The Xhibit Professional Development Day aims to bring together a collective of industry professionals to discuss their practice, troubleshoot and answer questions from students. Programmed as a response to requests made by Xhibit selected artists - the day utilises the students as a unique focus group to locate subjects, themes and ideas of relevance.
Xhibit Professional Development Day 2022
Wed 30 Mar 2022
Write up by Melody Uyanga Ramsay Uuganbayar
In the 25 years since its original inception Xhibit has become the longest running open-call exhibition for students at UAL. Xhibit now includes media partnerships, bursary opportunities and a significant professional development programme.
Founded roughly 7 years ago, the Xhibit Professional Development Day aims to bring together a collective of industry professionals to discuss their practice, troubleshoot and answer questions from students. Originally only open to artists selected for Xhibit, this is now open to all UAL students to participate in.
Moving forward, the day is now a response to requests made by Xhibit selected artists - utilising the students as a unique focus group to locate subjects, themes and ideas of relevance to the creative student experience. As such, the day is thematically curated by student ideas and areas of interest. There is a focus on areas of professional development either lacking from courses, needing further learning, or featuring invited industry professionals for students to make connections with. Thus, the day continues the ethos of Xhibit and the Arts Programme at Arts SU started by students, for students.
Being a Freelance Artist
Speaker: Erin Aniker
@erinaniker / erinaniker.com
Erin explained her career journey thus far, having worked as an illustrator for three years after completing her BA in illustration at Norwich University. She shared an insight into her life growing up attending protests with her mother who is from Turkey, and how she has incorporated this same passion for speaking up and politics within her work.
Erin spoke openly and candidly about her struggles with imposter syndrome, and how she still feels waves of it today - explaining that a lot of her career is “making it up as you go along”.
However, her advice that followed suit showed her intelligent, creative, and entrepreneurial nature and it was clear that her career success had come from a lot of hard work and strategy.
As well as sharing a highlight reel of her work, Erin was honest about her struggle as an artist, as there is not ‘a set path to follow’. Elaborating on the point that ‘you create your own opportunities’, she talked us through her process of working through a spreadsheet of contacts and pitching herself, with the mindset of not expecting to hear back.
In line with the main themes of the Professional Development Day, Erin stressed the importance of social, business and entrepreneurial skills - many of which she developed and refined whilst working various part-time jobs.
Speaking to the audience, Erin talked us through what the pros and cons of university were for her:
Higher Education Pros:
Time and studio space to focus on your work and experiment
You can graduate with a portfolio
Some jobs prefer you to have a degree
Higher education Cons:
Expensive, and it is possible to gain skills through courses, workshops, internships, placements etc.
Q: How do you manage jobs where you have to change a project and respond to feedback?
A: Utilise your people skills, have strong personal values, know your boundaries, and compromise where appropriate.
Q: What is the difference between a portfolio and a website, are they separate?
A: Since the pandemic, online portfolios are much more common. Erin recommends Cargo Collective for building your website, and having an online presence is so important, utilising the student community we have at UAL.
Q: How do you price your work, especially as a recent graduate?
A: Sign a contract, Association of Illustrators have a free pricing calculator resource – invoice half before work commences and half after it’s complete, haggle with prices, and if it’s a corporate client always charge double what you think you should. When she first started, she undercharged. Cater your pricing to the client.
Q: How do you go about pitching? And your advice for pitching?
A: Use your connections, eg. ask a friends and ‘create the kind of work you want to get commissioned for before you get commissioned for it’. Tailor your pitch, have a template and a space to add a little personal observation or compliment. A nice email signature, with a ‘pimped out’ look makes you look more professional. Attach low-res teaser images of your work: Erin recommends between 2-3 images.
Creating Politicised Art.
Speaker: Sabrina Mumtaz Hasan MA, FHEA
@sabrinamumtazhasan / www.sabrinamumtazhasan.co.uk
Sabrina completed her MA in Art and Science at Central Saint Martins. Her key interests are in Parasitology, migration, reframing pejorative broadcasts, metaphor production, mediating conflict, and their intersections. Sabrina works between scripted text, performance, and sculptural audio, stimulated by writings on materialising the positive aspects of a parasite, in favour of catalysing social change and critiquing the lab.
*Trigger warning - discusses and critiques offensive language used to describe migrants
The focus of her recent work has been the metaphor 'migrants are parasites' the media’s use of this harmful metaphor to describe migrants as parasites, not welcome, not human and pests.
