Spotlight: Sara Kulman

Parkside Gallery talks to Sara Kulman about making, materials, working with her husband and her current exhibition.

Artist Sara Kulman makes up one half of the team behind Brummagem: Lost City Found. Her unconventional route to becoming an artist (is there ever a conventional route?) brings a refreshing take on processes and materials.

I caught up with Sara to discuss her exhibition and fascinating approach to making objects.

Beneath the Interchange

Kulman, S (2017) Beneath the Interchange

Chris Ansell: Your exhibition, Brummagem: Lost City Found, draws on Birmingham and its brutalist architecture. Have you always felt a connection to the city?

Sara Kulman: I grew up in the suburbs in the 60s and 70s so Birmingham was always an exciting place to visit. I would go to the eye hospital, go shopping in Lewis’s then be driven through the Queensway to visit relatives. I always loved the journey.

When I got home I’d use my brother’s construction toys to recreate and reinvent my own functional but fun buildings and structures, my own city.

Recently, I’ve been discovering more about Birmingham and its architectural history but it will always be my memories and my love of the shapes, colours and textures of the city that inspire me.

CA: You have a specific pallet of materials and manage to transform simple pieces of paper into striking 2D and 3D works. How do you choose the materials that you use?

SK: I’ve always loved making things and always loved paper.

As a child paper was cheap and always to hand. I had an elderly neighbour who made paper sculpture for the WI. I think that she inspired me from early age to I think about the possibilities that paper holds. My parents were always very encouraging too.

I worked as a paper conservator at the British Library, conserving and binding books and manuscripts. Papers hold their own histories. Each paper would come with a unique set of skills that was used to create them. This inspired me to start learning about these processes.

I also started collecting paper at this point, back in the 80s, so I have a large stock now to select from. Though, increasingly, it is becoming more difficult to find different papers on the high street and this limits my choices.

Paper is a fascinating material, and the more time I spend with it the more addictive it becomes. Sometimes, I choose the materials based on the desired outcomes. Sometimes, they choose me, their colours, textures and properties challenging me to think of a purpose.

Signal Box 1.a

Image courtesy of Sara Kulman

CA: How do you approach making a piece of work? Are there any techniques or processes that you use?

SK: It always starts as an idea in my head – I rarely draw or sketch an idea.

Then the work is in the hands of the paper that I’m using. Some ideas are difficult to realise and you really have to work with the material. Paper can be frustrating, it doesn’t always perform; it might fold one way but not another, it might cut cleanly but equally it might pull and tear.

A lot of papers I use are one-offs so I make a lot of maquettes using rough scraps before starting the final piece. I spend a long time fine turning and I’m quite precise. It takes courage to commit to cutting and folding when it’s your only sheet.

The paper also affects the scale of the work. My work is normally quite small, partly due to the size of the chosen paper. Vintage papers, for example, tend to be small in size. But also, I don’t have a studio, just my living room, so I can’t make work that’s too big.

When attaching paper I try not to use glue, it can be hard to use and the final effect can be disappointing. I prefer to use other methods, like sewing, a throwback to my bookbinding days at the British Library, and weaving, which gives the paper a fabric like quality.

Well thought out folds and origami are good ways of producing structures that need no glue and that can support themselves.

CA: This is a joint show where you and your husband [Professor Andrew Kulman] are both exhibiting work. How did the show come about?

SK: We last did a show together 33 years ago at the Solihull Library Theatre [now The Core] after we both graduated.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Andrew working in Birmingham, and we’ve just moved to the city centre, so it felt like the perfect opportunity to collaborate and celebrate with an exhibition.

Smallbrook Queensway Mosaic.a

Kulman, S (2017) Smallbrook Queensway Mosaic

CA: The exhibition also includes work by your son: is art in the family?

SK: Yes, it is really. We have three children, one works in the film and TV industry and another is in fashion marketing. Noah, our youngest is studying art at college and has a few pieces in the show. We always thought he’d be the doctor of the family [chuckles].

Noah helps Andrew make prints and he’s really taken to it and shows a real talent. I think he sees it as the avenue that he’d like to pursue.

Both lads [Noah Kulman and Lewis Moulton who also has a piece in the exhibition] had made excellent work that related to the theme of the exhibition and it seemed right to include them. It’s nice to show how brutalist architecture and the city is inspiring a younger generation.

Brummagem: Lost City Found is open until 27 October 2017 at Parkside Gallery. For more information please visit


Spotlight: Tamadher Al Fahal

Tamadher Al Fahal is a co-founder of Bahraini art collective Ulafa’a Initiative and curator of I am ‘Khaleeji’, a programme of events at the International Project Space that aims introduce western culture to contemporary art in the Gulf.

