London’s Slade Art School Appoints First Black Director After Student Protest Against Systemic Racism
London’s Slade School of Fine Art will welcome its first Black director on Oct. 4, 2023. Mary Evans, a Nigerian-born British artist, has been appointed to the position at the prestigious art school. She joins the school of fine art from Chelsea College of Arts, University Arts London (UAL), where she led the undergraduate fine art course for five years. Evans also taught undergraduate-level courses at Central Saint Martins, a UAL institution.
Known for her paper silhouette art, influenced by her African heritage and the Black diaspora, Evans’s work has been on display at international exhibits such as the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2008.
According to The Art Newspaper, vans will take on the role previously held by Kieren Reed, who began in September 2018. In 2021, the Slade School faced pushback in the form of protests from the student body. The demonstrations highlighted concerns about systemic racism and a lack of studio space during COVID-19.
To address the institution’s history of racism and underrepresentation of non-white students and staff, the students formed a demonstration called #sladeoccupied.
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In February 2022, an external organization, Nous, conducted an independent investigation into the school’s culture, concluding: “Genuine and meaningful change is needed to create a School in which everyone feels respected and valued.” According to the outlet, the report found the institution’s “… recruitment panels are not sufficiently diverse, and recruitment processes are not consistently applied.”
Following the announcement of Reed taking a sabbatical after completing his five-year tenure, Evans said, in a UAL statement, “It will be a privilege to work in an environment that offers a transformative education to emerging artists where students and staff can express themselves and take risks in an increasingly equitable environment at this important moment when diverse knowledges are relevant and necessary.”
Stella Bruzzi, the executive dean of University College London’s (UCL) arts and humanities department, which Slade is organized under, said Evans’ “… directorship of the Slade will support both the faculty and wider UCL in our world-leading and interdisciplinary arts and humanities disciplines.” In 2022, Bruzzi’s ability to constitute change within the institution was previously questioned in a student letter to the UCL vice provost. Bruzzi will serve as a member of the faculty leadership team, working closely with Evans.
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Evans currently has a solo display at South Africa’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa titled GILT.