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Familes enjoying a sunny afternoon in Exploratory Park, Brent Cross Town

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Exploratory Park is now open for use from early morning till dusk, daily – just a 12-minute walk from Brent Cross tube station.

Claremont Way
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Familes enjoying a sunny afternoon in Exploratory Park, Brent Cross Town

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25 November 2020

Brent Biennial highlights

The last few months have made us rethink so many things, to consider what local means.

Here’s a treat from next-door Brent that you don’t want to miss. The Brent Biennial brings together over 20 new artworks inspired by the cultures, places and people of the borough – displayed across the ‘gallery’ of Brent itself. From libraries to laundrettes, on buildings and on billboards, every piece of art has been installed in public spaces: a biennial designed as much to be stumbled across by chance as to be visited intentionally.

Let’s start with some works you can visit right away. Yasmin Nicholas’s collage series The Children of the Sugar is on show on advertising hoardings, reclaiming these spaces for storytelling of a more traditional kind. Consisting of poems layered over community portraits, there’s something refreshing about finding her work in shop windows, by bus stops and on A-boards. A limited run of posters is also available to take away, “in places of personal care and maintenance, spaces of care, gossip and relationships”. Nicholas’ pieces are scattered across Kilburn and Queen’s Park, and you’ll find the nearest at Kilburn Market.

Collage art piece displayed on vertical ad board on street
Yasmin Nicholas’s collage series The Children of the Sugar is reclaiming advertising hoarding space. Photo above and at top: Thierry Bal.

Not far from away, Pio Abad’s murals on Kilburn High Road are inspired by 16th-century ‘vanitas’ paintings – macabre still life works aimed at reminding the viewer of their own mortality. These vanitas still lifes often incorporated artefacts from countries colonised by Europeans. This tradition Abad makes his own, using objects that reveal the stories and heritage of Kilburn residents. He told Brent Biennial, “I wanted to use the format to talk about… the different countries that people here have come from and how those histories are contained within very specific objects.”

Those histories are contained within very specific objects.
Smiling artist standing in front of mural
Pio Abad’s murals on Kilburn High Road are inspired by 16th-century ‘vanitas’ paintings. Photo: Andy Keate

The Brent Biennial was commissioned in late 2019 and originally scheduled for April this year, and there’s often a sense that the work is responding to life in real time. As Abad says, “The last few months have made us rethink so many things… having this opportunity to consider what local means. The difference between when I was invited to do this project to when I started making it, I feel like it’s two very different worlds.”

For an oddly intimate artwork, pop into Hilal Food Centre. Abbas Zahedi’s Soul Refresher (Mountain Rose Soda) is in the fridge section because, well, it’s a drink. This limited edition run of 3,000 bottles is a collaboration with Square Root Soda Works and “intends to encourage new dialogues about our social, political and emotional connections to food, drink and care”. The artist is distributing most of the bottles through Sufra Food Bank, a local charity that he helped to establish in 2013 to address poverty in the borough.

With its breadth, playfulness and profound engagement with place, the Brent Biennial would be impressive at the best of times; this year, it’s a triumph.
Colourful lattice cubes in a library room
Rasheed Araeen's Zero to Infinity is an interactive piece that invites kids and adults alike to play. Photo: Thierry Bal.

Free, inclusive and informative, libraries are the ultimate public space and Brent’s have played a starring role in this biennial. Indoor installations are temporarily closed due to lockdown, but here are two to check in on after 2 December. Headliner Rasheed Araeen has transformed the children’s section of The Library at Willesden Green with Zero to Infinity, an interactive piece that invites kids and adults alike to play with 36 brightly-coloured lattice cubes. Over in Cricklewood Library, Brian Griffiths’ SELF – CONSCIOUS is a lending library of sculptures: borrow a book, get a mysterious sculpture hidden in a box. While you wait for things to reopen, Griffiths’ cryptic interview with ArtReview will give you plenty of food for thought.

With its breadth, playfulness and profound engagement with place, the Brent Biennial would be impressive at the best of times; this year, it’s a triumph. Browse the exhibition map to discover more fresh ideas from Brent artists.

Glass bottles with colourful drink in them
Abbas Zahedi’s Soul Refresher (Mountain Rose Soda) does exactly what it says on the bottle. Photo: Thierry Bal.