Radical Landscapes:
Routes and Roots

Hurvin Anderson, Double Grille 2008 © Hurvin Anderson. All Rights Reserved, DACSArtimage 2022_web

“A nuanced and diverse expression of landscape art.” In an essay excerpted from Tate Liverpool’s Radical Landscapes exhibition catalogue, journalist and writer Anita Sethi explores how identity is shaped by our relationship to place…

How is identity shaped by our relationship to place and landscape? To answer this, it is important to consider what we know about landscapes, or rather what we believe we know. Far too often we have been taught incorrect knowledge and histories, which have seeped into every aspect of culture and society. The resulting false narrative of belonging and unbelonging has served to exclude and marginalise strata of people. As the daughter of immigrants, I’ve often been made to feel as if I don’t belong in a country and amid landscapes which are my home. Despite having been born in the UK, to parents who worked jobs which helped build this country, I’ve at times been made to feel unwelcome here.

Art can play a powerful role in subverting and even correcting notions of identity, place and belonging with impactful visual challenges to traditional ignorance. Take, for example, Jeremy Deller’s Built by Immigrants 2019 (below). There are two versions of the work, both consisting of just three colours, and four words. The colours – green, yellow and white – are those of an instantly recognisable British road sign indicating a place; the words are ‘(A 303)’ in one version and ‘Stonehenge’ in another. Beneath this is, ‘Built by immigrants’. It’s a quietly provocative piece of art which redirects our understanding about place, landscape and belonging.

“Stonehenge is a literal megalith upholding the heritage tourism industry”

Built around 2500 BC, Stonehenge is one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in the world, a British national treasure and symbol of pride of the early endeavours by the country’s people. It receives almost 900,000 visitors a year and is a literal megalith upholding the heritage tourism industry. However, in 2019, a study revealed that Stonehenge and some ancient parts of the A 303 trunk road which passes through the World Heritage Site, was actually built by the descendants of Neolithic migrants, as shown by DNA discoveries published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The people living in the area at the time of its construction were descended from great numbers who had migrated to Britain around 6,000 years ago from present-day Turkey. This large-scale migration of people out of Anatolia in 4,000BC helped to introduce farming across Europe and begin a much larger transformation of the landscape.


Such findings about the histories of migration and agriculture challenge the notion that immigrants and people of colour are relatively new to Britain, and shows that our belonging in this country is much more deeply rooted. Stonehenge is such a symbolic place for these discoveries to have been made – a place where myths of Englishness and Britishness have abounded. A sinister nationalism can grow around landscape, a hostility to perceived outsiders – and yet who determines who is an outsider, who belongs and who doesn’t?

“Immigrants and people of colour helped to build many of our ancient landscape sites and monuments”

In my book I Belong Here, I examined and challenged notions of place, identity and belonging by walking the Pennine Way to Hadrian’s Wall – and discussing the fascinating artefacts, discovered through archaeological excavations, which showed that there were Black Roman soldiers guarding the wall. As with Stonehenge, here is yet another example of how immigrants and people of colour helped to build many of our ancient landscape sites and monuments and to shape the landscape, a role that has been whitewashed from history.

Ingrid Pollard - Oceans Apart 1989. Tate (c) Ingrid Pollard. All Rights Reserved, DACS, 2022_web

There are several other artists whose work seeks to reverse the erasure or absence of particular histories of the English landscape, among them Tanoa Sasraku and Ingrid Pollard. In pieces such as Wordsworth’s Heritage, 1991, and Oceans Apart, 1989 (above), Pollard challenges the notion of a quintessentially ‘English’ land and seascape as one exclusively for white people by situating people of colour, including herself, in images of the landscape, showing she belongs there.

“We belong here”

Hurvin Anderson’s paintings, rooted in the verdant palette and pictorial conventions of landscape painting, use compositional elements to speak of the construction of power and exclusion in relation to the landscape. These works, together with work by Jeremy Deller and photographic pieces from Rose English and Jo Spence and Terry Dennett, present a nuanced and diverse expression of landscape art, linked by their exploration of identity and a sense of place. These latter works deploy a photo-conceptual feminist approach to critique the conventions of classical portraiture and landscape, emphasising the absence of a non-idealised female body in a rural context. Any delineation from the accepted norm of who belongs in the rural landscape is here portrayed as an act of trespass.

We belong here, in the at times beautiful, at times bleak British landscape. And I give thanks to the talented artists who have helped to powerfully depict and elucidate the depth of our belonging.

Anita Sethi

Excerpt taken from Radical Landscapes, © Tate Publishing

Radical Landscapes: Art, Identity and Activism is available now

Images: Hurvin Anderson, Double Grille2008© Hurvin Anderson. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022; Radical Landscapes, installation view at Tate Liverpool. 5 May–4 September 2022. Tate Photography (Matt Greenwood); Ingrid Pollard, Oceans Apart1989. Tate © Ingrid Pollard. All Rights Reserved, DACS, 2022

Posted on 06/05/2022 by thedoublenegative