Abstract Elements: The Exhibition Opening Event  

9 May

The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth.

Najma Hush Abstract Elements Exhibition Opening Evening

Spot the Freudian slip…

Today, we would like to do something, a little bit different. By ‘we’, I mean me – Najma Hush, one woman, who is going it alone, like so many other creative people, determined to make that critical transformation from an emerging artist, to an established artist.  Usually writing about my projects upon this blog in third person –  PhotoGiraffe – bragging about how wonderful the exhibition openings have been.  Although, they have been rather fabulous, upon reflection, I now feel that there are certain drawbacks when not openly addressing certain faults with such ‘experiments’, when perhaps if disclosed openly, it could help many other emerging artists who might be scratching there heads, wondering how to make themselves stand out from all the other wee-little chicks in this birds nest, all screaming for attention to get that juicy worm, dangling from the mouth of the giant (i.e. established galleries).  But how much honesty can I display here at the detriment of my own reputation and personal liability?  The only way to find out is by reading on and I’m kind of curious myself, as to what this write up will be like…

  The more mistakes you make, the more you learn, the more you progress.

Abstract Elements is a collection of five photographic images, currently exhibiting at The Warehouse Cafe (Please see previous post for details).  With its  exhibition opening held last Monday (5th May’14), I hosted my very own launch event inviting Poets and Musicians to platform their own skills and celebrate my latest exhibition at the Warehouse Cafe.   An award winning restaurant, located in the Friends of the Earth building (Birmingham, Digbeth), The Warehouse Cafe are a non-profit, community interest company and provide local artists, a space to exhibit.  They were interested in exhibiting a selection which would compliment their ‘Green’ ethos.  This is how we reached the mutual decision to exhibit Abstract Elements due to its connection with natureHowever, due to the small number of works and their size, this collection was not big enough to fill their walls, which is why a last minute decision was made to exhibit, Some Kind of Blue too.

Poet Performer Carys Matic Performing at the exhibition opening

Poet Performer Carys Matic Performing at the exhibition opening

Without any disillusionment about motivation, the main reasons for inviting poets and performers has always been to collaborate for cross-promotional purposes.  As a creative writer my main circle of associates have mainly been other poets.   As an emerging artist, I have little contact with buyers and in all honesty as someone who is quite new to this business, I don’t really know who they are.   As a poet I like poetry performances and this is how I generally spend my spare time.  Inviting poets to these events to perform, gives me a little more to talk about on online social platforms, other than just saying, ‘Hello world, I have an exhibition and this is the concepts behind this collection’.  The performers benefit from this collaboration, due to the platform I provide for them to showcase their talents as well as all the promotional write ups I usually do on this blog and the pictures I post on my facebook page which promote their skills by positively  reviewing their input.  Futhermore, because of their involvement, they help me spread the word about the exhibition opening events.  Sounds like a good idea in theory and here is how it is works in practice.

 Advantages:

1. It contributes to a more lively atmosphere for the exhibition opening events and adds a varying dynamic to the overall occasion.

2. It gives the (emerging artist) an opportunity to practice standing in front of an (otherwise larger) audience to host and talk to about their work publicly. 

 

Disadvantage:

1. The majority of people who will come to your exhibition opening will be the people performing who will be more keen to perform than view or provide feedback on the images you’ve displayed.

2. Your exhibition opening might be at risk of becoming more about performing art rather than the exhibited  fine art.

 

There are no failures only unexpected outcomes.

Seems like a fairly balanced assessment of advantages and disadvantage, however, the latter is what became most prominent the morning after the night before.  Post-exhibition opening, when reviewing the responses from almost all parties involved, I noticed that the main feedback I was  getting that the event that I had organised was a poetry performance event.  Other than reading performance reviews  from peoples ‘ facebook status updates’ I noticed, there was little commentary about the exhibiting images.  Furthermore, there seemed to be little mention of the fact that there was any art work displayed at all, which they the performers had initially been invited to come and respond to.  Although most performing artists (bar two), did perform along the theme of the ‘natural elements’ to tie in with the collection of the photographs, this fact became even more protruding when I noticed that even The Warehouse Cafe had posted a thank you note on their fan page to all those who came to their ‘first ever open mic night’.  (Lucky for me, I have a great sense of humor.)

 

Exhibition Opening Night of Najma Hush's  Abstract Elements:  A photography exhibition.

Exhibition Opening Night of Najma Hush’s Abstract Elements: A photography exhibition.

 Conclusion

What I have learnt from my experiences and reconfirmed in recent articles I have read about exhibiting in cafe’s and  restaurants, that they are ‘ not looking at this as an opportunity to make a commission on sales and increase their revenue – consequently, they aren’t going to have much motivation to actively promote or sell the work  (http://www.reddotblog.com/wordpress/index.php/showing-your-art-in-cafes-restaurants-banks-and-other-venues/) and as this article points out  that more than often the artist using these venues just become a commodity promoting their venue.

