February art exhibition: Dispossession

Dispossession, an exhibition of paintings by Karen and Mel Shewan runs from 1st  till 27th February in the Art and Design Library.

The artworks are a complex exploration of themes related to the Highland Clearances, and the artists describe the exhibition like this:

Our exhibition Dispossession, developed from our interest in the Highland Clearances, the mass eviction of tenants, by their Lairds, to make way for large scale sheep farming. We stay for much of the year at our house near Edderton in Easter Ross at the foot of Struie Hill, overlooking the Sutherland Hills and the Dornoch Firth. It is a beautiful setting and yet to remark on all that is striking and lovely around us seems sometimes almost a violation of the lives of those dispossessed of their homes and livelihoods by the Duke of Sutherland. His controversial statue, rising spike-like from the summit of Ben Bragghie, reinforces the tension between the beauty of the land and its history. The evictions in Sutherland were particularly brutal, the tenants often violently evicted, their homes burnt down or pulled apart while they looked on. Their remains are all around us: the outline of foundations in the cropped fields, tumbled stones, broken walls.  Melancholy reminders of a people who, to use the haunting words of a resident of the Strath of Kildonan, were “set adrift upon the world”.

The more we researched the Clearances, both in the Highlands and elsewhere, it was inevitable our thoughts should turn to the victims of violent displacement and indifferent abandonment in our own time. Consequently, some of the work in our exhibition explores ideas of dispossession arising from contemporary issues and events including Brexit and Trump’s presidency; homelessness, the displacement of indigenous peoples, especially in Amazonia, the refugee crisis and the consequences of our abject failure to deal with global warming: a failure that may yet lead to humanity dispossessing themselves of the Earth itself.

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