Draw with illustrated objects of Black British art in the Decentralise interactive toolkit
Created by Somerset House’s Young Producers collective with design studio Comuzi, the online platform offers a fun and informative way to learn more about Black cultural history.
- Jenny Brewer
- 17 March 2021
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Somerset House has launched Decentralise, a new digital art project offering a playful way to interact with Black British cultural history. Made by the institution’s Young Producers collective, together with design studio Comuzi, the website allows visitors to draw using objects of Black cultural significance as brushes, to make their own digital artworks. The illustrated objects range from a hair relaxer by David Hammons to a speaker system by Gaika and a Pan African Flag by Larry Achiampong, all taken from previous exhibitions at Somerset House.
All 16 objects fit into one of four categories: political art, afronowism, disobedient objects and afrofuturism. When you choose an object to draw with, you learn more about its history, its original creator, the show it was part of at Somerset House (for example Get Up, Stand Up Now (2019) or Return of the Rude Boy (2014) and the themes addressed by the artist. Users can also choose from a selection of background scenes on which to create their artworks. All the creations saved will form part of an online gallery archive.
The brief to the Young Producers was to create a body of work that celebrates Black British cultural history, stories that have largely been left out of much of the UK’s cultural archives. Decentralise therefore aimed to demystify these archives by making them interactive and open to everyone. “Whilst archives remain largely inaccessible, we saw the value of using Somerset House as an accessible, decentralised vessel for Black cultural appreciation and history,” explains Young Producer Jahnavi Inniss.
The illustrated style of the objects is intentionally various, to honour the eclectic visual heritage it tributes, so users can “explore different artistic expressions of Black British history and culture,” Inniss adds. Some objects are influenced by the artists who created the original, for example, the Deborah Roberts figure uses collage, while others show the individual Young Producer’s artistic interpretation of an object and its meaning. “For my illustrations, I put an emphasis on line work and colour, as a reflection of the vibrancy of Black British Culture,” says Kayleigh De Sousa. Having said that, the team worked hard to ensure there was “artistic harmony” across the toolkit, to ensure a coherent vision.
Most importantly it had to be fun, so when users came to play they would learn more about the subject through interaction. “One thing I personally liked about the items that were chosen was that each had a depth that mirrors the complexity of Black British culture,” De Sousa says. “For example, the whistle featured pays homage to Notting Hill Carnival but also acts as a reminder of a tool used by police for control.
Personally, I am curious to see how viewers will use each of the items; will they use the items to create new artwork, or place them within the backgrounds to create a visual scene? To me, the freedom we have generated allows for people to delve into the site wholeheartedly and create reflections of their own psyche.”
“This really is an ode to the community, our strength, our joy, and our creativity,” concludes Comuzi’s Safiya Mckenzie. “Turn the music on, and have fun with it, and share your illustrations online. We’d love to see what you create with it.”
The Young Producers collective supports young creatives aged 18-30 who are underrepresented in the cultural sector, currently comprising six creatives including Race Zine’s Okocha Obasi, incidentally also the first recipient of our Extra Nice fund. Decentralise is the collective’s first project together, made with project partners Pinterest and with support from Art Fund.
GallerySomerset House’s Young Producers collective: Decentralise
Decentralise homepage (Copyright © Somerset House, 2021)