Naturally, nobody does anything for nothing and therefore it is the exhibiting artists responsibility to define their own outcomes from their opening events.  Also as the above referenced article points out, cafe’s and restaurants might have an interesting mailing list to attract people to the opening events, however even if The Warehouse Cafe did have this, they admitted later on that this was not a priority due to their busy schedule.  After all, to reiterate, for most cafes hosting exhibitions by local artists, their business is not art but will always primarily be food and drink with an agenda to gain more clients.

Expectation Versus Outcome

My expectations at this current stage of my career is not to make loads and loads of sales, but rather to gain exposure and a good reputation.  Reverting back to defined outcomes, I do not feel that event was a success because, I did not place enough emphasis upon the work that I had curated and exhibited.  I failed to attract a crowd of art lovers/buyers but instead curated a spectacular arts festival, which was truly magical and amazing and the hospitality shown by the venue was immaculate, however it has made me think more critically about exactly where I am at present, versus where I intend to go.  Nobody can predict or control the behavior and response of those who you collaborate with, after all we are all individuals and we all have our own expected outcomes, but what one can do, is learn from each experience by reflecting objectively and positively in order to progress.  

Najma Hush at the Exhibition opening event of Abstract Elements , courtasey of NuBi magazine who came to review the event.

Najma Hush at the exhibition opening of Abstract Elements , courtasey of NuBi magazine who came to review the nights event. (Photographed by Shahid Chohan)

How might you learn from my mistakes?

When selecting a cafe or restaurant to exhibit in:

* First and foremost, be proactive and go out to all exhibition openings so that you can gain the right contacts with people who really are interested in fine art and whom you can invite to your exhibitions.

* When choosing a restaurant or cafe, ask yourself, do you have similar values?  (i.e do they have a reputation for being a hub for the creative arts? Or will you have to compromise a great deal on what you want exhibited and also question why they are allowing you their space?)

* Ask the venue what kind of mailing list they have and how much will they can contribute to the promotion of your opening event.  If you are a proactive artist and good with social networking media, you might be doing more to promote the venue than your own work and unless you have a large network of buyers/clients this might not bother you, but otherwise I would say, choose a cafe that would promote your exhibition equally. 

 *  Find out from previous artists if they gained much feedback from the venue’s clients and if they made many sales in these spots.  Were their price margins the same as yours?

*  By all means invite performers to platform, but keep the slots short and simple, and make sure that number one: you are selective with quality performers only and number two you make it clear it’s not an open mic night which otherwise implies your events is just a-free-for-all.

*  On your opening event, make sure you rehearse a script of what you might want to say as an opening speech.  Prepare what you will say about yourself and then about the exhibiting works. Practice, practice, practice and then open up a panel discussion for questions and answers – if nobody has any questions – ask for feedback…

*  If you do not get the feedback ask for the feedback.  Don’t be shy, ask the questions. ‘What do you like about this collection?  Is there anything you do you not like about it?  What’s your most favourite and why?  What’s your least and why?’  If you find this intimidating, create anonymous feedback forms for honest criticism and advise.

 

Keep On Moving!

Whoever may be reading this article and no matter what you maybe doing with your life, I believe that if you got this far down reading this article, it’s probably because you are an artist.  Remember, no matter what genre of artist you maybe, if you are being proactive with your skills you are putting yourself out there to be judged.   Your work has to be judged and whether those judgement are a positive or negative reflection of your work, you must learn to accept the opinions of other, but still remain strong in what you believe in and let what you believe in, always be yourself!

 

Please do comment with any useful or contrary thoughts.  I am generally a student in life; I have an open mind and I’m always willing to learn.

After all that's said it was a very night and really well organised...

After all that’s said it was a really great night spent with amazing people and really well organised…

 

10 Responses to “Abstract Elements: The Exhibition Opening Event  ”

  1. Tim Scarborough May 10, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    Hi Najma. I’m the drummer who played with Nina Lewis.

    Interesting stuff. I completely agree with you that the overall impression was that it was a poetry/song evening with a photography byline. Here are my reasons:
    1. The “exhibition” only contained 9 or 10 images. I took a good look at them all and thought they were all beautiful, but in an event lasting 3-4 hours, looking at the photographs was never going to occupy more than 20 minutes of any individual’s evening. Everyone’s expectations will be high if they hear the word “exhibition.
    2. Throughout the performances we had our backs to the exhibits.
    3. There was inadequate linking of performed content to the exhibition theme, and those who joked about the lack of a link undermined your main purpose.
    4. There were approximately twice as many performers as there were images on the wall – that gives a powerful message.
    5. The ” open mic” perception was very much encouraged by the dodgy amplification set up, the untidy start to the piece with a backing track and the “will he/won’t he” bit about the first performer in the second half.

    I realise this is a bit of a straight-talking list, but I’m trying to be helpful. There are simple, effective solutions to all of these issues and I’d be happy to chat about them, based on experience and a love of creating high quality multi-media events. Several small changes can mean the next one is amazing!

