The Wick - Sigrid Kirk with Gillian Wearing artwork The Wick - Sigrid Kirk with Gillian Wearing artwork
Monday Muse

Interview Curator, cultural strategist and co-founder of AWITA, Sigrid Kirk

Interview
Sigrid Kirk
17 March 2021
Interview
Sigrid Kirk
17 March 2021
A New Zealander with an MA in art history, Sigrid Kirk moved to the UK 18 years ago to pursue a career in contemporary art. And what a career it has been. She co-founded the Association of Women in the Arts (AWITA), is a trustee of London’s Drawing Room nonprofit gallery, and sits on the development board of the V&A museum and the Ikon Gallery’s London advisory board.

And if that wasn’t impressive enough, she is the co-founder of Arts Co, a cultural production agency that creates content, advises on strategy and produces events across fashion, art, design, film and theatre, and currently curates Bloomberg’s ‘Waste Not Want It’ series. So far, this environmental initiative, which encourages designers and artists to create innovative, functional installations out of recycled waste, has commissioned 40 projects by 37 artists and designers over the last five years.

THE WICK:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

Sigrid Kirk:   I select Elizabeth Montagu (1718 – 1800), British social reformer, patron of the arts, salonnière, literary critic and writer, who helped to organise and lead the Blue Stockings Society. Her home was the premier salon in London and was frequented by Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, Horace Walpole and female authors including Elizabeth Carter, Hannah More, Frances Burney, Anna Barbauld, Sarah Fielding and Hester Chapone. In a culture which held mixed and shifting views on female authorship, the Bluestockings encouraged others by example and patronage by connecting and negotiating gendered social boundaries to achieve cultural visibility and possibilities for intellectual women. And I still think today a good “salon” (especially with the right cocktail in hand) is unbeatable as a cultural and social experience.

TW:   Talk us through your latest art acquisition and what made you choose it.

SK:   I recently purchased a work by Misheck Masamvu from his solo show at Goodman Gallery. Masamvu lives and works in Harare, Zimbabwe and Johannesburg, South Africa. Working predominantly as a painter and sculptor, Masamvu describes his works as “mutants” that oscillate between abstraction and figuration. His emotionally charged paintings wage a personal battle in paint against the ideology of government and the breakdown of humanity. His works can be understood as marks that point to the realities of his own lived experience and mental and psychological space. Masamvu was one of the runaway stars of the 2020 Sydney Biennale and the colourful charge of energy, restlessness and multiplicity shows a defiant refusal to stay still. It is some time since I had felt the pull of paint, of wanting to dance in a gallery… they symbolise painting in fluxes and felt timely for now.

TW:   What’s the book you would pass on as a gift?

SK:   This lockdown I’ve devoured The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, an ambitious systems novel about global warming and global civilisation. Full of hard scientific fact, it is at times darkly comic but also full of visionary optimism. It’s a refreshing change from what I dub “Thunberg talk” and a great place to start a robust and thoughtful discussion on the policies, mindsets and practicalities needed to address climate change; something I’ve been interested in for 15 years since working with the environmentalist and explorer David de Rothschild on cultural projects.

TW:   What would your advice be to someone looking to start supporting the arts?

SK:   Find a cause or an organisation that’s working towards something you feel passionate about, have an interest in or feel connected to in some way. I believe art is necessary for our souls. If you think about supporting the arts, not as a process but as a fundamental health protocol, as something that should be prescribed – it’s much harder to ignore it as a part of your daily routine. Museums are a great place to start by joining as a member – you will meet like-minded people and get access to extra learning opportunities, but also look at smaller nonprofits who often run weekend sessions and may value your involvement. Giving your time or leveraging your connections can be even more useful than writing a cheque.

“If you think about supporting the arts, not as a process but as a fundamental health protocol, as something that should be prescribed – it’s much harder to ignore it as a part of your daily routine.”

TW:   How have you and AWITA had to adapt to a more digital way of being?

SK:   We switched to digital very early on, in week two of the pandemic when it became clear that while we may be physically distanced, we could stay socially and intellectually connected. It has been incredibly positive to be able to build relationships across the country and the world. We have doubled our membership over lockdown by being much less London-centric and have concentrated on pushing the technologies to their limits. For International Women’s Day artist Julie Verhoeven staged the first-ever artistic intervention on Remo, the virtual events and conference platform. As with her 2016 intervention at Frieze art fair, The Toilet Attendant… Now Wash Your Hands, Verhoeven clocked on for cloakroom duty for the duration of the event and was responsible for the whiteboard public information announcements and general housekeeping, “please tip generously”.

TW:   What’s your favourite culturally curious spot?

SK:   The National Gallery is my go-to spot. I try and walk in when I have a spare 20 minutes between meetings and find a room or painting I don’t already know. It’s a chance to refuel my tank. Apollo magazine online does the same thing as it pushes me out of my comfort zone. Under the hand of editor Thomas Marks, I think it has managed to inhabit an interesting place in the publishing world and a fresh way of bringing together old, modern and contemporary art.

TW:   Any up-and-coming artists we should have our eye on?

SK:   There are so many artists I’m excited about, although I’m a bit wary of the term “up-and-coming” as there are so many mid-career artists who have been overlooked or are doing really exciting things but without huge fanfare.

The Drawing Room’s Biennial Fundraiser Exhibition is a great place to spot rising talent and build a collection of works on paper. A few I’d isolate are Somaya Critchlow, Bea Bonafini, Sekai Machache, Jenkin Van Zyl and Nidhal Chamekh. Not upcoming but perhaps not as well known as he should be, even after being nominated for the Deutsche Börse Prize 2020, is Mohamed Bourouissa. I’m hugely looking forward to his upcoming solo survey show at Goldsmiths CCA.

TW:   Anything else you would like to share with us?

SK:   I’m thrilled to be curating the annual Summer Show for the Royal Society of Sculptors, opening in June. A highlight of 2020 was curating the public art project Breath is Invisible and bringing the work of the late British-Gambian artist Khadija Saye to an outdoor stage on a building in Westbourne Grove. The monochrome silkscreen print series titled, in this space we breathe, spoke about the migration of traditional Gambian spiritual practices and honoured the artist, who, aged just 24, was a victim of the devastating Grenfell Tower fire.


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