Drawing Over the Colour Line with City and Islington College

As I posted yesterday, we have a pop-up exhibition running this afternoon (28th June) in UCL Art Museum, showing artworks representing individuals of African and Asian heritage and student responses to these artworks in the form of blog postings. This post explains a bit about the workshop leading up to the exhibition, as well as including the student posts.

On Monday 18 June we were joined by 8 history and history of art students from City and Islington College for a workshop based on some of the images of African and Asian sitters who appear in the UCL collections.  We also went on a Black history walk of Bloomsbury.  The walk highlighted sites connected to African and Asian heritage and included a brief visit to the Egyptian galleries at the British Museum, which proved inspirational for a number of artists of the African diaspora working in London between the wars.

Within the practical side of the workshop students explored and interrogated a range of artworks from the collections of UCL Art Museum, as well as copies of archival materials from UCL Special Collections and UCL Record Office. The artworks were generally portraits of individuals of African and Asian heritage, but we also examined other non-portraiture artwork representing Black histories and examined the artwork of an Egyptian artist and inter-war Slade student Aimee (or Amy) Nimr, who created a life-drawing portrait of a white woman.

Artist and former Slade student Nadine Mahoney also came into the workshop to discuss her portraiture artwork and also work with the students in interpreting the artworks on display. Among the images in the UCL collections discussed by the students were those on display in this image gallery.  Each student chose two pictures to compare and discuss during the end of workshop discussion.  Some students submitted their thoughts and feelings about the images and about the workshop day within blog posts and you can read them here.

Blog posts from history and history of art students at City and Islington College who participated in the UCL Art Museum workshop.

Aimee Nimr, A study of a female figure, between 1918 and 1919, UCL Art Museum SDC6555

by Siobhan Carla

Looking at these sketches makes me think about my heritage a lot, which is oddly why I chose to base this blog on ‘Aimee Nimr’. It was mostly because it was a lot different to what I had seen earlier as it was of a European woman, it had a different feel to it and made me have a different outlook upon it. The woman almost looks scared, maybe insecure and slightly vulnerable which makes me feel sad and, in a way, worried about her. This was portrayed by her slightly arched shoulders and her back to the audience, this made it very mysterious too. Who was this woman and why did she have her back to me? It was also a extremely striking sketch which is most probably what drew me to it, this made it stand out amongst its’ neighbouring sketches. The detail of the sketch itself is quite significant, the outline of the body is bold which emphasizes her muscles and structure of her nude body. This is unusual as this sketch was drawn in a time where women – no matter what their racial background – were always depicted as inferior, so it is almost alien to find a woman portrayed as strong. The sketch is very defined as well, the tone is more bold across her skin and muscles which makes it more realistic, more 3 dimensional than any other sketch amongst this one.

I find it is always good to look at the artists work in person, not over the internet for example as you wouldn’t have noticed the woman’s face or funny Dachshund dog in different areas on the page. Through noticing this, it made me feel as if she is looking insecurely into the mirror and her face was looking back at herself. The dog on the page could just be a technical error! I couldn’t help but wonder whether her pose was artificial or more naturalistic, after a while of deliberation I found that it was more naturalistic. I came to this conclusion by actually standing this way myself (just as she was) and found that it was comfortable as if you were waiting for a bus or standing at a concert! I tried to receive help from others, such as another artist and found that she may have been concentrating, maybe concentrating on herself. This is because the artist of the sketch would have asked her to keep still or maybe she was concentrating on whatever her eyes were focused on such as herself in a mirror.

Lastly, I would like to talk of my day at the UCL art museum. I learnt a lot on this little trip from my college and found what I learnt was, not only interesting, but also something that I will continue to explore even afterwards. It may sound sort of clichéd and cheesy but what I learnt today I feel I will remember for the rest of my life. I think my favourite part of the day was when we learnt of Ronald and Harold Moody who were involved in anti-discrimination and sculptures. I found this not only significant but sort of intriguing as some of his work is so easy to find and understand that it’s like you’re in the mind of the Moody brothers (excuse the pun)!

