When Black Square Paintings and White Marble Statues Converse.

Inclusivity Course Artefact (1500 words).

Student Number: 19040502

Raksha Patel © 2020 


I am a visual artist and lecturer. My artistic practice focuses upon themes of race and identity. I currently teach on the BA Painting Course at Camberwell Art College.

I am saddened to share that I have recently encountered micro aggressions and heard racist remarks at college. As a result of this, I have decided to direct my energies into creating an artefact that explores race and racism, focusing on where it stems from, and how it can be curbed. 

I thank the Inclusivity Course for giving me the platform to voice my opinions openly, and to share them within an arena that is safe with colleagues that welcome an honest discussion on a subject matter that can potentially unearth trauma and is difficult for many to broach. 


The idea for this artefact stems from the lack of conversation that are had on the subject of race. This silence is a common experience had by many students and is mentioned in the (Room of Silence). My artefact offers the opportunity for a steering group of students to collaborate in curating an exhibition that uses a selection of contemporary artworks, historical artworks and domestic objects. The artefact can be opened out and extend into a series of related discussion-based events that refer to the display, as well as subsequent exhibitions that emerge as a result of the discussion that showcases students’ artworks. A publication would commemorate this project.

I am interested in working with a diverse range of students, approaching this project with them in a manner that allows the steering student group autonomy and leadership in how this artefact manifests and unfolds. As a tutor I am aware of my position, which carries power, so rather than ‘teach’, to impart knowledge, my approach is to ‘soft’ facilitate and to allow information to emerge via open discussion and exploration. I believe that creativity flowers best in an environment that is safe that has been cultivated through a sense of trust. This space would be for students to own and freely express and voice their opinions My thinking behind this are enhanced by (Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed) who likens the position of the tutor to the coloniser.  

Usage of the Artefact

My artefact offers the space to discuss race, racism and the hierarchies of skin colour. Through the gallery space opportunities are open for conversations that fall outside of the current curriculum as artists explore a wide range of themes and topics that tend to connect to their lived experiences. 

As exhibitions are not studios or classrooms, they allow the freedom for open discussions on topics such as post-colonialism, empire, race and power. By making an exhibition, which has been curated in a specific manner to deliberately evoke conversations on the above themes, it paves the way for all students to learn the truth about the brutal aspects of British history that has not been taught in schools and colleges. Colonial history is often missing from both the National Curriculum and visibly absent in the art-world.

After reading (Duna Sabri’s) research, and from my experience it is evident that some members of staff lack the confidence to talk about race, discuss identity and cultural heritage and colonial histories in an inclusive and a holistic manner. This artefact and its subsequent exhibitions, projects and publication would be invaluable to the current climate of racial tensions at UAL and will begin a process of healing through conversations about our histories, race and racism. 


The course that I work on is taught by twenty lecturers, out of which, two are non-White. The student intake for 2019/20 is 97% White British/European (this percentage is from the observation of student numbers). I feel that is a cause for concern as it does not represent the diverse communities of the UK, nor does it represent the cultural diversity of Peckham, which is home to a large African and African-Caribbean community. 

I have heard students say that they apply for Camberwell to be a part of this community and wish to learn about a range of cultures and traditions. However, without a diverse workforce the student’s aspirations cannot be fully realised when the staffing body is mainly White, and do not have knowledge of cultural diversity due to the lack of lived experiences that a POC might have. These concerns and reflections are also discussed in detail in (A.Richards and T.Finnigan Retainment and Attainment in Art and Design) which mention the value of a diverse workforce. 

There is currently an attainment gap of 18% between White and BAME home students on the BA Painting Course, which (Duna Sabri) has researched possible causes. I strongly believe that by diversifying the curriculum through concerted effort that includes artworks and art-theory created by Black British and British Asian artists then this attainment gap will begin to close. Staff teaching on the course would need to develop the skills to discuss race fearlessly and develop a well-rounded knowledge on post-colonial theory (resources can be found to aid this on the SoN website). 

Recently the world has witnessed mass demonstrations on Black Lives Matter following the murder of George Floyd. After Blackout Tuesday (a performative action made by many who do not usually care to challenge racism), UAL received a backlash from students and alumni on UAL’s Instagram and Twitter feeds. Students were saying that the University’s token gesture of the black square and its silent response to comments is complicit to the University’s institutional racism.