    Please email me if you’d like some help – for free!

    • Najma Hush May 10, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Thanks Tim. Feedback is valuable and I appreciate the time you have taken to provide me with your opinion. I totally agree with some of the points you have made, whilst also – without going into any dispute – disagree with a few things where you are slightly inaccurate. However, I do intend to address certain issues you have remarked upon and will contact you soon to see if you might be able to better advise me on how to gain a greater audience of art lovers make better choices on collaborative ventures and also obtain direct feedback on the content and pricing etc of my work, as this is the main debate of this article. From what I remember you telling me, I was under the impression that you were a Sound Man, working at live musical gigs, however I would be very interested in learning about any other experience you may have that could help me better curate and exhibit my work. Thanks again and speak soon.

  2. neenslewy May 11, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    You may not like these ideas – but you can have them if you do;

    1) Venues – as you said research those that sell work and artists who have successfully sold this way, from my knowledge usually there are only 1 or 2 sales made this way, then move the collection on to exhibit into gallery spaces where it may sell, having said that restaurants and cafes do have people who see the art and buy it – I know someone who bought a painting when it wasn’t even for sale!

    2) Invite different audience/ viewers. Have a short run – an opening like the ones you have organised for all your exhibitions and then a night where you invite the sort of people who are your target market.

    3) Get publicity/ advertising through local press/ arts press as well as forums and online.

    4) Has some say on how the room is set up. If we had been in the opposite corner, not only would here have been more light (helpful to photographers and performers alike but your photographs would have featured in subsequent photos (as with Diverse Dancers).

    5) Plan to succeed and believe!

    • neenslewy May 11, 2014 at 10:54 am #

      Forgot no. 6 – would you be open to having some of the process filmed? Creating your work. You could YouTube it, play it at your event launch/ opening etc. I know you create the video clips of the artwork, but you in it as well as your art – to raise your profile?

      • Najma Hush May 11, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

        Yes! Of course! Definitely! Do you know anyone who will be willing to do that for me? If so, drop me a line on my page or via email?

    • Najma Hush May 11, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

      Thanks Nina, those are very helpful and useful suggestions. I actually think all of the things you have suggested are very good and definitely things I have thought of. x Thank you Love x

      • neenslewy May 11, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

        You’re welcome!

  3. Al Barz October 19, 2014 at 1:40 am #

    You are a very talented artist in the medium of photography. I am always struck by the creativity that goes into the images that I see on Facebook, on other websites and on the walls of events. Nothing can detract from that. It is always true.
    I am primarily a wordsmith but with a strong leaning to music. I try to meld those two, often selfish forms and create something more resounding than mere tunes, rhymes and rhythms. I also have several strong and time-consuming demands on me and have difficulty forging a balance that gives me space to develop my own creativity. But that’s not your problem.
    The first piece I wrote especially for your exhibition was Blue Dreaming. It took something like five weeks to write and I was quite pleased with the outcome. The second was Dance: It’s Cool To Get Warm. There were few words and the music came easily and I incorporated an ‘interactive dance’ for your audience. By the time I came to the Elements exhibition I was unprepared, had written very little and thought I could get away with bringing out previously used material. Thinking about that now, I realise that was insensitive and disrespectful and I apologise for that.
    I should have told you that I couldn’t come up with anything worthwhile and declined the invitation but by then I had come to the poor attitude that it was an open mic night. Sorry!
    You have already had some good advice. Here’s mine, if you need it.
    Have a catalogue highlighting the pictures, distributed to places where buyers might visit.
    Only invite a few performers to do (a) something on the theme and (b) something on a specific picture.
    Be introduced by an emcee.
    Start the event with a talk on the exhibits.
    Have a long intermission in which you talk to people about the exhibits and make sure they have a catalogue. Find out if they are attracted to any specific picture.
    You already do some of this.
    Thanks for inviting me to those three. I hope you’ll consider me again to redeem myself.
    Al
    X

    • Najma Hush October 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      Hi Al, it seems like ages now since this post. Although I appreciate your explanation, I must say, that when I wrote this, it was more with the intention of helping other emerging artists that might be exploring ways of promoting their work, rather than a criticism of any of the artists who had come to perform at this event. In all fairness, it was more of an honest criticism of myself, as I’m doing all the marketing for my work and don’t always know what is right. However, I have really missed arranging such events, especially since the last two recent exhibitions I’ve had, which I did not promote, mainly because I must focus my energies on other projects. All the previous, ‘Exhibitions for Exhibitionists’ opening events provided me with a great deal of satisfaction, as they gave me an opportunity to collaborate and interact with other Artists and although these events were a great promotional tool for myself and all involved, they were organised with all the romantic notions for the love of Art. It is sad when ‘ego’ gets in the way of creating such magic, but then again all artists must think pragmatically about how to make a living from what they love doing or else… I hope to continue organising more events like these, using the experience and advice that I have been given by all my peers, including your-good-self. Thanks for all your kind words and also the great advice which I will be using. Best, Najma x

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