Own Art: Pretty Penny
“What I like to do is take something and make my own version of it – filter life through my head,” says painter Rabiya Choudhry about her recently commissioned prints of three British coins. “I did a pound coin, I did a 2p and I did a penny,” she adds.
As part of a collaboration between The Skinny and the art retail website Culture Label, Choudhry was one of seven artists picked to make new limited edition prints. They’re available to buy through the Own Art scheme, which makes purchasing art easier and more affordable by letting you spread the cost over 10 months.
That Choudhry decided to draw coins for a commission geared to make the buying of art seem a viable option during a recession is surely no coincidence. And as we all know, when times are tough, artists are often some of the worst affected, with less public funding and fewer opportunities to sell their work.
“I was not working for a while and during that time I visited Greece,” says Choudhry. “I was just really skint and it felt bad to be on holiday at the time and that’s when I started thinking that I wanted to make work about money and the lack of it. When you really don’t have money it’s pretty pish – and it felt right to do something about that.”
Choudhry’s three prints take ordinary, everyday objects – coins that most of us have in our pockets or purses, things that we largely ignore and take for granted – and reinterpret them. She draws a two pence piece in intricate detail, taking the Badge of the Prince of Wales – as seen on the reverse of the coin – and turns its big feathers into chubby snakes. She takes a one pence piece and draws the crowned portcullis – the gate and chains we see on older pennies – with eyes. The gate’s grille is a big set of gnashers, or perhaps a high, restrictive collar.
The prints manage to achieve two things: they draw our attention to objects long forgotten – things in the world we’ve taken our eye off, have given little consideraton to – as well as highlighting their absurd conventions. They’re intricate and strange, using motifs from a different age (the coins she draws were originally designed by Christopher Ironside in 1971), from a time when we had distinctly different concerns.
“They’re really intricate,” says Choudhry. “And they feel bloody good as well. It was a pleasure to draw them – I found it quite meditative actually.”
The print commissions come at a good time. Choundhry recently showed at the Old Ambulance Depot in Leith as a precursor to the Leith Late festival and will be showing in Stirling and France later this year. The prints are currently on display in Glasgow's Urban Outfitters, and in July will appear in a Love London pop-up shop in Maiden on London's Shoreditch to coincide with the Olympics.
As part of the artist collective the International Bongo Bongo Brigade, Choudhry regularly shows in Europe and London. The collective has an absurdist approach to exhibiting, akin to the Dadaist and Surrealist movements of the early 20th century. Their manifesto, for instance, includes the statements: “Bongo-Bongo is walking with your ears upside-down,” “Bongo-Bongo is hands turned into feet,” and “Bongo-Bongo is the flying snail.”
What is it that ties all the participants of the International Bongo Bongo Brigade together?
“I don’t think there’s a particular aesthetic that joins us all together,” says Choudhry. “I think it’s just a group of people who are a little bit off the wall. I feel it’s the kind of art I’ve been wanting to see for a while, but it’s not generally the kind of art you’d see a lot of here.”
But Choudhry wants to change all that and hopes to have a solo exhibition in Scotland soon: “I just want to do loads more big paintings and do my own show. I’d really like to a bloody good solo show in Glasgow, actually. It’s been a long time coming.”