‘Dippy effect’ helping Herbert exhibition Divided Selves on its way to visitor record

Tens of thousands of visitors to an exhibition in Coventry have been rethinking the core values that connect and divide us all – but there has been one big thing getting them through the door.

Divided Selves, a contemporary art exhibition exploring ideas of identity, community, nationhood and conflict, will enter its second phase at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry next month, with two new visual installations and a temporary exhibit in Coventry Cathedral set to be unveiled on Saturday, June 10.

Running since February 2023, Divided Selves has already become one of the most visited temporary exhibitions in the gallery’s history, and Dippy, the life size Diplodocus replica on loan from the Natural History Museum for the next three years, has been credited with encouraging the record footfall.

The exhibition, which will conclude on September 24, features work from the British Council Collection and the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum’s collection – with its curator Hammad Nasar featuring revered artists from a range of backgrounds working across a host of mediums, including Turner Prize winners.

Nasar said the potential for galleries outside London to resonate with people who don’t normally consume art was huge, and that the Herbert has shown how the key ingredient for participation is a curious audience.

“It’s really exciting,” said Nasar. “We have seen people of all ages visiting the gallery with one thing in mind and leaving having had a window into other worlds and perspectives.

“The breadth of communal and overlooked viewpoints that the exhibition covers is huge, but it is actually a very approachable experience that the casual viewer is clearly finding very rewarding.

“By coming to see Dippy, whatever their interest, discipline, or background, people are acting on their natural curiosity about a world that stretches far beyond themselves, and Divided Selves is an extension of that. 

“There is something for the historian, geographer or art lover to get to grips with, but there is also a human element that we can all find importance in, whether you share a history with one of the artists or works featured or don’t.”

Split across four galleries, the first part of the exhibition addresses nation states and historic anniversaries of partitions and subsequent violence, while the second pays attention to cultural narratives that create resilience and reenforce identities through community.

From June 10, new immersive and digital works will feature in the two remaining galleries including Aziz Hazara’s ‘Eyes in the Sky’, a video installation which features drone footage of young people finding and then playing with a disused military tank, and ‘Rehearsal’, which also looks at the relationship between play and war.

Hetain Patel’s ‘Don’t Look at the Finger’, which uses physical performance, sign language, and martial arts to portray the emotions, rituals, and dialogue between a couple as they participate in an arranged marriage, features in the final gallery space.

‘Memorial to Lost Words’, a sound installation by Bani Abidi, features archival letters printed on vinyl attached to the windows of the Chapel of Christ the Servant at Coventry Cathedral, originally written by Indian soldiers who served in the First World War. 

The installation, which is soundtracked by renditions of Indian folk songs, will run at Coventry Cathedral until July 27. It draws from letters that were sent home by Indian soldiers but were originally censored or forgotten because of their condemnation of the war, and folk songs that were sung by their wives, mothers and sisters at the time.

Rosie Addenbrooke, curator at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, said: “The changeover gives an opportunity to look at sustainable ways to exhibit a large number of high-quality art without committing to multiple, separate exhibitions, and it will be really interesting to see the reactions of people who have already been to see the first part after they have explored the new works.

“A number of the works across the exhibitions have resonated very strongly with visitors of all ages, including the immersive elements, and it’s great that we are able to build on this through our collaboration with the cathedral and make the themes and questions that the exhibition asks accessible to even more visitors.”

For more information visit www.theherbert.org/whats-on/1711/divided-selves-legacies-memories-belonging