In response to this I have recently created a resource of British POC artists specifically made for Fine Art students. The resource aims to de-colonise and contribute to the current material being taught as this is limited with its focus on West European art history (Whiteness, Critical Race Theory and Education Reform). I hope that this resource will aid staff and students to learn a more inclusive version of artists and their place within art-history. 

The Process

I would present a series of well-known works to a steering group of students. Together we would create an exhibition using prints and cut-outs of the actual works for temporary public exhibition. The display would act as a prompt in provoking questions about racism and White Supremacy. This is because of the nature of the works chosen for the exhibition offer little space to evade discussions on race making it difficult to step around the elephant in the room. 

The artworks that I would present to the students would include (but not exclusively so) a Picasso painting referencing an African mask, an African mask, a white marble Greek statue, a Frank Bowling painting depicting a map of Africa, Chris Ofilli’s Blue Devil painting, Donald Rodney’s sculpture In the House of my Father, Sutapa Biswas Pied Piper, Lubaina Himid’s Carrot Piece, and Malevich Black Square. Students would be asked to contribute household objects and textiles that link to post-colonialism, adding personal narrative from the present day. The role that I would encourage students to play would be to find a way to curate the works – so that manner in which they are displayed – would create a dialogue with each other as artworks and offer the opportunity for us the audience to engage in the conversation.  

Donald Rodney, In the House of My Father, 1996/7

In addition to the exhibition I would work with students to create related events, such as series of provocations that would be designed and devised by the steering group, this will include hands-on activities so that everybody present can partake in the discussion. 

Part two of this project would involve the steering group of students putting a ‘call out’ to other Fine Art students on campus. This would be to participate in an exhibition using the initial event as a springboard for new work. Once the exhibition is launched, and a programme of related events are organised and there is a publication made of the entire project that records the process and the new artworks made. This is then kept in library as a record and for future students to draw upon. 

Evaluation and Conclusion

Currently I can only draw upon previous projects of a similar nature to estimate how this artefact would work. On past projects when discussing race with young people, the tutor has to be aware that everybody is being included in the conversation. It is a delicate subject area so treating everybody’s contributions are done with respect and care. Occasionally, the situation arises when a student unknowingly has said something offensive or hurtful and this has to be handled in a manner that is firm, yet gentle giving a full and thorough explanation of how was said could be construed within the wider meaning and context. I feel that before commencing a project with young people on race, some ground rules and guidelines need to be in place, which would relate to how we speak to each other, as well as icebreaker activities where we all understand what is meant by the words, identity, race and racism. An artefact like this is much needed at UAL, it would be an enjoyable yet creative process for students and staff to engage with, giving lasting results. 


Friere, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London. Continuum.  

Sabri, D (2017) Students’ Experience of Identity and Attainment at UAL, Final year 4 report of a longitudinal study for the University of the Arts London 

Tapper, H ( 2013 ) A Pedagogy of Social Justice Education: Social Identity Theory, 

Intersectionality and Empowerment. Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 

Gillborn, D (2005) Education policy as an act of white supremacy: Whiteness, critical race theory and education reform

Journal of Education Policy

Sherrid, E (2016) The Room of Silence, Rhode Island School

Elizabeth Waddell, (2018) The (In)complete Marbles? Displaying the Disabled Body. The Historian 

Matthew Ryder (2014) Chris Offili’s Blue Devils; between black men and the police. Guardian Newspaper 

Cordova, RC (1998) Primitivism and Picasso’s Early Cubism. University of Berkeley 

Shades of Noir (resources) https://shadesofnoir.org.uk

Richards. A and Finnigan.T (2016) Retention and Attainment in the Disciplines: Art and Design

Higher Education Academy report

Biswas. S (1987) The Pied Piper of Hamlyn. Arts Council Collection. 

Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Square_(painting)

Rodney, Donald (1996/7) In the House of my Father. Tate Gallery Collection

Curators Urge Guggenheim to Fix Culture That ‘Enables Racism’ The New York Times 22nd June 2020

UAL so White?

#ualsowhite #race #racism #poc #inclusivity #blackarts #bame #dunasabri #attainmentgap #closingtheattainmentgap #shadesofnoir #tatebritain #decolonise #postcolonialism

Shades of Noir ‘Safe Space Crits’ is a go to place where students talk about race and identity, gain tuition for their work and discuss any racism that they might be experiencing at UAL. It’s important that a space like this exists on campus as students of colour have a safe place that they can use, and people that they can talk to and confide in; A space like this is invaluable, however the is question the purpose of this space and why its function is not being provided in the studios and by staff, and more importantly, the need for it in 2020. The reason for this is because students and staff of colour do not feel at ease, or comfortable in openly discussing race and racism in the studios, which is extremely saddening and worrying.  

