Launching on September 24, the first edition of Photoworks Festival is centred on the theme of Propositions for Alternative Narratives. With the festival running amid the pandemic, which has upended the traditional format of the vast majority of events due to social distancing requirements and travel restrictions, Photoworks Festival will unfold in three ways.
The work will be exhibited in an outdoor billboard space around Brighton and Hove, which will have an online counterpart in the form of a digital festival hub. The final element is the ‘festival in a box’ comprising printed versions of the works, which will be delivered by post to people who sign up to be a Photoworks Friend community member. Various institutions around the world will also be ‘hosting’ the box version for visitors to see, with more detail to follow on social media about where to find them.
The box format draws on surrealist Marcel Duchamp’s La Boite-en-valise – a small suitcase ‘museum’ containing reproductions of his work – as well as artist Dayanita Singh’s mobile museums, a concept designed to challenge the formal limitations of exhibitions.
Eleven international artists are featuring in the festival, including London-based photographer Ronan Mckenzie – one of the 21 judges in the CR Photography Annual 2020 – whose work will be exploring the colour brown. The festival includes works by UAE-born, New York-based photographer and musician Farah Al Qasimi, and Chicago-based photographer Guanyu Xu, who caught the attention of the photography world with his series exploring sexuality and heteronormativity in relation to his upbringing in China.
Also featuring in the festival is Ivar Grāvlejs’ photographs of supermarket checkout lines, Pixy Liao’s works exploring cross-cultural relationships, Roger Eberhard’s images of past border sites, Alix Marie’s photographic examination of the role of the body in provoking emotions, and Poulomi Basu’s take on the war between the government and the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, a Maoist insurgent group in India.
The range of channels lends itself to artists whose practice is cross-disciplinary, such as Alberta Whittle, with her interactive installations inspired by Afrofuturism, and Sethembile Msezane, who works across film, sculpture, photography and drawing in her interrogation of spirituality, myth-making, politics and African knowledge systems. Lotte Andersen, who works across video, collage, performance and beyond, has created a collaged piece for the outdoor and ‘in a box’ format, which will serve as an invitation to an online work running in October.
Alongside the festival’s central display of work will be an archival project by LGBTQ+ youth group Queer History Now, as well as a young photographers showcase of work exploring heritage, with a focus on the untold stories left out of history books.
The festival ties into the Alternative Narratives theme running throughout 2020 across Photoworks, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The Brighton-based charity, led by director Shoair Mavlian, is using the festival to reexamine cultural hierarchies and histories.
“Our inaugural Photoworks Festival rethinks both the form and content of traditional festivals and attempts to disrupt the well known histories of photography, breaking them apart to include new perspectives,” Mavlian said. “Our festival acknowledges that the idea of a distinct history of photography is problematic and aims to highlight propositions for alternative histories alongside contemporary work that sets out to show a new or alternative perspective on a subject or topic.”
Photoworks Festival takes place from September 24 to October 25; photoworks.org.uk