An artist, curator, TEDx speaker and PhD candidate, Tamadher splits her time between Birmingham, Bahrain and a host of international cities. Her current project, I am ‘Khaleeji’ features an exhibition of contemporary Bahraini art and events that give a true insight into the breadth of contemporary art practices that are flourishing in the Gulf.

Parkside Gallery caught up with Tamadher to discuss the international project and the exciting relationship between British and Bahraini art.


Chris Ansell: A major part of I am ‘Khaleeji’ is by the book, an exhibition that features 13 artists from Bahrain. This must be one of the largest exhibitions of contemporary Bahraini art to take place in the UK. How did you approach selecting the artists that you wanted to work with?

Tamadher Al Fahal: I’ve been working and exhibiting with Ulafa’a Initiative since 2012. by the book includes work by current members of the initiative and artists who I invited because their work responds to similar topics.

In the initiative we normally come up with a concept as a group – something that seems relevant to us at the time – and then each artist in the initiative responds to that theme.

More recently we’ve started inviting artists that we identify with to submit works.

We normally accept all submissions and allow everyone to exhibit their work alongside each other. In our last exhibition we had everything ranging from work by established artists to a piece by a four year old child.

This time we have been a little more selective and created something a bit different.

CA: And have any themes arisen that you weren’t expecting? Things that you only noticed now you’ve bought the work together.

TAF: We haven’t been able to install the exhibition just yet so I’m just as excited as you are to see what happens when we bring all the work together in one space.

All the work shares its relation to the social and cultural aspects of Bahrain but it comes from different perspectives, different people’s perspectives. It is always interesting to see what comes of putting two different views side by side.

A lot of the artists are from different regions and this brings different views, and different views on religion.

Religion plays a big part in the exhibition. Religion, particularly in the Gulf, is influential in how culture is constructed. It forms the spoken, and unspoken, rulebook. A lot of the exhibition focusses on the boundary between religion and the conventions that are often disguised as religion.

CA: It’s important for you to provide a true reflection of the contemporary art scene in Bahrain. What do you hope to teach people about contemporary Bahraini art in the exhibition?

TAF: It’s diversity. There’s such a range of contemporary art in Bahrain and I want to give people an insight into this. It’s important that people are aware that this is only a glimpse into a niche type of contemporary art in Bahrain and that there is so much more out there.

Art in the Gulf is normally characterised under one umbrella and this is how it’s normally perceived, especially in western countries. But there is so much variation. Different countries in the Gulf are taking different directions and even in each country there are so many different takes and approaches.

The Bahraini art scene is still shaping and morphing. This state of flux makes it really exciting and produces some extremely interesting outcomes. The movement is in its infancy so it’s really youthful, colourful and different. Art in Bahrain has a complexity that is underexplored and dimensions that are unexpected.


CA: Do you see many similarities between contemporary art in the Gulf and western countries?

TAF: Yes – experimentation. In both regions experimentation is at the heart of most people’s practices. And they share the understanding that often the attempts that are “incomplete” are the most successful.

But they differ a lot in the processes and materials that are used. Each place has their own cultural history and own material history so different techniques have been inherited. This informs the way that contemporary artists work and how they think about different materials.

The relationship between the art and the audience also differs. This may have something to do with the difference in exhibition spaces – in Bahrain we don’t have as many whitewall galleries.

For Ulafa’a Initiative community engagement and the audience is always at its heart of every project that we work on and this influences how we make art.

We try to create a social space, a space for interaction. At each exhibition that the initiative curates every artists brings their favourite chair and puts it in the gallery space for the private view. It helps create a lively, relaxed atmosphere that allows for conversation. Everyone normally ends up sitting and talking late into the night.

Obviously, this is specific to our group but there is a connection between art and the community that runs through a lot of contemporary Bahraini art. The creative process and the audience tends to be much more integrated than you see in most western art practices.

IMG (12 of 21)

CA: In a time when foreign relations all over the world are precariously balanced, what part do you think art and exhibitions can play?

TAF: I think that both curating and creating are political acts.

One piece in the exhibition is very political but as a collective we always try to express our individual opinions without hurting others.

As we are constantly talking to each other about our work we tend to produce pieces that have subtle references which are open to interpretation.

The group was formed on ideas of reconciliation and we always try to remember this. We each have strong opinions but we do not want to upset anyone just prompt questions and discussion.

CA: And what do you hope the exhibition programme will bring to Birmingham?

