Arab (2001, 70cm x 55cm)

The heads in these images are wall plaque ornaments manufactured by Bossons Ltd. in the 1960s and 70s. Bossons produced an extensive range of ethnic and national types such as 'Kurd' and 'Syrian'. These were mass-produced chalkware but were finely detailed and remain popular as inexpensive collectables. The images in the series combine the heads with generic wallpaper patterns, invoking a sense of the domestic space where they would typically have been encountered. The appeal of the objects - which were probably inspired as much by cinematic narrative as imperialist fantasies of Otherness - derives perhaps from their evocation of freedom and adventure. In the Picturesque landscape the beauty of a wild and roughened nature was thought to be enhanced by the presence of certain rural figures. Shepherds, vagrants and gypsies were all admired for their life apart from domestication and urban systematization. For 18th century writers on the Picturesque, the fantasy of such oneness with nature was enjoyed through finding beauty in the rural poor - the simplicity of their homes and the rich textures of their worn and ragged appearance. The legacy of this aesthetic is with us still but is perhaps easier to locate in representations of people of the developing world rather than in expressions of a British rural poor, which is now far less locatable as a separate group. In the 1960s and 70s a fascination with peoples that were felt to exist outside the recognized order of urban home life appears to have surfaced as curious, superreal sculptures. One can think of these as trophy-like objects that make manifest international power relations in the closing days of Empire but such an attraction to exotic Otherness is also expressive of the containment and desire of those at home in the ''civilized' world. The Bossons range perhaps encapsulates the lack that is said to exist for subjects of the symbolic order, with vicariously lived adventure signifying an endless search for a return to wholeness and the corporeal.


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