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Through A Different Lens - Commissioning Artists, Diversifying Collections

POSTED: 15 September 2022

A conversation considering how we can work together towards diversifying our national collections and support artists in the making, and placing, of new works

about the event

A panel of acclaimed artists and international curators joined us for an informal conversation about contemporary museum collections with a focus on photography. This panel considered how we might address inherent representational gaps through strategic commissioning and collaborative practices within, beyond and between institutions.

How can we work together towards diversifying our national collections and supporting artists in the making, and placing, of new works? What different strategies do museums currently adopt to ensure that more works by female-identifying and non-binary artists of colour are acquired? What difference does commissioning make to artists’ practices, and how might we support the process curatorially, and institutionally? What does curatorial responsibility and best practice look like, and what are the key challenges we face in these change-making processes? What have we done in the past, where are we doing in the present, and what must we do in the future?

In the context of ongoing decolonising and diversifying strategies across the museum sector to address historical imbalances, this open-ended roundtable conversation considered Autograph’s long-standing advocacy work in collection development, commissioning artists from diverse cultural backgrounds and the invited panellists’ ongoing commitment to implementing – and sustaining – institutional change.

 We were joined by Fiona Rogers, the recently appointed Parasol Foundation Curator of Women in Photography at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Yasufumi Nakamori, Senior Curator of International Art (Photography) at Tate – as well as contemporary artists Ingrid Pollard and Jeannette Ehlers who reflected on the experience of being commissioned by, and working with, institutions on acquisitions. The conversation was chaired by Renée Mussai, Autograph’s Senior Curator and Head of Curatorial & Collections.

Supported by Art Fund, this event forms of Amplify – Stranger in the Village: Afro-European Matters, Autograph’s most recent commissioning project featuring new work by artists Jeannette Ehlers, Sasha Huber and Mónica de Miranda to be accessioned into Autograph’s collection of photography.

part of the project

Amplify — Stranger in the Village: Afro European Matters

Supported by the Art Fund, Autograph has commissioned three contemporary artists from the Afro-European diaspora to address gaps in the provision to UK collections, particularly the representation of black women artists.

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chaired by

Renée Mussai

is a London-based curator and scholar with a special interest in Afro-diasporic, black feminist and queer lens-based arts practices. She is Senior Curator and Head of Curatorial & Collection at Autograph, where she has, for almost two decades, advocated for a diverse constituency of contemporary artists and co-commissioned a range of artistic programmes. She curates, publishes and lectures internationally on photography, curatorial care and visual activism. 

Mussai is also Research Associate at the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre, University of Johannesburg; Associate Lecturer at University of the Arts London, and regular guest curator and former Fellow at the Hutchins Centre for African & African American Research at Harvard University.

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Jeannette Ehlers

is a Copenhagen-based artist of Danish and Trinidadian descent whose practice takes shape experimentally across photography, video, installation, sculpture, and performance. She graduated from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 2006. Ehlers’ work often makes use of self-representation and image manipulation to bring about decolonial hauntings and disruptions. Ehlers’ works revolve around the material and affective resonances of the Danish slave trade in the colonial era.

Ehlers has exhibited her work internationally, including Kunsthal Charlottenborg Copenhagen (Denmark); Ford Foundation, New York; Dak’Art, the Dakar Biennale (Senegal); Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul (South Korea). She is the co-creator of the public art project I Am Queen Mary and was shortlisted for the Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station in 2021. She has been commissioned as part of Autograph’s Amplify project, for inclusion in Autograph’s collection and made available to museums for loan.

