Kaia Charles on celebrating black British culture and [. . .] lack of representation in the arts


Katy Cowan (Creative Boom) interviews Kaia Charles (Greenwich Penisula), who speaks about “celebrating black British culture, and tackling the lack of representation in the arts.” [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

Kaia Charles is cultural projects manager at Greenwich Penisula and a curator for NOW Gallery in London.

A big believer that art and culture should be inclusive, Kaia is also passionate about highlighting the work of emerging designers and artists who establish links with local communities in creative ways. She works alongside artist Jemima Burrill to develop exhibitions for NOW Gallery on Greenwich Peninsula and has commissioned site-specific artwork such as Conrad Shawcross’s Optic Cloak, Colourblock Cranes by Morag Myerscough as well as artist hoardings by renowned illustrators Matt Blease, Jack Taylor and Ricardo Cavolo.

In 2017, Kaia curated The Body Issue, a photography exhibition exploring anatomy, beauty politics and self-expression, while 2018 saw her co-curate Another England, a photographic retrospective of the last 100 years of black and Asian Heritage in England, a partnership between NOW Gallery and Historic England. Both are part of Kaia’s ongoing series, Human Stories – annual photographic displays that encourage a “contemporary discourse on modern life and the human scale”.

Kaia previously worked with the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Contemporary Programmes section, curating a variety of art commissions. She also co-chaired the V&A’s African Caribbean steering group which worked towards incorporating Afro-Caribbean contemporary art into the museum’s collections.

This month, she’s behind The Peninsulist Presents, an eclectic line up of summer activity inspired by the creative community at London’s Greenwich Peninsula. We chatted with Kaia about this and more.

[. . .] Did you always know you wanted to do something creative?

Yes, always. My upbringing has always put creativity and a sense of identity at the centre of everything. I’m from the Caribbean and my family all explored ambitious architectural builds that embraced island topography. This framed our childhood. Houses are also constructed in stages.

I was mainly influenced by my uncle in Antigua, who is a landscape architect. He built houses and villas influenced by Caribbean vernacular architecture and local plant flora – cacti, ‘shack shack’ trees and many other tropical species. My father also has propagated local Dominican fruit trees- very Garden of Eden. My family all encouraged my sister and me to be creative, and they still have many charcoal sketches and artworks of ours on display in their homes. We are also big collectors of African and Caribbean art.

Talk us through your current role

My role is multifaceted; in principle, I foster art led partnerships which benefit the growing resident Greenwich Peninsula communities and people in the surrounding areas. It fuses arts management and curation.

I co-curated the exhibition and events programme at NOW Gallery with Jemima Burrill and am responsible for architectural art interventions like Studio Weave’s 33 Pavilion in Central Park and Morag Myerscough Siblings on The Tide. I also broker key annual outdoor arts festivals like the Urban Village Fete and Turning Tides.

Most recently, I’ve curated with our culture team a digital series The Peninsulist Presents, which aims to connect with a fantastic ecosystem of creative practitioners to keep the cultural conversation going through the lockdown. [. . .]

You’ve been curating the Human Stories series at NOW Gallery. Tell us more

In 2016, I devised a series of photographic exhibitions that would confront social issues through the lens of emerging photographers, writers and filmmakers. We’ve explored notions of community, belonging, race and representation over the four iterations of the show so far. Notably, two years ago, we collaborated with Historic England to present the underrepresented narratives of black and Asian heritage in England with Human Stories; Another England. The show presented several archival photographs from Getty, Lambeth Archives, Autograph ABP and private collections. These were juxtaposed against a selection of newly commissioned work.

Is there anything from the series that particularly stood out or moved you?

There are so many outstanding commissions to draw from. I recently was in conversation with photographer Nina Manandhar and creative director Theo White who both have contributed to the series. We discussed how both their commissions explored evolving youth subcultures to elevate the representation of black and brown youth in the UK. I would say that they are two of my favourite practitioners. Also, the film and photographic works of Caribbean photographer Nadia Huggins which we showcased last year were sublime. [. . .]

For full interview, visit https://www.creativeboom.com/features/kaia-charles

[Photo above: I believe that the photo above shows Kaia Charles standing in front of a photograph by Nadia Huggins. More information pending…]

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