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How Shutterstock Challenged the Art Community to Show Us Their Vision of True Equity



LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to the finalists in the Pocc x Clear Channel x Shutterstock project aimed to amplify the voices of Black, Caribbean and Asian artists about what the project meant to them, and how all contributors within it came together to create it

How Shutterstock Challenged the Art Community to Show Us Their Vision of True Equity

The creative network driving cultural change, Pocc, has collaborated with UK out of home media owner Clear Channel UK and Shutterstock for a second year of celebrating and championing underrepresented artists through their artist-in-residence programme.

Last year, Pocc and the Clear Channel Art Fund boosted the voices and creative work of 41 underrepresented Black, Brown and ethnically diverse artists by offering outdoor spaces for their work. In this year’s effort, alongside exhibiting the artworks through outdoor media and social channels, with the help of Shutterstock, they will also be investing £15,000 in championing UK artists through various artist grants. 

“Shutterstock has an ongoing partnership with Pocc, but this is the first time we have collaborated on their Artists in Residence fund,” explains Meeckel Beecher, global head, DE&I at Shutterstock. “Our partnership aims to support creatives who face significant structural barriers in having their work seen by the masses.” The manifestation of this notion in the UK has been a result of the lack of representation of Black, Brown and other ethnically diverse visual artists in education and amongst roles within the art world. 

When it comes to the collaboration between Pocc and Clear Channel, it is also one for the history books. Head of sales, OOH agencies and fairness executive sponsor of Clear Channel UK, Caroline Forbes, explained that Pocc first approached them for collaborative work in 2019. “We were blown away by their passion,” Caroline says. “We collaborated with them on the ‘Making Britain Great Again’ campaign in 2020 and continued to explore how we could further leverage our medium to create an even bigger, more impactful and authentic platform to showcase the creative works of underrepresented talent.” This is how the Clear Channel x Pocc Art Fund came into fruition in 2021.

Throughout 2022, Pocc will be launching four themes for artists to respond to and provide their unique perspectives on the relevant topics. Last month the project kicked off with the first theme of 2022: EQUITY - What Does It Mean To You? The opportunity was open to all visual and verbal artists of Black African, Caribbean and Asian descent residing in the UK and ended up with seven winners on the ‘Equity’ theme, three of which are Latoya Okuneye, exploring different facets of womanhood in her piece “FOURTEEN,” Kialy Tihngang with her piece ‘Useless Machines’ and Tina Ramos Ekongo, who juxtaposed the undervalue of Black women in Western society in her piece ‘Black Queen | Young Lubaina Himid.’ 

Latoya Okuneye left, Tina Ramos Ekongo middle and Kialy Tihngang right 

All three of the winning artists resonated with Shutterstock’s theme for different, but interlinked reasons. “I started researching electronic waste dumping from Western countries into Ghana after the 2020 Black Lives Matter resurgence,” explains Kialy. “As a Black artist, I felt very overwhelmed by the proliferation of black bodies I was seeing on the news and my timelines. As a result I started researching more underreported ways in which Black people’s lives are adversely affected globally.”

What she found through her research was climate colonialism - which is when a former colony pays the environmental price for the pollutive activities of former colonisers - of which electronic waste dumping is a form. “Countries like Ghana take in millions of tonnes of electronic waste from foreign countries every year, which leads to waste recycling plants that are more akin to slums. Workers in Agbogbloshie, Ghana’s biggest electronics recycling plant workers break the broken machines down in order to resell the precious metals within, such as gold and lithium, for mere pennies.”

From this research, ‘Useless Machines’ was born, which touches on the ideas of consumerism and especially excessive Western consumerism, as well as the ramifications it has for people in the Global South. The overconsumption of useful machines like phones and laptops in Britain leads to people “tossing them away in far away countries,” points out Kialy, when the latest models come out. Her artwork is made of laser cut wood, wrapped in waste materials, inspired by the unexpectedly beautiful colours and shapes found in motherboards. “With my piece, I want to make manufacturers think about the full lifespan of their devices. Most electronics are manufactured in the Global South.” On top of the fact that the Western world dumps electronic waste on the majority of the planet, there is also a great deal of human labour involved. Slowing the cycle of production and consumption is something that Kialy aimed to call for with her work in the competition.

'Useless Machines' by Kialy Tihngang

Tina, on the other hand, was inspired by the possibility of multilayered diversity that can be showcased through the brief. “My work ‘Portrait of Young Lubaina Himid’ portrayed as Queen Elisabeth I dressed with colourful African fabrics from the Kente tribe and jewellery from the Kente people’s king aimed to discuss the figure of pioneer Black British artists with colonial heritage backgrounds who thought their creative work fought against racial and gender stigmas and discrimination. I wanted to honour their legacy in British art by portraying them as Queens.”