Whilst discussions about race can be uncomfortable, I strongly believe that a young person at an establishment of learning should be able to talk about race, racism and inequality openly without any fear of being reprimanded, undermined, ridiculed or challenged. I recall an outspoken student of mine (POC) at a tutorial, suddenly start to whisper about the painting that she was making on the theme of skin colour. When I deliberately ignored the whisper, which I assumed came from a self-conscious place and continued to talk in a normal voice, I noticed that it drew the attention of other students in the room who appeared to be eaves dropping with interest. Over the weeks, and months our discussions of race have been common place, and I have had a number of very interesting conversations about race and post-colonialism with students in the studios. 

I acknowledge that my brown skin is a privilege in the classroom/studio where conversations on race are welcomed, especially when students of colour are present as there is an unspoken sense of solidarity. In these circumstances I am able to talk openly and confidently about race, identity and racism without the fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’ or offending anybody. This comes from years of training myself in developing skills to continuously consider my position as a teacher/tutor who is non-white and how my position changes from student to student, with peers, contexts and within different learning environments. 

In Hahn Tapper ‘A pedagogy of social justice education: social identity, theory and intersectionality’, the writer discusses social justice education and the importance of empowering students. He describes how teachers take into account their position, the student’s position, both of yours race, identity, class and cultural background. This is described further in Paulo Friere’s book ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ where he discusses his childhood socioeconomic background and how the inequality felt from these early experiences has impacted on his teaching methods. He talks about the position of the teacher and likens that to a coloniser, somebody that has power, seeing his/her subjects as lower than themselves and uneducated, groups of young people to which he/she imparts knowledge to, rather than receive from. He talks about the student being empty vessels that are to be filled with the knowledge, rather than the teacher seeing themselves as beings that are also there to learn and that learning can be two-wayed if you allow yourself to be humble and open to students. 

It’s difficult and tiring to constantly challenge the ingrained stereotype of the subservient Asian Woman in the West and to be seen as an equal. As I have been stereotyped so much, and every cloud has a silver lining I constantly check myself and ensure that I don’t stereotype my students or treat them in a manner that is patronising and judgemental. I always welcome what my students bring to classes/the studio and enjoy learning from them, especially in the subject area of digital / social media, and the current terminology around sexuality, feminism and politics. I believe it’s important to remember that sharing knowledge is more than the information that we have read in books, it is also the life knowledge and the experiences that we have had as human beings. I question how we can as educators embrace a more open holistic and an equal approach to teaching, when we have been raised in a system that reveres the privileged white male? How do we even begin to pull down hierarchical structures that are so embedded in British culture, when change is resisted? How can we as a community encourage teachers to discuss race, especially when certain eyes and ears and refuse to see and listen as it challenges privileged positions? 

I believe that one way to challenge the status quo is to diversify staffing in art colleges and galleries, diversify gallery and museum collections, have people of colour in senior positions, but until that happens I can continue to refer my students to the wealth of Black and Asian artists found in our communities, and to the resource pages on SoN where POC artists and designers are showcased with a range of creative practices that have been inspired by a variety of cultural heritages and experiences. I believe that if a diverse range of artist’s stories and artwork is shared with students, then they can see themselves in the diversity that exists in the art-world, which sadly is not apparently visible in mainstream galleries and museums. 

I see the value of SoN ‘Safe Crit Space’ I’m glad that it’s there, however I also believe that all spaces across colleges should be safe and staff should have the ability and the skills to discuss race, racism, post-colonialism openly with students. All staff ought to be able to do this in 2020, if they squirm and pass the task of exploring race over to the few tutors of colour, then this is problematic; it’s shouldn’t be the job of POC’s only to deal with this subject area of race, it is for us all as a community of tutors to have the skills to talk about all topics and be knowledgeable about them, it is a shared responsibility. Just as we are skilled to discuss feminism, post-modernism, abstraction, materiality, etc, race should be included as a valid and important subject area. It shouldn’t be a private matter, hushed up and whispered like dirty words behind closed doors, it should be explored by all, openly talked about, drawn, painted and sculpted.  

