East London art exhibitions open this spring

As the buds of creativity flourish in the East End’s art galleries, we explore the art exhibitions in East London that cannot be missed this spring.

The East End has always been a powerhouse of creativity, home to a diverse range of galleries. Gone are the days of sketching and watercolours, now a cultural day out might include everything from opera, to protest photography, to the written word. 

From the internationally renowned Whitechapel Gallery to quirky studios like the Cell Project Space, we’ve compiled a list of art exhibitions in East London to nourish your artistic soul this spring. 

Two pictures, one of a living room and the other of a bookcase, Nunnery Gallery, Bow, East London
Picture courtesy of Nunnery Gallery

Poetry and photography come together in this celebration of the power and richness of language across myriad tongues. This cinematic photo installation at the Nunnery Gallery showcases the wealth of poetry illuminated by visual art. 

The exhibition is a culmination of the Swiss artist Hannes Schüpbach’s responses to the spaces in which east London poet Stephen Watts lived. Watts was a language activist who made his own contributions to the literary world through his poetry and translations for other languages.  

Around 1600 pages of Watts’ Bibliography of Modern Poetry in English Translation are plastered across the gallery’s four-metre high walls, forming the backdrop to Schüpbach’s photo installation. Watt’s Bibliography, 40 years in the making, and his poetry are transformed into an absorbing physical experience. An excerpt of Schüpbach’s new silent film Essais (2020), with Stephen Watts, will also be on display. 

The unique exhibition programme includes many chances for visitors to experience poetry from many languages, including Bangla and Urdu, through poetry workshops, readings and family events run by Bow Arts

Explosion of Words’ is displayed at The Nunnery Gallery from 28 January 2022 to 17 April 2022. The tickets are free. 

Painting of a woman with an apron on with paint
Picture courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery

When we appreciate art and the artists giving birth to it, we tend to overlook the significance of the role of the studio. Afterall, if the artist is considered the maker then the studio is the heaven in which these miracles are brought to life. 

Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition, running throughout spring, celebrates artists’ studios over a 100-year period. From rusted factories of the iIndustrial era, to dusty attics and cluttered kitchen tables, it shows that art can be created from any space. 

The exhibition recreates the various studio spaces in which great art has been made, from world-renowned, household names like Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso to contemporary under-recognised figures like Walead Beshty and Kerry James Marshall. 

A series of ‘studio corners’ replicate the actual studios that visitors can walk through. Alongside these, there will be paintings, sculptures, installations and films depicting the studio as a work of art with documentation of artists’ studios by critically-acclaimed photographers and filmmakers. 

A Century of Artist’s Studio: 1920-2020’ is open at Whitechapel Gallery from 24 February 2022 to 5 June 2022. Tickets are £9.50. 

carboard silhouette of a woman against a cloudy blue sky, Approach Gallery, Globe Town, East London

Based above a pub of the same name, The Approach Gallery is showing a solo exhibition of new collage works by John Stezaker.

As the name would suggest, duality is in constant play in ‘Double Shadow’, where processes of cutting and repurposing images are used to reflect on the duplicitous figure of the uncanny. 

Figures of masculinity and femininity are dissolved and mix into strange and unusual hybrids. Implementing the technique of dramatic back-lighting borrowed from Film Noir, silhouettes intertwine and uneasy pairings are created in the intersection of shadows.

To accompany the exhibition, The Approach will be showing the film Kiss, 2020, in The Annexe. The film consists of a vast number of the artist’s personal collection of film stills projected at 25 images per second. The fast-moving sequence of discontinuous images of kisses provides a singular, if ungraspable point of focus, creating the sense of unconsummated fusion. 

‘Double Shadow’ will be running from 24 February to 26 March 2022 and is open Wednesday to Saturday. Tickets are free. 

Ópera de Balcón, Cell Project Space

Balcony inside Cell Project Space, Bethnal Green, East London
© Cell Project Space

A solo exhibition of work by Peruvian artist Bryan Giuseppi Rodriguez Cambana, Ópera de Balcón is at once a sculpture, theatre set, and performance, responding to sites of migration. 

Two balconies in a dimly lit space sing to each other from across the room. The song, written by Rodriguez Cambana, is a ballad hinged upon complications in romance, timing, and distance. Viewers are invited to decode intimate and covert messages shared between structures to uncover an opera coloured by the political framings and personal entanglements of migration and diaspora.

This multifarious exhibition is a continuation of Rodriguez Cambana’s inquiry into the spectrum of Black and indigenous communities, their formation and fictions. His art strives to explore the contradictions and shifting landscapes of the notion of ‘community’ and the intersections of the ‘public’ and ‘private’. 

Ópera de Balcón’ is open from 27 January to 27 March 2022. Tickets are free. 

