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Sleeping Awake

The Gallery is about to undertake a major new chapter in its history. The Inspiring People project will greatly improve the building and facilities for future generations and give us the opportunity to re-display the Collection, with new interpretation including multiple voices, and hidden histories. Many visitors have expressed disappointment that they were unable to visit the Gallery and say goodbye to ‘old friends’. So, we made a film…

Sleeping Awake by Ben Okri

The house of portraits has pictures
Facing inward, as one by one
They fall asleep. It is not a normal
Sleep, where eyes close
And dreams do come.
The sleep of portraits is
When they most come alive.
They live in their eras and ours.
They dwell in our dramas,
Our freedom cries, the mutinous
Needs of the human for a story
That shows us at our best
Even when murders, wars,
Love stories and dark deeds
Are covered over in the revealing
Finish of paint. We sleep
To wake in the eternal light
Of history, facing forward, to
New ages hence, that are dawning
Outside these walls, to find our home
Here, renewed and ambiguous
Like a two way mirror. We are going
To sleep for a while, for greater
Revelation. Not that of truth,
Which Bacon famously questioned,
But that of a species of reality,
Which yields more interpretation.
Unreality grows outside while here
We grow more real. It is the strange
Game that art plays with reality.
It makes reality seem unreal
While itself, an artifice, a painted
Thing, assumes the raiments,
The features and the stamp
Of the real. But it’s the mind
That makes both, and being
More in love with itself favours itself.

The doors close with our renewal.
Do not be surprised if when you
Return find that we have changed
In that rich unchanged way
That improves time, redeems
The bloody road, the broken heart
And the tower. We will open up
To more of the world,
Expanding the portraits
Of the human, from the faces
Of the inspiring, the multiplicity
Of stories and hidden histories.
We have always wanted the world
In the nation and the nation
In the world. To extend the human
In its visible and invisible portraits,
The secret faces that time bears,
To give time new meaning
Beyond our costumes, our
Masks, our traumas,
Our upward dance,
Our stray walk along the golden
Road that weaves in and out
Of dreams. Faces new as flowers.
The mood of enlightened powers.

Doors close, our outer face
Sleeps. We wake up, and own the place.


Copyrights: Ben Okri. June, 2020. All Rights Reserved.