The face of Dundee captured in all its diversity
Published on 7 May 2019
Snow-loving Saudi Arabians, Serbian exiles, Mormon missionaries and people fighting back from addiction and homelessness were among the individuals that artist Alana Hay encountered as part of her project to capture the face of modern Dundee
‘Happenstance’ is one of around 300 exhibits at this year’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and Architecture Degree Show, which opens to the public on Saturday 18 May. It takes the form of 20 etched portraits that Alana created after a series of encounters in the centre of Dundee.
Armed with two chairs, Alana set up stall in City Square and offered passers-by free portrait sketches in return for 10 minutes of conversation and a photograph. While participants walked away with their sketch, the photographs were then used to create the striking images that now hang at Alana’s Degree Show exhibition space.
The models ranged in age from 15 months to 60 years old and came from seven different countries – Nigeria, Poland, Serbia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, the US and the UK. Alana has invited them all to come along to the exhibition and see the finished work for themselves.
“I’d really like to know what they think when they come face to face with their portrait,” she said. “Dundee is a vibrant city full of lots of interesting people and I wanted to know more about their stories. My work reflects the diversity of ethnicities, personalities and appearances that make up this city. I deliberately didn’t ‘sell’ what I was doing. There was a sign explaining what I was doing and it was entirely up to people if they took part or not.
“The project is entitled ‘Happenstance’ to reflect the chance situation of each encounter I had with a member of the public. Each conversation I engaged in was a rare and rewarding opportunity to connect with people I otherwise would never have met. I want my work to reflect Dundee as a city and offer a glimpse into the lives of the strangers that we live alongside.”
Etching is the printmaking process of creating incisive lines on a metal plate using acid. The medium allowed Alana to refine the original sketches and, she believes, capture as much of their rich life stories as possible.
“Historically, the only people who had their own portraits were rich and important but I wanted to change this by creating portraits of the average citizen,” she added. “The people were incredible and so interesting. Everyone was at different stages of their lives. The people brave enough to sit down included a newspaper reporter, support teacher, performance poet and psychology researcher.
“In just 10 minutes I learned so much about them. A 9-year-old Saudi Arabian boy told me he preferred Scotland to anywhere else he had lived because of the snow. One person told me how one of the things they were most excited about not being homeless anymore was having walls to hang art on. One discussed their love for horses, another their son’s upcoming wedding.”
Alana (21) is originally from Muir of Ord, near Dingwall. She will embark on a postgraduate teaching degree later this year and eventually hopes to return to the Highlands to teach art.
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design and Architecture Degree Show is always a highlight of the city’s cultural calendar but with this year’s exhibition being the first to take place since the opening of V&A Dundee, 18-26 May represents Dundee’s biggest week of art and design to date.
Last year’s exhibition attracted a record attendance of 16,000, generating in excess of £1.5 million for the local economy. Students will once again be showcasing visually stunning art and design that seeks to solve some of society’s biggest problems in 2019.
With Dundee enjoying a tourism boom on the back of the opening of V&A Dundee and other venues hosting exhibitions and events, the city is set for a major celebration of culture that week.
Degree Show opens a month after the launch of Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, V&A Dundee’s second touring exhibition. Dundee Design Festival is hosting a programme of design-focused events and workshops inside the Keiller Shopping Centre while other exhibitions taking place include those at Dundee Contemporary Arts and The McManus: Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum.
Press Office, University of Dundeepress@dundee.ac.uk