Press Release: Artists announced for inspiring new residency at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

Two Artist residencies have been announced at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation as part of the Whose Heritage research project, set up to explore the College’s African Collections. Sherie Sitauze and Sonia Barrett have been chosen following an open call which was run in collaboration with award-winning arts charity Outside In.

“My aim for this residency would be precisely to rethink to whom the West Dean collection really ‘belongs’ to, whom it speaks to or, seems to represent,” said Sherie. “At the moment it seems the African collection is presented through the eyes of the Western collector; it is the Western story of Africa.”

The collection includes pieces from Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, such as an Ekoi Headdress, and a Sudanese drum that had belonged to the Mahdist Commander, Osman Digna. These objects open up discussions around pre-colonial narratives and the ethics of display. The Archives at West Dean include a wide range of materials that offer insight into the colonial mindset, as well as recording the expeditions that form the basis of the collection.

The chance to link the past and the present is a key element which attracted Sonia to the residency. She said she will ‘see if I can trace some of our current situation in some of the magic in the objects’ and that she hoped to discover ‘how collections could be useful to tackle some of the major issues we are facing right now’.

Outside In’s acting director Amanda Sutton, in light of the Black Lives Matters movement and being in Black History Month, agrees the timing couldn’t be more poignant. She said: “We are incredibly pleased that this residency is happening right now as never before has it been more pertinent to re-evaluate the way we present our collections. I’m so looking forward to seeing how Sherie Situaze and Sonia Barrett will help us to reposition this work and change archaic attitudes to the visual arts as essentially this is what Outside In is all about.”

Sarah Hughes, Curatorial Assistant, Collections, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation commented: “West Dean College is situated in a Historic House with an opulent interior and complex history.  Until now there has been little interrogation of the colonial narratives that surround particular collections. The Whose Heritage project intentionally disrupts the Eurocentric perspective that has informed the display of such items. We are excited to be working with Sonia and Sherie to question the power structures of colonial histories and deconstruct ideas around privilege, imperialism, and the white gaze.”

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Artist profile: Sherie Sitauze

Sherie Sitauze’s current work is mostly moving image, and something she describes as being ‘the ongoing attempt to piece together fragments of a history where pre-colonial documentation is scarce’.

Having had a lifelong interest in art, Sherie says she likes to think creating and making – either with her hands or her mind – has ‘always been with me in its endless possibilities’.

Artist profile: Sonia Barrett

Sonia Barrett began making art soon after the birth of her daughter. “I was painting with her in a sling on my back and late at night”, she recalls. “I had no time to myself and realised then that the little time I did have I wanted to spend making work.” These paintings would go on to fund summer school, then a scholarship and on a path which will next see her head to West Dean. Sonia says her hope for the residency is to ‘learn and share’ while continuing her practice which ‘seeks to create new questions where there was a kind of certainty that has to do with normative Western European values’.

About the research project

Whose Heritage? Rethinking the West Dean Collection is a research project set up to interrogate the legacy of colonialism in the West Dean Collection, Archive, and Gardens. The project actively challenges embedded curatorial practices and explores new approaches to collections interpretation that address the current neutrality in the display of related artefacts. It will actively engage members of the various communities represented in the collection and archive and is being conducted in consultation with heritage sector professionals. The project is actively interdisciplinary and seeks responses from areas that are currently supported by the college including arts, conservation, creative writing and making.

About the West Dean Collection

The West Dean Collection includes artworks, antiquities, artefacts, furniture and books from pre-history to the twenty-first century. The James family lived at West Dean from 1891 and they acquired a lot of the objects on display and in use in the House. These objects represent the fashionable Edwardian household they were intended to furnish as well as the family’s various travels across Europe, Africa, Asia, South and Central America and the Arctic.

From 1984 the Collection expanded to include the collection of the poet and arts patron, Edward James. This included Surrealist and Modernist artworks by artists including Salvador Dali, René Magritte, Leonora Carrington, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Leonor Fini.

About Outside In

Outside In is a catalyst for change. Founded in 2006, it is now an established national charity that aims to provide a platform for artists who face significant barriers to the art world due to health, disability, social circumstance or isolation.  Outside In’s work covers three main areas: Artist development, exhibitions and training. These activities, supported by fundraising and communications, all aim to create a fairer art world by supporting artists, creating opportunities and influencing arts organisations.

Website: www.outsidein.org.uk Social media: @outsidein_uk

About West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

West Dean College is an educational charity whose mission is to provide the highest quality education in arts and conservation. Alongside the academic provision, the College supports an annual programme of residencies designed to provide research and development opportunities to artists whilst enhancing the learning environment of the College.

Website: www.westdean.ac.uk Social media: @westdeancollege

PR enquiries

West Dean/ Rachel Aked – 07790 732448 rachel.aked@westdean.ac.uk
Outside In/ Laura Miles – 07496 637214 Laura.Miles@outsidein.org.uk

Frank and William James expedition material from the West Dean College archive
Ekoi Headdress, late 19th century