Today, I found I was learning more of the importance of being taught of my own ancestry. It is not enough just to learn of Martin Luther King and Equiano once a year, as significant as they were it’s also nice to learn of Indian heritage and everything that came with it. In the British History Museum, my friends and I debated the artefacts from Egypt. Whether it was right that the British ‘stole’ the artefacts and whether they should be given back? I’ll let you decide that. We also talked of the way the British segregated Africa and Egypt as if they were two different places but also of the fact that Indian and Africans in London, England did actually mix and converse. There is still some sort of hierarchy, even now between Egyptians and Africans, which is pretty ironic seeing as Egypt is in Africa! For example, the British Museum that we took a trip to today, the African department was only recently added to the museum and it’s in the basement whereas Egyptian artefacts are on the ground floor along with Greek artefacts.

Maybe I’m looking too much into it but why don’t you see for yourself? The UCL Art Museum is free as well as the History Museum so you have no excuse, go on… have a nosy around!


Martin E. Burniston, Study of a male nude, standing to right, with right arm resting on hip, UCL Art Museum, 6271 and John Farleigh, Ecclesiastes and the Black Girl, UCL Art Museum, SPC7331

by Sogol Afshar

I personally found the nude drawings very interesting, as I am more familiar with this style of drawing and sketching, which are mostly drawn from real life objects or people. However, I believe life drawing is a westernised technique. And the sitter/model could be anyone from any type of background or race. Therefore, unfortunately I couldn’t relate to the drawings. For example, Study of a male nude by Martin Burniston shows an African nude male standing to the right with his right arm resting on his hip, which is a typical, simple pose for a life drawing model. By finding more about Harlem Renaissance and the black movement, the previous paintings depicted civilised African Americans who are in power of their own identity. Whereas, in my opinion the life drawings didn’t carry any sense of empowerment or civilisation as any artist could ask any black man or woman to pose for them. In addition, I don’t believe because the life drawings are done by looking at a real life model could imply the model’s inner self, such as thoughts, feelings or cultural background. Therefore, I preferred the other artwork called Ecclesiastes and the Black Girl, an illustration from the book The Black Girl in Search of God, as there is more context and substance within the work. Although the work is graphic and seems very much designed, the story behind it supports the idea of civilisation of Africans. Interestingly, I think it has more of an African feel to it. It looked very real, almost as if the two characters are located somewhere in Cameroon.  Most people would think that Ecclesiastes and the Black Girl, stereotypes black women as it depicts the black girl naked and revealing with exaggerated body parts. However, I believe we as women can easily realise the untrue exaggeration.  And we have to bear in mind, that the girl hasn’t come to full realisation and knowledge of civilisation yet. Therefore, it was best if we could see the whole series of the work.


Aimee Nimr, A study of a female figure, between 1918 and 1919, UCL Art Museum SDC6555 and Martin E. Burniston, Study of a male nude, standing to right, with right arm resting on hip, UCL Art Museum, 6271

by Lily Evans-Hill

The female figure studies pose embodies a vulnerable position. Her back faces the onlooker and her arms are folded behind her back and we can imagine her armor-less bare front. However, there is a balance of her passiveness as you can see her bold stare. The woman’s face is important in restoring her domination of the page. Her stare suggests she is pondering the scene in curiosity and not in fear. Her pose reminds us of a masculine stance, she has stationed herself with her feet firmly on the ground. Her muscles appear well defined and masculine, the aesthetic that lends to the idea of the woman being dominative. However, her modest representation does not lend to her ego, whereas in the male nude, we find his ego apparent and the on lookers are passive. This egotistical view of a male nude compensates for his exposed armor-less body. He stands proud and tall as a disguise for the actual character of the sitter.

The female nude is completely natural and is neither idealistic nor passionate. The judgmental gaze of the onlooker therefore cannot be influenced by her obvious identity, whereas the males stance is reminiscent of dominance and self-importance. Although the woman possesses femininity in her shape, her defined legs certify her strength.


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