Questioning Inheritance in Art

‘The Family in British Art’ exhibition is in its last week at Sheffield Museums before it moves to Laing Gallery in May. In its current form, the exhibition has 5 themes which group works under the titles inheritance, childhood, couples and kinship, parenting and home.

This week we have been focusing on inheritance and thinking about artworks and artists that use this theme to represent a variety of view points on the family.

Donald Rodney’s work ‘In the House of My Father’ uses genetic inheritance as a tool to comment on his identity as a British-born artist whose parents emigrated from Jamaica, as well as a platform to address his own mortality and illness.

The work shows Rodney’s own hand holding a small sculpture of a house, constructed from pieces of his own skin removed during one of many operations to combat sickle cell anaemia, an inherited disease that affects people of African, Caribbean, Eastern Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian ancestry. Unlike many traditional family portraits that suggest strength and fertility in family lines, the tiny house cradled in the artists hand is delicate and vulnerable, showing a side of inheritance that is unavoidable and fragile.

Rather than reinforcing the image of a strong bloodline, this work prompts the viewer to ask questions about the role inheritance plays in our identity and the way in which we live our lives.

Working within a similar theme, Taryn Simon has produced a body of photographic and text works attempting to map blood lines and their differing narratives.

Talking about her 2011 exhibition at Tate entitled ‘A Living Man declared Dead and Other Chapters’, the artist explains her interest in the effects of chance and blood on the stories of our lives.

The resulting works detail the relationship between family inheritance and external forces such as power, religion and governance to influence our lives.  These works prompt the viewer to consider the dynamic play that both family and chance take in shaping our everyday lives.

Let us know whether you think inheritance or chance has the most powerful effect on individual identity. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted on by Amy Jackson-Bruce
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About Amy Jackson-Bruce

Amy Jackson-Bruce is the new Online Co-Ordinator for The Great British Art Debate.

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