29 July – 29 August

After our cancellation in 2020, we returned in the summer of 2021 for our seventeenth edition, which brought together the work of over 100 artists, presented in over 40 exhibitions across more than 30 venues throughout the city – curated by Edinburgh’s leading galleries, museums and artist-run spaces, featuring major historic surveys alongside leading Scottish, UK and international contemporary artists.

View the Art Map:

Festival-led Programme

Our festival-led programming featured major new commissions and presentations by leading international artists, including the UK & European premiere of Lessons of the Hour by Isaac Julien in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland; and two new festival co-commissions, with work by Sean Lynch in collaboration with Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop; and a sound installation by Emeka Ogboh with Talbot Rice Gallery.

Isaac Julien, Lessons of the Hour

UK premiere, presented by Edinburgh Art Festival in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland.

Presented in partnership with National Galleries Scotland, this ten-screen film installation by internationally acclaimed British filmmaker Isaac Julien, offered a poetic meditation on the life and times of Frederick Douglass, the visionary African American orator, philosopher, intellectual, and self-liberated freedom-fighter, who was born into slavery in Maryland, USA. From 1845-7, Douglass made repeated visits to Edinburgh, while campaigning across the UK and Ireland against US slavery.

The film installation was accompanied by Julien’s tin-types and mise-en-scène photographs.

The exhibition also featured a short film created by Shifting Vision, an innovative art platform exploring the relationship between art and actuality. Following in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass throughout the city of Edinburgh, the film brings to life Isaac Julien’s visionary Lessons of the Hour through the insights of the artist, Sorcha Carey, and Celeste Marie-Bernier:

Artist In-conversation – Isaac Julien with Celeste-Marie Bernier

Emeka Ogboh, Song of the Union

A co-commission with Talbot Rice Gallery, as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival 2021 Commissions Programme.

Emeka Ogboh’s newly commissioned sound installation sited in Edinburgh’s Burns Monument was a response to the ongoing theatre surrounding the U.K.’s departure from the European Union. 

The sound installation featured the recorded voices of citizens from each nation state of the European Union, singing Auld Lang Syne – a song which has come to represent solidarity, friendship and open doors – in their mother tongue. The resulting polyphonic choir affects a complex interweaving of language, syntax, cadence and rhythm. 

Artist In-conversation – Emeka Ogboh

Sean Lynch, Tak’ Tent O’ Time Ere Time Be Tint

A co-commission with Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival 2021 Commissions Programme.

Lynch’s project cast a spotlight on Edinburgh’s public monuments and sculptures, today subject to ongoing civic processes to have society acknowledge and understand the legacies of history. His installation at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop explored the use of folk traditions, the making of sculpture and the parables held inside monuments themselves, which can empower social change and produce a public realm implicitly open to everyone. Extensive fieldwork on this theme was seen in a new video artwork, while a new series of sculptures resuscitate the use of Coade Stone, a now obsolete building material with a secretive recipe rediscovered by ESW’s technical team over the last year.

The title Tak’ Tent O’ Time Ere Time Be Tint is a memento mori phrase which urges those who read it to make the most of their time on earth. The phrase, along with a number of other sculptural interventions were made by builder Stanley Sutherland to his workshop walls on Newhaven Road, Edinburgh.

Artist Interview – Sean Lynch

Artist In-conversation – Sean Lynch with Catalina Lozano

Associate Artist Programme

In a new approach for the festival, we were delighted to collaborate with Glasgow based artist, film-maker and programmer, Tako Taal as Associate Artist.

At the heart of Tako Taal’s practice is an examination of the psychic structures of colonial relations, and the question of how vividly they remain in the present. Responding to the festival’s invitation to reflect on themes, ideas and histories explored in Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour, 2019, Tako Taal invited 6 new commissions for public and digital spaces, exploring ideas of resistance, freedom, activism, representation and the power of the image – with work from Chizu Anucha, Sequoia Barnes, Francis Dosoo, Thulani Rachia, Camara Taylor and Matthew Arthur Williams.

In thinking about Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) and his travels in 19th century Scotland speaking out about injustice, Tako Taal reflected on the tensions and vulnerability inherent in publicness. Through her invitation to the artists she asks about what was, and still is, demanded and desired.

