RCA Black: Past, Present & Future

31.08.2011 10:00 - 06.09.2011 18:00


Henry Moore Galleries
Royal College of Art
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU


Taslim Martin
Ekua McMorris
Yemi Awosile
Simone Brewster
Kevin Bickham
Emamoke Ukeleghe
Althea McNish
Edward Niles
Frank Bowling
Charlie Allen
Joy Gregory
Eileen Perrier
Faisal Abdul Allah
Lawson Oyekan
Ndidi Ekubia
Barrington Watson
Tessa Alexis
Paul Jones
Catherine Anyango
Darren Norman
Harold Offeh
Caroline Sardine


RCA BLACK: Past, Present & Future

The Royal College of Art, in collaboration with the African and African Caribbean Design Diaspora (AACDD), is delighted to present RCA Black, an exhibition celebrating art and design by African and African Caribbean graduates.

Private View: September 1st, 6-9pm

The RCA is one of the world’s most influential postgraduate art and design colleges. As an incubator for creative talent it is renowned for its alumni who include Ridley Scott, James Dyson, Tracey Emin and David Hockney.  Alongside these, the RCA has also been instrumental in developing the careers of artists and designers from African and African Caribbean descent such as architect David Adjaye and bespoke tailor Charlie Allen.

A Royal College of Art education undoubtedly brings with it the prospect of prestige and success, yet at the same time, the College – in common with other major British educational institutions – is seen as being a predominately white university.

With this in mind, RCA Black will for the very first time bring together the multidisciplinary practices of the College’s African and African Caribbean art and design alumni, past and present. The achievements of these artists and designers – spanning 60 years – are being showcased not only as exemplars of creativity but also as a point of celebration.

Believing that the art and design sector should be truly representative of all talent, the AACDD approached the RCA to present the work of a group of graduates who are often marginalised within the creative industries.

Dr Paul Thompson, Rector of the Royal College of Art said: “African and African Caribbean artists and designers are faced with many barriers in their quest to obtaining academic qualifications; through this exhibition I hope that those considering applying to the College will have confidence that admission is based on merit, not on any other factor.”

Related reading:

For further information and images please contact:
Ekua McMorris on 0207 590 4211 or 07737197028, email: black@rca.ac.uk
Sue Bradburn, RCA Media Relations & Marketing Manager on 0207 590 4114, email: sue.bradburn@rca.ac.uk

In partnership with

Royal College of Art

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Comment by Chip | 04.09.2011

What is "black"? This is not a progressive term.

Comment by Chip | 04.09.2011

Went to the exhibition, the work was poor with few exceptions. It can be very dangerous to exlude oneself from your wider peers as it can be difficult to measure quality and depth in work. This was not ground breaking work and seemed to be more an exercise in self-promotion and back-patting under guise of the label "RCA Black". If this was supposed to give inspiration to african diaspora communities then there needs to be stronger work from which inspiration can be drawn. We must do better!!

Comment by coo coo | 01.09.2011

AACDD seems to like this discussion and that's a really good thing.

In an attempt to be convincing in the statement, I feel the organisers came out a bit too simplistic, sacrificing accuracy over sensation(i.e. white university). The show proposes to deal with a touchy and complex subject and the statement that goes with it should have reflected this in its syntax. Instead, what's more visible in the statement(s) was contradiction and generalisation and I suspect this is the cause of the most of the discussions here. There are many instances of double standard or generalisation happening in the statement, in the press and in this comment section from the organisers and the people who supposedly support the cause.

I genuinely support the cause too, though not by standing next to my friend at the opening drinking beer agreeing on everything, but by giving a criticism that this type of events often do not get. It's clearly not the cause that's being criticised here, but the way it's delivered.

Somehow we are made to feel that critical comments are negative or against the cause because of its touchy subject matter. This happens, I think, because of the simplistic and slightly shocking approach employed by the organisers presumably in order to attract wider audience, but using the serious issue at hand as criticism repellant is never a good idea. Sometimes we forget about the importance of the outside while immersing ourselves in the subject we deeply care about... This was the concern that came to me the first time I read the press release, and saw realised here in how people reacted to Peter's comment. In my mind, Peter merely pointed out what he believed to be an inaccurate representation of an institution he himself knows and cares about, trying to correct an error. It shouldn't be seen as an attack of any kind.

