Welcome to Black Owned, a series that celebrates the brilliant Black entrepreneurs doing bits in the UK.
Despite the challenges, the community continues to create important and brilliant work – and we’re here to make sure that you know about it.
This week, we’ve got Bolanle Tajudeen, curator, educator and founder of Black Blossoms School of Art & Culture – a digital academy offering short courses and masterclasses that aim to decolonise and disrupt eurocentric art and creative education.
Black Blossoms, which started out as an interactive, in-person collective, works to highlight and recentre female Black creators.
With that in mind, we talked to Bolanle about setting up her own school, why Black creativity is such an important part of the canon of British art and what kinds of courses we can look forward to enrolling in.
How and why did you set up Black Blossoms (BB) initially?
I was really aware that Black women were facing constant microaggressions in the creative industries and I wanted to create a space that centred and affirmed their talents. Through the platform, I curated exhibitions, screenings and public programmes. As part of that, I devised and taught Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic at the Tate – a course that explored the historical and contemporary practices of Black female artists.
I decided to launch the Black Blossoms School of Art & Culture as art and cultural education is extremely eurocentric and doesn’t take into account all the ways Black and POC cultures have contributed to our world’s creative culture.
What made you decide to turn it into an online-learning platform?
Art and culture is an important part of everyone’s life because it’s intrinsically linked to the way we live. The built environment, for example, determines how we live and this is decided by architects and designers. It is important to understand how design, politics and economics all intersect.
Black and POC creatives are constantly asked to talk about diversity instead of actual art and cultural practices. That’s exhausting and doesn’t allow people to explore non-white art and visual histories and futures in an appropriate critical space. Instead of constantly talking about ‘diversity’, I thought I would create a platform that centers my vision of what should also be taught to creative audiences.
What kinds of courses can we look forward to enrolling in?
The school’s main focus is to create a social impact and highlight cultures and artist practices that are sometimes ignored by the art world.
The courses the school has programmed for semester one are:
- Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic
- The Image of the Black in London Galleries
- Computational Art 101
- Black British Art
- Art and Revolutionary China
- Art of Devotion: Belief, Faith and Spirit in Creative Practice
Who is teaching these classes?
The roster of tutors is so exciting and I’m already programming for semester two. The masterclasses are going to be more hands-on and I will be working with emerging and established artists and creatives so that they can share their creative practice in a formal way with their peers. I am personally so excited to learn from the tutors that have been selected to teach a course, two of whom include:
Evan Ifekoya who is teaching Art of Devotion. They’ve had their work presented across Europe and Internationally including Liverpool Biennial (2021); De Appel Netherlands (2019); Gasworks London (2018).
Ferren Gipson who’ll be heading up the Art and Revolutionary China course. She is the host of one of my favourite podcasts ‘Art Matters’ which looks at how art meets pop culture.
Black British art sometimes has its moments in the sun but on the whole, is generally neglected in art history and art practice courses. Why do you think that is?
I agree and I don’t. Melanie Keen’s ‘Recordings: Select Bibliography of Contemporary African, Afro-Caribbean and Asian British Art’ is a great place to start if you are just looking for a concise list of exhibitions and artists from the Black Arts Movement, whilst Eddie Chambers is the author of several books that critically analyse the history of Black British Art.
Although I would say now there are fewer books being written about Black art practices, there are many magazines such Yellow and Sweet Thang that promote and interview emerging artists. Rianna Jade Parker who writes for Frieze is really pushing forward critical discourse around Black artistic practices too.
The problem is that lecturers in the academy who are teaching art history and art practices courses are not recommending a variety of diverse resources to their students.
Do you want to move towards Black art being considered simply as ‘art’, or is it important that we always stress Blackness at the heart of creation?
The best art usually discusses the artist’s perspective, worldview and experiences. I love looking at art that tells me a story, whether it is about love, family or tragedy. It is even more moving when art is authentic and I think that is the most important thing about the creation of art. Is it authentic to the artist’s experiences of life?
Can anyone join BB courses, even if they know nothing about art?
Yes, the courses are for everyone – from total beginners to experts. Each class is designed to be interactive and engaging for everyone of all backgrounds and levels.
What do you hope for the future of the BB school?
I like the idea of the school remaining completely online but possibly doing ad hoc networking sessions for participants once it is safe to do so. The world is changing and I don’t think you need to be in a physical classroom to learn and network with your peers.
In the future, I’d like to partner with art organisations to deliver our masterclasses to their audiences, virtually of course.
Have you found it harder to win spaces/funding/coverage as the founder of a Black-centric business?
I have had to work really hard to make sure my work and my voice in the art world are viewed as legitimate. There are a lot of gatekeepers in the art world. People have made me feel as if my work isn’t important because I was only working with Black artists but the truth is that the art world is based on curators, dealers and collectors having a niche.
I am proud to be an expert about Black women making art. I’m constantly studying, networking and leveling up my creative practice and I just want to be respected for my knowledge the same way an antique expert or dealer would be.
What advice would you have for others trying to carve out this kind of space in very white industries?
My advice is to network, build beneficial partnerships and take big risks. The majority of my ‘wins’ have come because as a result of being recommended by a contact or meeting someone at an exhibition or conference.
People can only engage with your work if they know who you are and what you are doing in your retrospective industry. Partnering with organisations who have the same vision is also extremely important as you can share resources while tapping into their audience in an authentic way.
Take the risk of leaping into the unknown; it’s terrifying but the learning experiences will shape you and your business for the better.
What’s the one thing you’d like people to learn from interacting with Black Blossoms and/or enrolling on one of your courses?
I want every course to be a transformative experience for each individual.
I never had a non-white lecturer while doing my BA at university. The first time I did, I was doing my PGcert in Art, Design and Communication and was taught by the founder of Shades of Noir, Aisha Richards, on the inclusive practice unit. She was able to free history and art practices through an intersectional lens which was really affirming for me and made me realise there is space for me in the creative world.
Firstly, I want the Black Blossoms School of Art and Culture to make people from marginalised backgrounds feel welcome. Secondly, I want to increase the knowledge of everyone on Black and POC making practices and their creative cultural histories.
You can check out the Black Blossoms School of Art & Culture here. Four-week short courses cost £50 and will take place live on Zoom.
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