with 35+ exhibitions across the city and a special programme of online events and presentations

Highlights include:

    • 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
    • New Associate Artist strand curated by Tako Taal and featuring newly commissioned work from 6 artists
    • The chance to discover new generation artists, including the return of Platform; Satellite participant Alison Scott at Collective; and Ashanti Harris at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop
    • Solo presentations including Christine Borland at Inverleith House, RBGE; Alberta Whittle at Jupiter Artland; Frank Walter at Ingleby Gallery; Ian Hamilton Finlay at The City Art Centre; Sekai Machache at Stills; and Sonia Mehra Chawla at Edinburgh Printmakers
  • The first chance for festival audiences to experience the newly redeveloped Fruitmarket opening with Karla Black
  • Retrospectives and major survey shows; The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure at National Museum of Scotland; Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour at The Queen’s Gallery; Joan Eardley at The Scottish Gallery; Archie Brennan at Dovecot Studios

Founded in 2004, Edinburgh Art Festival is the platform for the visual arts at the heart of Edinburgh’s August festivals, bringing together the capital’s leading galleries, museums, production facilities and artist-run spaces in a city-wide celebration of the very best in visual art. Each year the festival comprises newly commissioned artworks by leading and emerging artists, alongside a rich programme of exhibitions curated and presented by partners across the city.

This year’s programme continues to place collaboration at its heart, with a series of festival-led commissions and premieres devised and presented in close partnership with leading visual arts organisations and a specially invited programme of new commissions curated in partnership with an Associate Artist.

Edinburgh Art Festival 2021 Programme Highlights

Festival-led programming

The festival is committed to championing the production and presentation of new work, inviting artists at all stages of their careers into conversation with the city, often offering rare public access to important historic buildings, and always engaging audiences in citywide debates around wider social issues.

This year we are proud to collaborate with a range of partners to bring together a programme of new work by artists working in Scotland, UK and internationally.

The UK and European premiere of Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour is presented in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland. This major new ten-screen film installation by celebrated British artist Isaac Julien, CBE, RA, offers a poetic meditation on the life and times of Frederick Douglass, the visionary African American writer, abolitionist and a freed slave, who spent two years in Edinburgh in the 1840s campaigning across Scotland, England and Ireland for freedom and social justice.

Filmed at sites in Edinburgh and other locations in Scotland, London and at Douglass’ home in Washington DC, Julien’s film portrait is informed by some of the abolitionist’s most important speeches, weaving historical scenes with footage from recent times to foreground the continued relevance and urgency of Douglass’ words in the present day. Lessons of the Hour will be presented at Modern One until 10 October, to coincide with Black History Month.

Presented by Edinburgh Art Festival in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland. Supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund and EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate, with additional support from British Council Scotland and Pro Av. ‘Lessons of the Hour’ was commissioned and acquired by the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester with the partnership of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and with generous support from the University of California, Santa Cruz, Mark Falcone and Ellen Bruss, the Zell Family, Ford Foundation, VIA Art Fund, Lori Van Dusen, and Deborah Ronnen and Sherman Levey.

Irish artist Sean Lynch, in a co-commission with Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, presents Tak Tent O’ Time Ere Time Be Tint. Lynch’s new project casts 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 explores 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. Lynch’s exhibition is one of several artists’ projects presented at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop this summer.

Co-commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival and Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. Supported by the PLACE Programme, a partnership between Edinburgh Festivals, Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council and Creative Scotland. With additional support from Culture Ireland.

Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh, in a co-commission with Talbot Rice Gallery, presents a new sound installation sited in Edinburgh’s Burns Monument, a circular neo-classical pavilion, built in 1831 as a national monument to Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns. The 7-channel work, a response to the ongoing theatre surrounding the U.K.’s departure from the European Union, features the recorded voices of citizens from each nation state of the EU, who currently reside in Scotland, singing Auld Lang Syne in their mother tongue. At a time when the post-Brexit reality in the U.K. is still far from resolved, the contradictions, hopes and harmonies that underscore the political concerns of the process are played out by Ogboh in the work.

Co-commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival and Talbot Rice Gallery, as part of Edinburgh College of Art. Supported by the PLACE Programme, a partnership between Edinburgh Festivals, Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council and Creative Scotland. With additional support from Goethe-Institut Glasgow, Reid School of Music at Edinburgh College of Art and Museums and Galleries Edinburgh.

In a new approach for the festival, we have invited Glasgow based artist, film-maker and programmer, Tako Taal, to collaborate with us as Associate Artist. Responding to the festival’s invitation to reflect on themes and ideas emerging from Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour, including themes of representation, resistance, civil rights, activism, and the power of the image.