The students interviewed in the film ‘The Room of Silence’ describe the silence or the lack of feedback/dismissive attitude given by tutors and fellow students in crits and tutorials. They talk about the uncomfortable silence and the lack of acknowledgement of the themes that their work has, this is on artworks made about race, racism and skin colour. Their frustration, sadness and in some cases the lowering of self esteem echo some of my own student experiences. It is worrying and deeply concerning that these experiences are similar to the ones that POC students had in the early 90’s, which in turn were similar to the stories that I heard of Black artists in the generation above me in the 1980’s. How is it possible for art colleges not to have progressed in terms of being able to support POC students and to discuss race with them over the past 35 years? Clearly there are issues that urgently need to be tackled nationwide as this is something to be truly ashamed of. How can fairness and equality be fostered in the art-world, when race, cannot be encouraged or spoken about at college? The inability to be equal, to speak up about race, challenge racist opinions and actions, feeds into the capitalist cogs that once fuelled colonialism. 

A painting I made as a student at CSM. It explores British-Asian identities, femininity and the politics of power. Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 51 x 51cm, 1996. (private collection).
Destruction of the National Front, Eddie Chambers 1980. Tate Gallery Collection

I talk loudly about race and racism in my museum and gallery workshops, and to ensure that everyone else in the space listens in, I notch up my volume. An ideal work to talk about racial violence is the seemingly benign looking painting ‘No, Woman, No Cry’ named after the Bob Marley song and painted by Chris Ofili. This is a painting of a woman crying at the loss of Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager who was murdered in 1993 by a group white racist lads in the South London suburb of Eltham. These youths were not caught initially, and after over a decade of the police bumbling and supposedly ‘losing’ files, some of these racist perpetrators were finally caught. I have spoken this painting at it at least a hundred times to variety of audiences, young and old. Some of them squirm, some say they do not want to discuss race with young children/people (mainly white), some look uncomfortable, but most people engage fully with the discussion and are saddened by the reality of the Macpherson Report, they see the importance of having a painting like this on public display. On an another note everyone enjoys seeing the spectacle of the elephant dung that the painting sits on, Ofili has certainly been skilled at drawing audiences to his work despite his subject matter.

No Woman, No Cry, Chris Ofili, 1998. Tate Gallery Collection

We should be encouraging the Chris Ofilis of the future. Where are they? Are they at UAL? Are they being nurtured and encouraged? I sincerely hope so. I was disgusted to read Duna Sabri’s report of the inequality of attainment grades. Once I had processed the horror that BAME home students are attaining 20% lower grades for their degrees than white home students I spoke about it to my friends that work in galleries and museums across the UK, who like me had not heard of this report before and felt very disturbed. We were saddened by it because in our work as gallery and museum educators we work extremely hard at bringing in young people from diverse backgrounds into galleries and museums, nurture them, support them in getting excellent A-level and B-Tec grades and help develop their portfolios so that they can enter art colleges confident and optimistic. On first day I started my current role as an Associate Lecturer there was a welcome talk to students. I was surprised to see the that out of around 400 students only a tiny handful were POC, the hashtag #UALsowhite came to mind. Several weeks later a new student mentioned the fact that she too noticed how white the 2019 cohort was, not exactly inviting to a new POC student starting college in the locality of Peckham where the community outside of the hallowed university doors is diverse. 

From reading Retainment and Attainment in Art and Design. A.Richards and T.Finnigan it is evident that BAME staff are essential to staff teams at UAL. Students need to see themselves in their tutors and have someone that they can identify with and relate to, especially in the current political climate with many divisions in society. The attainment gap on BA Painting, where I teach is not equal and neither are the student numbers in terms of diversity (out of 120 students only 5 are POC), which is not reflective of the diversity of the country and certainly not the locality of Peckham. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview prospective students for the forthcoming academic year 2020/21, it was an insight in seeing how the different interviewees behaved. I noticed similarities with working class and POC prospective students (with the majority of POC people coming from working class backgrounds). What I noticed was that most of them hadn’t developed the skills to ‘sell themselves’ to discuss their work confidently, drawing upon their best assets. In several interviews I had to tease out the information, discover their talent (that was buried in sketchbooks, notes and photos). On the whole they seemed different in their approach compared to the middle classed White prospective students who were outwardly confident, outspoken and could “sell their wares”. 

In my short time working at the college I’ve heard that the evidence behind the statistics of BAME low attainment might be in-correct. I’ve heard remarks on the need for BAME staff when the students at the college are pre-dominantly white, and the disregard for the lack of diversity in the staffing. Are these racist comments? In my opinion, yes, but they often passed off as “white fragility”.