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Yasufumi Nakamori

is a Senior Curator of International Art (Photography) at TATE. He leads the acquisitions, collection displays, and exhibitions of photography at Tate Modern. In 2021, he co-curated the Tate Modern exhibition Zanele Muholi. Nakamori previously headed the department of photography and new media at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. From 2008 to 2016, he served as curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

A noted scholar of modern Japanese art and architecture, he has authored five books, including Eikoh Hosoe (2021 MACK) and Katsura: Picturing Modernism in Japanese Architecture, Photographs by Ishimoto Yasuhiro (2010 MFA Houston), and contributed to numerous exhibition catalogs, including Postwar: Art Between the Atlantic and the Pacific, 1945 –1965 (Haus der Kunst 2017). Nakamori taught global modern art history at Hunter College, the City University of New York, and Rice University. He holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. in the History of Art and Visual Studies from Cornell University.

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Fiona Rogers

is the inaugural Parasol Foundation Curator of Women in Photography at the V&A. She was previously Director of Photography & Operations for Webber, a photographic agency and gallery with offices in London, New York, and Los Angeles. Prior to Webber she worked for Magnum Photos in a variety of roles, rising to Chief Operations Officer where she was responsible for running the agency and designing and implementing strategies in collaboration with the CEO.

In 2011 Fiona created Firecracker, a digital platform and network to champion female photographers. In 2012 Firecracker launched a Photographic Grant and has since awarded £20,000 in funding to female artists. In 2017, Fiona published Firecrackers: Female Photographers Now (Thames & Hudson) with co-author Max Houghton.

Fiona has curated exhibitions with a range of artists including Theo Simpson, Marvel Harris and Zora J Murffand has contributed written articles for books and magazines including Photoworks and the British Journal of Photography. She holds a BA from the Surrey Institute of Art & Design and is an Associate Lecturer in Photography at the London College of Communication. Fiona is a keen supporter of emerging talent and has participated in juries and festivals internationally. She is a member of the RPS Awards Committee and a Trustee of the Martin Parr Foundation and the Peter Marlow Foundation. 

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Ingrid Pollard

is a Guyanese-born British artist whose social practice is concerned with our relationship with nature and complex constructs of Britishness, identity, race, and representation. She lives and works in Northumberland. Working interdisciplinary across a variety of techniques from photography, printmaking, drawing and installation to artist books, video, and audio, Pollard’s practice combines rigorous research and experimental techniques that include digital and analogue image-making processes. 

In 2022, Pollard was nominated for the Turner Prize for her major survey touring exhibition Carbon Slowly Turning, first presented at MK Gallery in London, which explores her pioneering practice from the 1980s to the present day. She is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and was a recipient of the Leverhulme Fellowship Award in 2007, the BALTIC Artist Award in 2018, and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Awards for Artists in 2020. Pollard received her doctorate-by-publication from the University of Westminster in 2016.

Pollard was actively involved in the Black British art movement in Britain and has participated in numerous seminal group exhibitions since the 1980s – such as The Thin Black Line at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1985), D-Max (1987) and Self-Evident (1995), both at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham – and has exhibited internationally for more nearly five decades, including at the National Portrait Gallery, Museum of Modern Art (Oxford), NGBK (Berlin), Camerawork (San Francisco) and the National Gallery of Jamaica. Her work is represented in prestigious public collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Britain, and Arts Council England.

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Autograph's Commissions

Supporting artists is essential to us at Autograph. We’ve been commissioning the making of new work since 1989, inviting creative practitioners to explore ideas of representation, identity, rights and social justice.

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with art fund support

Image: 1) Zanele Muholi, Bayephi III, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, 2017 [detail]. Commissioned by Autograph © and courtesy Zanele Muholi. 2) Monica de Miranda, Dressage, from The Island, 2021-2022. © the artist. Courtesy of / commissioned by Autograph, 2021. Supported by Art Fund. 3) Renée Mussai. Courtesy Renée Mussai.  4) Jeannette Ehlers. Photographed by Casper Holmenlund Christensen. 5) Yasufumi Nakamori. Photograph by Dan Dennehy, Minneapolis Institute of Art. 6) Fiona Rogers. Photographed by Alys Tomlinson. 7) Ingrid Pollard. Photographed by Emile Holbar. 8) Ingrid Pollard, The Valentine Days, commissioned by Autograph.