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Part of the Community: Curating Queer Art at the RCA

Part of the Community exhibition graphic
Part of the Community exhibition graphic, Clem Rousset
MA Curating Contemporary Art student Hayley Gibson curated the online exhibition Part of the Community as part of the RCA Students’ Union LGBTQIA+ History Month programme. The exhibition celebrated the work of queer people from the RCA community, both present students and recent alumni.

We spoke with Hayley about curating the exhibition and being part of the queer community at the RCA.

How did the exhibition come about?

The exhibition stemmed from my personal feelings towards the majority of queer representations. For me, being a queer artist and curator, I never really identified with anything I was actually seeing, and it always felt like queer moments were half celebrating queer people and half pandering to the cis-het gaze.  

I wanted to create something that celebrated a range of people, regardless of whether their practice was queer-oriented, as long as they were a part of the community.

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Mutant, Deividas Vytautas 2021

The range of work in the exhibition was diverse. How did you go about selecting the artists to include? 

This idea of ‘community’ really drove the project and made me analyse the communities I’m within and experience. The RCA Q.U.E.E.R Society for example, has played a huge part in my experience of the RCA, and most people I know outside of my course have been introduced to me through the society. However, it was important for me to branch out of my own smaller community and get to know the wider queer population of the RCA, including both students and alumni.

I wanted to exhibit artists that covered a variety of queer experience, as well as other marginalised issues such as gender, class, race, disability, and the body, as I believe when discussing queerness these other issues should always be highlighted, as they are so deeply integrated into the struggles of queer people. As I mentioned before, I felt it was also significant to exhibit some works that didn’t seem queer at all, as that too is a queer issue – artists that are queer don’t always make queer work, but they still remain queer artists.

photograph of wilted flowers in a vase in front of floral wallpaper
Wilted, Kexin Liu 2021

There were some collaborative works in the exhibition and the title suggests that community and working collectively is an important element of the artists’ work. Is this the case?

The method of collaboration was really a significant part of the exhibition, and generally is something that’s prevalent within the queer community. I think collaboration is so significant to the community due to marginalisation, the need to back fight in unity or need to stick together, which follows through in most queer interactions.

The title Part of the Community came from a conversation I had with my friend, about what I wanted to get out of the exhibition. I thought it fully encapsulated the agenda, and this idea of diversity and difference within the community.

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Rack Your Brain, Ashleigh Williams and Gabriella Davies 2020

What were the advantages of using the Students' Union platforms as a space to share queer voices?

Collaborating with the SU meant a higher audience engagement, and a platform that wasn’t necessarily built for queer content. It’s important to have queer spaces, but it’s also important to bring queer voices into normative spaces.

Due to covid and lockdown, the SU platform right now is one of the only forms of communication a lot of us have with other students. Other than across-school projects, the SU and societies are some of the only ways to know or meet other people from the RCA community. The exhibition offered the chance for RCA students to learn about and explore the work of queer students from the RCA.

photograph of a woman with baby in a carrier next to a river
Moment in Landscape no.2, Georgina Watson 2021

What possibilities were opened up by the exhibition being online?

Curating online opened the opportunity for the audience to participate from all over the world. The audience could drop in and out whenever they wanted, and it allowed us to promote works in a scheduled fashion rather than all at once, which meant each artist had their own moment. 

These were positive things I had never really thought about, and it became one of the most enjoyable parts of the exhibition. However, most of these works were born to be presented offline, and if anyone has the chance to see them in real life they should.

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Our Anscestors, Not Yours, Nuka Nayu 2021

photograph of postcards
Print pack from Part of the Community exhibition
The artists featured in the exhibition were: Deividas Vytautas (MA Contemporary Art Practice (CAP) student), Clem Rousset (MA Visual Communication, 2020), Kexin Liu (MA Jewellery & Metal student), Luca Asta (MA CAP, 2019), Amalie Gabel (MA Painting student), Mathis Zhang (MA CAP, 2019) , Georgina Watson (MA CAP student), Knuka Knayu (MA Sculpture, 2020), Eden Topall-Rabanes (MA Visual Communication, 2018) , Ashleigh Williams (CAP student) and Gabriella Davies (MA CAP, 2019) , Zoë Marden (MA CAP, 2018) and Vasiliki Antonopoulou (MA CAP, 2018) , and  Bernadette Silva (MA V&A/RCA History of Design student).

All of the participating artists have a postcard sized print that can be purchased online as part of a set, with all proceeds distributed between: The Outside Project, Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund, We Exist Trans Healthcare Fund, LGBT+ Switchboard, and Poc A Dot London.