Sasha Milavic-Davies, co-director of Akram Khan: One Side to the Other

Sasha Milavic-Davies_351x624Sasha Milavic-Davies, co-director of Akram Khan: One Side to the Other, blogs on the coming together of The Lowry’s latest Performer as Curator exhibition…

I am in Madrid standing in front of Picasso’s Guernica.

It’s mid-November, 2013. Yesterday Akram Khan asked me to help him make an exhibition at The Lowry in Salford.

“Right now, I have no idea what it’s going to look like,” he says. “But I know it has to be magical.”

Actually, I’m not standing in front of Picasso’s Guernica, I’m standing in front of a crowd of tourists standing in front of Guernica.

“I could’ve painted that,” whispers a man behind me. Confident voice. Behind him, a framed black and white photograph of Picasso – slightly smiling – stares at the back of his neck.

The exhibition, Akram says, “should have something to do with doubt, it should examine perception and truth. How do we know what we’re looking at these days, how do we tell if it’s real or an illusion?”

I look at the faces of the tourists in the room. What connection could they possibly have to a painting that depicts the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War?

But that’s not the point. The point is that the genuine expression of emotion in art is like an arrow to the heart; we feel it, sometimes without knowing why or how.

In all likelihood, the confident man behind me probably can’t paint like Picasso. But I believe what he says, because what he means is, “I get that. I understand the pain in this painting as if it were my own.”

When we were talking about the exhibition, Akram said “Art is my foundation, from the people who influenced me as a child, to the people who inspire me as a dancer and choreographer.”

The challenge Akram lays down for his collaborators is simple – make something moving.

The people he chooses to work with are superstars – Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Tim Yip, Juliette Binoche, Sylvie Guillem – and he chooses them because despite the fact they might be from a different disciplines, there is a common language, a shared aesthetic that allows them to start an exciting conversation and turn it into a unique piece of art.

The Lowry have asked Akram to make an exhibition entitled Performer as Curator. They want him to express what he normally makes on stage in a gallery.

As I’m walking out of the gallery, I think about all the people that have stood in front of Picasso’s Guernica, I think of all the countless people it has inspired.

It’s now almost a year later. We now know what the exhibition is going to be.

It is a homage to Akram’s collaborations, a thank you letter to the people who formed his cultural landscape as a child, and a guarantee that his future projects will evolve out of rich conversations with artists, musicians, performers, dancers, actors, designers… and the list goes on.

Performer as Curator, Akram Khan: One Side to the Other runs from Sat 15 Nov-Sun 1 Feb. Entry is free.