I watched Robin Di Angleo’s film ‘Deconstructing White Privilege’. It was interesting hearing a white woman talk about her sheltered middle-class childhood experiences and the uncomfortableness that white people might experience when talking about race. I noticed a sense of privilege in the way that she spoke, and who her audience might be (white, educated, middle classed?) Di’Angleo consisitently used the word “we” throughout her talk with disregard that “we” did not include “me” a brown skinned person who does not feel fragile in talking about race. Di’Angleo goes on to discuss the pre-dominantly white neighbourhood that she grew up in, my first reaction to that is that she has not grown up in a neighbourhood where the majority of the community are on low paid incomes and in turn diverse. She doesn’t seem to acknowledge class privilege and the inequalities that those on a lower income face, for these reasons amongst others I found her talk patronising. It’s a small step in the right direction that a white person is acknowledging their racism, however but I wouldn’t give her a medal for her efforts as they are miniscule to burden of present day and historical racism and abuse that POC’s carry and continue endure, it’s something  that Di’Angelo has the privilege of never experiencing. 

In my discussions on race, or any topic for that matter as race is a part of every ‘ism’ in the history of art. These are a few prominent artists/movements who explore identity and race that I share and raise an awareness of with my students; Eddie Chambers, Sonia Boyce, Zarina Bhimji, Sutapa Biswas, Rasheed Araeen, Adrian Piper, Coco Fusco, Ana Mendieta, Ingrid Pollard, Claudette Johnson, John Akromfrah, Frank Bowling, Lesley Sanderson, Mayling To, Erika Tan, Said Aldrus, Bhajan Hunjan, Lubiana Himid, Maud Saulter, Li Yuan-Chia, Shirin Neshat, Mona Hatoum, Amrita Sher Gill, Denzil Forrestor, Hurvin Anderson, Harold Offeh, Anish Kapoor, Sheela Gowda, Keith Piper, Kadar Attia, the RAQS Collective, the Harlem Renaissance, the 80’s Black Arts Movement, the Black Audio Collective, myself…  UAL has no reason to be SO white, there are many successful fine art practitioners that should be sharing their experiences of being an artist with students.





Sabri D. Students’ Experience of Identity and Attainment at UAL, Final year 4 report of a longitudinal study for the University of the Arts London (2017)



The Room of Silence  https://vimeo.com/161259012

Hahn Tapper (2013) ‘A pedagogy of social justice education: social identity, theory and 




Sacred Spaces: Abstraction and Emptiness

#artandreligion #religion #hinduism #islam #Christianity #rothko #abstraction #painting #shadesofnoir #anishkapoor #tatemodern #rothkoroom #ramadan

In the interview Religion in Modern Art  Professor Erika Doss discusses the way that we look at art and how much we should take into account the artists spiritual or religious upbringing when trying to understand what the artist has made. Doss explores the dilemmas that artists face making artworks on faith and belief. 

The article explores the work of Mark Rothko. Doss references the artist’s Jewish heritage and experiences that Jews faced during WW2. This provokes us to consider his paintings within the context of his childhood experiences and religion, providing a framework for his work, whilst this is interesting, it is also problematic as it channels audiences to see his work through a particular lens. When I look at Rothko’s work with students I prefer to raise questions regarding his faith indirectly, reflecting upon the spiritual and moral questions relating to his work towards the end of the discussion rather than at the start letting the discussion flow organically. This allows prior time for audiences to absorb the paintings and a chance for self reflection. For example; with Rothko’s Seagram murals I ask the students to focus upon their own bodies, to navigate the space in a manner that moves away from the usual way of exploring a gallery space. We can think about how we feel sat in a darkened room a claustrophobic space, and whether this forces us to look at our inner worlds, raising an awareness of our own emotions rather expend energy into the attempt to decode the palette that he used, or the way he painted. His paintings have the tendency that allow audiences to respond freely outside of the framework of religion, however the themes that tend to emerge relate to religion as notions around human suffering are often discussed, and we can’t avoid the experience of being sat in the chapel like space, all of which connect the scale and the colours used in the paintings.

The Seagram Murals at Tate Modern.

Without any overt reference to Judaism or Christianity the students inadvertently discuss aspects of religion through Rothko’s life events, they discuss the value of contemplation away from the activity of consuming alcohol and food as this is a distraction to loftier thoughts on life. They discuss the value of making donations, the continual legacy of these paintings that have benefitted many (Rothko donated his works to the Tate before he committed suicide). We also talk about Rothko’s dedication to the painter William Turner who willed his paintings to the nation, reflecting upon the way he depicted spirituality or God in his work, which was through the way he painted light. 