Personally, I don't see a need for putting on yet another show if it cannot accept open criticism and does not involve curatorial consciousness(Colour is not a conscious choice, you know). There has been a few points made about how the people is the main content and the work secondary, but the beauty of art and design is the fact that we can communicate ideas through object and imagery with a certain level of detachment to the subject matter. The sense of objectiveness, seriousness and urgency cannot be achieved without this detachment. Saying that the people behind the work is the main content makes it redundant to present the work of these people, as it diverts the attention away from the people, especially when it's made clear several times that the work doesn't have to have anything to do with the subject of the show.

I am serious about my work just as anybody else and don't see any point in participating in a show where the main task is achieved by just being in it, and I DO shy away from such occasions!

Comment by TT | 31.08.2011

I was also pretty shocked to read the guardian article. It did not seem to reflect the RCA that I knew and I was also surprised to see the term WHITE UNIVERSITY used in the press release for the show. I imagine a lot of other people were to but are too scared of being accused of racism to say so. Why is this descending into mud slinging? Is that not just detracting from the good that the show can do? Go RCA!

Comment by BB | 31.08.2011

I really like this discussion. It opens up a lot of hidden issues. I particularly like the comment by Hato concerning pigeons.

When the pigeon college decides to put on a show for only one colour of pigeon and the other colour of pigeon (we are to assume the white colour of pigeon I suppose) is not allowed to join, the white pigeon gets confused, and from that point on the pigeon seems to go off cooing to himself until he works himself up into such an internal rage that he goes about trying to bad talk all of the people involved in the show, maybe even to the point of sabotage?

Let’s look at another analogy.
If my friend and I were both actors and we wanted to be in the same play but I wasn’t picked for whatever reason, I wouldn’t go off and give bad reviews and commentary about the play. I would turn up on opening night and show my support, I would be in the front row clapping as the curtains fell, because apparently I wanted to show my support.

Why could the pigeon only show it’s support by being IN the show? There are so many other ways that the pigeon could show it’s support. It could turn up, and stand next to the pigeon for all who came to see that it believed in it’s pigeon friend, enough to be there next to him even when he had nothing personally to gain. To show that even though the participants in the show could only be pink pigeons the university where the pigeons learned had many other colours of pigeon?

Maybe instead the pigeon didn’t really care, or wasn’t really the friend of the pigeon who was able to be in the show, because as soon as the cooing pigeon was unable to gain personally (be that via promotion or exposure or just another line on their CV,) they weren’t able to show support. They lost interest in all the good the show could do for their pigeon friend and instead try to call up every negative thought possible. Maybe it was because the pigeon had the brain the size of a rice grain?
Who knows, I’m not a pigeon.

Comment by Simone Brewster | 31.08.2011

Just so we are clear, one of the main purposes of the show is to promote art and design not to the wider market but to within the black community. It may be controversial to some to use black people as the role models for future generations of all people, but I think it's as negative as we choose to make it.

You may argue that we are pigeonholing ourselves, but if enough different pigeons of all differnt beautiful pigeon colours turn up to the actual event then we will result in building many solid pigeon bridges and pigeon networks and even some younger pigeons might come along and feel inspired to believe in themselves and their own creativity and maybe some of those pigeons will believe in themselves so much that they learn how to fly...

Comment by H | 31.08.2011

wish we could be there to celebrate this major achievement

Comment by Simone Brewster | 31.08.2011

These are the things that I've actually been saying to the press.
If you are interested in the true message and intentions of the show, and the true content that has been voiced, please press this link. Hope to see you all on Thursday.


Comment by Hato | 30.08.2011

Hey guys, such a lively discussion here! It's nice to see people still care about things..... Very confusing topic though, possibly because everyone involved says something else? I thought it might help us all to see it in a different context, an analogy.

A bunch of pigeons go to school to learn how to make art. There are different pigeons, white, grey, black, yellow, purple, all from different parts of the world. They get mixed up in the school and learn lots of things from each other. When they finish school and go out into the wider world, some of the landlords put same coloured pigeons into the same hole and treat them differently from others. This isn't fair. The head master hears this, and thinks "but we admit every colour of pigeons on merit, not on colour" So with a an organisation promoting the culture of one colour of pigeons, they put up an exhibition of works from one colour of pigeons and put them in the same hole. Another coloured pigeon wanted to show support because he deeply cares about the other coloured pigeon, but he is told he cannot be in the show because he just isn't the colour. His confusion is deepened when he hears one of the pigeons in the show doesn't really care, or share the sentiment that prompted the show in the first place. She is just in it because this particular pigeon school has a good name.
The press release of the show says the school that's hosting the show is seen as being a predominately white pigeon university. This causes mild confusion among pigeons who graduated from the school as it just isn't true. From experience they know all colours of pigeons mingled in school, so why are they putting those pigeons of a particular colour in the same hole now? And why suddenly the reason for holding this show became the school itself that in fact was doing what it tries to promote?