Her approach to working is one which is extremely considered, narrating an instance where she stopped working with a lab in Jordan because she didn’t agree with the ethics of the labs testing on children. Sabrina’s performance lecture practice unpacks language, with an emphasis on responding to the questions that come from her sessions, such as her lecture at the V&A for Refugee Week.
Drawing from her lived experiences of racism, Sabrina subverts and repurposes technologies, for the specific purpose of re-positioning the ‘migrant’ in spaces, and formats not normally presented to the public. The feminisation of migration is also another realm of study for her, expanding on this notion of finding a ‘home’ and ‘home-building’ elsewhere, through sound experiments.
British Vogue wrote about her work, describing it as a ‘dialogue and catalysts within broadcasted media, where pejorative metaphors are produced in correlation with Immunology and bodies in transit and turbulence’.
As a ‘political artist’, Sabrina shared that ‘once you start making politicised work, that doesn’t mean that’s all you do’. And really, a lot of the value of her work comes from the conversations her work sparks.
Having been commissioned by the Dean of UAL, supported by Bow Arts, exhibited in the P21 Gallery in Kings Cross, presented in the CCA in Glasgow amongst many other exhibitions - her advice to the audience was to really consider your personal motives for working with certain organisations. Her work with Darshini was an example of when she really aligned with the organisation’s purpose.
Throughout her talk Sabrina played several sound clips of interviews, and sound montages of her work leading workshops, ‘to open up discussion, for everyone to feel equal as possible’. She shared that within her practice she doesn’t want to dominate a space, recording herself whilst facilitating as a means to critique herself at a later stage and consider how she could improve her workshops and navigate tensions around sensitive subjects such as race, class and gender.
In her work as a political artist, Sabrina talked about how every stage of her project is often up for discussion, and a reflection of wider social issues. For example, when was transporting materials from the UK to Morocco for a materials lab, carrying specific materials like beef gelatine was treated as a ‘concern’.
All stages of her artistic practice are under question. During her material labs, she invited participants to critique and question how making and access to materials are in fact colonial, and how this was an important consideration when navigating dialogues. She recommends having trigger warnings and not erasing the work, just because it may deal with sensitive themes.
Q: How do you contact museums and spaces?
A: Heavily research and be thoughtful about the spaces and people that you want to navigate through. When pitching via email, CC someone higher up in the organisation. Sometimes using a more ‘western’ name can prove to be more successful, even this approach of working is political.
Q: How do you handle triggers when you’re working with political work?
A: Recording is useful to observe your own behaviour, and make sure to acknowledge how you feel in the moment, not overdoing the emotional labour and knowing when to step back. Conflict management is important in the work and trigger warnings are good practice as part of the ethics of the work.
Cancelling work is also valid: health is more important than your work. Debriefing is always useful and keep a data-log of bad communication, and micro-aggressions too: you can’t argue with data. Keeping a record is also useful to validate, and harnessing your emotions as real, and lived experience.
Q: How do you mediate conflict and systemic racism?
A: Having been involved within the institution - such as with Shades of Noir doing Anti-racist work within UAL, it is important to self-critique and reflect, as you’re constantly doing the work, it takes a lot of time to unpack your work, putting yourself in challenging but safeguarded situations, having signs on the door or table, ask others for help, and reaching out to support structures.
Utilising social media effectively
Speaker: Naila Hazell
@nailahazell / Nailahazell.com
Naila grew up in Baku, Azerbaijan and studied her MA at the Azerbaijani Fine Arts Academy. Now she is a full-time Artist with a studio based in West London and enjoys sharing her working process every day on social media, primarily Instagram.
She is a figurative artist, working mostly in oil paint, and enthusiastically spoke about her life journey thus far, having children, losing her husband, openly discussing her struggles with depression and the stages of starting a new life in London. Beautifully telling the audience an anecdote of when she was at a low point in her life, sitting by the riverside asking herself ‘what’s next?’ The next step was doing watercolour paintings with her friend, and continually drawing, sketching, painting everyday as a means to cope, and improve.
She was teaching art and worked in a nursery, and when lockdown happened, Naila used this newfound time to paint as much as she could.
Q: Do you ever feel like social media is a hassle?
A: Not really, I enjoy sharing, and being watched, and if I don’t put it on my feed, I’ll put it on my story.
Q: How do you feel about older work? Do you delete them?
A: All my older work is gone. When I see weaknesses I delete them: it’s a constant flux of improvement.
Q: How do you separate time to make work and then use social media?
A: For me, painting and Instagram is all at the same time, I will film when I’m painting, and post alongside painting - but it’s very important to rest, I try to take weekends off now, and sometimes I will paint for 3-4 hours then go home because that is me finished for the day!