TAF: I want to help connect with Bahraini people living in the UK. Since I’ve been living in Birmingham, I’ve seen an increase in the number of Bahraini people living in the area and I hope that this exhibition helps connect an international community.

But then I think that the themes of the exhibition can talk to people from all cultures. It talks about belonging, or not belonging, and how people live in relation to a community’s set of rules. And this is a universal feeling.

I am ‘Khaleeji’ runs from 9th October – 23rd October 2017. Please visit for more information.

Interview date: 21 September 2017








‘by the book’ at International Project Space

Pioneered by artist, lecturer and gallery director Stuart Whipps, the International Project Space is a new exhibition venue at the Birmingham School of Art.

As is hinted by the name, the International Project Space hosts a programme of exhibitions that bring together international artists, local practitioners and the school’s fine art students.

Now entering its second year, the gallery has a packed programme of exhibitions, dinners, participatory events and lectures that explore what it means to be an artist in an international age.

Curated by international researcher Tamadher Alfahal, by the book launches the gallery’s 17-18 season.

by the book

Still from ‘Bahrain Poems’ (2017) Muhammed Almubarak. Edited by Hajer Ghareeb

by the book

9 October – 23 October 2017

ULAFA’A INITIATIVE is pleased to present by the book, a group show at the International Project Space.

By the book highlights structures that dictate everyday issues; the written or implied rulebooks of social behaviour. Individuals are cultivated through the way their immediate environment functions, and through the rulebooks given to them. These two frameworks tell us what is acceptable and what is not, ideally to create some sense of order. If one were to break away from the collective pattern; act differently, think differently, it creates resistance. Singular subjectivity steps out of a collective symbolic order and refuses to fit into a composed whole. These artists critically analyse the rulebooks of their societies, and where the line is drawn between benefit and regulation; control and conformity; traditions and misconceptions.

By the book questions the things we should and shouldn’t do.
The spaces we should or shouldn’t occupy.
What to destroy, and what to preserve.
The way we should and shouldn’t dress.
When we should speak, when to hold our tongues.
When to be part of a society, and when to be an individual.
We question the books we choose to go by.

Ulafa’a Initiative was founded in 2012 by Tamadher Ali and Nada Alaradi, who brought together a group of diverse Bahraini youth with various artistic skills who use art as a tool to narrate, change, and heal. It is an ongoing project that creates platforms for individuals to express themselves, and to strengthen relationships of respect and understanding among the different communities of Bahrain.

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Instagram and Twitter: @ulafaa


What is contemporary jewellery?


Next month Vittoria Street Gallery hosts 20:20 Visions, an exhibition showcasing the best contemporary jewellery from the last 20 years.

20:20 Visions, a touring exhibition curated by the Association for Contemporary Jewellery (ACJ), celebrates the organisation’s 20th anniversary.

Some of the best contemporary jewellery from the last twenty years will be exhibited alongside work by the most promising upcoming contemporary jewellers.

But what is contemporary jewellery? And what makes it different to other types of jewellery design?


Rajesh Gogna ‘Architect #1’ 2013

Contemporary jewellery is an artistic practice

Contemporary jewellery, like any other form of art termed ‘contemporary,’ is very hard to define.

Unlike most movements of art and design throughout history, contemporary jewellery cannot be categorised based on appearance or the materials used. As shown by 20:20 Visions, pieces of contemporary jewellery range greatly in their appearance.

Instead, it seems more applicable to describe contemporary jewellery as a practice, or a specific approach to making jewellery.

This approach takes into consideration more than just the appearance of the final product. A whole range of other concerns, such as social context and materiality, all inform the development of a piece.

A design is the result of many factors coming together including aesthetic considerations, relevant themes and suitable materials. These concerns all contribute to the variety present in contemporary jewellery.

Contemporary jewellery and materials

Materiality is an important aspect of contemporary jewellery. No longer are jewellers confined to use precious metals and stones but are encouraged to use other materials. These materials reflect the wider concerns of the jeweller and the desired outcome.

The flexible approach to materials reflects a trend that has occurred in all branches of contemporary art. Contemporary artists, jewellers, designers, musicians and actors are no longer restricted to a certain medium but use an array of materials.


Libby Ward, ‘Made in the Middle’ exhibition photo

Contemporary jewellery and the contemporary arts

The joy of the contemporary arts is that the boundaries between the different branches of art are blurred – many of the pieces on show at Vittoria Street Gallery could as easily be part of a sculpture exhibition, a fashion show or performance as they could an exhibition of jewellery.

However, there are a few distinct characteristics that separate the work in 20:20 Visions from other forms of contemporary practice.

Though it does not need to appeal to a consumer audience, a piece of contemporary jewellery should be wearable (in some way) and take account of the human body.

