In 2011, I remember attending the Da Vinci exhibition at the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. In the exhibition notes the curator said he had taken five years to put it all together. I remember thinking, “I wonder why it took so long?”
In 2017, I attended an exhibition in Central London of the international award-winning artist Sokari Douglas Camp CBE, who was displaying her environmental art made from oil drums that had been discarded in the fields of the Niger Delta. I found it inspiring and set about getting her works displayed in a public space in Westminster.
I am pleased to say I managed to get it done, just in time for Black History Month. Something which I set about doing… nearly five years ago!
We all know that the skills acquired as a trading standards professional can carry us over many thresholds, but never did I realise that these skills attained over the years would result in me curating an art exhibition. Negotiating with intermediaries in the boardroom; discussing issues over weight-bearing floors; and, following the advice of any good financial investigator when restraining property, remembering to ‘Ensure that you insure’ the goods.
The experience required me to consider – like an evidence officer – all the things that can go wrong, including damages and loss of an artifact.
Skills acquired as a Primary Authority Officer and Financial Investigator were pertinent in sealing the deal. Negotiating skills are the key ingredient to curating; asking to exhibit the work is only the start of the process.
Art is precious to the artist, so giving them confidence that you are capable of safely displaying, securing and insuring their art is crucial. This followed nearly three years of discussions before installation.
Following a meeting with Sokari’s intermediaries they suggested that I meet her at her studio and have a broader look at the range of her work. During that visit I saw her work inspired by William Prescott, an ex-slave, who said, “They will remember we were slaves but not that we were brave.” The work, titled ‘The world is now richer’, is about the bravery of people with slave heritage and their contribution and participation throughout the world. I found it stunning.
Of all the different roles that I have held over the years in and out of the trading standards profession, the skills I acquired have just found a new arena. I found it useful to imagine the works as key pieces of evidence in a case – but at the end of the process, I would be putting the evidence on display for the public. The process is pretty much the same, only with something artistic to look at as a reward.
The launch took place on 4 October, with attendees including The Rt Hon Diane Abbott MP, The Royal African Art Society, Bonhams and former Lord Mayor Cllr Ruth Bush amongst others.
The exhibition, which runs until 12 January, 2022, can be viewed by the public at Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QP.
Giles Speid can be heard discussing equality, diversity and inclusion on episode 37 of the Made to Measure podcast.