A project that will place work by six prominent black artists in schools has the potential to transform how children think about art and who can be an artist, according to its participants.
The Hepworth Wakefield has been running its School Prints campaign since 2018, but this year will use work created exclusively by black artists to help with its goal to “support the teaching of black histories” by placing them in local schools.
The project takes its inspiration from a 1940s scheme where artists including Henri Matisse, Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso created prints for schools, giving children access to high-quality artwork.
Claudette Johnson, one of the artists taking part, said exposure to art at school in Manchester, including seeing prints by Picasso and a school assembly on the work of Canaletto, were crucial in developing her love for art.
She said: “They really took art seriously at my school. I remember just having the time to really gaze at those paintings and think about them. I worked in schools recently, and realised that that isn’t the case in lots of schools any more.”
Johnson added that the project’s most immediate impact could be to give children a different view of who can be an artist. “At the moment children probably imagine someone who is male and white, but this says artists can be female and they can be British and black,” she said.
“It will also tell black children that they should expect to see themselves in galleries.”
Alvaro Barrington is another of the artists taking part in the project, along with Yinka Shonibare, Lubaina Himid, Frank Bowling, Hurvin Anderson and Johnson. He said the School Prints scheme could help give children a different perspective on art and the world around them before “they’ve internalised the wrong idea of history”.
His print is an image of his grandmother’s hands, which he says represents the times she would pray for him when he was growing up in Brooklyn and is a nod to the challenges young people may face as the world comes out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“She gave us hope for the future because she dealt with us at our worst and loved us at our worst,” said Barrington. “I think there will be a moment where a lot of these kids are going to come out of this moment with new scars, and it’s going to play out in very complicated ways.”
The six prints will be placed in participating primary schools around Wakefield; a limited edition of prints will also be sold on the Hepworth Wakefield website.
Nicola Freeman, director of engagement and learning at the Hepworth Wakefield, said the “prominence and urgency” of the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted a lack of diversity across the arts sector, and that the project was part of a sustained shift in the institution’s schools programme to include black histories.
Prints can be purchased via the Hepworth Wakefield's website.
‘I grew up with my grandmother. My mother had me as a teenager, and it was very common that a grandmother would raise their grandchildren. My grandma was very beautiful and someone I think about all the time. I made this drawing of my hands drawn as if they were her hands. When I was a kid, I wasn’t very well-behaved, and she used to pray for me. I remember thinking about her praying, and I think her prayers today make me want to be better, do better, make her proud. It’s a drawing to remind me of her prayers and of wanting to make her proud.’ Alvaro Barrington, 2020