Back in March, we welcomed a group of students from the University of Worcester BA Fine Art with Psychology course to WAW for a workshop, tour and discussion.
We are pleased to say that the relationship between WAW and UoW has continued over the past few months during lockdown. A group of first year students were moved to come together to create work in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and with thanks to Principal Lecturer, Maureen Gamble we have been working with them on a new project to create a digital exhibition of their creative responses.
The group of 8 first year BA Fine Art with Psychology students have been mentored by WAW tutor Kay Mullett and visual artist Yasmin Agilah Hood to help create their work. Having weekly group zoom mentoring sessions since June the students have now completed their work.
We’re able to share with you a glimpse of the student’s work via video call and we caught up with the artist mentors to find out more about what they have learnt from the experience:
Yasmin Agilah Hood: This is my first experience mentoring students and I was expecting to be very nervous and anxious. However, being in lockdown and processing my own emotions and experiences of racism with a group in this way felt surprisingly natural and easy to do. Being in the comfort of my own home was helpful and being able to advise, share knowledge and experience without feeling to vulnerable or triggered by the subject matter. We were able to flesh out ideas at our own pace, and speak at length as lockdown meant we had nowhere to be! As time went on I realised that student and mentor work as a one organism and the convenience of online sharing via our BLM Facebook meant we could keep abreast of each others ideas in-between Zoom calls.
Kay Mullett: The process of mentoring for this project has been a bit different to other mentoring I have done. Due to social distancing group meetings have taken place on Zoom, I think this has made the project more inclusive and students have provided peer support quite naturally in the sessions. Zoom sessions have enabled group discussion which has been honest and heartfelt, I think students have bonded both through the subject BLM which they are passionate about, but also the experience of their University time being cut short due to COVID and the struggles and stresses that this has placed on them. Running sessions on Zoom I believe has made these group sessions much more accessible, students have been able to join from Dubai, Rome, Birmingham and Cornwall to bring this project together. The focus of BLM has been brilliant, discussions initiated by Yasmin on white privilege have really made all of us think, students have shared inspiring thoughts, images, music etc. either on Facebook page or during the discussions.
Zoom and social media have provided great tools for this project and enabled it – I have learnt a lot about how to do this with students and although not a complete replacement for face to face time, it is convenient and very possible to mentor people in this way and in fact in some ways it is easier.
How has the process changed your approach to your practice and future work?
Kay: I have really enjoyed the group discussions, as I mentioned before the peer support has been fabulous. In some respects I have found myself stepping back from speaking while the students support each other to discuss and bounce ideas. I feel this is important as quite often you learn a lot from listening to other experiences and sharing your knowledge.
Yasmin: In the future, I would like to work on more collective projects. Working with others, exploring Black Lives Matter collectively with students from different races and backgrounds has encouraged me to be creative in the community to explore difficult subjects. It is really important to strengthen relations with those who inspire equality as this encourages others to do the same.
What has changed with regards to your opinions and views of the BLM movement?
Yasmin: It is important to create strong allies with white people and effectively communicate with people on issues of race; from the white washing of our education system, the British Empire, slavery and it’s legacy to every day micro-aggressions that people of colour experience often. My opinions on the movement haven’t changed, it remains that it isn’t good enough to be just not be racist. In order to make change, you have to be actively anti-racist and empathetic of the pain and trauma the BME community experience at the hands of institutionalised racism which continues to exist.
Kay: I was/am very shocked at how in built to society racism is, talking about white privilege made me realise that it is not really enough just to not be racist myself, but that I need to challenge others, gently into realising the effects of white privilege and how the impacts and enables racism to continue.
Can you tell us a little more about the project as a whole and the student’s outcomes?
Kay: The students were set the task to produce process works on their journey through this project. Yasmin supported the group with an online workshop and lots of material and information around BLM. The students participated in this and feedback with their own experiences and research, from which they began to make notes, and art works.
The idea of Past, Present and Future was to give the students a start, middle and end to their journey, the work they have created maybe stand alone or maybe practice and experimental work leading to a more final piece at the end of the project.
Yasmin: For the first few weeks, we allowed the students to explore BLM and find what fits with them and the avenue they would like to explore. I provided works from Akala and Renni Edo-Lodge as well as historical documentaries uncovering hidden black history in the UK. As the subject matter is overwhelming and at times violent, it was important that we made space for the students to absorb it and take their time. After a while of exploring, the students ideas seemed easily slip into a past present and future triptych which gave them a focus and format to produce final outcomes. Having regular discussions meant that we were able to check in and ask questions like ‘Is this too much? Am I able to say this?’ without judgement. Making the final outcomes fully realised and sensitively produced.
With thanks to ACE Emergency Response Funding
Author: Eleanor Miles