Widening the Gaze was a day-long, interdisciplinary conference exploring the role of race in creative practice organised by Rosa Johan Uddoh and Clotilde Jiménez alongside the Widening the Gaze exhibition curated by Zeinab Saleh.
It was held in March 2018 at the Slade Research Centre, London.
A letter from the organisers, written October 2018 for the upcoming Widening the Gaze publication:
Three things prompted us to organise Widening the Gaze. When we returned to the Slade in September 2017, we were sad to realise that there had been no black students admitted to the first year of the postgraduate course. As the only two black students in the second (and final) year, this meant there was a high chance of there being no black students on the Slade Masters course once we graduated. And so, we wanted, firstly, to do something to highlight this lack, which we felt particularly bad for such a centrally placed university. Secondly, we wanted to make the most of what we had: to organise something with and for the amazing black artists and artists of colour that we did have at Slade, across the school. This was a way to get to know each other through the organisation that went on all year, to support each other, but also to put our discussions around racial identity in creative practices in wider context with other practitioners and theorists. Finally, Zeinab Saleh (who curated the Widening the Gaze exhibition) wrote her open letter to Susan Collins asking, ‘Why are all my tutor’s white?’. After a coffee, we decided to organise with the help of our allies.
The conference was attended by around 100 people, with 15 speakers: interdisciplinary creative practitioners based in the UK and internationally, some working inside institutions, some outside. We are so pleased about what we managed to put together as a team of students who really care about supporting black and brown artists. Thank you so much.
Apart from, (we hope), achieving our original aims, we hope that through the variety of presentations, it is clear that an institution that doesn’t have black and brown voices is lacking on several levels, including academically and creatively. Everyone, (white people included), has a racial position that effects how they make or view artwork. In an institution that lacks black staff and students, it is also the role of white artists to attempt to deconstruct whiteness, nationalism, heterosexuality etc. In conversations during the conference and since, it has become even clearer to us that black and brown people continue to be tokenised. Work needs to be done to ensure the institution is ready to support black and brown students and staff, if and when they do come. This means making sure tutors know when to spot racial abuse, microaggressions and racial isolation, and can talk about it and teach others. For us, beyond statistics, quotas and ‘equality and diversity committees’ – in tandem the institution needs to be actively anti-racist. Otherwise working and studying as a black student or staff member can be traumatic. After all this time, we shouldn’t have to feel like guests in the institution.
Thank you so much Nia for creating a publication, so that we can record and reflect on what we all did together! And thank you to the people who presented and chaired the panels, sharing personal and professional experiences with clarity and bravery. We are so excited to see what happens next.
Rosa-Johan Uddoh & Clotilde Jiménez
Widening the Gaze Conference Organisers
Poster by Gray Wielebinski
Photos by Zinna Mac-Eochaidh