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Coordinator's choice 2021

Reclaiming Magic: Yinka Shonibare’s picks for 2021

The Summer Exhibition is one of the most accessible exhibitions of its kind, providing access to Non-Academicians for over 250 years. This year’s Summer Exhibition, entitled ‘Reclaiming Magic’, is about restoring value to marginalised practices. My approach to the exhibition has been to expand access further by making the show reflect the way that society has expanded civil liberties over a generation. Previously invisible voices have been championed in this year’s exhibition.

We begin our journey with the work of one artist, Bill Traylor, from whom the kaleidoscope of ideas in the exhibition has evolved. Born into slavery in 1854, he did not start making art until the age of 85. He was a self-taught artist, and has come into prominence in our own time as society has shifted in its values. Bill Traylor‘s work singularly inspired the idea of looking beyond the boundaries of Western art history. The scope of the show has been expanded to consider the work of self-taught artists, artists working with unconventional materials, interest in civil liberties and gender-based issues, works by neuro-diverse artists and submissions from a number of charitable organisations like Redstart Arts, Hands on Art Workshops, Kunsthaus Kat18, Koestler Arts, ActionSpace and Souls Grown Deep.

These organisations facilitated access to works by Dilmus Hall, Nnena Kalu, Souleymane Fall, Golda Aruten Okech and many more.

As we have shifted in our values and have become aware of the importance of universal civil liberties, the time is right to be non-apologetic when we celebrate the diversity of human creativity.

Many of the artists selected here are showing at the Royal Academy for the first time. A global pandemic has further highlighted pressing social justice issues which some artists have chosen to respond to in their work. Works include a portrait of George Floyd, the African American man whose murder in the United States led to global mass protests, and a photographic collage by Hew Locke, made in response to the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston during Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol in the summer of 2020. The inclusion of these works is an expression of how these artists are engaging with some of the most pressing issues of our time.

The show also celebrates the magical beauty in making, and the use of a multiplicity of materials, from quilting to knitting.

I want to draw particular attention to the work of Mary Lovelace O’Neal, an African American abstract painter born in 1942 and involved in the civil rights movement. Furthermore I would like to highlight the innovative use of materials in the works of Nnena Kalu, Howardena Pindell, Victor Ehikhamenor, Ibrahim Mahama, Eva Rothschild RA, Elias Sime, Marie-Rose Lortet and Simphiwe Ndzube.

Another focal point is two quilts by Marlene Bennett Jones and Sally Mae Pettway, both working in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, a historically loaded town and the birthplace of a long tradition of female quilting communities.

Finally, a new addition to this year’s Summer Exhibition is a sound programme. Through the RA website and via Smartify, audiences will be able to listen to sound contributions by invited practitioners Linton Kwesi Johnson, Nyege Nyege, Pelin Pelin, Ceyda Oskay, Peter Adjaye, Larry Achiampong, and the Black Obsidian Sound System collective. These contributions reach from spoken word and poetry to abstract sound-scapes and musical compositions. The programme expands the scope and experience of the Summer Exhibition not just into another medium but explores further genres, discourses, cultures and subcultures.

Special thanks to the RA’s President, Rebecca Salter, our Secretary & CEO Axel Rüger, all involved artists and galleries, the Summer Exhibition Team and all the staff at the Royal Academy, my partner Rachel Sorrill, my assistant Marian Stindt and my very gracious team of fellow Royal Academicians: Tony Bevan; Vanessa Jackson; Mali Morris; Humphrey Ocean; Eva Rothschild; Bob and Roberta Smith; and Emma Stibbon.