Thursday, 1 April 2010
Ruth Babajide - African Heritage Exhibition
A Q&A with Ruth Babajide - curator of The African Heritage Exhibition
An exciting and refreshing showcase of established and emerging new talent from modern Africa and its diaspora, The African Heritage Exhibition opened on Wednesday 31st March 2010 at the Bedfordbury Gallery in Covent Garden. Exhibiting everything from photography, to fine art, jewellery to ceramics, the show is a celebration of Africa's rich and vibrant cultural output. We speak to curator Ruth Babajide about the inspiration behind the show, her ceramics practise and the importance of knowing your own heritage.
Is this your first curatorial effort?
Yes it is! I have learnt so much through the curatorial process and understanding the space around the art is just as important as the art. I collaborated with the African Eden Safari Company to put this exhibition together along with other sponsors like MacIntyre Hudson from the finance sector and Obaseki Solicitors. We also received a lot of support from various African embassies, Fairmont Hotels, Lonely Planet and Lush soaps, so we have been very fortunate!
What inspired you to put on this exhibition?
I became extremely exhausted and bored of seeing the same images of Africa through the media which only showed poverty, lack of education, basically lack of hope or prosperity. I have travelled many times to different countries in Africa and while there is a side that struggles, there are also many positive things happening in the continent which the western world is not exposed to. That is what inspired me to hold an event that will allow the western audience to engage with the positive side of Africa through art, photography, music, food and travel which reflects a vibrant, modern united nation that has a lot to give. I also thought that it would be good time to do this with the World Cup being held in South Africa this year.
How did you select the artists involved?
I am part of a network called Creative African Network which is part of Puma Vision. There are so many talented people who are part of it that are from Africa or are linked to the continent through their work or interests. I found photographers like Delphine Diallo, Nathalie Bikoro, Paul Sika and Laura El Tantawy on the website. The jewellery designer Doreth Jones (who I met through a colleague at the Holts Academy of Jewellery) and I met the two artists Georgina Goodwin and Jimnah Kimani on my safari trips to Kenya. It was easy to get all of them excited about the African Heritage project as it is an exhibition coming from a new and different angle and when they saw that I was passionate and working hard on it being a success, they wanted to be part of the journey.
Can you tell us about some of the work we’ll get to see?
I will be showing bespoke ceramic vessels that are a fusion of my Nigerian heritage and growing up in Old Street London with the dance, punk rock music of the early nineties coming from the underground clubs. Paul Sika is showing for the first time a video piece of his photography that comments on modern West African culture, the people and their environment. Laura El Tantawy is showing her ongoing project called ‘The Veil’ that looks at a cross section of women around the world who wear it and how it has become the defining icon of Islam. Nathalie Bikoro is doing a live art performance and there will also be wildlife photography from Georgina Goodwin.
So African culture influences your working practise as a ceramicist?
Most definitely! All my work has some sort of ‘African aesthetic’. I also travel a lot to East Africa where some of family are from, which inspires the prints I design for my ceramic pieces. My design philosophy has always been about designing and making ceramic products that allow for culture exchange and understanding. Right now I am focussed on creating things that will allow people to engage and learn more about different African cultures.
What do you know of your own heritage?
I was born in London to Nigerian parents who came to this country when they were teenagers in the mid seventies. Being Nigerian and also English because I was born here has caused a lot of conflict within myself at times because it can be difficult to describe myself as one thing or belonging to one group of people. I lived in Nigeria for two years in the early nineties which was good for me as I got to learn the Yoruba language and understand more about where my parents come from and our culture. But I also acknowledge that being raised in Britain plays an important part in my life and who I am today.
Do you feel that many people in the UK are losing touch with their heritage?
I think that as times move on, everywhere is becoming more globalised and everybody is becoming entities that are a culmination of various languages, races, religions and cultures. We are no longer a world where someone is just one thing or is from one place. The UK is a great example of a globalised nation and with our ties with the EU and other continents in the world, people who live here are being exposed to different things from different people who come and settle here. People do lose touch with their heritage because of this or their heritage is constantly changing and no longer seen as important in this day and age.
Is there a possibility of the exhibition touring?
The idea is that every year in the summer season, we would curate a show that focuses on Africa through the arts and design but will become more specific, showing work that discusses an issue or theme. The next exhibition will hopefully be in a bigger gallery space that has more sponsors to support it. I would tell you what the next one is going to be about but I better keep it a secret till closer to the time... but it is going to be even more fantastic!
African Heritage at the 3 Bedfordbury Gallery, Covent Garden London WC2N 4BP
Wednesday 31st March – Sunday 4th April 2010
11am – 8pm
Nearest Station: Charing Cross (Bakerloo and Northern Line)