A large scale portrait depicting weavers from a remote mountain village in Peru has gone on display for the first time at the National Portrait Gallery
as part of this years BP Portrait Award exhibition. The artist, Jo Fraser, winner of the BP Travel Award 2011, won a £5000 bursary for her proposal to travel to the Cuzco region of Peru to observe the textile producers in indigenous communities.
The final work on display is a large scale canvas in oil and charcoal developed from sketches and photographs taken during her visit, some of which also are on display. The subjects are shown sitting in an arc, as Fraser wanted to suggest that the viewer was sitting in on the daily occasion of their weaving. Originally the portrait was to be set in the village itself, but after two months Fraser began again and decided instead to paint the weavers against the timeless and epic dynamic of their mountainscape.
Fraser has always been fascinated by the geometric aesthetic of Andean hand-weaving, the allegorical symbolism within their designs and the ritualistic purposes for which they are created. She initiated contact with the weaving community she depicts through Awamaki, a small Peruvian non-governmental organisation (NGO). Awamaki works to protect the endangered textile traditions of two impoverished weaving communities by providing the female workers with access to a market for their work. Fraser stayed in the community of Patacancha, a village which sits at 12,600 ft, the lower of the two communities the NGO works with.
Fraser says, I found it incredibly easy to photograph the women, as they naturally ignored my camera, neither changing their demeanour for the lens nor shying away from it. For a portrait artist it was fantastic. Living in such isolation, and without a common tongue, it was easy for me to philosophise. Quechua lifestyle and practices felt almost unadulterated by urban trends. Their culture, descended from the Incas, embraces skills, beliefs and a moral code that is inconsistent with my experience of contemporary Western culture, yet feels so nostalgically familiar to me and compatible with my nature.
Jo Fraser was born in Edinburgh, and trained at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. Upon graduation she became resident artist for a castle in Angus and went on to work on large portraits for private collections and stately homes in Scotland. She was Artist in Residence at The Edinburgh Academy, Scotland 2011/12 and has exhibited widely across the UK.
Each year exhibitors in the BP Portrait Award exhibition are invited to submit a proposal for the BP Travel Award. The aim of the award is to give an artist the opportunity to experience working in a different environment, in Britain or abroad, on a project related to portraiture. The artist's work is then shown as part of the following year's BP Portrait Award exhibition and tour. The Portrait Award, now in its 33rd year at the National Portrait Gallery and 23rd year of sponsorship by BP, encourages artists to focus upon, and develop, the theme of painted portraiture within their work.
The BP Travel Award 2011 was judged by;
§ Rosie Broadley, Associate Contemporary Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London
§ Liz Rideal, Art Resource Developer, National Portrait Gallery, London
§ Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP