Voices on Art

Voices on Art is a space to share individual viewpoints and reflections on works of art from the Collection.

The Government Art Collection team works closely with colleagues and staff networks across the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), including the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network.

The BAME Network exists to create a supportive community for staff, identify and examine issues that disproportionately affect BAME staff in the Department, and identify constructive responses and solutions to help DCMS become a wholly inclusive place to work.

As part of the Collection’s Representation of the People Project 2018–2028 and in collaboration with the BAME Network, we have invited colleagues to explore the Collection online and to select a work of art that resonates with, interests or intrigues them. We hope you enjoy reading these individual reflections, and look out for new texts which will join this space throughout the year.

Two, Twos by Michaela Yearwood-Dan

a split view of a cafe table and the outside showing a palm tree

Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Two, Twos © Michaela Yearwood-Dan

As a much younger Londoner, instead of elaborating when discussing a situation, I would use slang words such as – ‘two, two’s’. An example of how I might use the phrase in a sentence: ‘I was out at the corner shop and two, two’s, I looked around and saw Idris Elba walking towards me and I said “rah wha gwan”. (yes, my father would tell me off for using Patois). So when I was lucky enough to come across this painting, I was completely engaged. Here was ‘Art’ (yes, Art) that hailed both the language of my youth and replicated my cultural background – a London thing in more ways than one!

Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s bold painting depicts a black person eating, quintessential British food – pie, mash, and liquor. Whilst sitting next to someone wearing a Fred Perry top, another staple of Great British kit. In the opposite painting, we see a palm tree blowing in the wind against tin shacks. I reminisce of the Caribbean I saw as a teenager, sitting on the veranda reading Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer and writing my diary. These two images of the British and Caribbean culture collide and form a new space of cultural meaning. As a third generation Jamaican-Somali woman born in Balham, London I often feel in-between spaces of belonging, being the ‘same but different’ a space of fluid identity.

Text authored by Cheryl Fearon, artist and occasional writer currently working in the Diversity and Inclusion team at DCMS on-loan from the Heritage team.

A View of Pigeon Island & Part of St. Lucia, 25 March 1780 by Charles Forrest and Francis Chesham

sailing ships in a harbour

Charles Forrest and Francis Chesham, A View of Pigeon Island & Part of St. Lucia, 25 March 1780 © Crown Copyright

This has personal resonance for me as my parents are from St Lucia and is therefore a direct reference to my heritage.St Lucia was fought over by the British and French for over 150 years most notably reflected in the language. Having been to Pigeon Island, it additionally strikes a chord seeing it portrayed in this historical and traditionally white European fashion, stripped of its colour and vibrance. The sea is a desaturated blue as is the sky, as if it is nothing worth looking at and nothing could be further from the truth. The sea and sky are an amazing blue, one that I miss seeing on occasion.

Noting that the interpretation of this artwork is under review, I could find nothing about the artist Francis Chesham to shed light on why it is being reviewed. Which of course makes me all the more curious…

Text authored by Simon Regis, Deputy Director of DCMS Legal Advisers, and winner of ‘Employed Barrister of the Year’ and ‘Outstanding Employed Barrister in the Public Sector’ in The Bar Council Employed Bar Awards 2020.

Family Living by Denzil Forrester

a basement room with people working on sewing machines

Denzil Forrester, Family Living, 2004 © Denzil Forrester. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Image: Crown Copyright

I looked at this painting by Denzil Forrester for exactly three hours and listened to it with my eyes. It spoke to me of my own story when I returned to London in 1988, recently separated from a bad marriage and adrift.

My mum took me to visit her friend who lived in Stoke Newington (a three storey building, and yes, owned by a black family) and we went straight to the basement to a warm, dimly lit room where the washing machine was swishing away and my mum’s friend was ironing clothes. That was her job, she took in washing for a living and also did minor repairs to clothes, so the sewing machine was in a corner of this room. It felt claustrophobic and homely and comforting. Two of her sons were sharing a plate of rice sitting at a large table in this small room. Reggae music was playing on a cassette player and they hummed while they ate. Their younger brother was entertaining friends in another part of the house and the music was loud. I remember all the sounds and the happy chatter of my mum and ‘aunty’ and knew everything was going to be alright.

I see the exact mirror of that evening in this painting and realise how our family (our culture) found ways to survive, to thrive, to be driven and excel.

Text authored by Lizzie Macarthy, very proud Executive Assistant to the Director at the Government Art Collection, a British Nigerian woman, black and learning. I have lived in the UK for more than 30 years and gain new knowledge every day.

The Old Wall by John Ridgewell

an old decrepit wall with a painting on it

John Ridgewell, The Old Wall © Estate of John Ridgewell

A view of two worlds from a dilapidated wall, one of a beautiful contemporary building, but the other of a couple from a bygone time sharing a quiet moment of reflection after a productive day of work in a rural environment.

I hadn’t come across this artist before so I’ve enjoyed doing a little research about him. It was an opportunity to learn a bit more about the artist which has been great fun. Born in Essex, John Ridgewell studied alongside David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj at the Royal College of Art, before leaving to become a professional artist and occasional tutor.

Text authored by Joan May, Team Support at DCMS Digital Infrastructure Directorate.

Miles away from home by Jade Montserrat

writing with a crayon

Jade Montserrat, Miles away from home, © Jade Montserrat, 2020, Iniva. Photograph by George Torode

The title Miles away from home immediately drew me in. I relate to the feeling of being far away from home. In this case, home has many meanings – my geographical home, my family, the beginning of my journey. I am confident many can relate to that feeling or reality of being far from their starting point but their dreams or destinations feeling very far away. The background appears to be pencilled in which speaks to the temporary nature of many things in this life. It speaks to the way things can change or be erased. The colourful fillings seen sparingly in the lines, speak to the colourful moments and ray of sunshine that life brings along the journey. Ultimately, we are all on a journey (far from home, aeons from the destination) and life is about experiencing the beautiful colours while not making permanent, temporary things.

Text authored by Natasha Fuyane, a Policy Adviser in the Office for Civil Society, DCMS. She’s also a co-host of Girl In Skies podcast and is a plant mom:)