Titled ‘What happens to desire…’, Taal encapsulates the wealth of ideas and lines of enquiry evolved by six 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.”

Taal invites new commissions for public and digital spaces, by a new generation of artists living and working in Scotland: Chizu Anucha, Sequoia Barnes, Francis Dosoo, Thulani Rachia, Camara Taylor and Matthew Arthur Williams.

Supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund and EventScotland. Our festival-led programme is kindly supported by the Patrons of our Commissioning Circle.

Platform, the festival’s annual showcase of artists in the early stages of their careers, will support 4 artists based in Scotland to make and present new work. Selected from an open call by writer and producer Mason Leaver-Yap, the artist Ciara Phillips, and Sorcha Carey, Director of Edinburgh Art Festival, Jessica Higgins, Danny Pagarani, Kirsty Russell and Isabella Widger have been supported to create new work which will be presented in a group show, Platform:2021 during the festival.

Supported by the PLACE Programme, a partnership between Edinburgh Festivals, Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council and Creative Scotland. With additional support from the Cruden Foundation and Idlewild Trust.

The festival is also planning a series of digital and hybrid events, to include artist and curator conversations, bespoke tours through the programme, events and activities for families and community groups, as well as newly commissioned work for digital space.

Exhibition highlights from partners across Edinburgh

Presented at over 20 venues across the city, and including the first chance for festival audiences to visit the newly reopened and extended Fruitmarket, this year’s programme of exhibitions curated by partners throughout Edinburgh offers ambitious new commissions, major retrospectives and surveys, and as always, the chance to discover the next generation of artists, across the length and breadth of the city. Highlights include….

Presented by Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh at Inverleith House, In Relation to Linum is a new solo exhibition from 1997 Turner Prize nominee Christine Borland. This multidisciplinary project, featuring watercolours, prints and sculptural pieces, explores the lifecycle of flax (Linum usitatissimum), evolving RBGE’s 350-year relationship with the plant. From flax sown at RBGE to motion-captured planting processes, In Relation to Linum is an intimate reconnection with the ecological heritage and future of growing and making practices, and their associations with care.

Also on show in the Garden will be The Hidden Beauty of Seeds & Fruits: The Botanical Photography of Levon BissEllie Harrison’s Early Warning Signs, and a new research study by Cooking Sections.

Jupiter Artland presents RESET, a new solo show by Turner-prize co-winning artist Alberta Whittle. Whittle produced RESET at the height of lockdown, filming across Scotland, South African and Barbados and responding to the immediate context of the Black Lives Matter movement, the global pandemic and the climate emergency. The film connects emergent fears of contagion, moral panic and xenophobia with a call to action – a demand – to face and heal injustices and cultivate hope in hostile environments.

RESET culminates with the image of the ‘garden’ as a utopian space of re-learning, re-connecting and resetting, animated by Mele Broomes’ powerful solo performance. Shot at Jupiter Artland, Whittle coordinated the filming remotely from Barbados, where she herself was in lockdown, weaving RESET together through contributions by writers, performers, fellow artists and musicians: Sekai Machache, Mele Broomes, Matthew Arthur Williams, Christian Noelle Charles, Ama Josephine Budge, Yves B Golden, Anushka Naanyakkara, Sabrina Henry, Richy Carey and Basharat Khan, who Whittle refers to as her accomplices.

A group show entitled RISE, featuring the aforementioned artists, will coincide with Whittle’s solo exhibition of RESET at Jupiter Artland this summer.

Ingleby Gallery presents Music of The Spheres, the first ever exhibition devoted to Frank Walter’s ‘spools’ – the small circular paintings which, in their consistency of scale and form, provide a kind of lens through which to witness the workings of Walter’s inner eye. Frank Walter’s (1926 – 2009) work was unknown during his lifetime, but in the decade since his death he has emerged as one of the most distinctive and intriguing Caribbean voices of the last 50 years.

The newly developed Fruitmarket presents Karla Black: Sculptures (2001­–2021). Scottish artist Karla Black was invited to be the first to show in both the exhibition galleries and the brand-new warehouse space of the redeveloped Fruitmarket. The new exhibition is an attempt to redefine the traditional retrospective or survey show and it combines existing and new work, and is the result of an invitation to Black to play to her strengths and “force a raw creative moment” into the Fruitmarket’s pristine new gallery spaces.

