Articles by Huw David Jones
Maps are usually thought of as dry, concrete documents – the product of rigorous cartographic research to accurately chart the earth’s surface. In actual fact they’re highly imaginative constructs, reflecting wider ideas, values and beliefs about our place in the world.
For artist Iwan Bala, the map is a way of exploring personal and cultural identity. Born in Meirionnydd in 1956, Bala emerged as part of that radical generation of Welsh artists who rejected the fashionable American Modernism of the 1960s and ‘70s in favour of art that engaged with the contemporary political issues in Wales surrounding language and nationhood. The maps featured in his current exhibition continue this concern for Welsh culture. Wales is often pictured as an island, symbolising what the artist calls: “idealised and mythic places, always just on the horizon”. Elsewhere it takes a female form; this is a reference to Celtic mythology and the idea of the land as a life-giving mother-figure.
Yet Bala is never insular in his vision of Welshness. His maps connect Wales to the wider world, notably to other marginalised cultures like Africa, Ireland and the Basque Country. Here, then, is how we might confidently locate a small nation like Wales in an international context, while remaining true to our cultural roots.
Rhondda Heritage Park, Trehafod from Fri 2 May till Sat 29 Jun 2008
This article was originally published in Buzz magazine.