New Ways of Seeing: Printmaking as an Introduction to University Part 5
By Mohammed Rahman, on 17 June 2020
This post is the fifth in a series on the Printmaking Project, which is part of an outreach programme for secondary schools and colleges in east London. It focuses on the exhibition aspect of the programme and is written by Shared Training an Employment Programme (STEP) trainee Mohammed Rahman.
Hi, I’m Mohammed, the current STEP Trainee at UCL Culture. STEP is a traineeship programme run by Create Jobs and Creative Access and is aimed at young east Londoners (18-30), like myself, who are beginning their careers in the creative sector. It offers placements at the institutions moving into the East Bank development in Stratford Olympic Park, as UCL is doing with the UCL East campus due to open in 2022.
My role at UCL Culture is split between their engagement and exhibitions teams so I’ve been doing everything from running schools engagement workshops to framing artworks and installing exhibitions. So far, it’s been chock full of well-rounded experience, balancing practical and admin skills.
I’ve had a dual role in the Widening Participation schools printmaking project in facilitating the outreach workshops as well as curating content for an exhibition of the works produced, Make An Impression II, which is what I’ll be writing about in this blog.
The printmaking programme involves an immersive visit to UCL Art Museum and The Slade School of Fine Art and features two outreach printmaking workshops at participating schools and colleges in the Olympic boroughs (Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest). The programme aims to raise aspirations and awareness about going into higher education, specifically through an art degree. Pupils from these areas are underrepresented in higher education, so it’s crucial that UCL is doing their bit to engage these communities as it moves east in the coming years. You can read more about the programme in Schools Engagement Manager, Emma Bryant’s blog post here.
As a working class east Londoner myself, engagement programmes are especially important to me as I know first-hand how systemic barriers can make it difficult to get into and stay in higher education and the creative sector. In an economic climate of cuts to the culture sector and increasingly privatised education, the stigma against getting a degree in the arts is at an all-time high. It’s been an inspiring opportunity to challenge that stigma and be on the forefront of uplifting the youth from my own community through this programme.
From an engagement perspective, I’ve rolled up my sleeves and assisted Slade alumni 2018, Isobel Napier and Taylor Smith in running the outreaches by preparing materials and running evaluations. Before an outreach, I prepared the portable printmaking studio, which essentially is a press, scribes, and materials that fit into a large suitcase, topping up materials between outreaches and relaying feedback and making changes, for example cutting larger plate sizes.
As a practising artist, preparing the materials for the print workshops was beneficial as it gave me an insight into paper, pigment and plate types. Facilitating the outreaches was also very valuable as I gained an insight into the techniques involved in intaglio and chine-collé printmaking- skills I myself was learning for the first time.
At the same time, it was very rewarding to connect with the pupils and watch their printmaking skills grow under the instruction of the masterful Slade alumni. The pupils at participating schools and colleges were very engaged and created some really impressive work. With proper permissions, I collected process photos during these outreaches to include in the final exhibition.
The exhibition aspect of the programme was originally founded by Emma Bryant and Edinam Edem-Jordjie, the STEP trainee from 2019, and ran for the first time last year. I think this aspect is of the programme is crucial, as in order to get good engagement it’s important that UCL shares its spaces and acclaim in a meaningful way where participants’ work is respected in its own right. Edinam left me a wealth of research and it was a great help to read through her blogs and planning documents from last year, which you can read about here.
It’s been a great learning experience to undertake this side of the project and expand my skills in an events production context. The project requires versatile ways of working on top of my engagement work. A key skill I learnt was how to use a planning document to organise deadlines and meetings which initially felt quite daunting but with the support of Emma Bryant, Darren Stevens (Exhibitions Manager) and Briony Fleming (Community Engagement Manager) I found my feet. I also did research on exhibitions and evaluations by having meetings within the engagement department and across UCL departments, for example with relevant staff in Special Collections at the Institute of Education. Emma and I were also in touch with the Slade to organise a crit on the day of the exhibition launch, where participants could discuss their works with Slade tutors and students (which has unfortunately been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak).
Alongside the planning of things, I undertook the actual curation and production of the exhibition. This involved liaising with participating schools to collect prints, booking spaces for install and getting the prints cleaned by Slade student Mataio Austin-Dean who you can read more about here. I also digitally designed all of the invites and information panels and wrote all of the panel text.
A challenge I faced was trying to improve on Edinam’s already great exhibition and the planning resources and research she left behind. I really liked the idea that this project is something that is passed on through trainees like myself over the years, so alongside featuring the technicalities and the programme in the information, I was keen on incorporating a sense of legacy. I kept the name in recognition of Edinam’s work and included a panel to credit its founders that features their bios. To also honour the growth of the project into the future, with the new introduction of the chine-colle extension workshop, I incorporated coloured tissue motifs with frayed edges onto the text panel design.
Unfortunately due to the Covid-19 outbreak, our original plans for an in-person exhibition in the South Cloisters of the UCL Main Building has been cancelled. Despite this, we are in the process of moving the exhibition onto a digital platform, which I’ll tell you more about in my next blog. Stay tuned…