The City Art Centre presents Marine, a major exhibition celebrating the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006), the internationally renowned Scottish artist and Britain’s most significant concrete poet of the 20th century. The exhibition focuses on the maritime theme in Finlay’s work. It was a central element of his art, and one to which he returned throughout his life. Drawn from the artist’s estate and the City Art Centre’s collection, and including loans from the National Galleries of Scotland, the exhibition showcases artworks from across several decades, ranging from stone, wood and neon sculptures to tapestry.

Stills, Edinburgh’s centre for photography, presents a solo presentation of work by Glasgow-based artist Sekai Machache. In this exhibition, the next in the Projects 20 series to take place at Stills, Machache presents a body of work titled The Divine Sky using allegory and performance to tell a complicated history through poiesis, immersive storytelling and photography. Alongside Machache’s exhibition the front space of the gallery continues to host The Nature Library, a reference library and reading space created by artist and curator Christina Riley.

Jock McFadyen: Lost Boat Party is presented by Dovecot Studios in partnership with The Scottish Gallery. The galleries will jointly celebrate the artist’s 70th birthday year with Lost Boat Party an exhibition of paintings which describe the romance and grandeur of the Scottish landscape, alongside the urban dystopia for which the artist is known.

Open Eye Gallery presents a new show by Scottish artist Leon Morrocco. The exhibition, ‘Après-midi’, features new paintings and works on paper, as the artist takes us on a journey from the cold harbours of the East Coast of Scotland to the warm beaches, terraces and streets of the Mediterranean. The exhibition is a celebration of Morrocco’s fresh vigour for travel, both at home and away, transporting the viewer from the harbours around his childhood home of Dundee, to the sun-drenched South of France.

The Scottish Gallery presents an extensive new exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Joan Eardley (1921-1963), one of Scotland’s greatest artists. Joan Eardley | Centenary will include her most celebrated subjects: the lost Glasgow, the streets and children of Townhead and her wild, spiritual home at Catterline on the Kincardineshire coast are both represented by major works and charming drawings and pastels. Eardley’s poignant story and early death, her driven, passionate engagement with art, her self-belief and intense shyness are laid bare in every drawing and painting. The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication containing colour illustrations of all works along with original commissioned writing and a foreword from Anne Morrison, the artist’s niece. A new tapestry created by Dovecot Studios and inspired by Eardley’s July Fields, 1959 will be unveiled as part of the exhibition.

Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour is presented by The Queen’s Gallery, The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse and surveys an evocative record of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s life together through their personal collection of watercolours. These colourful, dynamic works capture the spirit of Victorian Britain and the birth of a modern nation. The collection also demonstrates the couple’s deep love for Scotland, and includes happy memories of their Scottish tours, from incognito expeditions through the Highlands and balls at Balmoral to atmospheric views over Edinburgh and Holyrood Abbey.

Eileanach: Na dealbhan aig Dòmhnall Mac a’ Ghobhainn / Islander: The Paintings of Donald Smith presented by the City Art Centre marks the first major retrospective of the work of Scottish artist Donald Smith (1974-2014), in a landmark display created in partnership with An Lanntair, Stornoway. Smith’s painting acknowledged movements in Europe and America but remained resolutely local in its subject matter. From his studio on the west side of Lewis where he worked from 1974 to his death in 2014, his intense, lyrical images of island fishermen and women celebrate their indomitable human spirit.

Also presented by the City Art Centre, Charles H. Mackie: Colour and Light a major retrospective, the most comprehensive in over a century, showcases Scottish painter and printmaker Charles Hodge Mackie (1862-1920). Regarded as one of the most versatile artists of his generation, Mackie drew inspiration from French Symbolism, the Celtic Revival movement and the landscapes of his European travels, he produced oil paintings, watercolours, murals, woodblock prints, book illustrations and sculpture. The exhibition brings together over fifty artworks from public and private collections, including loans from the National Galleries of Scotland, the Royal Scottish Academy, and Perth Museum & Art Gallery.

Ray Harryhausen, Titan of Cinema is presented at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Modern Two and online as a virtual exhibition experience. Film special effects superstar Ray Harryhausen elevated stop motion animation to an art. His innovative and inspiring filming, from the 1950s onwards, changed the face of modern movie making forever. His films include Clash of the Titans (1981), Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958). For the first time, highlights from Harryhausen’s collection are showcased in the largest and widest-ranging exhibition of his work ever seen, with newly restored and previously unseen material from his incredible archive.

National Museum of Scotland presents The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure. Bringing together the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland, the internationally significant Galloway Hoard is transforming our understanding of Scotland’s connections with the wider world during this period. Buried around AD 900, the Hoard contains over 100 objects, not only silver and gold but also rarely surviving textiles.

