As a Black person living in contemporary Britain, the socio-political climate of the country – nay, the world – can often feel depressingly bleak. Beyond the cost of living crisis and rise in poverty, the human rights of individuals in the UK are being quietly stripped away; The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act passed in April of this year means a limit on our right to protest and harsher sentencing if you do. Despite the UK seeing its first ever Prime Minister of colour in 10 Downing Street – through a process that can only be likened to university clearing – his right-wing sympathies and billionaire wife do not solidify this as a win for BIPOC Britons. Indeed, finding the solution to these insurmountable problems seems near impossible.
In times like these, it’s important for people to feel a sense of belonging and safety. This is even more true for BIPOC individuals, who will likely bear the brunt of England’s issues as we steadily descend into fascism. Creation of safe spaces, where people feel seen and heard by their peers is a great way to foster community and push back against an ever-growing culture of individualism. The HOME space, founded by photographer, filmmaker and east Londoner Ronan Mckenzie, is a perfect example of this practice.
Sitting on the second floor of 399 Hornsey Road, Islington, HOME is a Black-owned, Black-led multi-disciplinary arts space and institute that goes beyond just being a gallery. Speaking to Haja, HOME’s studio assistant, she gives context for its creation. “It was born out of an idea that [Ronan] had had in 2018, where she curated an exhibition called ‘I’m Home’. I think since then she had really been thinking about building a space for people of colour who have an interest in the arts. Something that would be a permanent fixture rather than just a temporary exhibition.”
The “I’m Home” exhibition was curated by Mckenzie after she witnessed a distinct lack of Black women represented in the UK’s photography field. Collaborating withRhea Dillon, Joy GregoryandLiz Johnson Artur, the exhibition explored themes of identity, belonging and family through a Black, British, female lens. The success of the show, paired with the evolution of Ronan’s curatorial eye, led to HOME’s creation in November 2020. “This event was a catalyst for HOME and the idea of having a space for young people of colour who are in the early stages of their careers.”
Fast forward to 2022, HOME has blossomed into a gallery, studio, library and co-working space, hosting over 15 exhibitions and 25 events in its 2 years open. Events span a range of practices from lectures withThe Black Curriculumon Black British contribution, to candle-making classes with AYA AROMAS. All workshops cater to the local community in Islington and the wider BIPOC community in London. Haja highlights fostering community as one of Ronan’s main aims. “And I think you see it filtered through her artistic practice and even through her fashion brand SELASI,” Haja says.
It speaks to the space that Ronan and the team have cultivated, people come and there is a level of vulnerability with what they’re sharing. And what is beautiful is there’s a respect and a warmth that they’re met with, which I think is really special.
Family as a focus in creating community is glaringly present in Ronan’s vision for HOME, evident through its many intergenerational workshops including a family portrait session in collaboration withSAINT OGUN and a Gardening and Drawing Club with multi-disciplinary artistJohanna Tagada Hoffbeck, that offers children and adult classes. Haja mentions that Ronan’s mum even sewed the curtains in the space and MC’s the regular open mic events, which she notes is one the team’s favourites to host. “It speaks to the space that Ronan and the team have cultivated, people come and there is a level of vulnerability with what they’re sharing. And what is beautiful is there’s a respect and a warmth that they’re met with, which I think is really special.”
The comfort performers feel at the open mic events is definitely not by chance. One of HOME’s central goals is to contextualise its artists. According to Haja, this means allowing them space to be themselves through learning and understanding of cultural nuance, creating a sense of unspoken comfort for BIPOC artists that come to HOME. “What is really special about HOME is that so much is unsaid but understood. And artists, I think, feel comfortable to bring their whole selves to the space. We don’t look like a stereotypical arts institution, you know, we’re all here in our trackies and whatever feels comfortable. When you go to different arts institutions, even down to the dressing of people, it’s very different. So I think that we allow people to contextualise themselves how they want to in a way that feels comfortable, and we like to give people enough room to do that.”
What is really special about HOME is that so much is unsaid but understood. And artists, I think, feel comfortable to bring their whole selves to the space.
