Could you tell us some words about you, what did you study and what exactly was your role as the UAL education officer?
I was a photojournalism student at LCC, part of the reason I became involved in the Students Union was due to the lack of representation on my course. I was one of two black students and pretty much all my curriculum was centered on white photographers. There were no black tutors or guest lecturers and I had to search for a community to belong to at UAL. I got involved in two Student Lead campaigns, the Decolonising the Curriculum campaign that was being run by my predecessor Hansika Jethani and the ‘Stop the Elephant development campaign’ being run by previous campaigns officer Sahaya James. Both these campaigns revealed to me that UAL was complicit in racism both inside and outside the institution.
I wasn’t prepared to accept that things couldn’t change and I knew I wanted to help other Black students find their voice. I ran on a manifesto that was all about inclusivity, creating space for Black students and ending systemic racism at UAL. But I’ve worked on a range of different projects and campaigns such as the end outsourcing campaign , tackling racism at UAL, saving the only SU bar at UAL, reducing the cost of study for students, and the Decolonising the Curriculum Zine to name a few. Fundamentally my role was to support and represent students across UAL on all things educational.
Why is the decolonisation of the curriculum, in art colleges specifically, important in your opinion?
Art Universities, present themselves as being free and liberal establishments, it’s what appealed to me as a younger student. I wanted to be part of a creative environment that celebrated diversity. However, as a Black student, you quickly come to realise that the curriculum is not necessarily designed to be inclusive. It’s lazy and it’s racist. Black and ethnic minority artists are completely axed from pre-colonial history. The Black history we are taught in British schools starts and ends with slavery and the civil rights movement, the teaching of selective history continues into higher education. If you are questioning your curriculum, to me that is a sign of growth and intellect. Universities should be empowering Black students to reach their full potential, not penalising them for calling out an oppressive system. It’s not just the curriculum that needs to be decolonised; it’s the culture, there has to be a zero-tolerance attitude to racism in our classrooms and the governing structures of institutions like UAL. This is a pivotal moment for art Institutions to set an example for the next generation of the creative industry.
Could you explain what the Zine “Decolonising the Arts Curriculum” is, how did it start and what it is about? What kind of work does it include?
The zine originated as a safe platform for students and staff to share their experiences, the zine was used as a way to share resources and challenge the university’s colonial structures. This project created a lane for Black students and staff to feel represented at UAL. Like most Black students, I remember raising questions of representation within my course and wondering why I was having to search for a curriculum that reflected my identity. I didn’t know what “decolonising” meant until I had read the first zine, it opened up the floor for racism to be discussed. In zine two you see the evolution of critical thinking, there’s a confidence in the way contributors are sharing and expressing themselves. The zines have taken on a life of their own, they have been a gateway for so many students and staff to connect. In 2019, the first zine became an exhibition tour, with a full line up of networking events, talks, and workshops. Both Zines have influenced the curriculum criteria and have been used as university-wide resources. We’ve been able to facilitate a safe, creative platform for black and minority ethnic students.
Why do you think this body of work did not become more known after its creation?
People don’t realise how much work and time goes into creating a publication like the decolonising the curriculum zine. Working on the second zine with Rahul Patel, Clare Warner and Hansika Jethani, was a truly inspirational and educational journey. There are so few BAME staff at UAL and the ones that are doing great pieces of work rarely get the recognition they deserve. The feedback we’ve had from zine contributors, students, staff, and other universities has been so overwhelmingly positive. During the UCU strikes in March Rahul and I was delivering teach-out sessions on the picket lines and it was clear that there is a high demand for resources like this. Universities have to invest more time and resources into developing projects like Decolonising the curriculum zine. The vice-chancellor and senior members of staff at UAL should have just as much responsibility in decolonising the curriculum as the student-facing staff on the ground.