And so an era ends. Throughout the UK Queen Elizabeth II’s death has quietly and persistently overlaid our waking lives for several weeks. Whether in grief or resistance the Queen’s presence in our minds sits there, inescapable and contemplative.
For 70 years there has been a shared experience which has centred around this remarkable individual, an individual who is a product of a system, an individual who stood for an entire country. It’s at once a lot for a single person to carry (let alone for that length of time) and also a consensual delusion which only required, as many commentators have noted, that she remain remote and royal – which is to be a facade upon which we are expected to project our ideas of nation. But more than that, when effective a figure like the Queen is a revealing mirror which asks each individual who they are in relation to the country as a social system. Who are you within the structure of land, capital, and identity that defines the UK and her colonies?
It’s an uncomfortable truth that your relationship to the narrative and power of the government structure defines your position and trajectory in society. It is not just, nor inclusive, nor unencumbered by prejudice but neither is it necessarily oppressive, it has the possibility to empower, to equalise, to enable and to appeal to the better angels of our communal spirit. The crown signifies the figurehead and the human under it represents the possibility of being.
Portraits of the queen can then be read as artistic take on the relationship between the human, the history and spirit of a nation. A nexus which defines the sort of celebrity that royalty contains, surrounded by the echoes of deference and power upon which the institution was founded. A post-structural take on the royalty would outline the particular form of capital that Royalty entails, from royal appointments, to connections to land and wealth, proximity to and approval by the crown supposes access to opportunity which promises to manifest as actual wealth – if handled in the proper courtly fashion. Etiquette is the velvet means through which power is politely exercised, over the threat of exclusion, violence, and material loss. And as such many portraits of the monarch ask us to consider both the history and the reality of the force behind the person. And of the person, what strength and resolve would it take to remain in a warm but blank performative role for so long?
The collection of portraits at Majesty: A Tribute to the Queen promises to be a fascinating investigation of all these themes by a collection of artists who have had personal access to the Queen through which they were able to communicate how she embodied the monarchy and the nation during her reign. Which might be as close as we’ll get to understanding how someone embodies the traditions and contradictions of being a human and symbol of a cultural empire.
Photographer Rob Munday picked out one comment from thousands on social media which he feels sums up the portrait perfectly. ‘Her facial expression shows a depth in her personality that reaches back to the days of her youth when the enormous weight of wearing the crown of England was not yet realised’
Majesty: A Tribute to the Queen Exhibition Info
London: 15 September 2022 — A new and historic royal exhibition in London will bring together three renowned royal artists with unique perspectives of the Queen for the very first time.
The exhibition, which opens in Tribute to Her Majesty on 28th September at Quantus Gallery, features the work of Rob Munday, Frances Segelman and Christian Furr, all of whom have portrayed the Queen during her life variously through photography, holography, painting and sculpture.
Each artist has explored the myriad facets and perceptions of the monarch in their own way, seeing her anew in forms at once cutting-edge or classical. In this way, their work brings together the facets of a public life of service, pageantry and totemic impact and a private life of ‘everywoman humanity’ — and ultimately mystery.
Majesty: A Tribute to the Queen
Quantus Gallery. 11-29 Fashion St, London E1 6PX
28th September – 12th October, 2022
Supported by Trebuchet Partner Gifford Media