Voices lost or drowned out, histories deliberately erased and plastered over. Alberta Whittle, whose exhibition “How Flexible Can We Make the Mouth” is on at DCA this month, peels away the layers of received belief and historical narrative to reveal the colonial threads that underpin our modern society, but through the lens of radical self-love. This is the Barbadian-Scottish artist's first solo show in a major UK institution, “slightly overdue” as curator Eoin Dara points out, with understatement, talking to me from Dundee a week before Glasgow-based Whittle arrives for the installation. Her work is thoughtful, necessary and very topical, not least given the discussion around nationhood and belonging, and the ugly underside to it, that Brexit has both excavated and engendered.

“In my opinion, she is one of the most important artists working in Scotland right now,” says Dara, who says he couldn't believe, when he first started talking to Whittle, that she hadn't yet had a big show in the place that is now her home. “She's been working steadily in Scotland for decades, she's spent a long time building up a practice between here and the Caribbean. She exhibits in major shows internationally, she's made huge strides.”

Dara was on the jury of the Margaret Tait Award, supporting innovation in the moving image, which Whittle won last year, “so I got an indepth introduction to her work, to thinking through her process. But her work will be new to a lot of Scottish audiences.”

Dara and Whittle (who also works on widening access across Scotland to the arts, is a committee member of Glasgow's Transmission gallery and is doing a Phd), began talking a year ago about a significant exhibition, “to show her wide-ranging work, from sculpture, printmaking, film and all the different means in which she articulates her research.”

“She's one of lots of artists right now doing a deep dive into our past, and particularly thinking around the Scottish historical past and the histories of colonisation across the Atlantic between the Caribbean, Barbados and the wider UK. She asks us to think about what we've understood as truth and fact up to now, to realise that those truths and facts have always been constructed and maintained by very privileged white men. Those formal records have tried to replace more informal or ancient ways of understanding the past,” Dara says.

Whittle looks at everything from brutal colonial histories, to how we remember things and how we regard our ancestors. She considers memory passed down from person to person, as opposed formal records. “So much of that is at the heart of her work. And what's unique about her way of working is that she is dealing with extremely difficult challenging histories and contemporary realities, looking at oppressed peoples and discrimination and violence, at personal racism and racism on a wider institutional, societal level, and yet she does so with such a great deal of generosity of spirit and openness and kindness. She really invites people in to talk about it, to try to counter dominant narratives, using radical means – hospitality and love and affection and community building.”

Whittle talks a lot about love and its capacity to be a really radical force for good, says Dara, something of which current public debate is largely devoid. It is true, too, that we need, in Scotland, despite our attempts at inclusion, to continue to confront our own prejudices in a time of normalised extremist rhetoric.

There will be a number of new works in the exhibition, which will be installed next week before the launch on Friday. There is an expanded version of her Margaret Tait award film, “between a whisper and a cry”, installed amidst a sculpture that references the wild weather that the Caribbean is often subjected to, increasingly in this time of rapidly increasing global heating – and at the time of writing, that the Bahamas is suffering so terribly from - with its and our history, in a building whose roof has collapsed into the floor. There is, too, Dara tells me, a poignant video, an almost entirely blank projection, of Whittle talking to her grandmother about her family, which subtly and movingly demonstrates the removal of the black voice from colonial history. And there is a series of prints, too, on which Whittle has been working with the DCA Printmakers, three works which take very beautiful old images of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas and, by erasure, by addition, “make them new and subvert them, abstract them, muddy them and complicate them, to call into question that these were never interactions or encounters, but brutal and unjust claimings of land and violence and oppression of indigenous peoples.” It is, says Dara, “a hugely timely moment to present this honest and enlightening work.”

Alberta Whittle: How Flexible Can We Make the Mouth, Dundee Contemporary Arts, 152 Nethergate, Dundee, 01382 432444, 14 Sep – 24 Nov, Daily 10am – 6pm; Thurs until 8pm.

Critic's Choice:

This month, New Lanark, the former mill that has been designated a World Heritage Site for its superbly preserved and restored industrial heritage, mounts an exhibition which explores ideas of loss and reconstruction in the world of industrial architecture and archaeology. New Lanark itself, sat on the banks of the River Clyde, was a once-thriving mill. Its decline, and that of other industrial sites around Scotland, is shown here in images taken by photographers from Historic Environment Scotland, documenting its semi-ruinous state in the mid to late twentieth century.

The images, says New Lanark, “aim to capture the everyday, the exceptional, the marginalised, the ignored and the undervalued within our industrial heritage.” They are the crux of an exhibition which explores emotional reactions to industrial heritage, and also to its abandonment and decline. It is a heritage which is at danger of being lost, for industrial sites often present huge problems for restoration and reuse, despite innovative projects worldwide which range from public parks to museums. The archives, both of New Lanark and the National Record of HES, are fascinating, presenting snapshots both of life as once was, and life now gone, in many cases. Accompanying the exhibition is a series of images taken by visitors, showing which parts of the abandoned industrial heritage have captured their imagination, and also a series of projects from Glasgow School of Art Architecture students, invited to imagine what the future of New Lanark could be.

Snapshots of a Lost World: The Decline of Scottish Industry, New Lanark World Heritage Site, South Lanarkshire, 01555 661345 14 Sept - 27 Oct, Daily 10am - 5pm

Don't Miss:

From Allan Ramsay and the Scottish artists at the exiled Jacobite court in Rome to Paolozzi in the 20th century this exhibition explores the artistic links between Scotland and Italy, with most works taken from the rich reserves of the city's art collection. There are Scottish artists influenced by Italian heritage or wowed by the light and history of Tuscany, there are Italian-Scots working in Scotland, and there are those drawn to Italy who never left. A fascinating look at the history of Scotland's artistic exchange with Italy.

The Italian Connection, City Art Centre, 2 Market Street, Edinburgh, 0131 529 3993 www. edinburghmuseums.org.uk 7 Sep - 24 May 2020, Daily 10am - 5pm