“Our art should reflect who we are today” – Imperial artworks group formed

Imperial is to review the artwork displayed on its campuses in a drive to better represent the diversity of its community.

The Artworks Group, chaired by Professor Sian Harding, was commissioned by the President and Provost to consider how Imperial can better reflect its staff, students and alumni through its art.

Everyone should be able to see themselves reflected in the art on our walls and in our public spaces. Sian Harding Chair of the Artwork Group

The group will consult with the College community to identify individuals and groups whose images might be portrayed, and advise on locations for new works of art and portraits that could be commissioned. It will deliver a report in January 2021, and decisions on the recommendations will be made by March 2021

The move comes as Imperial drives forward a series of initiatives focused on addressing racial inequalities, both within the College and beyond.

The Artwork Group sits alongside the History Group, which is working to examine the history of the College and its legacy, with a focus on colonialism and Empire. The two groups will feed into each other as their work progresses.

Professor Sian Harding set out her vision for the Group’s work:

What is the group aiming to do?

We want to look at the artwork we display at Imperial and consider how we can better ensure that it celebrates our diverse community today. Everyone should be able to see themselves reflected in the art on our walls and in our public spaces. It is no secret that there are several places on campus where you can find yourself surrounded by portraits of only white men. This is not at all inspiring for our community and does them a disservice. Our art should reflect who we are today, and we will be looking for new ways to do that.

What kind of art are you talking about?

We are looking at the full spectrum, from historic paintings, statues and busts to modern pieces like photography and digital art. This is an opportunity to consider carefully what we want to display, and how it fits our values. Our diversity needs to be reflected in both our enduring artwork, as well as more transient exhibitions and displays.

Will you be taking art down?

We are proud to display many of our artworks. However, it is right that we think carefully about the art we have adorning our corridors and public spaces. We might want to set some existing works in their historical context, for example. A key part of our work will be identifying locations and ways to display new art, as well as considering what we already have. We need to be open to all options in order to make a proper assessment.

An important thing to remember is that art moves around all the time at Imperial. It is not fixed. Our Archives takes care of any art we don’t have on display at a given time.

What challenges do you envisage?

The biggest challenge is that we simply do not know in a coherent way what artwork we actually have! This is a challenge on all our campuses, but is especially the case for our medical campuses, who brought with them their own art and histories when they joined the College. Our first task is to do a thorough audit of Imperial’s art across all campuses to understand what the current state of play is, and we can build from there.

How does this fit with the work of the History Group?

It is very complimentary work, but the President and Provost felt that the issue of our Art required a particular focus. As the History Group unearth details about our past, this might shine a new light on some of our art. They also might discover figures in our past who are deserving of greater recognition than they have at the moment.

How can the community get involved?

We need your help to find out what we have, in all the hidden corners and widely dispersed campuses especially. As we begin our work, please send pictures of pieces of art that you see, with a note about which campus and location.

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