Decolonising and diversifying institutions: creating inclusive spaces where difference is respected

The 2017 Serpentine Pavilion – designed by Diébédo Francis Kéré from Burkina Faso, and displayed in Kensington Gardens, London (23 June – 8 October) – represents an architectural structure designed with community gatherings and convivial interactions in mind. Kéré’s harmoniously cylindrical, indigo-blue, textured structure, with its lattice-like wood and metal-framed roof fanning out to form a funnel-shaped sloping canopy,  evokes the atmosphere of a central communal meeting place, with multiple openings overhead for letting in natural light to illuminate the interior while also providing shelter from the rain.

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Serpentine Pavilion 2017, designed by the architect Francis Kéré from Gando in Burkina Faso. Photo: Carol Dixon.

This beautiful artwork, inspired by the broad canopies and buttresses of tropical baobabs, signifies a pluralist space where diverse conversations and opportunities to exchange ideas are welcomed. The pavilion’s design, therefore, serves as an appropriate image through which to introduce and illustrate the overarching theme for this year’s Royal Geographical Society annual international conference – “Decolonising Geographical Knowledges.” This complex and wide-ranging theme, which also served as a call to action, was addressed over the course of a stimulating, four-day event programme of lectures, panel sessions and workshops attracting more than 1000 delegates from around the world.

Given that these geographical discussions  were taking place in Kensington less than a two-minute walk from the Serpentine Pavilion signifies that, similarly to the architect’s desire to create a contemporary equivalent of a central community meeting space where all are welcomed to converge and consider the key issues of the day, the RGS-IBG was symbolically also opening up (and opening out) the institution to invite in a greater diversity of publics (and broader critical perspectives) than had hitherto been seen as integral to geography as a subject discipline, where scholarship pursued by privileged white men from elite schools within the Euro-American academy still dominates most of the academic geographical discourse.

The 2017 Chair of the Conference, Sarah Radcliffe (Professor of Latin American Geography, University of Cambridge) was responsible for catalysing debates related to the theme of decolonisation. Her address drew attention to the various ways geography within academia has begun to provide a platform for considering how institutions established during the colonial era can be transformed into more inclusive and ‘decolonial’ spaces, fully divested of the structural inequalities and power hierarchies that previously allowed elitism, exclusions and discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, religion, nationality, educational background, disability, LGBTQ+ identities to persist and endure long after the end of formal colonial rule. Continue reading “Decolonising and diversifying institutions: creating inclusive spaces where difference is respected”

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“Verses After Dusk.” A solo exhibition by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (Serpentine Gallery, London)

It was worth braving the storm clouds a few days ago to visit the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens and view Verses After Dusk – a solo exhibition of recent works by the British figurative painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (b. 1977, London).

The Woman Watchful (2015), by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
The Woman Watchful (2015), by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Although I have been aware of this artist since she was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2013, I had only previously seen a small number of individual paintings by her in group displays at Tate Britain (where her works ’10pm Saturday’ (2012) and The Generosity (2010) are part of the British Art Collection) and Leeds Art Gallery (where the beautiful seascape with two figures Condor and the Mole (2011) was shown in the Arts Council touring exhibition, One Day, Something Happens: Paintings of People, 6 March-24 May 2015) . For this reason it was fascinating to spend time delving deeper into her portfolio, appraising recently completed paintings, and learning more about Yiadom-Boakye’s artistic practice via this solo exhibition.

Curses (2011) by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. This painting featured as the Serpentine’s promotional image for the Verses After Dusk exhibition.

Displayed on the ground floor in five inter-connected rooms, Verses After Dusk comprises c.25 contemporary oil paintings and  sketches of individuals, pairs and small groups depicted in a range of  quite ambiguous, quotidian settings – from dimly lit, under-defined interiors, to sparsely populated beach scenes and seascapes.

Interstellar (2012), by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

The exhibition opens with a selection of individual portraits of young men and women – some facing out towards the viewer, but most painted at oblique angles with averted eyes looking away into the distance, or with their backs completely turned as if to avoid the onlooker’s gaze altogether.

An impressive oil on canvas titled ‘Interstellar’ (2012) is positioned on the wall immediately facing the entrance to the first room so that a tall, larger-than-life figure of an athletic and graceful dancer, with arms outstretched in a balletic relevé on demi-point provides the first glimpse of Yiadom-Boakye’s sublime work. From the outset, the scale, energy and refinement of this painting drew me in and provoked many questions – not only concerning the subject in the frame, but also musings about the artist herself.

Continue reading ““Verses After Dusk.” A solo exhibition by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (Serpentine Gallery, London)”