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Sharif Persuad. Courtesy Project Art Works

Sharif Persuad. Courtesy Project Art Works

London exhibition for Hastings Project Arts’ Sharif Persaud

There is much to love about Hastings and St Leonards: not least the seaside and creativity here, but also the sense of community and support of people who are less well off or generally find life challenging. Project Art Works is a very special organisation that works creatively alongside people with complex needs. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths met up with creative director Tim Corrigan to talk about one of their artists/makers, Sharif Persaud, who has an exhibition of his work in London. 

Autistic and now 26 years old, Sharif has been in the Project Art Works orbit since he was at Torfield and Saxon Mount School, participating in several school projects, and now he regularly attend the Parachute Club, a weekly studio programme at Project Art Works. Sharif is unquestionably a bit of a character and is considered a talented and integral part of the studio. He, as all participants are, is given every encouragement to develop and express his particular concerns in his unique voice.

Sharif Persaud, The Mask 20

Sharif Persaud, The Mask 20

His art is focused on his own life and interests: these include the weather, hurricanes (and Michael Fish, the hurricane denier), hospital programmes  and dogs. He says his autism means he often laughs at things that people would not generally find funny.

Sharif sometimes adopts the wearing of a mask –that of the Queen, Al Murray the Pub Landlord, Dot Cotton, Barak Obama. Rather than a change of persona, the masks act as a way of initiating a conversation.

“When I wear the mask, I ask people if they know anyone with diabetes, high blood pressure or if they know anyone who has had their leg amputated from gangrene.”

Sharif made a film The Mask about  autism and identity, his life, his concerns. In it, wearing an Al Murray mask, he talks to Al Murray himself about his allergies, dreams and nightmares. He seems a very engaging character. His film won an award at the Oska Bright film festival and has featured at several film festivals internationally and on the Channel 4 website. Currently The Mask is being screened alongside David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive at the Barbican in London on 7 April..

Sharif Persaud, Gangrene, 20

Sharif Persaud, Gangrene, 20

Two exhibitions

Sharif has two exhibitions, one of which is Have You Ever Had at Autograph, the well respected gallery whose mission is to use photography to explore questions of cultural identity, race, human rights and social justice. As one of five artists selected for the Spectrum Art Award, he will also be part of a group exhibition in May at a gallery in Frith Street, Soho.

Surprisingly, unlike most artists, he is unconcerned about the attention around these exhibitions. The work is what he does, the results of it out in the world, it seems, are of little interest.

Creative director Tim Corrigan and the Project Art Works  team has helped him to explore his life and make sense of his world.

Corrigan says of Sharif, “He is amazingly talented and he often surprises me, his work is incredibly honest and free from self-conscious restraint.”

Sharif Persaud, Self Portrait, 2018. Courtesy of Project Art Works

Sharif Persaud, Self Portrait, 2018. Courtesy of Project Art Works

Project Arts Works was founded in 1996 by artists Kate Adams and Jon Cole, to bring together a team of artists with people who have complex needs, including children, young people and adults with autism, learning disabilities and neurological impairment. It provides artists with art materials and appropriate assistance in a safe place to facilitate whatever the artist/maker requires.

Some have complex needs that require one-to-one assistance, others are non verbal but all are given the time and space to mine whatever they wish to express. Corrigan and the Project Arts team have helped Sharif to explore his life and make sense of his world – creating the art of possibility.

Explorers programme

Sharif’s exhibition at Autograph is part of a wider progammme of work led by Project Art Works called Explorers. The project is a three-year programme of conversation and relationship-building between cultural, social care organisations and artists/individuals. It recognises the extraordinary contribution people with complex needs can make to mainstream culture, positioning them as decision-makers, producers and creators. The programme has resulted in six co-commissioned exhibitions across the UK and in Sydney, Australia, as well as events, seminars and a national conference on Art, Rights and Representation.

In 2015 there was a Project Art Works exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion. I was disappointed when I heard some artists comment that they didn’t consider it art – in which case I’m unsure what they thought it was. It might not be intellectual, they may be non verbal, but they are describing and mining something of their lives. And art is intuitive and often instinctive.

Another Project Art Works participant, Charlie Thomas, has a complex architectural installation in Claremont’s window in Hastings.

Another organisation that works with people with special needs is Friary Gardens,

Sharif Persaud’s exhibition Have You Ever Had is on at Autograph, Rivington Place, Hackney, London EC2A 3BA from 28 February to 23 May.





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Posted 18:13 Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020 In: Visual Arts

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