William Turner. Rainbow Painting.

The discussion about faith or religion through artist’s work goes beyond the artwork itself. It includes the actions and decisions that artists have made and the way that they chose to live their lives, and the actions that they made. 

Other artists that I share with students are Anish Kapoor and his ideas on emptiness and his use of pigments (that are usually used in Hindu worship), again the conversation doesn’t begin with the artists Parsi upbringing, Zoroastrianism, or his meditation practice but allows students to reflect upon the sculptural qualities of his work first and then ask questions on Eastern spirituality and culture. I enjoy using artworks with students that combine both Eastern and Western spiritual ideas, such Annie Besent’s Thought Forms or the ‘cosmic consciousness” that Malevich encountered before painting his Black Square, as there are many similarities rather than differences.

Some works are explored in a more straight forward informative or didactic manner, partly because a number of students I meet are from Western Europe and many are not familiar with Eastern religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism. An example of an artwork that I use that directly references Hindu rites and rituals is Sheela Gowda’s ‘Behold’. Her work offers students the opportunity of insight to Hindu traditions and culture and gives the chance discuss faith through sculptural materiality and the moral dilemmas that we face in a capitalist society. 

Annie Besent. Thought Forms.

On a more practical level in the studio /classroom /gallery, I always make a point of mentioning a religious day or spiritual day, such as Diwali or Chinese New Year and to celebrate that. I’m aware that some of my students or colleagues maybe observing Ramadan and to take their needs into account, giving space, and time to share the experiences of what might be observed if they wish. Outside of mainstream religion I work with students and colleagues who make their artworks on pre-Christian or pagan traditions, witchcraft or tarot, meditation and give equal respect, time, interest and validation to their beliefs. 

I encountered a student during a crit who had made abstract work, exploring colour and shape, and notions of emptiness. I noticed that a number of participants at the crit were very quiet and appeared to be dismissive of his work. Later that day, the student told me that he used to belong to the Hare Krishna sect, which gave me a deeper understanding to his work. I wondered whether the silence around his work related to uncomfortable feelings about discussing religion. I got the impression that the student only talked to me about his faith and spirituality because of my Indian heritage, which he found out by asking “where are you from” a question that was very much welcomed in this instance.

Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education. I read the chapters on Multiculturalism, Minority Identities and the Public Sphere. I am interested in the availability of openly accessible and adequately sized quiet spaces/prayer rooms that are available at any time. The lack quiet or safe spaces seems to me that faith/religion isn’t a priority in today’s institutions, and I speculate whether is this stems from Christian/European centric viewpoint (with Christianity being in decline, therefore an assumption made most faiths will also be in decline) therefore lacking the need to provide quiet rooms or spaces?  Personally, I would like to see a variety to menus that cater to halal, kosher and vegan diets, as well as the visual and celebratory acknowledgement of all religious festivals/holy days.

A woman I saw using the quietness of the painting galleries at the V&A to pray.
October 2019. Photo Credit: Raksha Patel ©

Kwame Anthony Appiah Reith lecture on Creed reminded me that our relationship with our beliefs, is similar to culture, in that it is always evolving, and that religion is never static. He begins by describing how he is perceived by South -Asian taxi drivers, many who assume that he can speak Hindi. I’ve often been challenged on what I believe, how I see and enjoy having to re-examine things with new perspective. In my youth I used judge young white Europeans travelling to India on “spiritual quests”. I used to believe that they saw India as an exotic place, a temporary fad or a fix that they would tire from, as they could never truly connect to it because it wasn’t their ‘motherland’. Over time, my opinion changed as some of those European ‘hippies’ bought back the knowledge of meditation and yoga and have dedicated their lives to it. I’m happy to say that I have benefitted greatly from their quests; for example, one woman I know became a Buddhist nun and has remained one, twenty years later she has set up a women only vihara in the UK (the first of its kind). Some may not teach in its purest form, but from what I have experienced, neither do the teachers from India. How do we know what is pure or authentic anyway? As everything has been adapted in some way. I cannot grumble, I’m happy to receive what is being given and be accepting of that. 





re-examining the word (dis)abled – a focus on the artist Samena Rana

Inclusivity Course PG Cert. Blog on Disability.

