Photograph by Felicity McCabe of 11-year-old Ilhan Abdillahi Geel near Gargarra, Somaliland

As a new summer of art gets underway, the Nunnery Gallery have brought back their annual show The Bow Open, featuring work from 24 innovative artists all belonging to the Bow Arts collective.

This year’s eclectic offerings are curated by Anj Smith, an artist whose captivating – and often unnerving – detailed paintings weave the mystical with the everyday.

The decisively topical exhibition plays with a wide range of mediums discussing issues of family, nationalism and gender to inventively explore East London’s vast cultural history and identity.

Ladies and Gentlemen by Ryan Hodge

No piece of work is entirely alike. An embroidered stretch of dazzling, chaotic silk and beads from Lizzie Cannon draws you in, while a metre away, Emily Whitebread’s audio What Is England chips away at the concept of patriotism with a series of disconnected but poignant spoken words connoting England.

Looking further from home, Felicity McCabe’s photography, captures the dramatic and troubling effects of climate change in Somaliland, juxtaposing the image of a woman in bright clothing, blowing in the wind with a crooked, dead tree.

Triptych by Michael Achtman

Another fascinating journey is encapsulated in Michael Achtman’s triptych image as an accompaniment to his film April In The Country, following a blind woman’s trip to the Western Isles in search of her mother.

Themes of gender and sexuality also take prominence in the exhibition. Ryan Hodge’s digital print Ladies and Gentlemen, offers a snapshot into transgender life struck through with lashings of shocking pink and Jaime Valtierra’s rich oil painting Not Always but Anytime peeks into the intricacies of female desire.

There’s also recent St Martin’s graduate Mette Sterr, who says she’s interested in “blurring the boundaries between the animate and the inanimate”. This is certainly seen in her gothic photography, which on this occasion features an ageing mermaid staring gloomily through heavily made up eyes into the camera lens, with her man-made, costume tail trailing into the distance.

Deeply personal and subtly provocative, the discursive pieces on show reveal not only the breadth of artistic talent available within one small space, but the shifting, eccentric character of the area itself. Expect more fruitful discussion and surprises with live performances, talks, and tempting gin cocktails set up for later this August.

2016 Bow Open Show, Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, E3 2SJ

Sssshhttt by Mette Sterre
Fictional Memory by Lauren Mele

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