A new chapter has begun in the story of the 20-year-old Globe Gallery after it had to leave its home in an old Co-op bank in Newcastle’s Blandford Square.
The gallery, run by Rashida Davison and an army of dedicated volunteers, is to reopen in April on Pilgrim Street with a sumptuous exhibition by London-based George Chakravarthi.
A street-level city centre site will make the Globe’s exhibitions more visible to passers-by although the new single-storey unit lacks the former bank’s acres of wall and floor space.
Another plus is that the gallery is within a creative hub, standing alongside the Tynside Cinema’s pop-up film school and below the host of creative enterprises currently based at Commercial Union House.
While Chakravarthi’s Thirteen will be the first attraction in the new Globe Gallery, it has been a lodger for the past few weeks at the Vane Gallery on the first floor of Commercial Union House, where it can still be viewed until Saturday (noon until 5pm).
It comprises photographic representations of 13 of Shakespeare’s characters who committed suicide, including Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth and Ophelia.
All are also self-portraits of the artist who worked with the costume department of the Royal Shakespeare Company – which originally commissioned the work to mark the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth – to embody some of the most famous doomed characters in literature (and, in some cases, history).
Displayed in light boxes, the Shakespearean self-portraits shimmer seductively beneath the subdued gallery lighting while Ophelia, who went to a watery grave clutching a posy, ‘floats’ silently on the floor.
Suicide might be the theme but it is difficult not to feel uplifted by the beauty of these images. It is a feeling ackowledged by the artist – born in Delhi but settled here after studying at the Royal College of Art – who suggests his “multi-layered” portraits reveal “the beauty, anguish and complexities found across Shakespeare’s tragedies”.
Rashida says she became aware of the exhibition about a year ago and decided to try to bring it to Newcastle. Then came the need to vacate a building whose owner had decided on a change of use.
Although the new premises could not be made ready in time to host it, Rashida wanted the exhibition to coincide with a national suicide prevention conference Globe Gallery had agreed to host on February 23 – at which point Vane came to the rescue.
Rashida always saw the exhibition and conference as being more than something fleeting.
“I wanted to use the exhibition as a starting point to work with mental health practitioners and voluntary sector organisations who are currenlty working with people at risk,” she says.
This, she explains, falls well within the remit of a gallery which, lacking any form of financial subsidy, has always welcomed and relied upon volunteers.
“Our volunteers come from all walks of life and we have always had a commitment to them,” says Rashida.
“Some of them will have issues and they might be on recovery programmes, looking to take their first step back into the world.
“I think what’s helpful is that at Globe we don’t identify them as being any different to other volunteers.
“What we can do here is have a conversation with people in an environment that is likely to be more comfortable than a GP’s surgery.”
She has in mind, if funding applications bear fruit, a series of writing workshops leading up to a publication featuring people’s personal stories.
This could be a useful tool in helping to lift young and vulnerable people out of depression and it could be distributed via hospitals and GPs’ surgeries.
“We’re right at the beginning of it but we intend to get it going to coincide with the exhibition,” she says.
“We have been working with Volsag (Voluntary Sector Advisory Group) and Launchpad (which helps those with mental health issues) and we have already had interest from people who have visited the exhibition.
“At Globe we are looking at how we connect with the community we serve and if we don’t get the funding something will happen.
“We still want to create an environment in which people feel happy to talk and where they can be comfortable with contemporary art.”
Rashida says this is nothing new for Globe, which has previously occupied premises in North Shields and in Newcastle’s Carliol Square.
She remembers a successful early project with Simon Donald, of Viz fame, aimed at tackling drug use among young people.
One of the aims of this latest project, she says, is to help break down some of the taboos associated with even talking about mental health and suicide in particular.
Look out for the first sight of George Chakravarthi’s work on Pilgrim Street and check the Globe website – www.globegallery.org – for future developments.