air we breathe and how this can suppress and dominate us. It looks into how different places around the world are controlling this, including Beirut, London, Indonesia and the US–Mexico border. It also touches on how in Louisiana, a region which is made us of majority-Black communities, is exposed to the most toxic air in the USA overall.

Cloud Studies‘ will be on display at The Whitworth from 2nd July and continue till 17th October. Free entry but tickets are required.

Postcards from Now

‘Postcards from Now’ is a series of films created by a great mix of creatives, from choreographers, musicians, visual artists, theatre-makers, animators and more. These were commissioned during the height of the lockdown and these films explore themes of ‘community to communication, patriarchy to power’. We have a video from visual artist Ibrahim Mahama who features at MIF last time with an exhibition at The Whitworth. His film, ‘Love Campus ABCD’ this year discussed the creative education received by the young people in rural Ghana. Lucinda Childs has collaborated with artist collective (LA)HORDE, and together their piece ‘Building Momentum Under Lockdown’ shows the new way people are being creative and artistic, and collaborating across countries and borders during this lockdown.

You can view these videos online on the MIF website and free of charge during the festival, from 1st July – 18th July.


Leading Pakistani artist Rashid Rana has created an exhibition and installtion named ‘Eart’. Here he will build an anti-consumerist grocery store which will be a fully functioning shop here in Manchester, where you can by ‘generic, locally sourced and unbranded produce’. Rana hopes to create this as a way of ‘seeking to reframe the act of buying as a social, personal and global cause’. There will also be an exhibition open alongside this where he explores how the concept of ‘Eart’ can be applied to all areas of life, from social media to real estate and beyond.

The venue for ‘Eart‘ is still TBC, but the exhibition will be on for the full duration of the festival and free to enter.


Arcadia is a new sound and light installation created by Opera and Theatre director Deborah Warner. This has been designed around, and will be featured in the site of the The Factory, MIF’s new and permanent venue which is currently under construction. At the site of The Factory, but for one weekend only, you will have the chance to wander around a ‘field of luminous tents housing a murmuring soundscape of poetry inspired by the natural world.’ ‘Arcadia’ is built to be a place of relaxation and contemplation, a place where you can come in from the big city and be surrounded and beauty and nature.

Open 10th and 11th July, tickets to ‘Arcadia‘ are free but require booking.

Extra information and a free downloadable map of all the locations of the works will be available on the MIF website from 1st July.

“I’m Alisha, a second-year Art History and Curating student born and bred in Manchester! This is the first piece I’ve written for Cotton On MCR, and I’m so excited to have been given this opportunity! I have a special interest in highlighting and supporting emerging and underrepresented artists across the North West. Art for me is all about inclusivity and creative freedom to explore the nature of the world we live in. I can be found on Instagram at @alishaa.kate or check out my current project investigating inclusivity and wellbeing in the art world @mindthegap60.”

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