Tina’s work is underwired by the showcase of the beauty and strength of the Black woman, the importance of different cultures and the positive impact of a diverse and integrated British culture. To inspire a future generation of artists, the Black, Caribbean and Asian artists of today need to be recognised as fundamental to British culture. For now, Tina thinks that there are not many opportunities for that. “However, I have seen an evolution and a change from Black, Caribbean and Asian creatives and small organisations to make it a priority to get their work shown to a wider audience.” Looking forward ten years, the artist hopes that bigger organisations and institutions will have more diverse artists in their archives, as well as bring more specific programmes to promote these artists and their work. 

 ‘Black Queen | Young Lubaina Himid' by Tina Ramos Ekongo

Going off a similar vein and talking about Western society’s tendency to forget or erase the existence of Black culture, Latoya’s work ‘Fourteen’ is a homage to the existence and stories of young Black girls. One of her big goals as an artist was to create images that highlight “girls like [her] in a visual world where [they] are not as documented.” To Latoya, growing up as a Black girl from a working-class background in London, feeling a lack of a community or guidance is a familiar sense. “‘Fourteen’ aims to celebrate the current climate where we see more communities, clubs and spaces being provided for young girls to make friends and to be heard, protected and work on their esteems. Personally for me at the age of fourteen, fair equity would have meant the intersections of my experiences taken into consideration - my class and my race affected my ability to connect with others and I believe a lot of young Black girls experience that in the UK as well.” 

Latoya explains that ‘Fourteen’ can be viewed as a visual diary or memory, from images that celebrate the innocence and simple moments of girlhood, to enjoying the softness of friendships, self expression and beauty in mundanity. The project does not only serve as a visual homage or a time capsule of a moment that might never come back for many, but is also an act of revolt against the adultification of the young girl. “Teenagehood is such a fragile and pivotal moment, which shapes the future of young girls. I want communities and leaders in charge to care more and provide more schemes that aim at supporting a demographic whom I believe is often forgotten. Young Black girls deserve to be heard, supported, protected and uplifted.”

'Fourteen' by Latoya Okuneye

The other four winners of the Equity theme are Kelsen Onyedikachi Nnaji, a 22-year-old hyper-realistic artist with their painting representing technology as a means to close the gap in accessibility to quality education; Peonica Fernando inspired by positive psychology, with her piece ’Our Stories Matter’; Mohammed Barber, with his poem ‘The Gay Agenda’ satirizing a number of homophobic frameworks; and Sadatu Futa, a photographer and SEN Tutor with her work ‘Our Verse’, exploring the ordinary possibilities for freedom, creativity and joy within our grasp.

In the words of Shutterstock’s Meeckel, the brief aimed to “inspire total honesty from these artists, challenging them to visualise a society where all are able to participate and prosper to their full potential,” which is exactly what all the incredible participants did and more. Because of the freedom of the brief, Shutterstock did not hold any expectations on what kinds of themes can be born within the project. “Working with Pocc and Clear Channel, we kept the brief broad enough so that it would be open to interpretation of the creatives to see what these themes mean to them. We were hoping for more nuanced entries around the dimensions of diversity and intersectional identities, and we got that,” says Mackeel.

The brief also strongly resonated with the pillars of Pocc’s existence - their constant efforts to accelerate quality and equity for culturally and ethnically diverse people in the creative industries and beyond. To them, it made sense this year’s project to reinforce those values through giving a platform to the community and handing them a microphone, which they used to tell their stories in “all their glory.” “Equity means a lot of things to a lot of people, and when you combine this thought with the fact that art can be so subjective, you just never know what might come out the other end of a brief like this - I was not disappointed to see the craft and pure beauty of the finalists’ submissions,” shares Natasher Beecher, creative director at Pocc and curator. 

Selecting these particular winners out of a pool of talent and imagination, was not an easy task. Natasher explains, “Spanning education, heritage, belonging, the environment and more, the winners’ work was not only beautifully crafted but all of them clearly demonstrated the meaning of equity in a way that was quite personal to them. The submissions felt bespoke to the brief - which is an important part in selecting. All of the winners made us think, feel or gasp with the depth of the message that came across.”

It is clear that this sort of elicited feeling needs a wide audience, which is why Clear Channel knew that out of home is what these kinds of projects will benefit from the most. “Out of home is perfectly placed to reach diverse audiences all around the UK, giving historically underrepresented communities more visibility. This exposure has been invaluable to the Pocc community - the artists’ testimonials speak for themselves,” explains Clear Channel’s Caroline Forbes. 

Despite efforts, the moods within art communities are still yet to go through their final transformations in order to allow the acceptance and celebration of diverse art, especially when it comes to recognising its historical significance that undoubtedly intertwines with what British culture has come to be, as an amalgamation of peoples and histories. Projects like this one are just the beginning and Pocc know that this should be the case. Looking into the future, Meeckel is categorical: “This is only the beginning of what we will see from this Artists in Residence fund. Shutterstock, Pocc and Clear Channel will be rolling out further briefs for artists in a variety of different subjects. Everyone who is selected as a finalist has the opportunity to become a Shutterstock Contributor too, helping us to diversify our content portfolio, which will be reflected in our marketing content and open new revenue streams for the artists.”

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Clear Channel, Fri, 20 May 2022 16:05:03 GMT