Jupiter Artland presents upside mimi ᴉɯᴉɯ uʍop a new permanent outdoor installation by Scottish artist Rachel Maclean. Three years in the making, this ground-breaking new commission is the first time Maclean has working entirely with cartoon animation and at an architectural scale, and her ultimate ambition is to transport Mimi’s world to high streets around the UK. Combining animation and architecture, upside mimi ᴉɯᴉɯ uʍop takes the form of an abandoned high-street shop, sited within the woodland at Jupiter Artland. Maclean has taken her inspiration from commercial spaces as sites of desire, combining this with the role forests play within fairy tales, being at once places of magic, of danger, of transformation and where the normal rules of daily life no longer apply.

Presented in Collective’s Hillside exhibition space, Satellites Programme participant Alison Scott will produce new, integrated sound and print works that explore the space and possibilities of ‘meteor-ontology’: an exploration of how climate and weather are entangled in the nature of our being. Building on Scott’s recent research this exhibition works with folk and hacking cultures engaged in alternative practices of ‘weather sensing’ to explore weather as both embodied locally by the individual, and as part of industrial networks of weather-sensing infrastructure.

The Fine Art Society presents Owners of the Soil, a new exhibition of work by Scottish artists Shaun Fraser & Will Maclean. The exhibition examines ties between land, identity and ownership through the early Scottish diaspora’s dual identity of colonised and coloniser. Maclean’s boxed constructions, collages and drawings recount the experiences of six of his ancestors, all from Polbain, Ross-shire. Each left Scotland as a result of the Highland Clearances. Fraser’s works in glass, bronze and print focus on Nova Scotia, an area dominated by Scottish settlements with place names that displaced First Nation Mi’kmaq titles. Incorporating peat and organic matter, Fraser’s work holds an innate link to the locality upon which it draws.

Talbot Rice Gallery presents The Normal, a vivid reflection of life during the 2020 pandemic. Through artworks that express hope, grief, survival, violence and solidarity – it situates our lived experience within a global artistic dialogue, underscored by the need for a profound reorientation towards planetary health following the “wake-up call” of Covid-19. The commissioning and production of artworks within the exhibition has championed sustainability, and there are many installations reflecting an acute awareness of the natural world, amplified by the silencing of cities and industry. The group exhibition includes: Larry Achiampong, Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, Gabrielle Goliath, Kahlil Joseph, Tonya McMullen, Sarah Rose.

Archie Brennan: Tapestry Goes Pop! tells the story of Edinburgh native Archie Brennan (1931-2019) in the first major retrospective of his work, presented by Dovecot Studios. Pop artist, weaver, and former Mr Scotland, Archie Brennan changed the course of modern weaving and is considered one of the greatest unrecognised pop artists of the twentieth century. The exhibition brings together over 80 tapestries as well as archive material, presenting a unique chance to delve into the world of a master of modern tapestry. This exhibition is co-curated by National Museums Scotland.

Christian Newby’s new commission responds to the historic City Dome at Collective, originally built to house an astronomical telescope, with a large-scale textile and an accompanying printed newspaper. Flower-Necklace-Cargo-Net combines Newby’s mark-making with industrial carpet tufting to explore how questions of labour, authorship and materiality define the fine and applied arts. Images found within the work subvert typical rug and textile design motifs such as flowers, birds and shells with free-hand organic forms, pictorially contained by a large net that envelopes the whole tapestry, alluding to our shared experience of enclosure during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Ashanti Harris has created Dancing a Peripheral Quadrille, a new body of work, commissioned  by Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. For the exhibition, a series of sculptural and performance works dance with ideas of the metamorphic nature of cultural identities and how they are formed, through the lens of the Caribbean carnival and associated collective making. Harris is a multi-disciplinary artist, teacher and researcher. Working with dance, performance, facilitation, film, installation and writing, Harris’ work disrupts historical narratives and re-imagines them from a Caribbean diasporic perspective.

Arusha Gallery and Ella Walker present Bathing Nervous Limbs. The new group show is guided by the Balneum Book, a 15th Century illustrated Western manuscript outlining the folkloric healing legends of various freshwater bodies. Bathing Nervous Limbs brings together new and existing work by 20 international artists, who each consider the act of learning and making and question if the desired outcome and end result is, in fact, cyclical, liturgical and lies in its process. Featured artists includes: Ithell Colquhoun, Paloma Proudfoot, Anousha Payne, Nina Royle, Francesca Blomfield, Leo Robinson and Zoe Williams.

