- 6 September 2023
- 4 minutes
As Kimberley steps into her new role, we asked her to reflect on her inspiring journey through the RCA, the value she gained from being a recipient of the Tony Snowdon Scholarship, and her mission to foster inclusivity within the RCA community.
Why did you choose to study at the RCA? And why the Painting programme in particular?
There are several reasons. The RCA community is supportive and knowledgeable, with some of the world's best artists and practitioners. The Painting MA offered me the opportunity to paint in my own studio space and access the best workshop facilities. I researched several postgraduate institutions and the RCA's Painting programme was the best fit for my practice. I was over the moon to have been accepted into such a prestigious college, to have been awarded a scholarship and now, to have graduated!
“Studying at the RCA has refined the level of professionalism in my paintings and wider practice.”
What impact has studying at the RCA had on your practice?
Studying at the RCA has refined the level of professionalism in my paintings and wider practice. My practice has undergone an organic transformation through interrogation of method, material and subject matter. In my programme, research, critiques and tutorials generated discussion and decision-making, centred on questioning why I paint and the fundamental themes underpinning my work.
The RCA’s staff and facilities have been integral to the way I consider, question, create, curate, exhibit, and how I engage with industry contacts. I now have a robust toolkit with an artist biography and artist statement, and a well-presented portfolio, website and business cards. My practice is more engaging and profound than ever before.
Your practice explores grief and loss - what makes painting a useful, or appropriate medium through which to explore this topic?
The act of painting in my practice allows for a quiet reflection, an introspection, of difficult life events – such as grief, loss and trauma - and taps into something that talking therapies sometimes cannot. Talking therapy can be difficult to engage with when the subject matter is very personal or uncomfortable, or if a Councillor is an unfamiliar presence.
Painting and creative outlets present their own method of therapy, allowing us to work through complex subject matters with materials, touch, curiosity and play. It lowers cortisol in the body and allows the brain to start repairing, or building new, neurological pathways. Painting gives expression and meaning to my grief and loss.
While you were a student you received the Tony Snowdon Scholarship. What impact did this support have?
The Tony Snowdon Scholarship, awarded by the Snowdon Trust, had such a tremendous impact on my ability to study at the RCA. This scholarship is awarded to exceptional disabled students, so to have been recognised and rewarded for my achievements and aspirations truly meant a lot.
Without the Scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the tuition and accommodation fees to live in London. I wouldn’t have had the access to the highest level of postgraduate education that I have had this past academic year, or the chance to exhibit my paintings for the first time in the way I have, or the chance to work in the RCA’s Students’ Union, where I’m now supporting the next cohort of students. My scholarship has opened doors that would not have been open to me otherwise.
“My scholarship has opened doors that would not have been open to me otherwise.”
From your experience, do you have any advice for someone with a disability thinking about applying to the RCA?
My advice would be to go for it! There is a strong network at the RCA to support a disabled student as they study, including a Disability Officer, Student Support team and Equality & Diversity team members. Tutors and technicians will be led by the student, their needs and the work they wish to make to ensure they get the most from their time at the RCA, as any other student.
Also, I joined the RCA’s Disabled Students’ Network before even enrolling at the College! I found it tremendously invaluable to have friends and peers in the DSN.
The society created a successful events calendar for Disability History Month and the RCA lit up the Kensington campus for #PurpleLightUp - a global movement held on the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The Students’ Union are also here to support and empower disabled students, and that is the focus of my SU President manifesto.
What is your most memorable moment from your time as a student?
I have quite a few! The RCA2023 Exhibitions & Events takes the top spot. My exhibition, titled Widow’s Weeds, combined elements of painting, lighting, audio description and Braille.
My paintings and poetry were created at a tremendously difficult time when my Guide Dog had developed arthritis and retired as a result. We’d been in a working partnership for almost 9 years. Returning to using a long cane felt alien. I felt vulnerable at first, and I was aware of the differences in how I was treated as a cane user versus as a Guide Dog handler.
My final paintings as an RCA student enabled me to externalise all the complicated feelings I held inside about my dog’s arthritis, her retirement, my loss of identity as a Guide Dog handler, the negative experiences or conversations I encountered each day, and the loneliness I felt while Tami was gone. I felt such a huge sense of achievement once everything came together in my exhibition space.
It was even more rewarding to be in the space over the weekend as visitors experienced and interacted with my audio and paintings, wanting to discuss my practice and process with such keen interest. I had made such an impact on one couple, they returned to my exhibition with a huge bouquet! I was so touched. It was equally as enriching to walk around the wider degree show across the campus. It was such a time of celebration, acknowledging all our achievements and hard work from the year.
What motivated you to run for President of the RCA Student Union?
I’m passionate about disability rights and advocacy, which formed a large part of my manifesto for the role. During my time at the RCA, I was the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Rep for the MA Painting programme, attending regular meetings and assemblies.
During my undergraduate studies in Leeds, I was also a Student Rep, Student Ambassador and Student Governor. I wish to draw from the experiences and skills I have amassed over the past decade of campaigning, fundraising, volunteering, caregiving and studying, whilst continuing to build upon the positive change established by our previous Sabbatical Officers, to make an equal, inclusive, sustainable, and supportive Students’ Union.
What do you have planned for the year ahead as President of the SU?
My plan for the year is to work on increasing disability awareness, improving the accessibility across our campuses and in the delivery of online materials.
I will be working on exciting events for Disability History Month and Wellbeing Week and may even be inviting along some four-legged friends from Guide Dogs! I am here to support the students and to be their voice.
The RCA will be offering scholarships to support new students with disabilities, and the cost of living, for 2024/25. Applications for scholarships will open in Spring 2024. Find out more about scholarships and funding offered by the RCA below.
Learn more about support available for your studies.
Also of interest
This Disability History Month, we’re highlighting some of the great students and alumni from in the RCA community who have been using their artistic practices to explore their personal experiences, and the experiences of others, as disabled people.