In September 2015, along with Senior Lecturer for Photography co-curated an exhibition,Senior Lecturer for Photography, on Sexual Identity and Photography in the Herbert Read Gallery, UCA Canterbury. This was a exhibition that took a year within the planning. During this time my experience on liaising with artists, marketing, budget managing, organising artists events, gave me the confidence to plan my first solo curated exhibition, albeit on a smaller scale.
This led to Re-thinking the Body: New works inspired by UCA Archive, Farnham, Elaine Thomas Library – for both Disability History Month in November and for Explore Archives
I was inspired to undertake this exhibition by attending Tower Hamlets ‘Out of the Box’ event. Out of the Box ‘invited disabled people and artists from East London to take the lead in bringing archives ‘out of the box’, exploring them and asserting their own personal local histories. Through a series of workshops, participants followed a personal research journey into the council’s heritage collections, engaging with sound and oral history, handwritten archives on parchment, newspapers, painting and photographs.’ The event they organised brought me into contacting with research that had been done of disability in museums and galleries. It may me think on how disability was reflected in our archives – and how we could bring this to life, which we have the potential to do in our creative community. I am also aware from alumni magazines we collect on many examples of artists working on the theme of disability. Dyslexia and creativity also often go together, and as someone with a specific learning disability (dyslexia and dyspraxia) this is a subject close to my heart.
From this I developed a proposal, alongside deadlines- put a call out for new artworks to be produced by students, inspired by our collections. I aimed for 8 students. This could be on any theme on the body, including mental health. This call out was open to both disabled and non-disabled students. I was also interested in looking at participants experiences with working with disabled communities – for example one of our participants worked with the deaf community as an interpreter – both inside and outside at the same time. As this would be voluntary for students – extra-curricular – I also spoke to lecturers to ensure that they were able to send the details out – to gage interest. The galleries refined the statement for me and sent the call out around to all students.
I had selected material in advance – including material from the Tessa Boffin archive, looking at photography and sexuality, particularly the LGBT community, and the Working Press, books by and about working class artists 1986-1996, looking at getting marginalised groups published. I also selected haunting photographs from our institutional archives. As participants from other campuses were invited to join in (we are on a 4 campus university) I also put digital images online.
I was happy with the immediate interest I had – as soon as the call out was out, I had 5 responses within a week. Students came from a different levels – BA and MA, and courses were Fine Art, Illustration, and Ceramics. We spoke to the students about their interest and was able to gage types of material to showcase. I did have interest from other campuses, but did not have worked produced from other campuses – I feel that although they had access to digital images, the human touch was particularly important.
Some students chose to use actual images from the archive looking at ways to interpret – including Joslyn Hobbis’, Fine Art, work ‘Different-not less’, looking at invisible disabilities, which used an image from our institutional collections. Or Allison Inwards, Illustration, ‘Origins’, which explored the female body image, linking to areas such as suffragettes. Allison used the Tessa Boffin archive, and the Working Press archive
Students such as Daire Lawlor, Illustration, used material from the Tessa Boffin archive as a ‘launchpad’ for inspiration, to explore medical history, depression. Tessa Boffin directly related due to her work around AIDS as early as the 1980s
Susan Merrick, Fine Art, used themes such as fear, and ideas of power to inspire her work, which can be found in the Working Press archive. This inspired her to look at themes of people within power through history
Madeline Sparrow, Fine Art, looked at the ideas of communication with her braille piece
We had 6 student submissions and the exhibition was set up with brilliant Gallery assistants – we were able to discuss in which order the pieces should be hung (for example which images matched in themes, how did they complement colour wise) how the pieces should be hung (magnets – non obtrusive!) the placing of the vinyl. The labels saying words such as ‘kindness’, were attached to the tables with museum resin. I also got technical help with the television screens.
Take a look at our flickr album of the exhibition here
I have arranged an artist’s event to happen on the 24th where the artists will have the opportunity to talk about their work.
The display has also been highlighted to the Equality and Diversity Group at UCA.
I’m very pleased with how everything looks, and the comments that i’ve captured about the exhibition. The enthusisatic response I have got from students is incredibly encouraging especially as it is extra-curricular! I’m particularly interested in opening up responses for both disabled and non disabled people who work in various communities. Something definitely I will be developing further…
Archivist & Special Collections Officer