Angeli Sowani: Together

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Open: Mon-Fri 10am-5.30pm, Sat 12-4pm (by appointment)

35 Bury Street, St. James's, SW1Y 6AY, London, UK
Open: Mon-Fri 10am-5.30pm, Sat 12-4pm (by appointment)


Angeli Sowani: Together

to Fri 30 Sep 2022

Artist: Angeli Sowani

35 Bury Street, St. James's, SW1Y 6AY Angeli Sowani: Together

Mon-Fri 10am-5.30pm, Sat 12-4pm (by appointment)

Opening reception: Wednesday 14 September, 6pm-8pm

Grosvenor Gallery presents an exhibition of paintings by Angeli Sowani. Together is Sowani’s fourth solo-exhibition.

The exhibition consists of twenty-two portraits of near-forgotten or underappreciated women from Commonwealth countries, who served various roles during the First and Second World Wars. Also in the exhibition is a large canvas depicting service men and women from various nations.

One example of the fascinating lives led by the women depicted is that of Noor Inayat Khan:

“Sitting in The National Archives at Kew on a steel shelf along with countless other files is a grey box with the number HS 9 836/5 …, inside of which deceits the details of a brave young girl called Noor Inayat Khan. Born in Moscow, her mother American, her father a Sufi Muslim from India – a Muslim woman and the great, great, great granddaughter of the Indian Prince Tipu Sultan”

Angeli came across Noor’s heart-breaking story in February 2022 while researching and seeking inspiration for her current exhibition, in remembrance of the men and women of the Commonwealth who stood side by side together during the two World Wars.

Joining as a recruit for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), Noor went on to become a British secret agent for the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The typical life expectancy for an SOE agent was six weeks. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, kept in solitary confinement with her hand and feet chained and finally executed at Dachau concentration camp in September 1944, with a single bullet to the back of the neck. She was only thirty years old. Three other women, Yolande Beckmann, Madeline Damerment and Eliane Plewman were executed along with her. Their bodies were put through the fire and all traces disappeared.

“I felt I had to put these faces down in my paintings; to remember and pay my respects to these young women who were so brave and put their life at risk in a war not of their choosing. This was the first half of the 20th century and some of these women were Asian, Indigenous Australian, Indigenous Canadian and West Indian. They faced biases not just of gender but also of colour, religion, and ethnicity.”

Through her paintings, Angeli speaks about the men from India, Africa, Nepal, as well as the Indigenous Australians and West Indians. Soldiers who took part in the great wars but were often forgotten. One such man was Leonard Victor Waters, the only Indigenous Australian to serve as a fighter pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. Leonard’s is one of many such stories, but photographs are hard to come by. So, she has incorporated silhouettes into her works to depict these forgotten heroes.

“The material I chose to work with and the method I have used were driven by what I noticed in my research. Race, Colour, Gender, and Religion all seem designed to put people in boxes. So, I decided to make most of my paintings on regimented one size 20×20 cm boxes….”

Sowani’s 2019 exhibition Medals & Bullets told the story of the Indian soldiers who fought and often died in foreign lands far from home. In it she included letters sent to their families in India often dictated to another person as most of them could not write. The raw feelings and description of war in their own words are truly moving.

Together is a continuation of that story.

all images © the gallery and the artist(s)

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