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Portraits Untold at the National Portrait Gallery: making art accessible through digital media.

Last year, Barques Arts was invited to work on an exciting and diverse arts project curated by disabled artist Tanya Raabe-Webber and producer Mandy Fowler.

The project, celebrating the diversity of our common humanity through a series of live portrait sittings with high profile sitters in well-known venues, kicked off with a live portrait of award-winning filmmaker John Akomfrah at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery on Friday 18 July.

Last week (Friday 22 July), when Barques Arts attended the sitting of world-renowned deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie at the historic National Portrait Gallery in London, our eyes were opened to just how much there is a need for more diversity in the arts, and artists like Tanya Raabe-Webber are paving the way.

Portraits Untold with Dame Evelyn Glennie

Tanya and Evelyn’s collaboration became more and more apparent as the day went on, with both at one point using the same canvas to make art and sound together. As well as being live streamed, the event was also interpreted by a BSL translator and accompanied by live captioning, ensuring an all-encompassing feeling of inclusion and unity.

Portraits Untold with Dame Evelyn Glennie

Portraits Untold was devised to reach new audiences through the use of online platforms as well as public events, opening dialogue with audiences about the presentation of diversity and disability within contemporary portraiture and enabling physical and online audiences to engage in the production of new work. Just how far that reach will stretch has so far defied all previous predictions, even trending on Twitter in London at one point.

Audiences were encouraged to interact with the project by producing their own drawings and uploading them to social media. Those that wished to watch at home could do so via the live stream. Images sent in via social media were then displayed on a giant screen, with a number being used by Tanya to create the final piece.

Portraits Untold with Dame Evelyn Glennie

The viewing statistics have so far been incredible: over 800 people have tuned in to watch the live feed of Portraits Untold from over 44 different countries (BBC Ouch also filmed the day – you can watch their clip below).

Social media didn’t do badly, either – over one million impressions were achieved via the #PortraitsUntold hashtag on Friday 22 July.

Deborah Caulfield, a disability arts writer for Disability Arts Online, said in her blog:

“…Next thing I know I’m logged in, seeing the static screen for the third and last session of Tanya Raabe-Webber’s live streamed event at London’s National Portrait Gallery. At first I think I won’t participate because, well, I’m not geared up for it. I’ll just watch. For a bit.

But then it goes live, people start talking. The quality of the sound and picture is so good that it almost feels like I’m in the room. Definitely I feel like I’m part of something.

It’s quite exciting, actually… The scene on the screen changes all the time; no one’s actually posing. Evelyn Glennie is constantly moving about, shaking and banging. I take screenshots (paste them into a drawing programme) for possible future reference. 

I manage three drawings. All are very scribbly indeed, because they’re done in a rush… I scan, edit and upload to Twitter. Later, I post it all onto Facebook.

Excellent.”

The next Portraits Untold event takes place at Stoke City Football Club with Neil Baldwin – the inspiration behind BBC’s BAFTA award-winning ‘Marvellous’ – on Monday 19 September. The project concludes with anti-drag queen David Hoyle at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire on Saturday 1 October. For more information, visit www.portraitsuntold.co.uk.