Review: Urban reflects who we are now

Described by City Culture as: “an exhibition of major national importance”, Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery is now home to “Urban”. Including works from Banksy, Pure Evil, The Connor Brothers and Blek le Rat, the collection represents internationally renowned street art, making Peterborough a centre for the art at the head of its field.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 2:09 pm
Urban Art Exhibition at Peterborough Museum EMN-211012-195752009
Urban Art Exhibition at Peterborough Museum EMN-211012-195752009

The exhibition (open until May) promises to draw crowds from across the country. But to me, as a student born and raised in Peterborough, “Urban” means more than its national significance.

Our city is bursting with young creativity, innovation and talent. Yet without action, this ingenuity will soon be leaving us for the promise and pull of London and other coveted centres of creativity. We have succeeded in validating many young creatives, inspiring them to pursue their dreams, only for our local culture to become further deprived: these dreams, it seems, can only unfold elsewhere.

Thanks to “Urban”, not anymore. The name “Banksy” has become synonymous with street art as an industry: in other words, Banksy is “the dream” our young people are pursuing. Now, thanks to the work of City Culture, Peterborough Workspace and Brandler Galleries, our dream is here. Not in London.

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Urban Art Exhibition at Peterborough Museum EMN-211012-195922009

I spoke to John Brandler, the founder of Brandler Galleries and owner of the awe-inspiring collection. I learned that Banksy’s work is considered so revolutionary not only because of his decriminalisation of street art, but because of his use of stencils. This allowed for the creation of complex and intriguing images in a shorter time scale – essential at points in time when his work was illegal.

But what most do not know is that this technique was gleaned from the French street artist Blek le Rat, who’s work is also displayed in “Urban”.

From this, we are reminded that art does not exist in a vacuum. As Banksy has influenced others, others have influenced him.

The beauty of “Urban”, to me, is the way it allows us to see how artists interact within the industry. Especially as young artists, our influences are paramount in shaping our development. These relationships are so eloquently expressed in this exhibition, relationships I am proud that people like me will have the opportunity to see.

Urban Art Exhibition at Peterborough Museum EMN-211012-195836009

John also described street aas an “instant image”, that you: “don’t need a lecture to understand”. It is accessible and understandable. This what we need for the evolution of our city’s culture.

Sheena Carman, who works with City Culture Peterborough in community engagement, said: “We are looking carefully at our museum programmes to make them more reflective of the demographic of the city today, ensuring that people see themselves represented in everything we do.”

The exhibition is a step forward in making Peterborough Museum reflective of who we are now, as well as our heritage.

Mr Brandler said: “Not all street art makes people smile, but the majority do. And the other ones make people think.”

The pieces which impacted me the most were from a rare book proof by Banksy. They shocked me, challenged me. But I kept returning: I needed to see them again.

Here in Peterborough, we are not used to being challenged. We need new art and new perspectives to bring our world in line with the 21 st century.

The impact of “Urban” has spread through the museum, seeing the café refurbished. The new atmosphere is inviting, unintimidating, an atmosphere in which you feel relaxed and reflected. This has been the work of local artists, alongside City Culture. In the words of John Brandler, artists: “look at the world differently, and enhance it”.

Banksy’s work is here in Peterborough. This will enhance our city’s position on the map, our economy and the influx of sightseers.

But to me – to us young creatives – this step forward is about more than just the city’s recognition. We need young people to see themselves in this art. In the relationships between these works. In the way innovation impacts our minds. We need them to know that ingenuity and change have a place in our city. “Urban” is a first step in recognising this.

One piece by the Connor Brothers stayed in my mind, an image stating: “Normal is the cruellest of all insults.”

I have grown up in a city voted the worst place to live in the UK three times, a city some grimace at the sound of. Seeing “Urban” reminded me why I am proud of where I come from and what I have to contribute.

Because our city – and its people – are anything but normal. “Urban” celebrates that.

Review by Eva Woods, a student at Nene Park Academy