A focus on #disabilitytoowhite Vilissa Thompson / sound artist Christine Sun Kim and Samena Rana’s art-works.

The resources that are available on Disability on the UAL website, such as these two sources https://www.arts.ac.uk/students/student-services/disability-and-dyslexia/evidence and https://shadesofnoir.org.uk/disability-progression-of-language-in-disability-studies/ are invaluable to staff and students, not only do they support disabled students on campus, offering advice, services and support they teach able bodied lecturers insight into ways that they can communicate, support and creatively nourish their students in an inclusive environment that allows the student to flourish. I have worked with children, youth and adults who have “needs” mainly students with autism and it’s important to recognise and acknowledge varying ways of communicating, understanding concepts and sharing ideas about paintings and sculpture, like anything is developing a skill that enables an able bodied person to slip into the shoes of somebody else’s and see the world from their perspective. When a lecturer share these skills and that is visible to able bodied students, they too can gain a sense of insight in the varying ways we communicate with each other and share ideas.

It’s good to read that this hashtag has been created and that it’s popularality is raising an awareness on the lack of racial diversity whenever disabled bodies are shown on public platforms. The invisibility of disability is upsetting, especially when it comes to the visual arts. When I do see disabled bodies publicly, I’m often disturbed by manner that these bodies have been represented. I have recently seen several examples where there is a focus on the disabled persons private life – the Malteasers advert springs mind. I this problematic especially where wheelchair users are concerned as it feeds into a stereotype of disabled person’s sex life. I find the images that I see of disabled people on TV reductive and narrow as they feed into the types of comments that an abled bodied person might say in response to a disabled person.

It was interesting to read how this hashtag has been embraced/rejected and the politics that surround the backlash. To me the lack of diversity in relation to disability comes down to race. Who chooses how to represent, who have the power and the access to represent and how that representation is made, boils down to those who have the privilege to do so.

I read Vilissa Thompson’s thoughts on creating the hashtag #disabilitytoowhite and her working towards stopping the erasure of disabled artists of colour (who suffer from a of lack visibility) in mainstream media. The hashtag has been popular in the sense of raising awareness about the lives of disabled people of colour. Her article also sparked a memory of a disabled South-Asian female photographer and disability activist Samena Rana (b.1956 – 1992), whose work seems to have fallen out of public view in galleries and museums, although exists in several archives and libraries (Panchayat archive, which is now housed at Tate Britain and the Stuart Hall Library at Iniva). Rana’s work explored themes of identity, disability and diaspora. She made her work using adjusted camera that was adapted so that trigger mechanism could be placed in the mouth. Rana was an activist for disabled rights and its particularly important to note how she would use the word disabled (bracketing Dis) so that focus lays on “ability”. Its good to see how she ran creative workshops for other (dis)abled participants, which I believe took place at the Diorama Arts Centre (now called the Old Diorama Arts Centre) near Euston Square Station – a place that I visited in the 90’s which is now a huge complex with a wide range of services for (dis)abled people.

Photograph by Samena Rana ‘Piss on Pity” 1992
The image is an unfinished work by Samena Rana. Rana intended to superimpose a transparency of her grandmother over an Urdu poem she composed. We have photographed the transparency over the Urdu text to demonstrate what the final image might have looked like. Rana passed away during the completion of this series. (text SADAA archive).
Samena Rana – Knives Series.

Looking at this wider and more positively is the way that some creative organisations have been given the platforms to challenge this the status of disabled bodies within the art-world. One example of this is the recent film that show disabled dancers responding to the works of art on display at Tate Britain. Their film is poetic, with the movement of their bodies mesmerising. It’s powerful to see as the focus isn’t upon the disabilities of the dancers but the on way they eloquently respond to their surroundings and the visual matter in it.


Since the late 90’s I have been fortunate enough take part on and to work on a number of SEND community and school projects. I have collaborated with participants across a spectrum of disabilities to create different ways that we can work in a studio based environment, and creating a space that includes everybody depending on who and what their needs are; for example in one project we adapted paintbrushes so that they can be held and used by a range of people that might struggle to hold a shop bought paintbrush, this was done by adding extensions to the handle, making supports that offered a better grip to hold, widening the width of the brush handle. Altering the lighting of the studio, having and using visual aids that are bold, colourful, bright so that visually impaired can access them easier. Using a range of materials that are sensory and tactile, such as a variety of textiles, or musical instruments so that people with different needs can access learning about artworks on display on the gallery walls through touch and sound. I’ve used sewing equipment that can be accessed by everybody (such a large eyed plastic needles), and creating images through methods that we can all work on together, sharing our abilities; an example was a large scale bloc-printed frieze made by a group from Mencap. I’ve also worked on focusing on particular senses in gallery workshops, such as drawing with the less dominant hand, drawing and painting using your feet rather than hands, drawing using your body with various implements and devices such as a hula hoop, and drawing whilst wearing a blind-fold, and considering needs when accessing or experiencing paint and the spectrum of colours.

