The Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) has unveiled its programme for 2023 in the first “edition” to be curated by new Director Kim McAleese. No Banksy, of course, but the festival will host over 55 projects and exhibitions across 35 galleries and partner venues with a strong emphasis on female-led work. The festival runs from August 11-27, though some shows open earlier and close later. Here’s our pick of the programme:

Maria Fusco And Margaret Salmon: History Of The Present

The EAF launch event is the world premiere of an opera film featuring live vocal improvisations made to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. It’s written and co-directed by Maria Fusco who grew up beside a peace-line (a wall) in Belfast during The Troubles. Her collaborator is Scottish artist and film-maker Margaret Salmon and the performance features voice, breath and field-recordings alongside the moving images. Both women will be in conversation with Ms McAleese on August 13 for the first of EAF’s Sunday Salon events, a collaboration between the Edinburgh book and film festivals.

The Queen’s Hall (August 11)

The Herald: An image from History Of The Present by Maria Fusco and Margaret SalmonAn image from History Of The Present by Maria Fusco and Margaret Salmon (Image: Maria Fusco/Margaret Salmon)

Scottish Women Artists: 250 Years Of Challenging Perception

The Dovecot Studios, now housed in a former Victorian swimming pool on Infirmary Street, will host this fascinating overview of works by Scottish woman artists. It ranges from engravings by Scotland’s first professionally trained woman artist, Catherine Read, to a specially commissioned tapestry from contemporary practitioner Sekai Machache. Also featured are artists of the calibre of Joan Eardley, Elizabeth Blackadder, Rachel Maclean, Alison Watt, Bessie MacNicol and Phoebe Anna Traquair, whose beautiful Arts and Crafts-style murals decorate the Mansfield Place Church at the foot of Broughton Street. Not for nothing is it known as ‘Edinburgh’s Sistine Chapel’.

Dovecot Studios (July 28-January 6, 2024)

Rachel Mars: FORGE

Billed as an “impactful durational performance installation”, this three-day EAF event will take place at the Royal Lyceum Theatre’s workshop in Roseburn and see the artist weld together the pieces for a gate. But not just any gate: this is an exact replica of the 100kg iron ‘welcome’ gate stolen from the former Dachau concentration camp in 2014 and later re-made by a local blacksmith. So this will be the second copy. Accompanying Mars as she works is a sound installation by Dinah Mullen.

Royal Lyceum Workshops (August 23-25)

Sean Burns: Dorothy Towers

A programme of events centred around screenings of Burns’s 2022 short film whose subject is two residential 1970s towers blocks in Birmingham which became home to many queer people. Over the last year, Burns has been working with Edinburgh-based partners such as the Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive and there will be an associated series of workshops and discussions examining the capital’s history of queer spaces and ideas of queer kinship set against the background of experiences of AIDS/HIV.

French Institute (August 11-27)

Shifting Vistas: 250 Years of Scottish Landscape

Another centuries-spanning survey of Scottish art, this one dedicated to landscapes and featuring the work of 30 artists, among them Alexander Nasmyth, SJ Peploe, Joan Eardley, Carol Rhodes and Victoria Crowe. An interesting addition is Jon Schueler, an American Abstract Expressionist and former member of a US bomber crew, who moved to Mallaig in the 1950s to paint its skies. 

City Art Centre (June 24-June 2, 2024)

The Herald: Town (2005) by Carol Rhodes, showing as part of the Edinburgh Art FestivalTown (2005) by Carol Rhodes, showing as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival (Image: Carol Rhodes)

Sebastian Thomas: A New Face In Hell

Using metal, ceramic, poured foam panels and laser-cut shapes, the Reading-based sculptor creates unnerving works – “body and face amalgamations” is how they’re described – in a show which draws its inspiration from the mythological story of the Golem.

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (June 30- September 16)

Grayson Perry: Smash Hits

Edinburgh’s summer blockbuster exhibition is this career-spanning survey of the work of Turner Prize-winning potter Grayson Perry, held not in Modern One but in the august surrounds of the National on the Mound. Perry’s subjects deal with class and masculinity as well as his own transvestism, but always with a mixture of wit and snarkiness. If it’s possible to make a pot, print, sculpture or tapestry feel subversive, he will find a way – and examples of all these things will be on view.

National Galleries Of Scotland: National (July 22- November 12)

Lindsey Mendick: SH*TFACED

No prizes for guessing the subject of this first Scottish solo show for the Margate-based sculptor and ceramicist – binge drinking culture, something we’re all too familiar with. Less obvious is the influence of Robert Louis Stevenson’s influential novella The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. Mendick’s creepily delicious ceramics and installation savvy should make this show a doozie.

Jupiter Artland (July 15-October 1)

Jesse Jones: The Tower

The second part of a trilogy which began with a commission for the Irish Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, this event is a mixture of film, performance and immersive theatre. It will see the bright, airy and normally scrupulously whitewashed Talbot Rice Gallery turned into a dark cavern. Among Jones’s subjects here are witch trials, the writings of medieval female mystics, the rise of capitalism and the weaponization of shame, a theme picked out elsewhere in the EAF.

Talbot Rice Gallery (June 24-September 30)

The Herald: An image from The Tower by Jesse Jones, showing as part of the Edinburgh Art FestivalAn image from The Tower by Jesse Jones, showing as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival (Image: Jesse Jones)