Also, contemporary jewellery is part of a long history of jewellery making and has to consider its place in this lineage. Many contemporary jewellers are inspired by the history of jewellery making and design.

The development of a piece of contemporary jewellery is the result of a contemporary approach to making. It considers the appearance of a work, its material and style, in relation to broader themes and the world in which we live.

A Year in Review


As the 16-17 season draws to a close we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to look back at some of the highlights from the past year.

Parkside Gallery’s fourth season was a celebration of culture and design in the midlands as exhibitions explored the region’s central role in British culture.


Michael Balcon: Birmingham’s Film Knight

The season started with Sir Michael Balcon: Birmingham’s Film Knight, curated by Roger Shannon, which celebrated one of the city’s biggest contributions to British cinema. Through black and white photos and posters from cinema’s golden era, the exhibition took the audience on a journey through Balcon’s life and his outstanding contribution to film making.

Richard Snell’s Midlands Modern followed, showcasing some of the most striking modern products designed and manufactured in the region.

This was beautifully complimented by Craftspace’s Made in the Middle which came to Parkside Gallery in March. Made in the Middle showcased the best contemporary craft being produced in the Midlands and introduced audiences to a whole spectrum of craft-based art.


Cabinets of Costume

Cabinets of Costume continued our Midland craft theme. One of our most ambitious projects to date, Cabinets of Costume immersed audiences into a world of theatre and costume.

All Because of You bought some Northern Soul to the gallery as curator Sarah Raine explored the relationship between the pop movement and Birmingham through photographs and iconic memorabilia.

Later in the season, curator Theodora Pangos intrigued audiences with her archival exhibition, Cold Type: Paste-Up Graphics, which gave narrative to the decline of manual printing processes.

While Parkside Gallery was celebrating craft, art and culture from the last century, over at the School of Jewellery they were looking towards the future.


Vittoria Street Gallery

Vittoria Street Gallery opened in November 2016: a space at the School of Jewellery dedicated to exhibiting the best of contemporary jewellery. Its first exhibition, In the Loupe, was recognised nationally and Vittoria Street Gallery has become one of the most recognisable contemporary jewellery galleries in the UK.

With increasingly ambitious exhibitions, the 16-17 season has been one of our most successful years to date.

The 17-18 season promises to be busy and challenging as we host seven unique exhibitions. With a packed programme of exhibitions, events, talks, performances and screenings we are excited for our biggest year yet.

Brummagem: Lost City Found

Work placement student Isabella Shannon from Swanshurst School takes a look at Brummagem and Birmingham’s modernist heritage.

Brummagen edit size

Birmingham is known to be an industrial, well-built city. With the fast decline of modernist architecture, Birmingham’s landscape is always changing. Brummagem: Lost City Found provides a personal reflection of Birmingham’s architecture over 20 years. The show, exploring the significance of Birmingham’s distinct and abundant architectural landscape, will take place at Birmingham City University’s Parkside Gallery between September 18 and October 27.

A reflection on modern day styles and architectural trends

Professor Andrew Kulman and Sara Kulman provide an insightful look into the way that Birmingham briskly reinvents and adapts itself to modern day styles and architectural trends. Professor Kulman’s work shows key parts of the inner ring road, such as Masshouse Circus, Holloway Circus and Paradise Circus through illustration.

Well-known structures in Birmingham, such as the New Street Signal Box, the Gravelly Hill Interchange and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, will be presented through Sara Kulman’s engineering of paper outcomes. The exhibition encourages the city’s visitors and West Midlands citizens to question how Birmingham has evolved with the abatement of modernism.

Matching current trends through reinvention or demolition

Throughout the 1960s and 70s the architecture in Birmingham changed with the arrival of modernism and the pioneering architect John Madin. He introduced, what many considered as the “ugly” style of buildings to the city. Madin designed the old central library, which was described by Prince Charles as “looking more like a place for burning books, than keeping them“. In more recent years, there have been campaigns by champions of modernism to get the building recognised as an important component that defines the city, however this was to no avail and the library has since been demolished. This is representative of a pattern whereby modernist buildings are being reinvented or demolished to match the current architectural trends of big cities around the nation and the world.

Should we be protecting our modernist heritage? We look at Birmingham’s modernist buildings past and present:

Birmingham Conservatoire/ Adrian Bolt Hall

AdriAN Bolt Hall edit

Birmingham Conservatoire was part of the complex in Paradise Circus. It contains the Adrian Bolt Hall, which has an auditorium seating 525 people.

