Oh wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursel’s as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An’ foolish notion.
– Robert Burns
On this, the day before the vote on whether Scotland should be an independent country, I would like to share with you some Scottish art.
‘As Others See Us‘ is a photography exhibition featuring portraits of famous Scots (and adopted Scots) taken by Tricia Malley and Ross Gillespie, also known as broad daylight. The first phase of the project was created in 2009 to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Each sitter was asked to choose a favorite quote from Robert Burns and provide a short explanation of what it means to them.
The exhibition travelled to the United States, making an appearance in New York for Scotland Week 2014 before coming to Chicago’s John David Mooney Foundation Gallery in May. I attended the opening after hearing about the exhibit via the Chicago Scots, which accepts “everyone who is Scottish by birth, by heritage or simply by inclination.” Every time I go to an event, I swear I’ll join.
As with so many gallery openings there were drinks and snacks, as well a lovely welcome from Chicago Scots president Gus Noble. Were I actually a member of the organization, I may have remembered the name of the other nice gentleman who spoke and was presented with an award of some sort, and I’m sure I’ll feel foolish when I eventually find out who he was. The gallery owner was also presented with a thank-you gift of a tie patterned with the official tartan of the state of Illinois. Because yes, that’s a thing, as seen below on Gus (left).
My terrible phone photography simply cannot do justice to the portraits on display, some of which appeared so painterly as to be nearly mistaken for oils. I really, really encourage you to take a closer look at them. Subjects ranged from an Ayrshire farmer named Neil Gillon, photographed on his farm, to the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, photographed at the Scottish Parliament. The portraits’ subjects displayed an emphasis on those in creative fields (actors, poets, musicians) while also including a lawyer, a mogul, and a clan chief. Notable to some of us ‘Mericans were Craig and Charlie Reid (otherwise known as the Proclaimers) and Peter Capaldi (sometimes known as the Doctor).
It was this portrait of Sir Ian Wilmut that may have been one of my favorites, although it sadly seems to have been omitted from the catalog I took home. Among all the composers, sculptors and authors, Sir Ian was photographed in (what I assume to be) his embryology lab. He is the Chair of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, best known as the leader of the research group that cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996.
It was this portrait that got me to notice the small, cropped image in the corner of each exhibition label. Along with each subject’s favorite Burns quote and his or her description was a little, rectangular bit of image-commentary as well. For Sir Ian, you can see the reddish-orange of a test-tube tray both on the table in his lab and in closeup accompanying his words. These pairings for other portraits were always not so obviously drawn directly from the portrait image, yet they were still connected to the original in some way.
And it may well be such fine details that ultimately decide Scotland’s vote on September 18. Has the question of currency been examined from all angles? How would students be charged tuition in a new country, and what would happen to research funding? Would border crossings change between England and an independent Scotland, and if so, how? And can we please stop making Braveheart jokes when referencing a Scottish military?
Whether the braver choice would be to maintain the United Kingdom or to become independently Scotland, I can’t say, nor is it my place to. The Scots will tell us what they will tomorrow.
Then let us pray that come it may,As come it will for a’ that,That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,May bear the gree, an’ a’ that.For a’ that, an’ a’ that,It’s coming yet, for a’ that,That man to man, the warld o’er,Shall brothers be for a’ that.