West Dean College of Arts and Conservation is pleased to announce the launch of Horticultural Appropriation: Why Horticulture Needs Decolonizing by Claire Ratinon and Sam Ayre. The pamphlet, published by Rough Trade Books, was created as part of the Gardens Residency at West Dean College and will be available from Thursday, April 22, 2021. It is part of a series of four pamphlets Rough Trade Books made in partnership with the Garden Museum that explore the idea of the garden as a space of radical potential.
Horticultural Appropriation is a conversation between Claire Ratinon, an organic food grower and artist, Sam Ayre. It discusses the possibility and necessity of bringing a decolonial lens to the practice of horticulture. Taking place within West Dean College of Art and Conservation and West Dean Gardens, the exchange explores how attempts to decolonise collections and spaces currently happening in arts and cultural institutions might inform the interrogation of the colonial history at the heart of Britain’s gardens and gardening.
Claire Ratinon and Sam Ayre were asked to undertake the Gardens Residency at West Dean after Claire joined the College’s Fine Art students last year to discuss the politics of food and the problems of horticultural language. These types of discussion are part of a wider research thread in the School of Arts that posits West Dean Gardens and Estate as an extension of the artist’s studio and as sites for critical reflection and debate. During the residency Claire and Sam toured the Gardens with Head Gardener, Tom Brown, and discussed the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown and the role of labour in a formal garden setting. They also consulted the College’s Collection and Archives which contain material relating to William and Frank James’s expeditions to African in the late 19th century. Following William James’s death in 1912 these Collections were inherited by his son, College founder Edward James. As well as forming a significant collection at West Dean, the African Collection also links with other UK collections, including botanical specimens held in the Herbarium at Kew Gardens which were collected by members of the James expedition party to Somalia.
Claire and Sam’s residency forms part of the ongoing research project Whose Heritage? Rethinking the West Dean Collection which interrogates the colonial legacy of the West Dean Collection and Archive, as well as the wider West Dean Estate and Garden. Sarah Hughes commented: “From Kew Gardens to the National Trust, cultural and horticultural spaces are acknowledging and addressing the colonial and racist legacies of their collections. The conversations that have taken place as part of Claire and Sam’s residency provide a vital voice that intersects these two sectors, recognises the injustices of the past, and reveals how they are being perpetuated in the present. Through discussion, research, and collaboration, West Dean aims to develop new narratives around its collection, gardens, and estate in order to present an accurate history that gives voice to currently underrepresented communities.”
Claire Ratinon and Sam Ayre will take part in an online in-conversation on Thursday, May 6, 7-8pm, to mark the launch of the publication (free, register online at https://www.westdean.org.uk/events/conversation-with-claire-ratinon-and-sam-ayre) and will return to the College in July to carry out further research as well as run critique sessions with Graduate Diploma and Master of Fine Art students during their Summer Show (July 3-9, 2021).
Horticultural Appropriation can be purchased from Rough Trade Books online (https://tinyurl.com/bzuzbunp) or at the West Dean Visitors Centre and Craft Shop for £7.99.
West Dean College of Arts and Conservation has an international reputation for excellence and is a full partner of the University of Sussex. Students benefit from access to a regular programme of artists, makers and writers-in-residence, as well as the opportunity to view or work with material from the College’s Collection and Archive. For Conservation and Fine Art study opportunities, see www.westdean.ac.uk.