The FUAM Graduate Art Prize rewards the artistic excellence of graduating students from BA Art and Design and Fine Art at the University of Leeds. Now in its sixth year, the annual exhibition showcases the work of this year’s four finalists, Hannah Marsh, Katie Clark, Beth Windmill, and Tayisiya Shovgelia. The works exhibited include performative and audio installations, digital video and animation, photography and artist photo books.
With current discourse concerning Britain’s exit from the EU, and conversations about discrimination towards minority groups that have been rife since the vote to leave in 2016, the work of this years’ prizewinner – Hannah Marsh – is pertinent in its exploration of the spaces that black people occupy within institutions and their experiences of isolation and alienation. Marsh’s work presented in the exhibition is an extensive installation piece, For Eya, Susie and I (2018), that is comprised of a large performative ink drawing on the gallery wall, created using cleaning tools; a cleaner’s cupboard that contains a sound work featuring the voices of Marsh, her grandmother, and a cleaner that is based in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies (FAHACS) at the University; and smaller photography and mixed media works.
The installation draws upon the narrative of Marsh’s grandmother Eya Couloute and her experience as a black migrant from Santa Lucia, this is intertwined with the experiences of Susie the Fine Art School cleaner, who is a black migrant from Ghana. The ink drawing alludes to the gestural movements of a cleaner; the marks show signs of wiping and rubbing with mops and cloths, capturing the hidden motions of the cleaner that goes unnoticed in her work, almost invisible, or just ignored. The audio piece and cupboard setting immerse the viewer in these stories; an artificial scene that highlights the reality of this marginal role, a chance for the silent workers to recount their experiences. Marsh says that through her work she seeks to “make commentary on the lack of movement socially, concerning opportunities for black people in Britain.”
Another graduate from the School of FAHACS, Katie Clark’s work draws inspiration from her own experiences and frustrations as a young woman. Clark’s animated digital video The Grey Area (2018), presents a narrative in a traditional hand-drawn style that looks to expand the limitations within which consent and assault are understood and addressed. Clark takes an intersectional feminist eye to the behaviours of society and produces work that looks to challenge patriarchal structures and empower the voices of those who are currently unheard. Clark’s work is similarly relevant to current discussions, particularly surrounding the controversial Trump presidency and the difficult stories of women that continue to stay silent in a society that ‘minimalise and normalise’ them.
Moving away from the politically charged works of the FAHACS graduates, the photographic works of BA Art and Design student Beth Windmill, are concerned with themes of identity, mapping on a personal level, and memory, or holes within memory. The colourful shots and blurred moments take form in a wall-mounted montage and artist photo book that intend to bring together separate memories or multiple parts of one memory, and layer them together in an incoherent manner. The specific colour scheme and layout of the images are purposeful, reflecting the idea of memory as an experience not in its true state but something that has been altered or is unclear, revealing gaps in the memory of the storyteller. Whilst the viewer can relate to these explorations of memory, the work is also very personal to Windmill, incorporating images and text from her own experiences.
Also working with photography, the works of Tayisiya Shovgelia began as an exploration of a body as form, which then evolved to focus on the beauty and eroticism of flowers as an analogy of the female body. The large-scale photographs of dying flowers allude to the notion of memento mori and the focus on still life flowers and objects that reflect the theme of death. Shovgelia’s practice is informed by fashion photography and this results in an interesting crossover between the tropes of such a loaded photography style and the imagery of flowers and death, rather than fashion models and clothing. Like Windmill, Shovgelia also creates artist photo books and the series exhibited play with the relationship between art and advertising, with flowers as a continuing motif.
The FUAM Graduate Art Prize is a great opportunity to see work by fellow University of Leeds students that are at the start of their artistic careers and it will be interesting to see what they will do in the next part of their journey. The exhibition is on until Saturday the 3rd of November at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery in the Parkinson Building, catch the show while you can!
Image credit: library.leeds.ac.uk