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RCA2020: Black artists and designers exploring Black histories

October is Black History Month in the UK, the annual celebration of the history, culture, achievements and contributions of black people across the country. It originally began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. This Black History Month we’re reflecting on a selection of work by 2020 graduates that present and explore Black history through their work.
Don’t miss Black History Online, an exhibition featuring the work of RCA student and alumni, curated by Curating Contemporary Art student, David Lisbon. 

Emily Moore, MA Painting

Let my people go 2020

Let my people go series 2020 by Emily Moore
Let my people go, Emily Moore 2020
Indian ink on handmade sugarcane paper
35cm x 25cm
Listening to materials and thinking through materials are important aspects of Emily Moore’s practice. She made various series during the Covid-19 lock down and in reference to the global Black Lives Matter protests, including a series of self portraits with oil paint on handmade sugar cane paper, a tapestry depicting a black woman and child, and a series of text works made with Industrial fence paint and Indian ink on handmade sugarcane paper spelling out phrases such as ‘I am a black black british woman’ and ‘Let my people go.’

Describing her making process she wrote: ‘To touch and manipulate a material or surface to find the "spirit" within, when making [...] to allow an idea to cross-pollinate or flow across materials [...] to weave histories back on and through themselves to allow new forms to grow from chance collisions and different speeds of manipulation.’ and/or ‘Craft as an underlying language or unwritten voice of community that itself evolves through the act of making and passing-on of skills – this is part of my ethos.’ 

Folasade Okunribido, MA Architecture

Ààfin Awon Aniyan – The People’s Palace

Ààfin Awon Eniyan (The People’s Palace), Periphery perspective section, by Folasade Okunribido
Ààfin Awon Eniyan (The People’s Palace), Folasade Okunribido
Folasade Okunribido is an architectural designer who graduated from MA Architecture this year. Her 2020 graduate thesis project earned her the School of Architecture Dean’s Prize for the innovative, rich and cohesive nature of the project that pushes the boundaries of the discipline. Her work explores new forms of inhabitation through the lens of traditional Yoruba Architecture. 

Of the project Okunribido said, ‘This year I have been motivated to draw on my ancestral history through the lens of my people – the Yoruba. Having been born, brought up and lived in the UK, I have often wondered and wished to know more about my ancestral history, in terms of the relationship between the culture and the architectural achievements. I hope to continue to explore and elevate African History through the lens of architecture and space as I continue in my work.’

Roxanne Simone, MA Jewellery & Metal

Seeing Angel 

Roxanne Simone, Seeing Angel, 2020
Seeing Angel, Roxanne Simone 2020
Digital Collage (Photography & Patinated Metal Object)
1300 mm x 1840 mm Limited Edition x 6 Prints: 500 mm x 710mm
Simone is a Black British Visual Artist working primarily within Contemporary Metalwork and Jewellery, her work focuses on the reimagining of the Black Diasporic Identity.  

Of this project Simone stated, ‘In an attempt to depict the emotions and experiences of Black British people, I am questioning the ways of seeing blackness and being seen by exploring the depths of treasures that encompass Black women and non-binary people.’

Michael Forbes, MA Sculpture 

Shop... Selling the Ontology of Whiteness

Michael Forbes, Shop... Selling the Ontology of Whiteness, 2020
Shop... Selling the Ontology of Whiteness, Michael Forbes 2020
Contemporary racial politics, migration, blackness and whiteness are central to the work Forbes makes. Through a mix of sculpture, installation, photography, animation and digital media Forbes explores these central themes in relation to universal debates on wealth, history and religion.  

Of Shop... Selling the Ontology of Whiteness Forbes stated that he began ‘by exploring the visual representation of fashion and handbags as desired objects. In documenting the shop windows in Venice, Rome, Naples and London I expanded my research into the relationship of the ontology of whiteness and how it is being promoted through the shop windows and the use of the mannequins.’ Forbes developed abstract text layers for the work, aligning the work to contemporary advertising and creating a genuine link to the shop windows and racial political discourse of today.

Olivia Sterling, MA Painting


Olivia Sterling, Oops!, 2020
Oops!, Olivia Sterling
Acrylic on canvas
76.2 x 50.8 cm
Sterling is a London based artist whose body of work focuses on paintings of domestic scenes that mimic how she has perceived living in Britain as a black person. 

Her series A New version of an Old Rhyme depict the lives of Brownie Girl guides, in which Olivia says she hopes, ‘to capture the moment when a marginalised person begins to realise that they are the Other, entrenched with scenes common to the British experience in order to portray what it is like being a person of colour / black person in Britain. Brownies girls interest me as not only is it a difficult age (7–12) but the imagery connected to Girl Guides is extremely patriotic and full of English folk-tale imagery.’ 

Peter Spanjer, MA Contemporary Art Practice

Make Me Safe

Peter Spanjer, Make Me Safe, 2020
Make Me Safe, Peter Spanjer 2020
Video Stills 02

A Nigerian artist, born in Bremen, Germany and currently working and living in London, Spanjer’s work is often framed around the idea of resistance; resisting the emotional stereotypes put on black men; resisting the need to perform my blackness to others and allowing room for self exploration which he extends to an audience as a piece of visual art.

Of the work Peter said, ‘Make Me Safe is a reaction. It is a reaction to the current racial pandemic targeting black people. It is a reaction to knowing that safety is seldom. It is a reaction to the realisation that whilst we swim to safety, we have to keep faith, whatever that means to you. So it is also about light and softness and colour. It is about protection and home, whoever or wherever that is for you.’