The Wick - Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye Courtesy of Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye The Wick - Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye Courtesy of Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye
Monday Muse

Interview The World Reimagined’s Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye

Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye
21 November 2022
Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye
21 November 2022
Over the weekend, 96 hand-painted globes from The World Reimagined art trail were on show in Trafalgar Square ahead of being auctioned at Bonhams. The World Reimagined is one of the largest art education projects for racial justice the UK has ever seen and each globe explores the impact of the transatlantic slave trade and how history informs the past, present and future.

This week’s Monday Muse, Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye is the artistic director of the project. A native Californian with Bajan and Yoruba roots, she is known for promoting the representation of those not in the room and creating conversations that generate action towards equity. In addition to leading the research team within Adjaye Associates, an award-winning international architectural firm committed to community engagement through civic projects, Adjaye has held and currently holds a variety of non-executive roles including trusteeships focused on women and youth. These include sitting on the Africa Futures Institute Board of Trustees, the Prince’s Trust International Africa Advisory Board, and the Institute of Imagination Board of Trustees.

THE WICK:   What you are most proud of about The World Reimagined?

Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye:   After three and a half years of developing our organisation, this was our debut. The World Reimagined offers a thoughtful and creative way to engage with the difficult reality of the UK’s role in the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and its enduring impact. I am hugely proud of the entire team who sparked awareness through multiple outlets: art, poetry, school curriculums, events, and our online heritage collection.

TW:   How were artists and cities chosen for the project?

AA:   We created nine themes, collectively called the Journey of Discovery, as a framework to guide our artists’ work. Then through an open call we invited UK-based artists to submit designs according to the themes. Our jury selected 29 artists from over 300 submissions. Next the artistic team researched hundreds of artists and ultimately commissioned 74 more. Similarly, we invited a large group of cities throughout the UK to become our host cities. Ultimately, seven signed up and hosted our globes, community outreach and school engagement: Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester, Leeds, Liverpool City Region, London, and Swansea.

TW:   Since The World Reimagined started four years ago, has there been a shift in recognition of Britain’s past?

AA:   It would be hard to pinpoint a specific shift that resulted in more awareness of Britain’s past. What makes our era fascinating is the widespread shift towards Black consciousness and identities. Through the partnerships fostered during this project, I have encountered an extraordinary amount of people and organisations working towards racial justice. Despite so many challenges, I believe this is a hopeful time because more and more people of all backgrounds are educating themselves about how they can create a more inclusive and just society.

TW:   What impact do you hope to see The World Reimagined and its Trafalgar Square exhibition have on culturally curious Londoners?

AA:   One of the exciting aspects of this project was the opportunity to give artists a national platform for expression. As artistic director, one of my goals was to expand the cannon of images that we relate to this history. I wanted our artists to offer images of humanity because that was constantly undermined throughout this historic period. With the Trafalgar Square exhibition, in addition to the individual works, we have the extraordinary image of the collection of works in dialogue with national monuments and sacred public space. I also hope that culturally curious Londoners are inspired to sponsor or buy a globe through our auction at this week.

“It’s critical that there is diversity at every level of an organisation, especially at the decision-making levels.”

TW:   How can museums and cultural institutions take immediate action to include a more diverse point of view?

AA:   It’s critical that there is diversity at every level of an organisation, especially at the decision-making levels. When you have diverse voices in the room, the chorus is stronger and more resilient because it has naturally considered a broader audience. To achieve this diversity, it’s important to build a pipeline so that young people from underrepresented groups get exposure to career opportunities early in their professional journey.

TW:   Learning about Britain’s past can be difficult, what piece of advice would you give to someone looking to develop their understanding?

AA:   I would encourage anyone who wants to learn more about it to begin with Black and British by David Olusoga. This book beautifully contextualises and explains the history. Regardless of your background, this history is shocking. Be ready for this but don’t be deterred. Also, our past is still our present. One of the misconceptions about this history is that it’s fully in the past and that it doesn’t have contemporary manifestations.

TW:   You live between Accra, London and New York City. What are your top three must-pack items?

AA:   A silk eye mask, baobab oil, and dried papaya from Accra’s Butterfly Market.

TW:   What is your favourite culturally curious spot in London?

AA:   Every time I go to the Serpentine my mind expands.

TW:   Which artwork, song and book would you take to a desert island?

AA:   Any painting by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Miles Davis’s album Green in Blue, and a book on how to make a boat!

TW:   What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

AA:   “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

TW:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

AA:   I am endlessly inspired by the originality of Grace Jones. She defies every boundary so effortlessly that she strikes me as otherworldly. Grace celebrates herself without waiting for permission. She once described herself as being “militantly naughty and disciplined in the art of subversion”. What a woman.

The World Reimagined online charity sale at Bonhams ends on November 25.

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