Two woman holding each other's arms and hands, back to camera, Autograph Gallery, Shoreditch, East London

Autograph Gallery, Shoreditch, is exhibiting the work of Indian artist and activist Poulomi Basu from 4 March to 4 June. 

Using photography, video and sound, Basu explores the relationship between mother and daughter, navigating themes of trauma and defiance centred around patriarchal violence. 

Basu is known for her work advocating for the rights of marginalised women using the power of photography as a tool for storytelling. The artist and her mother feature prominently throughout the exhibition, oscillating between lone figures and delicately composed portraits in which their bodies embrace. 

An intimate journey of generational healing, this exhibition fits into Autograph Gallery’s mission of amplifying and championing issues of human rights and social justice through photography. 

Tickets for ‘Fireflies’ are free but can be booked in advance online. The exhibition runs from 4 March to 4 June.

modern art at Chisenhale Gallery, Bow, East London
Photo courtesy of Chisenhale Gallery

Whitechapel born and bred Rachel Jones is displaying her first solo exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery this spring. Working with oil on canvas and paper, Jones’ builds on her previous work exploring the motif of obscured teeth and the orifices that contain them. 

The bold lines and dense blocks of colour used by Jones in her new commission often clash and overlay, or sit uncomfortably side-by-side, creating differing perspectives. The viewer is invited, for example, to reconsider yellow’s association with happiness, and in so doing, to explore the possibility of myriad expressions that coexist simultaneously.

Making the most of the exhibition space, say cheeeeese uses freestanding walls and reveals all six of Chisenhale Gallery’s windows to allow daylight in, exposed in full for the first time since the 1980s. You should also look out for Jones’ series of stickers that cover the inner gallery walls and exterior doors.  

‘say cheeeeese’ will be shown from 12 March until 12 June at the Chisenhale Gallery. The exhibition is free to attend and no bookings are required. 

Painting of graffiti in Hackney Wick, East London
Picture courtesy of Finch Gallery

If you’re looking for something truly local, then this exhibition is the one for you. Stephen Harwood’s paintings are views of East London, just around the corner from the Finch Gallery in London Fields, but they are not scenes you’ll necessarily recognise. 

A faceless terrace; the abandoned site of industrial struggle. You’d never know by looking.

Painted in his distinctive style, Harwood’s works straddle real life and dream, pulling the viewer back to the sense of something missing. 

These are places we walk past and ignore with the only sign of life the upper stories of a distant tower block. In another world you might find a green space, also unpeopled. And in the third of these worlds, left to our imagination, whatever it is that will replace these solitudes in days to come.

Peppered with messages, spelled-out calls to action, warnings, or secret codes, Harwood’s paintings are chillingly familiar, inviting us to think about the public spaces on our doorstep. 

London Fields’ will be exhibited at the Finch Gallery from 24 February until 19 March. The exhibition is free and no booking is required. 

Feminist protestors march through street in the snow.

In our Instagram era, it is easy to forget the political potential of photographs that have the power to uproot existing power relations. 

‘Photographing Protest: resistance through a feminist lens’ showcases striking images by photographers from across generations who have used their cameras to support political struggle and social change in Britain from 1968 to today. 

Centering around the voices and perspectives of women and nonbinary photographers, the exhibition considers the politics of seeing and being seen. It poses a challenge to the male-dominated history of protest reporting and asks what this means for the representation of resistance. 

From sit-ins to street theatre, candlelight vigils to deportation campaigns, the exhibition foregrounds the work of activist photographers, for whom the acts of witnessing and participating in protest are intrinsically linked. 
Photographing Protest’ is exhibiting from 18 March to 30 April at the Four Corners Gallery.

Will Redgrove, Nunnery Café

A plain white wall with 12 posters from artist, Will Redgrove, at Nunnery Cafe, Bow, East London
Picture courtesy of Nunnery Cafe

Bow Arts’ Nunnery Café doesn’t only serve up coffee and snacks, it even showcases the work of local Bow artists. Adorned on the walls at the moment are the latest illustrations from Will Redgrove inspired by vintage matchboxes. 

Redgrove’s distinctly bold and colourful work revolves around community art and art in the public realm. The works exhibited in this show are a personal set of observations on the intersection of art, mental health and collective consciousness. 

Political and provocative at times, through them we see the importance of acknowledging the past to visualise and imagine new, more hopeful futures. He cites classical tattooing, 60s comic books, and mass culture, such as pulp magazines and vintage advertising, as central influences in the development of his distinctive storytelling style.

Will Redgrove’s exhibition at the Nunnery Café will be displayed from 18 January to 31 March. Entry is free, just come along to the café. 

If you enjoyed this article, then read our piece on The Line Art Walk.

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