....and that's how the term 'to pigeonhole' was born!

Comment by Peter | 30.08.2011

Hi Eelko,

your text contains a glaring contradiction that confirms the sentiment of my previous message:

‘nowhere in the text a finger is pointed, nor racism suggested.’

followed by:

‘Voicing opinions on and concerning such sensitive issues as racism is brave and well needed.’

Either the text introducing the show hints at racism within the RCA or it does not. Which?

Following talks with the organisors I identified that this statement:

‘the College – in common with other major British educational institutions – is seen as being a predominately white university.’

Although made by proxy, this is untrue and offensive, and is used by the organisors to introduce the exhibition. The comment is still there and I stand by this. It’s a massive accusation to make against an institution that is so incredibly inclusive, and, contrary to what the Guardian would wish us to think, is already a ‘beacon of diversity’. I believe the many people who come from all over the world to study there would agree with this and I’m sad to hear that someone sees it in another light.

On what genuine grounds was this comment made? On what statistical evidence? On what experiential evidence? I would challenge anyone making such a grand comment to come forwards with some concrete evidence of racist bias at the RCA. I believe the only way that the RCA would be considered a ‘white university’ (whatever that means) is by publicly issuing a statement that says:

‘the College – in common with other major British educational institutions – is seen as being a predominately white university.’

You have attempted to twist my commentary by saying that I have ‘a lack of empathy for the group in question’ and then later make a relation to ‘new fascism’. This is also untrue and defamatory.

To promote black culture through the RCA is a positive idea and I agree it’s much needed. I’m happy it is happening. However to label the RCA as a ‘white university’ as a way to introduce the exhibition, drags the concept of the exhibition down to a negative and much lower level than the designers and artists deserve.

Comment by eelko moorer | 29.08.2011

Dear Peter,

nowhere in the text a finger is pointed, nor racism suggested. It is very unwise and potentially damaging to make assumptions on issues that you apparently have no clear and/ or well informed view on.

Voicing opinions on and concerning such sensitive issues as racism is brave and well needed. Especially in the light of recent events in the UK. Discussion and mutual understanding are essential in a society that advocates itself as open, equal and democratic both towards race as well as gender, and sexual preference.
Your emotive response is a voice without being funded in facts, or underpinned with references from various angles (social, cultural, historical, political, etc) concerning an issue like this, is not only stupid, but does echo ignorance and suggests a lack of empathy for the group in question.

Let’s celebrate not only achievement and pathmaking by and for the black community and beyond in the UK, but also the RCA in promoting both diversity and inclusion against a wider European climate where ignorance, and a lack of empathy are a breeding ground for the dumb wind of populism (read: new facism) that is curently sweeping through large parts of continental Europe.

Go RCA, go black!

Comment by Peter Marigold | 29.08.2011

Projecting racism onto an institution where there is none is deeply offensive and requires clear directed substantiation, not casual ignorant commentary. This is a serious accusation. Who exactly are the curators of the exhibition pointing a finger at as racists within the RCA? No doubt they will now cower behind the idea that it is 'the institution' rather than any one who is part of it.
Providing the black community with positive role models is one thing, naming an institution as racist when it is clearly not is at best stupid, but more accurately just offensive.
I feel sorry for the artists and designers that have been dragged down to the level that this show projects, and I would have expected a lot more from the RCA in promoting the show in this way.

Comment by Juliette Goddard | 24.08.2011

Nice article in todays The Guardian by Hannah Pool

Comment by Marlaina | 23.08.2011

very much wish I could attend! Arts supported from Australia.

Comment by Juliette Goddard | 17.08.2011

I look forward to this exhibition, it will be around the time of Black History Month.

Comment by Anthony | 15.08.2011

I am looking forward to the exhibition, it looks like it's going be to a great showcase of African and Caribbean creative talent!

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