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.”