When I first encountered the various objects in the Archives, I was immediately drawn in by the photographs. They depicted life at the School of Art from the 1900s until around 1980. What struck me most about the photographs was how they showed the lack of diversity in the School of Art, something that has since changed.

Female students in the modelling workshop, c.1900, BCU Art & Design Archives

Female students in the modelling workshop, c.1900, BCU Art & Design Archives

Students in fancy dress at Arts Ball, 1930s, BCU Art & Design Archives

Students in fancy dress at Arts Ball, 1930s, BCU Art & Design Archives

The School of Art now has a more diverse student pool, which is something I decided I wanted to highlight in my work. To do this I decided to create a fictional character who is representative of the School of Art now, but who would have studied from the 1950s onwards, around the time immigration became prominent in Birmingham. I wanted to make a comment, not only on the way the School of Art has changed, but also on the way in which art itself has changed: it is not only for privileged white males, but is open to everyone. All different types of art are just as valid as painting and sculpture.

I started looking at the different student works in the Archives for inspiration to create my own work: the three pieces shown above are examples of embroidery created in the School of Art in the early years of the twentieth century. I've always had an interest in embroidery and, after learning about the the relationship between the School of Art and the Arts and Crafts movement, I decided to pursue embroidery as a way of working. Embroidery has many connotations, e.g. being a domestic skill that women tend to have and which has  no real place in the art world. However, the Arts and Crafts movement allowed it to be more “mainstream” and more widely recognised in the art world. It has since been reclaimed by a variety of artists such as Tracey Emin, Hanecdote etc.  The embroidery in the Archives was very dainty and pretty, and the theme of nature was evident through the different pieces.

The character I was creating was originally from Pakistan, so I started researching the style of embroidery of Pakistan. I already had an idea of the style of embroidery as my mom and dad are originally from Pakistan, but I wanted to see if there was a specific style or theme that dominated. “Shisha” (mirror) embroidery is quite popular in South Asian countries and is just a way of embellishing pieces of fabric further. The main difference between the embroidery in the Archives and Pakistani embroidery is that the Pakistani embroidery is a lot more graphic and bold. Embroidery amongst all culture is not only a way of embellishing a piece of fabric but showing your own personality and own style. Below you can see examples of the work I produced in response to those in the Archives.