Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 4: Heather Agyepong and Joanne Coates

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Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 4: Heather Agyepong and Joanne Coates
© Joanne Coates, Grouse Moor, Heather Burning, from the series The Lie of the Land, 2022, originally commissioned through the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 4.

LONDON.- Jerwood Arts and Photoworks are delighted to announce two major forthcoming commissions by Heather Agyepong and Joanne Coates, the awardees of the latest edition of the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards. The exhibition takes place at the Jerwood Space, from 23 September until 10 December 2022.

Heather Agyepong is working on a commission that is deeply personal and universal at the same time. ego death is a project about self-discovery, imperfection, compassion, and radical acceptance. Meanwhile, Joanne Coates is building a body of work, The Lie of the Land, addressing the erasure of contemporary working-class histories and culture in the countryside, particularly interrogating notions of rurality and women, and the perceived stigma associated with them.

Now in their fourth edition, the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards are a major commissioning opportunity supporting early-career artists working with photography to make ambitious new work and significantly develop their practice at a pivotal moment in their career.

For the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards, London-based Heather Agyepong has developed ego death, a project inspired by psychiatrist Carl Jung’s concept of ‘The Shadow’. According to Jung, the shadow is composed of aspects of one’s personality deemed inappropriate, that have been shamed and repressed, generally during childhood and adolescence, by family, education, social norms and other external factors. Jung argues that these authentic attributes evolve into specific behavioural patterns in adulthood that attempt to overcompensate for the undesirable qualities, making one more socially integrated and accepted. In ego death, Agyepong has been on a journey to discover and explore her own shadow; confronting, and making peace with it through this body of work.

Exploring techniques including free writing and freepainting, observation, and self reflection, Agyepong has identified seven different characters that she confronts in the ego death series: The O Daughter, The Saboteur, D is for…, Georgina, Lot’s Wife, Only Pino and Somebody Stop Me. In an immersive installation comprising photographs, fabric, sound and text, she creates an arresting visual language using double exposure to reveal how her shadow characters show up unconsciously in the world. Inspired by Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Agyepong instinctively chooses to use blue hues as the colour palette for her self-portraits, symbolising the state of vulnerability and deep truth telling she put herself through in creating ego death.

Yorkshire-based Photographer Joanne Coates has created The Lie of the Land, a body of work that explores the social history of the land and narrates a story of gender and class that has long been forgotten - or simply never told - in relation to the countryside of the North East. Coates works at the intersection of socially-engaged practice and traditional British documentary photography, fusing them together in a creative visual language that combines landscape, portraits, still image, and non-photographic elements such as sound. For this commission, Coates has collaborated with twelve women who identify as working class, living and working in rural or agricultural settings, to develop a series of portraits that represent their individual lived experience. Using ‘the wander’ or stroll as a meditative tool and a notebook as the holder of daily reflections, they also reflect on the changes happening in the rural areas, particularly with the new arrivals of wealthy people, and how this invisibilises the work of those in charge of sustaining life in the rural areas, creating and disseminating a distorted version of what life in the countryside really is.

The characters in The Lie of the Land are real people, yet they have been excluded from a mainstream portrayal of the countryside. Through this commission Coates navigates her own personal stories whilst working with communities that she is a part of in the rural North East of England - seeing the work as an exploration of unresolved questions, and a process of connections. 

The resulting photographs will be displayed at a variety of scales, including portraits of the women Coates has worked with, alongside landscape photographs of the hunting moors. A new sound piece accompanies a short film, focusing on close-up shots of women’s hands in domestic and manual labour – moments of work on the farms. Diary entries reflect on the changes happening in rural areas and a full-size wooden grouse-butt typically constructed to be used on shooting trips gives a subtle notion of the political and class disputes in rural land.

The accompanying catalogue designed by graphic designer and artist Rose Nordin includes essays from cultural theorist and critic Nathalie Olah and curator, researcher and writer Pelumi Odubanjo. Through autumn 2022 Jerwood Space will host a public programme that draws out key critical themes in the exhibition, enabling new ways of experiencing the commissions and hearing from the artists themselves.

The two artists were chosen by a panel, made up of Christine Eyene (Lecturer in Contemporary Art at Liverpool John Moores University and Research Curator at Tate Liverpool), Joy Gregory (artist), Sunil Gupta (photographer), Julia Bunnemann (Curator, Photoworks) and Harriet Cooper (Head of Visual Arts, Jerwood Arts). During selection, the panel were unanimously impressed by both artists’ powerful proposals which address important current issues while representing a pivotal opportunity for experimentation and development for both artists' own photographic practice. Applicants were long listed prior to the final panel meeting by staff from Photoworks and Jerwood Arts, along with members of ReFramed, a Midlands-based network for Black, Asian and other people of colour interested in producing photographic visual art. Both artists received a £15,000 award (comprising £10,000 fee and £5,000 production budget) with a support package from Photoworks and Jerwood Arts to create new work over a 12-month period.

Previous recipients of the Jerwood/Photoworks Award include: Silvia Rosi, Theo Simpson, Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Sam Laughlin, Lua Ribeira, Matthew Finn, Joanna Piotrowska and Tereza Zelenkova.

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