View new work by art students at Central Saint Martins, exploring issues of identity and representation in response to Autograph’s collection of photography
Autograph holds a unique collection of photography, charting the contributions of diverse cultures to the UK over two centuries. This archive doesn’t just live in boxes (though it does that too, in a special climate-controlled room next to our office) – we take it to schools and workshops, exhibit it, project it on buildings, insert it into national museums, loan it, make resources from it, and even inspire people to start their own archives. We share it. The archive isn’t static, it’s active and in the world. And it helps to fill in a ‘missing chapter’ of photographic history, making visible diverse presences and practitioners.
Last year Ali Eisa, who leads our learning and participation work, developed the online project Art, Activism & Archive, part of a wider teaching project for art students at Central Saint Martins. Responding to the seismic shifts of lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic, our goal was to offer Autograph’s archive as a resource, to inspire students to think differently about key issues of identity and representation, and help them keep creating in challenging times.
Ali returned this year to work with a new group of students, still in the midst of the pandemic, without access to studios and working from their bedrooms while continuing to connect online. Starting with the theme of autobiography, Ali shared the work of artists such as Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Joy Gregory, Zanele Muholi and more. Students gathered material that documented their own lives and identities, sharing family albums and other visual research that told powerful stories about personal and political experiences. The group then dived into a conversation about the ethical implications and the different ways in which artworks can speak for, with or about other people’s experiences.
Inspired by what they had seen in the archive, students considered how their practices might work as a form of visual activism, to create change in the world. They made and shared new works that addressed how identity and representation are reflected in their own experiences and concerns. The breadth of issues covered was incredibly rich and diverse: queer identity and queer spaces; black geographies and self-love; trans identity and body perceptions; working class heritage and celebrity; young people’s mental health struggles; the threat of new technologies on our privacy.
Scroll down to see a selection for yourself. The works produced demonstrate the incredible level of commitment and experimentation on the part of the students to develop their practice, and it’s also a testament to the power of archives to inspire and educate. The archive is alive.
“In this series I was exploring the different placements of my sculptural works. I was fascinated by the way the two faces touch, for instance, and I wanted to document this as a development of my work. In my practice I focus on exploring black representation and African beauty in art. I want to achieve an aesthetic of African cultural masks and in a sense portray African culture and history, while simultaneously showcasing the concept of blending ‘ancient’ art with more modern techniques.”
“I am a multidisciplinary artist based at Central Saint Martins, London. However, I grew up in Ripon, a small city in North Yorkshire, not far from where Damien Hirst is from. This series is a trace-history of Damien Hirst portraits recontextualised by Kitchen Sink Dramas of the 1950s. The work situates Hirst as the working-class male anti-hero of these dramas, highlighting the class betrayal of Hirst through the plots and quotes of these films. The work immortalises Hirst in a series of 70x70cm screen-prints inspired by 50s and 60s pop culture. As a working-class artist, this work was a way of visualising my internal conflict with Hirst.”
“My work explores the boundaries of self-exploration in terms of gender and identity. My trans experience has been tainted by the pressure of presenting a very particular image of myself through constant analysis of how others might perceive me. As I mainly work with self-portraiture, I wanted to explore what this could mean without having my face in the image. I am inviting the viewer into my self-image through a bodily interpretation of collage.”
“An artwork involving real friends based off real happenings. Many people bond over things we know are either bad for our body or mental health, or aren’t improving it, yet we still do it. But no one talks on why people self-sabotage aspects of their life. What external factor forces people to feel good when they are destroying their own possibilities? Because at least they are in control of what they sabotage this time, unlike higher powers who try and shape our destiny based off who we are and what they think of us.”
Content note: contains strong language
“Have you ever considered the threat that technological advances pose to our privacy? We must begin to wonder if the inanimate objects in our homes have been possessed by perverted demons, watching us while we sleep. Our daily life would slowly rot into a nightmarish ordeal. The privacy that we once took for granted has been stolen and replaced with anxiety. The ownership of our own bodies has been stolen. We now must always consider who is watching us in the dark. This video consists of exposed recordings, filmed to emulate the feeling of being observed through hidden cameras, accompanied by flickering objects and anonymous gazes.”
“My work utilises monochromatic ultramarine blue to depict the queer body through mostly paint and photography, often using traditional techniques, experimenting with ideas of queerness, futurity, abstraction and eroticism. By using non-traditional colours, I try to present figures besides the norm of representation, with in mind the idea of the queer gaze, as if the viewer were to look through a queer filter or into a queer ‘world’. The idea of distortion and abstraction, physically, visually and metaphorically, avoids the visual consumption of the immediately recognisable, bringing on the instinct to discover, like discovering a new space or person, or perhaps a queer identity and queer space.”
“BLINDED BY WHITE PRIVILEGE is an acrylic and chalk creation based around the emotional drainage of blackness and oppression. POSSESSED BY DEPRESSION is made from acrylics, oil and spray paints. This large wall fabric piece represents the demons of mental health. Conquering the unseen battles of depression and self hatred, this piece mimics the pressure of being human. The haunting of your past and present."
"Based in London, Adama Dercilia Bari works across a range of media to explore Black geographies and space-making practices. Her ongoing series Mappings of Cartographies includes the piece Mariam’s which focuses on the expansive documentation of personal relations in everyday spaces, and Mariam’s Space 360 which considers the ways in which simply being present can invertedly be seen as a form of activism. These works highlight social-spatial couplings as well as creating and re-inventing spaces of self-love, expression and positivity.”
“In my work I have employed a playful sense of colour to rebrand a cigarette gantry. Where the shelves have a necessary use, the box itself and dispensers have no purpose other than the aesthetic and visual: a frame to the shelves. To me the work is about thought and action, to create something that has a use beyond just artwork.”
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Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list