John Singer Sargent, London
By looking at John Singer Sargent’s paintings and sketches of his bohemian friends, this show sets out to challenge the Edwardian star portraitist’s glossy image. He was a society insider, court painter to Europe’s moneyed upper crust who could be relied upon to turn out masterfully realised, flattering images of lace-clad belles and upright paterfamilias. But what happened when he wasn’t on commission? Set next to his most glamorous paintings here, such as his ornate vision of actor Ellen Terry, are a charcoal drawing of WB Yeats; portraits of his friend Robert Louis Stevenson; and Sargent’s pictures of his inner circle travelling through the Alps. These works might not be as radical as his subjects’ artistic or political concerns, but they do reveal his looser, more experimental side.
National Portrait Gallery, WC2, to 25 May
Realism In Rawiya, Bradford
Rawiya (Arabic for “she who tells a story”) is a pioneering collective of female photo-journalists from the Middle East. Here, they cover subjects ranging from Jerusalem transsexuals to Iranian mothers of wartime martyrs. It’s this shift in content and tone that carries the defiant force of the show: Tanya Habjouqa’s Women Of Gaza series includes a dead-centre shot of a family picnicking from the open boot of a car parked next to the sea, while the fact Dalia Khamissy’s father was kidnapped when she was seven adds dreadful poignancy to her series The Missing: Lebanon. As mournful parents wait for children to return home, Khamissy records their absence with an image of faded identity papers set against a blank grey wall.
Impressions Gallery, Wed to 16 May
Raoul de Keyser, Edinburgh
This posthumous show reveals Raoul de Keyser to have been very much a painters’ painter. To those uninitiated in the rituals of the studio, his work might seem almost slapdash, but to those used to getting their hands gooey with oil paint, he stands out as a master of painterly alchemy. His motifs could hardly be more pedestrian: the chalk line on a football pitch, a hosepipe snaking across concrete, a walking-stick handle. What he does with them, though, has become known as abstract figuration and there is something typically Belgian about the effect, reminiscent of both René Magritte’s deadpan surrealism and the moody realism of Luc Tuymans.
Inverleith House, Sat to 12 Apr
Cornelia Parker, Manchester
There’s something fitting in the Whitworth celebrating its reopening after a £15m redevelopment with an exhibition featuring an exploded shed. Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, a suspended mass of shed fragments created in collaboration with the British army, has become an icon of the disruptive spirit of contemporary British art. It’s a spirit whose cultural subversions have thankfully been balanced by a delight in mischief, with the shed here accompanied by other Parker pieces, including casts of pavement cracks.
The Whitworth, Sat to 31 May
Staying Power, London
One thing that this show of photography chronicling black British life from the 1950s to the 90s refuses to do is play to expectations. Culled from the archives of photographers from different generations and backgrounds, it’s a gloriously polymorphous and energetic selection. Alongside documentary work such as Charlie Phillips’s images of 60s west London life, it takes in art projects that play with received ideas about identity. Even the big names play surprise hands. Before he started photographing Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols, Dennis Morris honed his camera skills in Hackney’s Caribbean community, snapping Pentecostal churchgoers and street soundsystems. Meanwhile, inspired by film-maker Horace Ové, rapper Normski’s early photography takes in everything from Muslim B-boys in Brixton to a black cop and his mum.
Victoria & Albert Museum, SW7, Mon to 24 May
Anna Betbeze, London
Hairy in texture and sporting a toxic rainbow palette that takes in deep pink, peacock blues and acid yellow, Anna Betbeze’s “paintings” could be the animal skins donned by some post-apocalyptic tribe of feral ravers. The work’s base is, in fact, traditional shaggy Greek flokati rugs, which she subjects to an aggressive, ritualistic process, including heavily dyeing, partially burning with hot coals and cutting with razors. From the vivid colours to the furry surface and traces of the violent actions behind their making, Betbeze’s aim is sensory confusion – paintings that engage touch, smell and even taste – an idea bolstered by titles such as Sludge and Sapor. The works in this first solo London show were created in her family backyard in Georgia, USA. However, her long-coated creations seem anything but domestic.
Luxembourg & Dayan, W1, to 2 Apr
AK Dolven, Birmingham
In deceptively simple videos and paintings, Norwegian artist AK Dolven embodies feelings of painful vulnerability in the face of nature’s sublime indifference. While in the past she has paid homage to the existential expressionism of Edvard Munch, here she makes reference to the romantic landscapes of the 19th-century painter Peder Balke, whose work is also featured in her exhibition. For one video she twirls naked with her camera as it catches the glaring white light of a mountainous Norwegian coastline. Dolven’s art tends towards super-sensitive introversion, with her recurring self-portraiture set against backdrops of chilling grandeur.
Ikon Gallery, to 19 Apr