Taal encapsulates the wealth of ideas and enquiries elaborate by invited artists in her compelling and concise précis: “With the transcript of a trial, a trip made to Naples, a portrait, a song and a melody composed whilst walking, six invited artists feel their way towards said and unsaid desires.”

Associate Artist Interview – Tako Taal

Artists In-conversation – Associate Artist Programme

Platform: 2021

Our 2021 edition was selected from an open call by writer and producer Mason Leaver-Yap and artist Ciara Phillips working with festival director Sorcha Carey.

Jessica Higgins, Danny Pagarani, Kirsty Russell and Isabella Widger presented new work as part of a group exhibition held at the Institut français d’Ecosse. Encompassing a broad range of media and approaches, the selected projects shared a collective interest in the ways in which infrastructures of knowledge are constructed and disseminated.

Kirsty Russell’s textile based sculptural works explored how ideas of support and care can manifest in objects and materials. Danny Pagarani’s new work started from a fixation with Krio-English homophones—words that sound the same but have different meanings – and through a process of reading and consuming arrives at the thing itself: the father’s strange tongue. Isabella Widger’s installation drew on Gustave Flaubert’s story of a maid in service to consider conditions of labour in the 19th and 21st century. Jessica Higgins presented the story of a debt advice helpline worker, which takes the form of a drama lodged in an infected ear.

View the Platform: 2021 Booklet:

Artists’ Interview – Platform: 2021

Partners Across the Capital

There was also the chance to discover new generation artists at some of our partner galleries across Edinburgh, including the work of Satellite participant Alison Scott at Collective, Sekai Machache at Stills, Andrew Gannon at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and gobscure at Edinburgh Printmakers.

Solo presentations across the capital included Christine Borland at Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Alberta Whittle and Rachel Maclean at Jupiter Artland, Frank Walter at Ingleby Gallery, Ian Hamilton Finlay at The City Art Centre, Sonia Mehra Chawla at Edinburgh Printmakers, Jock McFadyen at Dovecot Studios and a major exhibition by the artist Karla Black for the newly developed and reopened Fruitmarket and Alison Watt at The Scottish Portrait Gallery. 

The 2021 edition also featured important retrospectives and major survey shows including The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure at National Museum of Scotland, Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour at The Queen’s Gallery and Archie Brennan at Dovecot Studios.

Edinburgh’s commercial galleries presented a richly diverse offering including; a new group show from Arusha Gallery and Ella Walker, Shaun Fraser and Will Maclean at The Fine Art Society, Leon Morrocco at Open Eye Gallery and the centenary of the birth of Joan Eardley was marked with an extensive new show at The Scottish Gallery.

Art Late

Art Late, our unique annual culture crawl exploring exhibitions across the city, returned in a new digital form for our 17th edition. 

BBC broadcaster Gemma Cairney presented two evenings of artists’ talks, hands-on workshops and one-off performances – celebrating the rich programme of visual art across the capital for Edinburgh Art Festival.

Art Late – 1

Our first online Art Late event was a free curated tour of the Art Festival programme which included:

  • An online evening event hosted by multi-award winning BBC broadcaster, author and activist Gemma Cairney.
  • A film interview with Turner-prize co-winning artist Alberta Whittle telling us a little about RESET and presenting a performance called RESPONSE by Mele Broomes at Jupiter Artland.
  • A live DIY Art motif making workshop with artist Alice Dansey-Wright.
  • A film by gobscure at Edinburgh Printmakers. 
  • And a film of Alison Watt in-conversation with curator Julie Lawson on the exhibition A Portrait without Likeness at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Art Late – 2

Our second online Art Late event included: 

  • An online evening event hosted by multi-award winning BBC broadcaster, author and activist Gemma Cairney.
  • A film of an in-conversation event and tour of the exhibition In Relation to Linum between RBGE Head of Creative Programmes Emma Nicolson and artist Christine Borland.
  • David Sherry presented a drawing workshop looking at movement and action.
  • Chizu Anucha, whose work Slump, subside and other farewells is part of our Associate Artist Programme, performed a live sound piece.
  • A narrative by Mara the Storyteller, ‘Blood and Gold’, which explores themes of identity, belonging, home and drawing inspiration. Also featuring Gateway by Sequoia Barnes and In guise of Land by Matthew Arthur Williams, two new commissions at Johnston Terrace Wildlife Garden, presented as part of Edinburgh Art Festival’s Associate Artist Programme curated by Tako Taal.

Photo Gallery