Observations from Across the Ocean, Segal’s “Halen, La Ciotat”

Blog post by Claire Jackson Ben Uri Archivist / Posted 20th November 2015


Moving to another country simultaneously strengthened and made me question my own identity. My name is Olivia, and after traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to earn my master’s degree at the University of Leicester, I found myself applying for an internship in the Learning Department at the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum as the culmination to my master’s program. I was attracted to the Ben Uri because of their focus on art, identity and migration, themes that resonate with me after spending the previous ten months receiving an education not only in Museum Studies but also in British culture. My classmates and I would laugh at the funny similarities and differences between our cultures. Although we all spoke the same language, there were many strange expressions and pronunciations, which made for some interesting conversations. Our language both united and divided us, a reminder of the powerful role it plays in creating our identity. And yet, we were also united by our interest in museums and through the art and artifacts we encountered throughout our course. As I worked and lived alongside students from all over the UK and abroad, my identity began to shift, inevitably shaped and changed by my experiences in England.

I believe that art has the ability to transcend our differences and although it is often strongly tied to the artist’s identity, it ultimately speaks to each person individually. The ability for us to reflect and find personal significance in a piece of art is what enables it to unite us. However, I am also painfully aware that not everyone feels comfortable looking at and discussing art. This is an obstacle that museums and galleries internationally must work to remove, so that art is more accessible to everyone. This is something that I feel very passionate about and plan to spend my career working to address.

Personally, I often find myself drawn to landscapes. Landscapes seem to have a universal quality and yet are also strongly tied to identity. The view from your childhood bedroom window, is a landscape that few forget, the local park or schoolyard are landscapes that, although particular to a time and place, are also more generally relatable. On my first visit toOut of Chaos I was immediately drawn to Arthur Segal’s Halen, La Ciotat (Harbour Scene). The beautiful colour palette and Segal’s unique combination of impressionism and cubism drew me in. But as I studied the painting further, I grew nostalgic for the Boston harbour as it rekindled fond memories of the summer I spent there a few years ago. Although Segal was painting a port in France, for me the painting took on a new meaning through my own experiences. Through art there is the possibility not only to get a glimpse into the artist’s identity but also to explore our own.