SOAS University of London

SOAS anthropologist consults on new Radical Craft exhibition, featuring ‘outsider art and craft’

21 April 2016

Professor Trevor Marchand, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at SOAS University of London has consulted on a new exhibition showcasing work by ‘outsider’ artists and craftspeople who encounter barriers to the art world for reasons including health, disability, social circumstance or isolation.

‘Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making’ – launched on 12 March by Craftspace and Outside In at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester – features 34 international and UK artists who express their creativity beyond the bounds of convention. The exhibition will tour to eight venues around the UK. For details of venues and dates, see http://craftspace.co.uk/events/category/radical-craft/

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Andrew Omoding with his creation, 'Vessel for Sleeping Kitten'. ActionSpace Studio, Cockpit Arts, London. Photo T. Marchand 2015.

The exhibition, co-curated by Laura Hamilton, includes themes such as radical missions in which artists have a passion for a particular subject or technique; intuitive responses to textiles employed as a non-verbal means of engaging with the outside world; autobiographical responses to the natural or urban environment; and folkloric or surreal perceptions of the world.

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Andrew Omoding exhibiting 'Book' at the ActionSpace Studio, Cockpit Arts, London. Photo T. Marchand 2015.

As part of the project, Professor Marchand was commissioned to observe and document the working methods of Ugandan-British artist Andrew Omoding, whose works are displayed at the exhibition and in Marchand’s new documentary film, The Art of Andrew Omoding. The eight weekly sessions involved observing the artist’s creative processes and problem-solving tactics. The study culminated in an exhibition at ActionSpace, an organisation that supports the development of artists with learning disabilities.

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Andrew Omoding making 'Flag for House' at the ACAVA Studio, West London. Photo T. Marchand 2015.

Professor Marchand said: “While engrossed in making, Andrew lacked inhibition; he strove for the pleasure of the work, not some ideal perfection; and, perhaps most significantly, he had no fear of being “taken by” a process that was driven by the materials as much as it was by him. These attitudes can’t be explained away as mere conditions of Andrew’s “disability”. Rather, I would suggest that, in fact, they constitute his tremendous “ability”. The productivity of so many creative people, including scholars and writers, is often “disabled” by tendencies to dwell for too long on the “ideas” and to become lost in the planning and preparation. There’s a great deal to learn from Andrew’s example. In my estimation, he’s a gifted and highly-able artist.”

Professor Marchand also recently gave a public lecture for the Royal Society of Arts Inequality in Education Network at the Fab Lab in London on the importance of craft education. In his talk, he drew upon two decades of anthropological research, which includes working with minaret builders in Yemen, mud-brick masons in Mali, and fine woodwork trainees in Britain. He also screened a new film, The Intelligent Hand, which examines the developing use of hand tools, a deepening understanding of materials and process, and the importance of craftwork in mainstream education. Marchand’s interest in the multiple kinds of intelligence and problem-solving strategies employed in making things is explored more fully in his recent edited book, Craftwork as Problem Solving (2016).