A vast collection of portraits from an imagined nation come to the Heong Gallery
A remnant of a long-extinct volcano, Redonda rises steeply from the Caribbean Sea, girded on all sides by sheer cliffs. It is uninhabited, save for the seabirds and goats eking a meagre subsistence from the small grassy plateau that crowns the island. Rocky, vertiginously sloping and devoid of fresh water, Redonda is – and likely always has been – resolutely inhospitable to human habitation. Which makes the legend that surrounds this isolated outcrop all the more intriguing.
Discovered (and named) by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Redonda was claimed in 1865 by a merchant trader, who established an honorary monarchy that has been passed down to the present day through a literary lineage. Fact on this matter collides with fiction in the work of novelist Javier Marías, who was until recently a King of Redonda, and appointed many notable writers and artists to his imaginary court – and it’s this which forms the inspiration for the latest exhibition at Downing College’s Heong Gallery. A huge, vibrant collection of portraits by artist Stephen Chambers, The Court of Redonda features subjects drawn from different historical eras and cultures, imagining a utopian society that celebrates the idiosyncratic and honours creativity over hereditary privilege. It’s the product of a ‘mental collaboration’ between Chambers and Marías, featuring 101 portraits which articulate the role played by artists in envisaging a world not how it is, but how it could be.
“The Court of Redonda is woven from a story about an uninhabitable place, which writers and artists have envisioned,” says Emma Hill, one of the show’s curators. “It is a work about the collective human spirit. The expression of the necessity and freedom of creative imagination, for art’s ability to reflect to us the moment we are living in and for an individual artist’s statement to carry the weight of this, is at the heart of images Chambers presents us with in the faces of his imaginary courtiers.”
The show runs until 20 May.