Happening to Be, a fitting title for the exhibition, has been curated by international artist Kimathi Donkor, who also happens to be an alumnus of the university. The artists featured in the exhibition who are all from the African Diaspora, have each made their mark in their respective fields.
Yinka Shonibare MBE graduated in fine art in 1989. He is famed for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism, most notably Nelson’s Ship in a bottle, his first public commission displayed on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. He was also a Turner Prize nominee in 2004.
Ngozi Onwurah is a multi-award-winning filmmaker, the first black female in Britain to direct a major film, Welcome to the Terrodome in 1994, best known for her acclaimed 2006 BBC TV drama Shoot the Messenger, which won that year’s Prix Italia as well as two BAFTAs.
Professor Andrew Ramroop OBE, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of Britain’s most highly respected master tailors as managing director of Maurice Sedwell Ltd, and was the first black person in Britain to own a business in Saville Row. He has won a string of awards during his lifetime and is an honorary professor of UAL.
Professor Ablade Glover OBE, who is now in his seventies, has had a long and successful career as an international, exhibiting artist and also became Dean of the College of Art at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Technology in his home country of Ghana.
Trevor Robinson CBE, has had a distinguished career in advertising and is best known for the You’ve Been Tangoed soft drinks commercials which ran during the nineties. He later went on to establish his own advertising agency and production company Quiet Storm.
Commenting the exhibition, curator, Kimathi Donkor, said: “The show pays homage to the creative audacity of each of these stars, all of whom push the boundaries of imaginative possibility. Each work creates an encounter that is at once visually striking and educationally inspiring.”
Among the exhibits by Ngozi Onwurah is a 32 minute VD of her acclaimed film, The Body Beautiful, an autobiographical piece that features both Ngozi and her mother, focusing on their lives and exploring Ngozi’s feelings about being raised by a white British mother.
Happening To Be, is just one event that forms part of a long-term project called Shades of Noir, founded by Lecturer and creative practitioner Aisha Richards in 2009 to improve outcomes for black and minority ethnic staff within arts higher education.
Shades of Noir is a key strand of the programme being implemented by University of the Arts London’s Task Group on Race, Ethnicity and Undergraduate Degree Classification (REDC) to tackle the issue of differential degree attainment between white home students, black and minority ethnic home students and students who pay fees at the overseas rate.
The programme includes staff, student and curriculum development as well as an examination of assessment and pedagogical practice. And whilst the exhibition underlines the university’s commitment to improving the attainment of black and minority ethnic pupils, it is primarily about celebrating success and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.
Mark Crawley, UAL’s Dean of Students and Director of Widening Participation said: “UAL believes that greater awareness of the sheer breadth and brilliance of black achievement across the arts will help to raise expectations and broaden horizons.”