The arts communicate a wealth of ideas and experiences, however, the industry, like any other, still carries a certain amount of imbalance. A panel discussion entitled Redressing the Balance: Diversity in the Art World (17 May at the Aesthetica Future Now Symposium, York St John University), looks directly at diversity from a variety of perspectives, from those working in galleries to practitioners, as well as audiences and funding. Ahead of the Future Now session, Amira Gad discusses the topic in further detail.
A: How do you respond to the idea that there is still a certain amount of imbalance in the arts industry?
AG: To this question and most broadly, I say simply: yes, there is still imbalance in the arts industry and beyond and this is at the heart of our consciousness at the Serpentine Galleries. We consider diversity in terms of artists, disciplines and audiences.
We’ve presented 14 major shows by women in the past five to six shows including Sondra Perry, Rose Wylie, Zaha Hadid, Lucy Raven, Helen Marten, Etel Adnan, Hilma Af Klimt, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Rachel Rose, Marina Abramovic, Marisa Merz, Rosemarie Trockel, Yoko Ono, Lygia Pape, Nancy Spero. Rose Wylie’s first major public institutional show, at the age of 83, sent visitor figures through the roof last winter. In our curatorial team, 14 out of 20 are women.
And coming up is our Serpentine Pavilion designed by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo – also the youngest architect to have been invited to design a Serpentine Pavilion. Our Pavilion also hosts a series of education and community projects. Last year, we hosted Radical Kitchen: Recipes for Building Community and Creating Change programme where we invited groups creating sustainable projects and campaigns in their communities to host picnics and talks in the Pavilion and tackle issues as diverse as housing rights, gentrification, food poverty, unemployment, and migration.
In the past year, we’ve also had major exhibitions by African American artists including Sondra Perry and Arthur Jafa as well as the Serpentine Pavilion 2017 designed by architect Francis Kere. And coming up next summer in 2019 is a solo exhibition of artist Faith Ringgold.
A: How do you think that diversity can be addressed through curation, creation and exhibition?
AG: At the Serpentine Galleries, we are resolutely artist-led. We look to artistic practices to address issues through the lens of the artist’s work. There’s an institutional and individual consciousness and there’s action and raising awareness. To be pro-active is to integrate this in the wider programming of an organisation and realise exhibitions in dialogue with artists that communicates and gives access to the question of diversity.
A: How do you think that measurable change can be found in today’s society – in the arts and beyond?
AG: I think that change needs to be constant and evolve. We cannot be resolute on having achieved change and need to constantly strive to better ourselves and the society we live in.
A: What are you most looking forward to discussing at the Future Now Symposium?
AG: The Future Now symposium is covering a lot of grounds that are at the core of our thinking in the visual arts today. I’m looking forward to hearing my peers’ views and learning from their experiences. Diversity is a crucial matter to be discussed and I’m glad this is being covered in the scope of the symposium. I’m also looking forward to the panel on risk taking in programming and curation and very curious to find out more on what the other panellists’ experiences on this have been and the challenges of balancing out artists, institution, and ambition.
A: What are Serpentine’s plans for the rest of the year?
AG: Our spring season at the Serpentine Galleries is still on. It’s our first tech-centric season and we have two very exciting shows on. At the Serpentine Gallery, artist Ian Cheng has created a living Artificial Intelligence creature called BOB (or Bag Of Beliefs). BOB was born at the opening of the show and continues to grow and learn from us as visitors interact with it daily. We’re all sad to see it go but look forward to the second part of Ian’s show at the Serpentine where he will present the Emissaries trilogy for the first time in Europe. Ian’s show has a great team behind it including my colleagues curators Ben Vickers, Rebecca Lewin, Kay Watson and Joseph Constable.
Across the bridge, I curated an exhibition of Sondra Perry’s work. Her show Typhoon coming on is also the first solo presentation of her work in Europe. We’ve never done an installation like this one at the gallery before and it’s very powerful. You walk into the gallery and you are completely immersed in a series of seamless projections (itself a challenge to achieve) of an animation the artist has done that takes Turner’s 1840 painting Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) that depicts the drowning of 133 slaves by the captain of the British slave ship, Zong, to claim compensation for these ‘goods’ under the salvage clause of the ship’s insurance policy. The artist edited the bodies, the ship, the fish out of the painting and animated the painting using the Ocean Modifier tool on the open source software Blender that allowed her to animate it into a moving ocean as well as create a CGI of a purple sea that engulfs us all in the space as we walk around the show.
Coming up, I will be heading to Beijing where we are opening the first Serpentine Pavilion outside of London and Kensington Gardens. The Serpentine Pavilion Beijing designed by Chinese architect Liu Jiakun follows the same model as our annual commission here in London and will host a series of cultural activities throughout its run. In London, the Serpentine Pavilion is designed by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo and will open to the public in June alongside exhibitions of Christo and Tomma Abts’ work.
To find out more or book your passes for the Future Now Symposium 2018, click here.
1. Anna Heinrich & Leon Palmer, Strange Attractor, 2016.