New Street signal box (existing)

News Street Signal Box edit

This building housed all rail operations for the station. The corrugated concrete is not everyone’s favourite design, but was home of one of the city’s most vital infrastructure systems, operating the busiest rail interchange in the UK.

Pebble Mill Studios

Pebble Mill Studios edit

Pebble Mill opened in 1971, and was eventually closed when the BBC moved to the city centre.

Post and Mail building

Post and Mail Building edit

The building was designed by John Madin in 1960, and had newspaper production and printing facilities.

The Central Library

The Central Library edit

The library was originally going to be finished off with marble, but the funds fell through and it had to be finish it with concrete. The architect John Madin was commissioned to design it.

The Chamber of Commerce (existing)

The Chamber of Commerce Building edit

The Chamber of Commerce was the first tall office built in Birmingham. John Madin was comissioned to design it.

The Old Natwest Building (Existing)

The Old Natwest Building edit

103 Colmore Row was designed by John Madin. The building has been vacant since 2003 and will be demolished soon.

The original Bullring

The original Bullring edit

The Bullring was completed in 1964, it was a striking modernist building, with a concrete façade and complex pedestrian access routes. The Bullring, along with other buildings, gave Birmingham the image of a “grey concrete jungle”.

The Rotunda (existing)

The Rotunda edit

The Rotunda was supposed to have a cinema and restaurant but the plans didn’t go through. It was opened in 1965. It is now occupied with a series of apartments.


Cold Type: The Years of Paste-up Graphics


In today’s age, many graphic designs are made via computer software, like Photoshop, but before we had all of our fast and forward thinking programs, designs were made by hand and machine. Cold Type: the Years of Paste-Up Graphics is an exhibition that highlights the ways that graphic designs were created before our modern-day technologies. Theodora Pangos hopes to bring the knowledge of the craftsmanship to the public by presenting original objects that are now only seen represented virtually on a digital desktop.

The exhibition will explore printing techniques from the 1960s through to the 1980s. It will showcase a collection of cold type tools that were used to make a comprehensive design (initial page layout) and mechanicals. There is also a selection of artefacts to represent the designs made, including pre-computer graphic communication books and manuals, posters and original paste-ups. These examples show the artistry and expertise that is needed to develop prints, as well as the craftsmanship that went into creating them.

This exhibition aims to share academic and practical knowledge of production processes with the public to show the advancement of the graphic field. By delving into the tools of the trade from the mid-twentieth century, the show highlights the evolution from traditional to contemporary tools.

Get an insight into the development of the show directly from curator Theodora Pangos:


  • Can you tell me a little about your background?

I am originally from Cyprus, I moved to England 6 years ago and did a BA in VisCom. After my BA I worked as a project manager at the agency with university. Now I am doing my MA in Arts and Design disciplinary practices at Margaret Street. The exhibition is part of my final project.

  • What interests you about the old style of printing?

Whilst researching for my BA dissertation I came across an article that was about the old style of printing and their tools. I was fascinated by the idea of making the prints by hand, because I didn’t really think about how there weren’t computers in the past.

  • What inspired you to make this exhibition?

I was intrigued about how graphic designers were working before computers and the article I found interested me about the different techniques. Graphic designers were actually doing one layout, rather than like 3 or 4 to show their clients. It’s easier now.

  • What can visitors of the gallery expect from your exhibition?

They can expect to gain information, to learn what graphic designers were working with before modern technologies. It is also for the older generations to feel nostalgic about the old ways of printing.

  • How has your time at BCU been? Is it a good place to work as a graphic designer?

I have met loads of people here, through the agency and the MA, I have also collaborated with loads of people. The facilities here are great and it is a good working environment. I have printed most things for the exhibition in the university. I really like being here, because of all the people and facilities.

  • What are your plans after the exhibition has finished? Are you thinking of moving it to another city?

I would like to combine graphic design and exhibition design. I’m planning on applying for Museum jobs, ones that involve setting up visuals for exhibitions.

  • Is there a certain collectors market for the artefacts and machines you have collected?

There are some blogs around these types of tools, so I spoke to some people that are part of the community of graphic designers, I have befriended some of the sellers as well, they helped me get the content for the exhibition. They have also given me more of a background for the exhibition. The tutors that work at BCU have helped as well. The artefacts are usually cheap because no one wants them and they’re vintage.

  • How has the old style of printing affected your own work?

Before, I was doing things by hand still, but I have realised the potential of the work I can do as I can use the objects I have bought. In the future I want to try and be craftier and design less on the computers.

  • How would you describe your exhibition in three words?

Nostalgic, creative and educational.

Written by Isabella Shannon, student at Swanshurst School.