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Your Space Or Mine

Ronan Mckenzie curates “Celebrating Joy” street exhibition

The London-based photographer speaks to us about curation, her creative space HOME and her collaboration with Your Space Or Mine.

From the start of her career to now, Ronan Mckenzie has quickly established herself as one of UK’s most authentic and multifaceted creatives. Born and raised in Walthamstow, East London, her rise to success saw Mckenzie progress from a beaming young artist participating in an art foundation and internship at i-D magazine to a highly skilled creative with a plethora of titles under her job description.

Developing on her background in styling, lockdown saw Mckenzie delve into the design world after a newfound interest in sewing pushed her to launch her own brand Selasi. But her versatility did not stop there, last year also saw Mckenzie launch HOME – a black-owned multifunctional creative space in North London that features an art gallery, community events location and creative workspace. “HOME responds directly to the personal and communal need for a more honest and representative space, that cares deeply for the artists we present and the community of people that we welcome into our space” she told us, speaking on what pushed her to launch the project.


Words by Habi Diallo

At current, HOME is holding an exhibition called ‘Amour’, which celebrates the work and artistry of eleven different Black British designers. Future exhibitions include Belgian and Congolese artist Bahati Simoens’ solo exhibition ‘Dear Gratitude’, which opens in January. As a self-initiated project, members of the public can play a part in ensuring HOME can continue to provide artists of colour with the space and support they need by becoming a supporter or a friend of the organisation.

Speaking on her pathway to curation, Mckenzie explained to us “I’ve always been someone excited to champion others alongside myself and as my path has naturally taken me in a collaborative direction,” she said. Now, as part of BUILDHOLLYWOOD’s ongoing art project, Your Space Or Mine, Mckenzie has selected artists based in the United Kingdom to feature on billboards across the country. Starting in London, the monthly project will then travel through the UK – stopping off Bristol in November, Birmingham in December and Sheffield in January. Each city’s street exhibition will feature local artists selected by Mckenzie.

Entitled ‘Celebrating Joy’, the project embodies all notions of Black joy and the many ways it can be interpreted through art and photography. For the London instalment of the project, Mckenzie has selected a talented group of twelve artists who have responded to the theme in their own ways. Hailing from a wide variety of backgrounds, the artists were discovered through open calls for residences and grants as well as artists from the HOME community.

Spread out over billboards in three ends of the capital, pieces of work apart of the project include stunning monochromatic portraits by photographer Theo Gould, who uses his background in Philosophy as inspiration for his work. Alongside Gould, other billboards in South London feature an acrylic painting named ‘Comfortable Existence ‘opulence IV’’ by Chelsea School of Art alumnus Sandra Daniel and a piece by Brixton-based artist Sola Olulode which highlights the joy found in Black sisterhood.

Across the capital, residents of North London will see work by photographers Rashidi Noah, Memunatu Barrie and Justin Akomiah. Other pieces include images of flags created by Fanto Asafo Flags which celebrate and honour the history of the Fante people of Ghana.

Elsewhere in East London, fashion and portrait photographer Christina Ebenezar  of East London alongside photographer Naomi Williams, whose image comes from her ‘Shared Spaces’ series which explores the intimacy of communal environments. Other artists selected include Josephine Chime, Sondliwe and Olivia Twist.

Below we caught up with Ronan ahead of the launch of her Your Space Or Mine takeover

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

My first creative practice was photography, which I began experimenting with 7 years ago. Photography led me to directing, and a necessity for connecting with others and creating shared space led me to curation. Curation in turn led me to wanting to make my practice more collaborative and support others in their journeys, which led to me taking the opportunity to teach. Teaching and seeing the same challenges I faced at the beginning of my career still occurring coincided with my growing desire and dream to open my own creative arts space, and lockdown led to the time and space needed to make my space – HOME – a reality. Lockdown allowed for time to explore a new creative practice; sewing, which has led to my brand SELASI, and here I am!

What was it like for you growing up in London and do you think it has impacted how you work or approach your work?

Growing up in London instilled a sense of endless possibility into me from a young age; I grew up believing and seeing people attempt and achieve their dreams and work in many different ways. I feel being exposed to so many ways to achieve and explore creative practices throughout my life supported the confidence that my parents aimed to ground in me to aim high and not be afraid to fall whilst trying.

Where do you usually look to for inspiration?

Inspiration is everywhere; today I visited the LUX Exhibition at 180 Strand and artist Julian Knxx’s film piece has lit a new fire in my spirit.

You started working pretty young, do you remember the moment you realised you wanted to start working in photography?

I remember experimenting with photography, beginning to practice regularly alongside my retail job and just loving it. I don’t think it was a specific moment, but more a feeling of constant interest in exploring this medium, and I followed my intuition which led me down a photography career.


Your creative space HOME is such a needed environment, could you tell us more about it and what pushed you to launch it?

HOME is a multifunctional creative space concept born out of the hunger for a more grounded art space with both a well-curated presentation of exhibitions and a wide programme of events. Being a modern hybrid of an art gallery and a community events space, at the heart of HOME is the aim to inspire, share and support. HOME takes ownership over cultivating our community and creating space for us to be, with a library and creative workspace to be shared and enjoyed.

HOME is one of very few black-owned art spaces within London, and one of the only to be artist-led, with a leading focus on supporting Black and Indigenous People of Colour. HOME offers a considered curatorial and events programme which highlights our founding concept; to truly contextualise artists, and continually transform to support the community we are built for.

What made you want to curate?

I don’t think of curation as something I had even planned on doing but more something that happened to come about; I’ve always been someone excited to champion others alongside myself and as my path has naturally taken me in a collaborative direction, I’ve stepped into a curatorial role without much planning or preparation. I feel one of the strengths of this though is being able to work very intuitively in the way I put ideas together and how I read artworks, I go very much based off a sometimes inexplicable feeling which for me is what artwork is all about.

How would you describe your work? What does it represent?

As an artist I feel that my work should speak for me, and the intention that flows through me is open for interpretation from the viewer.

How did the ‘Celebrating Joy’ theme come about?

Celebrating Joy is about bringing artwork to public spaces that evokes a sense of lightness and happiness; it’s an opportunity to uplift and share an inner feeling of peace and warmth at a time when the air gets colder and the days are shorter. The campaign suggests and encourages an emotive response to the works, which I hope brightens the viewers day.

Why did you pick these artists to be part of ‘Celebrating Joy’

There are many artists who inspire us at HOME and we’re continually adding to our network of artists who we would love to work with. Many we have discovered through our open calls for grants and residencies, and others we’ve been introduced to or discovered ourselves, so selecting artists to be part of this campaign was an easy task, and we’re thrilled and who has contributed their works to this special project.

What does joy mean to you?

For me, Joy is inexplicable.

What are your plans for the other cities involved in the collaboration – such as Bristol, Birmingham and Sheffield?

We plan to continue the campaign with the same energy; finding artists to create public artworks that inspire their communities.

What advice do you have for any up-and-coming creatives who are interested in taking a similar multidisciplinary route as yourself?

Go for it!

CODE RED by Peter Kennard

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