Artists announced for inspiring new residency at West Dean College

Frank and William James expedition material from the West Dean College archive

Two artist residencies have been announced at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation as part of the ‘Whose Heritage’ research project, set up to explore the college’s African Collections. Sherie Sitauze and Sonia Barrett have been chosen following an open call which was run in collaboration with award-winning arts charity Outside In.

“My aim for this residency would be precisely to rethink to whom the West Dean collection really ‘belongs’ to, whom it speaks to or, seems to represent. At the moment it seems the African collection is presented through the eyes of the Western collector; it is the Western story of Africa,”

– said Sherie Sitauze
Ekoi headdress, dates from the late 19th century. Carved wooden head with big spirals of braids , mounted on a wooden box.

Ekoi Headdress, late 19th century

The collection includes pieces from Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, such as an Ekoi Headdress, and a Sudanese drum that had belonged to the Mahdist commander, Osman Digna. These objects open up discussions around pre-colonial narratives and the ethics of display. The archives at West Dean include a wide range of materials that offer insight into the colonial mindset, as well as recording the expeditions that form the basis of the collection.

The chance to link the past and the present is a key element which attracted Sonia to the residency. She said she will ‘see if I can trace some of our current situation in some of the magic in the objects’ and that she hoped to discover ‘how collections could be useful to tackle some of the major issues we are facing right now’.

Outside In’s acting director Amanda Sutton, in light of the Black Lives Matters movement and being in Black History Month, agrees the timing couldn’t be more poignant.
She said: “We are incredibly pleased that this residency is happening right now as never before has it been more pertinent to re-evaluate the way we present our collections. I’m so looking forward to seeing how Sherie Situaze and Sonia Barrett will help us to reposition this work and change archaic attitudes to the visual arts as essentially this is what Outside In is all about.”

Sarah Hughes, curatorial assistant, collections, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation commented: “West Dean College is situated in a historic house with an opulent interior and complex history.  Until now there has been little interrogation of the colonial narratives that surround particular collections. The ‘Whose Heritage’project intentionally disrupts the Eurocentric perspective that has informed the display of such items. We are excited to be working with Sonia and Sherie to question the power structures of colonial histories and deconstruct ideas around privilege, imperialism, and the white gaze.”

Meet the artists

Sherie Sitauze’s current work is mostly moving image, and something she describes as being ‘the ongoing attempt to piece together fragments of a history where pre-colonial documentation is scarce’.

Having had a lifelong interest in art, Sherie says she likes to think creating and making – either with her hands or her mind – has ‘always been with me in its endless possibilities’.

Artist Sherie Sitauze stands smiling in front of a wall of red patterns
Sherie Sitauze

Sonia Barrett began making art soon after the birth of her daughter. “I was painting with her in a sling on my back and late at night”, she recalls. “I had no time to myself and realised then that the little time I did have I wanted to spend making work.”

These paintings would go on to fund summer school, then a scholarship and on a path which will next see her head to West Dean.

Sonia says her hope for the residency is to ‘learn and share’ while continuing her practice which ‘seeks to create new questions where there was a kind of certainty that has to do with normative Western European values’.

Sonia Barrett, image by Adeola Hahn

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