Work spanning more than 150 years brought together for exhibition exploring Scottish identity

Work spanning more than 150 years has gone on display in a major new exhibition in Edinburgh exploring themes of Scottish identity, belonging and place.

Photographer Mark Johnston created this image at Hosta beach on North Uist, in the Outer Hebrides.
Photographer Mark Johnston created this image at Hosta beach on North Uist, in the Outer Hebrides.

Newly-created work by young people in Edinburgh and Ayrshire features alongside sculptures, sketches, drawings and photographs dating as far back as 1869 in the new Scottish National Portrait Gallery show You Are Here.

The exhibition, which will run until March 2023, has opened weeks ahead of the launch of Scotland's new Census.

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It is hoped that the various works selected for the exhibition will inspire visitors to reflect on who they are and where they have come from.

Iain Mackenzie's image of a man reading a newspaper in Glasgow in 1975 will feature in the exhibition You Are Here.

A seating area to encourage friends, families and strangers to strike up conversation has been designed for the exhibition by the group of young people from Ayrshire.

The exhibition also features the sketchbooks of primary school pupils from Granton, in north Edinburgh, who were asked to create drawings that they felt best represented them, as well as the sketches and caricatures created by the Scots-Italian artist Emilio Coia, who worked for The Scotsman for nearly 50 years.

The arliest work on display is Scots Girl, a bust created in 1869 by the leading 19th century sculptor William Brodie of 12-year-old Ada Barclay, who would go on to become a successful painter in her own right. It appears alongside a bust of the late poet and novelist Iain Crichton Smith by Michael Snowden.

Also featured is the work of photographer Iain Mackenzie, founder of Glasgow’s celebrated Cafe Gandolfi restaurant, including an image he captured in the city of a man reading a newspaper in 1975.

Ada Barclay, daughter of the Perth-born society portraitist John Maclaren Barclay sat as model for this work by the 19th century sculptor William Brodie. She would later become a picture restorer and painter of landscapes and portraits, exhibiting at the Royal Scottish Academy from 1879 to 1886.

Contemporary work includes artist Angela Palmer’s hand-engraved work on sheets of glass which was inspired by MRI scans of her brain activity and Jonathan Owen’s marble sculpture depicting the distorted head of a military figure.

The exhibition also features an interactive voting system which will pose a different question during the run of the show.

Exhibition curator Liz Louis said: “This exhibition has given us the opportunity to consider the relationship between identity and self-representation, the impact of where we are on who we are, and how we in turn impact and interact with the places we live in.

“Bringing together artworks from the collection with work created by project participants shows that this question has a very real relevance.

Artist Angela Palmer created this work on hand-engraved sheets of glass based on MRI scans of her brain activity.

"We hope that visitors feel empowered to make their own connections with and between the various works on display.”

Richie Cumming, learning and engagement outreach coordinator at the National Galleries, said: “The experience of the coronavirus pandemic over the past two years has highlighted the importance of communal spaces, places where people can gather to discover new things or explore shared interests.

"With ‘You Are Here,’ we want to provide such a space, surrounded by art, that can inspire conversation between friends, families and strangers.

"We hope the projects and artworks selected encourage visitors to think about the society we live in, their position in it and the changes they’d like to make to it.”

Young people and their families worked with artists Iman Tajik and Katie Low to create a ribbon sculpture for Bourtreehill Park in Irvine, in Ayrshire. Picture: Eoin Carey
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