Entanglements of Time and Tide, by celebrated Indian artist and researcher Sonia Mehra Chawla is presented by Edinburgh Printmakers. Living artworks, historical scientific material, video, and new commissions in print follow intensive residencies in Scotland and mark the artist’s debut solo exhibition in the UK. Mehra Chawla’s artistic practice explores notions of selfhood, nature, ecology, sustainability and conservation. For the new exhibition the artist spent two years on three intensive residencies at the Marine Scotland Laboratory in Aberdeen, the ASCUS Laboratory at Summerhall and Edinburgh Printmakers. The result is an all encompassing exhibition featuring new commissions in print, video, living artworks of micro-biological organisms and representations of historical scientific material which explore the entanglements of ecology industry, culture, politics and aesthetics.

Presented as part of Jupiter Artland’s 2021 Artist Residencies Programme, Reset and Rise: a summer season of residencies, broadcasts and artist-led projects reflecting the crises of 2021 – the climate emergency, the pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter Movement for social justice. Rotten TV by artist Daniel Lie is an online broadcasting studio and artist-residency series, bringing together thinkers from Indonesia, Brazil and the UK to rethink ideas of life, death and eco-system renewal. Supported by the British Council in advance of COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, 2021.

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop presents plotting (against) the garden in collaboration with artists Alaya Ang & Hussein Mitha. plotting (against) the garden is a sound work that evokes the chromatic beauty and vegetal excess of the garden through the urban structure of The Beacon Tower, the landmark that completes the venue’s open courtyard, dreaming of the garden and the urban subsisting in the same space, pointing to an often-desperate need for places to grow, reflect, work and sit within the city. The work explores the politics of gardens as ambivalent spaces of work and leisure; private property and public shared space; cultivation and growth.

Updated information on the full programme available on the festival website in late-June.

Sorcha Carey, Director, Edinburgh Art Festival said: “Festivals have always offered a space for gathering, and this year more than any, we are proud to come together with partners across the city to showcase the work of artists from Scotland, the UK and around the world. Some exhibitions are newly made in response to the seismic shifts of the past year; others are the result of many years of planning and careful research; but all are the unique, authentic, and thoughtful products of our city’s extraordinarily rich visual art scene.

The past year has revealed how precarious things can be for artists and creative freelancers, as well as for the institutions and organisations that support the production and presentation of their work. As galleries begin to re-open across the city, and we look forward to welcoming audiences safely back to the festival and our city, now more than ever we need the space for community and reflection that art and artists can provide.”

Amanda Catto, Head of Visual Arts at Creative Scotland said: “As art unlocks across Scotland we welcome the rich and diverse programme that the Edinburgh Art Festival and its partners will be staging this year.  We’re especially excited by the opportunity that the Festival gives us to step away from our screens and to experience art in real life.  It’s a great time to experience new work and to be introduced to artists whose work is less familiar, as well as to enjoy the work of artists we already know.  We’d like to congratulate and thank the artists and the organisers for maintaining their vision and ambition during a challenging time for the arts and we look forward to celebrating their work in the summer of 2021.”

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener, said: “It’s fantastic to see the return of the Edinburgh Art Festival. The festival has always supported new work and this year promises to be no different. With exciting new commissions and over 35 exhibitions across the city alongside the online programme of digital presentations and events, there will be so much for audiences to enjoy. I’m particularly looking forward to Platform, the annual showcase which supports artists in the early stages of their careers. The Festival remains a key platform for emerging artists, helping to support and promote the vital and lasting role the arts play in our all our lives. I’m delighted the Council is yet again able to support this year’s innovative and creative event.”

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “Edinburgh and Scotland is a leading destination for the very best in the visual arts and EventScotland is delighted to be supporting the Edinburgh Art Festival to maintain this reputation. The team has worked hard to produce an exciting and varied programme of in-person exhibitions as well as an online programme of events and digital presentations, which will allow audiences to engage with the Festival in the way they feel most comfortable.

“Events are an important part of our communities as they not only bring us great entertainment, they also sustain livelihoods and bring social and economic change. Following a difficult period for the industry it is wonderful to see the Edinburgh Art Festival return and once again provide a platform for emerging and established artists from across Scotland, the UK and the world to share their work.”

Edinburgh Art Festival runs from 29 July – 29 August 2021. Press preview will take place on 28 July.

For more information, please visit www.edinburghartfestival.com or follow the festival on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EdArtFest #EdArtFest #ArtUnlocks