I’m grateful for these enriching experiences, I can bring them into my work at UAL (where I am an AL in Painting). They have given me a deeper insight into why somebody might be making their work in a certain way because of their needs, the way that they might think, write or speak. It’s widened my perception on the way that people respond creatively and what it is to be creative. I am more open to the fact that people will respond to making, writing, thinking in ways that I might not be familiar with, and to be accepting of that.

I can encourage students to make work that is accessible or to consider accessibility in their practice, especially when it comes to using materials and methods such as film that uses sound, or sculptural works that evoke touch, using scents that we can access to start conversation. I’ve often found there to be a lack of accessibility in installation based work, such as spaces that a wheelchair user can navigate through. I feel that is something that all students should consider when making installation work.  

The lack of diversity is an issue all round, I’m glad that its slowly changing. We do see artworks made by disabled people such as Jessie Darling, or Marc Quinn (white, male, abled bodied artist who had made a public sculpture of a disabled pregnant woman, which in itself is ridden with issues) and Donald Rodney, a black artist whose work investigates Sickle Cell, a condition that the artist had. Their works pave way for public discussion and its hugely important that their work has visibility. I have used their work frequently in teaching. However a lot more needs to change, for us all to consider race and disability combined, as I’m sure that most of us will agree that a black or brown disabled body will have a very different experience in society to a male disabled body in white skin.

One thing that is realise after reading the material for this task, is the lack of access in the building that I work in. The only access to upper floor studios is a via flight of stairs, there is no lift, and that studio spaces themselves seem narrow, which would be hard for a wheelchair user to access, this limits the types of people that can visit the degree shows and for potential lecturers to apply to work on the course, this in turn limits access of the experiences that wheelchair bound artists can share with students. I have also making a note to remember that not all disabilities are visible. I have met a number of students who simply struggle mentally to come into college because the crowded and noisy spaces trigger anxiety, stress and claustrophobia. The course reading material is a reminder to myself that ‘every’ ‘body’ is not the same and to give patience, time and thought, and do what I can through my abilities to understand and be supportive through some ‘body’ else’s creative journey.

I found it interesting to watch Sun Kim’s video and reflect upon her hearing impairment and how she uses sound in her work, as what I saw that sound can be used in many ways outside of listening. This is something that I had not reflected upon before because of my unawareness (or the lack of exposure ) to hearing impaired artists working with sound. In addition to this, since I have been reading the material about disability for this course, I have been considering disability and placing emphasis on it.

I have planned to run a workshop that explores abilities, different bodies and needs that people have today through examining the Greek sculptures at the British Museum. I plan to reflect upon the ‘damage’ that these statues have encountered on their journeys to the UK and hope that students from UAL will contribute to the conversations surrounding these themes.

Below are images from the workshop that I planned to run (as mentioned above) at the British Museum. This workshop took place mid February, 2020 and were a success. The students examined objects from a variety of galleries at the museum, they discussed, asked questions and made creative responses to the conversations that we had. The objects and artworks that we included ranged from Ancient Greek, to Egypt, then onto India. We spoke about disabled bodies, racial hierarchies, skin colour, ideals of beauty and the sexualised body in relation to colonialism.

UAL Painting students discussing and making artworks on disability, skin colour and the whitening of Parthenon statues at the British Museum 2020. Photo Credit: Raksha Patel ©
An artwork made by a 3rd year Painting student during the workshop that I ran for UAL
at the British Museum 2020. Photo Credit: Raksha Patel ©


Dancing Art at Tate Britain

Nowness. Vimeo Christine-sun-kim

Confronting the Whitewashing Of Disability: Interview with #DisabilityTooWhite Creator Vilissa Thompson

Donald Rodney. In the House of My Father, 1996–7

The (In)complete Marbles? Displaying the Disabled Body. Elizabeth Waddell

Jessie Darling reviewed by Flash Art.

The Old Diorama Arts Centre https://www.olddiorama.com