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Moving Portraits (1987)

Courtesy of Channal 4 Television

Main image of Moving Portraits (1987)
Insight Productions for Channel 4, tx. 29/7/1987
65 minutes, colour
DirectorHorace Ové
ProducerVijay Amarnani
ScriptDilip Hiro

Cast: Tanveer Ghani (Arvind Shah); Rashid Farapiet (Hamit Lai Shah); Usha Patel (Shanta Shah); Debbie Roza (Champa Shah); Kate Ingram (Peggy Evans)

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Arvind, an idealistic young artist, wants to paint the underpriviledged, but comes into conflict with his father who wants him to enter the family clothing business.

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Moving Portraits (Channel 4, tx. 29/7/1987) is the second of Horace Ové's explorations of the tensions facing young British-born black artists seeking to pursue their own unique visions against the backdrop of family and cultural expectations and the racist limitations imposed by the wider society.

In what is, for Ové, a formally and stylistically conventional work, Arvind, the tortured artist, is played by Ové regular Tanveer Ghani, who also appeared in Good at Art (BBC, tx. 4/11/1983). Arvind is caught between the 3,000 year-old shopkeeping traditions of his family and his need to capture, in charcoal drawings, the pain and anguish of the world's rejected. His obsession is out of the frame of reference of his trading caste family, who cannot understand why he would rather visit an exhibition at the Tate than the Temple.

For Arvind, art is a means of discovering new worlds and establishing a dialogue with the unexpected. Using art to give voice to the voiceless, and discover their courage and dignity is the purpose of his life. Through his art, Arvind begins to interrogate British values of secrecy - the preference for sweeping uncomfortable things under the carpet. Arvind's father, Hamit (Rashid Farapiet), reluctantly indulges Arvind's interests as a passing fad. In his head, only things and activities linked to his traditional Indian values are authentic. Hamit becomes concerned when Arvind begins to make life choices around his art. Arvind's rejection of his father's generous bribe of a shop of his own provokes a violent clash which results in Arvind being ostracised from his family.

Outside his family and traditions, Arvind is supported by Peggy (Kate Ingram), the beautiful art teacher at the local college, who exposes him to a new network of artists and art dealers. But the price of entry to the new community is just as high. When demands are made on him to change his work to themes and styles more expected of a 'black' artist, Arvind again rejects the inducements but learns a further lesson - sometimes talent is not enough.

At the end, as Arvind stands alone without answers and with only the security of his imagination, Ové and writer Dilip Hiro raise important questions that black artists grappled with in the 1980s - how do they project their visions without compromise and yet survive economically as artists?

Onyekachi Wambu

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Video Clips
1. Family discussion (1:56)
2. Brick Lane portraits (2:35)
3. Painting for money (4:04)
4. Job offer (3:39)