The library at HOME is one of the ways contextualising BIPOC artists is realised. The selection of books available to peruse at the space is managed and curated byBibisbooks, a book club and collective that delve into literature as an artistic medium and vessel for learning. What’s striking about HOME’s library is that the books are ever-changing to complement the space and the book club’s themes often centre the different exhibitions. The most recent, Belonging As Other byShaye Gregan, was a display of abstract collage faces made of recycled materials and infused with essential oils, recreating the smell of incense that the artist’s mother burned back home. Each piece examines the importance of community and feeling seen and the safety that comes with that, as well as reinvention and self-love. To further contextualise these topics, thelibrary listincludes The Notion of Family by Latoya Ruby Frazier and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde, both books exploring family and belonging through different perspectives.
Haja also stresses the point that the library is to be freely shared. “The library is a way of providing people with access to books that are not only expensive but hard to find as they are no longer being published,” she says. “So, we invite people to know that these books exist and to spend as long as they need with them.” Public libraries and reading environments like Bibisbooks and HOME have created have the potential to be radical sites of growth. Toni Morrison and Angela Davis discuss their love for libraries and the importance of literacy in the struggle for liberation. Having access to Black feminist literature like bell hooks’ Aint I A Woman and archival photobooks like Paul Gilroy’s Black Britain can be pivotal to a BIPOC individual’s understanding of themself in relation to structural racism. “It’s just another way of connecting with our audience and engaging with them in a way that I think is quite simple, but a lot of arts institutions haven’t considered,” she explains.
Every part of the space, and its many functions, are deeply considered by Ronan when curating. “Ronan has a great eye and brings this to the spatial design of HOME” Haja tells me. “So everything that we see here is super intentional… the places didn’t look like this, Ronan put clay on the walls, she carpeted the place… everything has been considered.”
This same level of detail applies to curating artists and exhibitions for the space too. Ronan’s curatorial process begins with research and callouts for London-based BIPOC artists who understand HOME’s creative perspective. Ronan then invites them to the space where the team can get a feel for them and their practice. “What’s really important for us is that there’s synergy. Artists can be super talented and super out of this world, but it’s just whether they’re aligned with our values and what our intention is.” Regardless of whether artists’ applications are accepted or not, HOME still embraces you within their community. “We keep a database of artists that we have worked with previously or may have encountered, but we haven’t been able to give them an opportunity,” Haja says. “Like, for instance, we have our grants. We have so many excellent people that apply, but we can’t give everyone a grant… we try to engage those artists with projects outside of the gallery space. For instance, we collaborated on an exhibition with Gucci in December 2020.”
What’s really important for us is that there’s synergy. Artists can be super talented and super out of this world, but it’s just whether they’re aligned with our values and what our intention is.
The HOME space created by Ronan and supported by her team Haja, Joana, Courtney, Shadeh and Elif is a deeply necessary space for BIPOC artists. As the flames of late-stage capitalist domination continue to engulf the UK, nothing is more vital than community. In bell hooks’ 1995 book Killing Rage: Ending Racism, she tells us, “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” By celebrating the cultural nuances of its artists, providing access to free reading materials and intergenerational workshops, and creating room for people to just be, HOME has done what hooks asks of us. Themes of intimacy, family, collaboration and representation truly sets this institution apart from its contemporaries and make it a safe haven for their visitors.
Haja lets me know that “Ronan hopes for HOME to grow in its size, so to have access to more space so she can give artists and the community more offerings. That’s the aim… to continue to grow and be a sustainable arts organisation in the UK.” Supporting Ronan in achieving HOME’s goals could be as simple as following on Instagram, or signing up to HOME’s Patreon. Donations are also helpful, as is attending the curated events and exhibitions. “All our events don’t necessarily take place in the space, we have them in different places. So feel free to contact us if you have any questions, we’re always happy to have a conversation.”
Liberation from oppressive systems can only be achieved through communities coming together in love and understanding. Ronan Mckenzie’s HOME is a beautiful example of how to foster this in our own industries and lives.
Liza became part of the BRICKS family in 2020, appearing as a Digital cover star for her anti-racism activism during the pandemic, and has since become the BRICKS Production Assistant and a Staff Writer, focussing on pop culture and sociopolitical issues.
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