Simon Coates is a London-based artist, writer and curator creating artworks based on community and communication. In February 2020 Coates received a Special Mention in the 2020 Amnesty International Brave Awards for his work with Tse Tse Fly Middle East, the non-profit arts and humanities project he founded in 2015.
Coates sees curation and live event production as part of a practice that examines societal mores and behaviours as communicating modes. His public artworks include creating billboard images for the Billboard Project in New York state, conceiving and producing live community events in the form of makers markets and a literary festival in the UAE, as well as curating numerous live productions for the Tse Tse Fly Middle East project. He has curated a series of online exhibitions for Google Arts & Culture, and created a set of community events for artist Yinka Shonibare's Guest Projects initiative. His interest in radio as a mode of communication means he produces a monthly two-hour Tse Tse Fly Middle East programme for UK arts radio station Resonance EXTRA and a monthly one-hour programme for the Moscow-based station New New World Radio under the name Ubu Kung. The Ubu Kung pseudonym is also used for an experimental music and video project in partnership with Filipino vocalist X. Coates has been commissioned to produce Tse Tse Fly Middle East live events for the likes of the Maraya Arts Centre and the Alserkal art complex (both in the UAE), the UK's Other Worlds festival and the Fringe Arts Bath festival.
Coates has produced four experimental music albums as part of the Tse Tse Fly Middle East project: Easy Listening Vol.1 (2016), Instruments of the State (2018) , These Are Our Friends Too (2019) and This Is Kafala (2020). These Are Our Friends Too was made in partnership with women's rights charity FORWARD, with all proceeds from sales going to help their work in ending female genital mutilation. This Is Kafala was part of a broader initiative of the same name curated by Coates that also featured an online exhibtion on themes around the kafala system of employment used in the Middle East. In 2018 the British Library deemed Tse Tse Fly Middle East's work culturally significant, adding a selection of the project's sound and moving image artworks to their archive.
Along with video, live productions and sound, Coates works in paint, print and digital collage, and his artwork has been exhibited at - among others - the Whitechapel Gallery, Coventry Cathedral, Conway Hall (London), Tunisia's Tunis Central gallery, Bristol's Caraboo Projects, Mülheim an der Ruhr in Germany, Turin's Paratissima Art Fair, Berlin's Art Claims Impulse Gallery, Egypt's Cairotronica, and at venues and festivals in the USA, Poland, Chile, South Korea and the Netherlands. He has written articles and conducted interviews for Harper's Bazaar Art Arabia, Contemporary Practices, The Face, (British Council-backed music site) The Sampler and other publications.
Coates lived in the UAE from 2011 to 2017, and from 2014 to 2015 he managed the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, programming theatre and live work from Trevor Noah, Chicago Shakespeare Company, Gulzar and the Moscow City Ballet, and curating art projects featuring Jeremy Deller, Sara Al Haddad, Vikram Divecha, Mohammed Kazem, Alvin Lucier and more. As a result he is a member of the British Council Gulf Alumni.
Coates has produced commissions and worked in partnership with the British Council, the Sound and Music charity, the British Music Collection, the British Library, tech companies Sonos and Bang & Olufsen, War On Want, In Place of War and more.