Gilbert & George @ White Cube, Bermondsey

I currently work across the road from the White Cube on Bermondsey Street at another museum and am often interacting with visitors from the gallery. Most of these visitors come to us enthralled by the current Gilbert and George show at White Cube. However, when I explain to you now that the show is full of bombs, burkas and drugs you may be asking why these visitors always seem to be smiling.

Gilbert and George are an unassuming duo to some yet infamous to others. If the viewer unfamiliar as to what the pair looked like before they saw the exhibition, there is no doubt that they would be able to recognise them after. In over 60 works, the artists appear together in all of them.

The pair, who have been making art together since meeting at St Martin’s in 1967 reflect the environment in which they live: East London. The duo live close to Brick Lane, an area which is fast changing. The show is entitled ‘SCAPEGOATING PICTURES’ which suggests that the contents in the pictures are often aspects of life that are blamed for the wrongdoings of others. This may be true of the nitrous oxide canisters, which the pair have come across in their morning walks, perhaps to explain that it is the people taking these fashionable drugs that are the problem, not the drug itself. In an interview they have likened this to Hogarth’s Rakes Progress but with ‘new-age party drugs instead of booze.’

Similarly, we may question the inclusion of women in burkhas. Gilbert and George state that they are against religion and this is the first time that the pair has used any faith besides Christianity in their work. However, it is interesting that they have chosen to insert the veiled figures in the series given its title, suggesting that they believe these women to be free of fault. This is probably true, yet, if they are against religion, then it would make more sense that they did object to them. That said, across the images, the pair not only give Islam attention, but hurl a string of vulgar insults towards Christianity.

However, it is not all doom and gloom, nor a display full of negativity – after all – why would people constantly be leaving so smiley?! It is this honesty that I find makes the visitors so intrigued. Our world is constantly on edge. Nobody wants to offend, everything must be politically incorrect and we are forever biting our tongues in fear of upsetting someone. Yet Gilbert and George do not shy away from the truth. In fact they have put themselves in every image so you know that they are definitely conscious of the message they are giving. The pair themselves are also very comical: men in their seventies in masks or dressed as skeletons with serious faces. It shouldn’t work after all these years, where the exhibitions are seemingly very similar, but it does and I sincerely hope that they never stop.

You really have to see it to believe it!

Gilbert & George: SCAPEGOATING PICTURES for London is on display at White Cube Bermondsey until 28 September

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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