Royal College of Art “Black”: Painting with colour

The Royal College of Art showcases the work of many of its black students in an exciting new exhibition, writes Hazelann Williams in London’s Voice.

A NEW exhibition celebrating the art and design of black students will be revealed at The Royal College of Art (RCA) this week.

The world-renowned art and design institution has teamed up with the African and African Caribbean Design Diaspora (AACDD) to showcase RCA Black; an amazing array of creative works by former and current students, spanning 60 years.

A mixture of multi-disciplinary practices will see the works of Chris Ofili, Charlie Allen, Eileen Perrier and David Adjaye come together for the first time, creating a space of immense inspiration and acknowledgment for black artists and designers.

Jewellery and spatial designer, Simone Brewster, one of the curators of the exhibition, will also be displaying some of her works. She explained why it has taken 60 years to create such an event.

“The AACDD wanted to have a show that celebrated the work of black artists,” says Brewster. “They especially wanted to show the public that the RCA does have black students and to promote the idea it is possible for black students to get in.”

The eclectic collection of works organised by the curators, focuses on the artists from the university. Brewster, a graduate in 2007, believes that the role of the artist is more significant than the art that is displayed
“We didn’t want to focus on a particular type of work, we wanted to show good work. So as opposed to focusing on black art, we focused on good black practitioners. Exhibiting good work and practitioners gives future artists confidence. This exhibition is trying to let people know that they can get into the RCA.

“But everyone in the show got into the RCA because they worked hard; not because of tokenism, but because they are talented and applied. Many people don’t even try to apply.”

The AACDD are displaying the works as a response to the marginalization that some professionals often feel within the industry; an experience that Brewster has personally been affected by.

“Sometimes it’s sexism as opposed to racism; you see it in many shows that are full of men and not women. And in terms of racial barriers, the more black artists that get into places like the RCA, more black work will be produced.

“Recently, there has been an Afro-centric feel to collections, like the use of Nigerian cloths; you can see that there is more value given to black culture at the moment.”

Still, Brewster insists that black artists shouldn’t be expected to always produce race-related work.

“I studied design and not art, so it is difficult to have a design that outwardly explores race. But I do find it quite surprising when people say to me that I don’t usually put my ethnicity into my work. That is funny to me, because if you’re Irish, how do you make a chair that is Irish?”

Acknowledging what she believes to be a lack of exposure for black artists, Brewster urges audiences to look to the work of pioneers like renowned Guyanese artist Frank Bowling and champion black artistic talent.

“It is extremely important, now more than ever, that we look to the arts,” she says. “We as a people are incredibly creative. We create new music, costumes, and dances each year, but what’s clear is we don’t have enough exposure to role models within the art and design world. We neglect that creative side.

“It’s important to come and support exhibitions like this one. It’s easy to think they are not important or relevant, but you are victimizing yourself by denying yourself of a wonderful opportunity.”

RCA Black, a free exhibition is at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 from August 31 – September 6. For more information, visit http://www.rca.ac.uk

For the original report go to http://voice-online.co.uk/article/painting-colour

Images: “Beauty” by Barrington Watson and “Untitled” by Chris Ofili

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