The Depths of Our History

In this blog post for the Contemporary Art Space Project based in the West Midlands, we hear from project curator Josephine Reichert about the impact of the in-school launch of Rudy Loewe’s “The Depths of Our History” held on 4 March 2020.

In summer 2019 I was appointed the curator for the Contemporary Art Space Project, a collaborative project by Iniva and RSA Academies. I was excited by what the project was trying to do. At a time when the curriculum had been moving away from art and music teaching, this project didn’t just try and bring great contemporary art into schools, it was also trying to redefine how art is included in the teaching of all subjects. The project saw us working directly with students and teachers to support their engagement with artwork created by emerging talent from Birmingham and London. The artists selected make work that asks difficult questions around belonging, community, identity and emotions. It also brought contemporary art to many students who might not have experienced it otherwise.

On the 4 March 2020 we held a day-long launch of Rudy Loewe’s piece entitled “The Depth of our History” at Holyhead Academy in Handsworth, north Birmingham. The work was created following three workshops with Year 8 children and an art therapist, Prabhjot Kaur and looks at Handsworth’s history of protest and resistance, its strong community spirit and also its issues.

Over the school day we met 4 classes from year groups 7 to 10 and worked with over 100 students. The students were asked to visit the artwork and experience it, and as it is hung high above the ground the children had to look up and discover what was painted and written on the 6-metre-long canvas. The discussions very quickly turned to the reality of living in Handsworth, its issues and its strengths. Several students mentioned they liked the art work as it spoke about the strength found in community action.

We then headed back to the class rooms where a small group of students who had been involved in creating the work with Rudy had a presentation prepared for each group. The conversations quickly moved onto other current topics including the coronavirus and the xenophobia many people faced because of it as well as Greta Thunberg and how young people protesting can affect change. It was amazing to see how the work stimulated debate amongst the teenagers. It made me realise that, as a society, we can be tempted to think of children as uninformed social media zombies, to whom culture is alien. And yet the discussions sparked naturally, were deep and meaningful and did not need much leading by teachers or myself.

We still have a few months of engagement work planned and I am excited to keep working with these bright young people. But for now, I already feel that the project has been successful, in that it showed us that contemporary artwork with a socially challenging agenda can spark discussion and communication amongst the community and can influence young people in how they see and experience their world.

Related project: Contemporary Art Space Project Related project: Contemporary Art Space Project Resources #1 Related project: Contemporary Art Space Project Resources #2 Related project: Contemporary Art Space Project Resources #3