Q: Do you get inspiration from Instagram?
A: I get inspiration when I inspire other people. I paint people, I paint portraits, they may be harder to sell but I believe in them. So, my main inspiration is from real people.
Q: In terms of networking, and contacting galleries, what were your first steps to contact people to sell your work?
A: Meeting people is key, sharing ideas, going to galleries, sharing on social media - people spread the word about you and you have to act fast while you’re fresh in their minds. It’s about being very engaged and proactive in your approach.
Q: How do you take commissions?
A: People contact me, I take a deposit at the beginning, then the final payment at the end. My process is that I have to do a photoshoot, then have a discussion about the final image to paint then I will paint the portrait.
Q: As a portrait artist, who are the majority of your buyers?
A: A very mixed range of people, some who have found me through Instagram, others through Artists at Home – however I will always vet people and do my background research to ensure they are legit buyers.
Q: How do you price your work? (for exhibitions and buyers)
A: Before I submit, I will often check how much other exhibiting artists are selling work for, then incorporate my years of experience, formal training, and of course it will depend on who is buying it.
Q: How do you showcase your work in galleries?
A: Submit, submit, submit! I have been rejected a lot too, if you can’t represent your work in galleries, social media is your gallery.
Q: How do you navigate the interplay between Instagram and the portrait commissions?
A: My deal is that I have to be in control of the composition, I have to feel the colours, the composition, the moment.
The Curator and Artist Relationship
Speaker: Julia Greenway
@julia_vaughan_g / www.juliagreenway.com
Julia is from Detroit, USA and began her curatorial practice with Interstitial, a contemporary new media gallery in Seattle. She then moved to London to gain her MFA in Curation at Goldsmiths. Her work focuses on how digital media influences the aesthetic presentation of gender, economics, and environment.
Julia explained her interests as a curator is supporting and facilitating opportunities for artists. Notably she has worked alongside artists such as Lu Yang, Jenifer Mehigan and Wong Ping, talking about the discourse within her curatorial practice, and having a rapport with someone you are collaborating with is really important, as ‘you have to feel people out’.
She spoke openly about her challenges making money from curation, navigating challenging working situations, and the value of building relationships with artists you see yourself working with.
Julia’s advice to artists wanting to exhibit is, ‘You need to make yourself visible to curators, be active, make smart work, show (your work) a lot in all the ways that you can, make the steps to visibility that allows for a curator to find you,’.
Another really honest, and personal viewpoint Julia touched upon was that a curator will usually want that discovery point; they want to ‘discover’ you - so getting your work out there in all the ways that you can is best practice when looking to work with a curator in future.
Q: How do I talk to curators as a student? I would like the help of a specialist in curation
A: Look at emerging curators, and curation students. UAL has 18,000 students, it’s about locating the course-leaders and meeting others who have skillsets in curation or the qualities of a curator – a lot of curators come from more practice led backgrounds, and don’t even realise curation is a possible career for themselves.
Q: Have you ever worked with photographers?
A: My practice is installation-building, I haven’t worked with photographers. There are a lot of photography specialists, find curators at your level with similar interests: there is a curator for everyone!
Q: Can you touch upon working through difficult working relationships artist-curator specific?
A: I’ve been really lucky! I haven’t had many relationship issues. My challenges were more from when I was working freelance. My role as a curator is to guide an artist, edit down an artist’s work, and help them achieve that next step.
Q: What do you think is the greatest mistake an artist can make working with a curator?
A: Not fully utilising the opportunities they can present you with, they can do so much for you – so really make the most of that special relationship you have.
Q: When you are working - in which order do you decide on an artist and the exhibition space?
A: It’s a chicken and egg situation, either / or, whichever comes first! I personally prefer to find the opportunity/exhibition space first then find the people I’m going to work with.
Q: What’s the difference now that you have an MA, because you were curating before your MA – why did you chose to study your MA at Goldsmiths?
A: I wanted to move to London, and it was good to change my career and contextualise my work. I know for others in my year group, it was a great opportunity to form and hone their interests in curation.
Q: How did you get into the digital art world?
A: It’s really important to network, and chat to people you admire, it is a hustle - talking to people and putting yourself out there is the best way to establish get into the industry.
Q: How do curators make money?
A: Mostly through taking a percentage (of a contract) and when I fundraise, I give myself a fee. I didn’t pay myself for years (which was unsustainable) but it’s this balance of taking opportunities, and also valuing yourself enough to pay yourself for the work you do.
Suggestions of organisations who offer pay scale advice for creatives:
AUE : Artist Union England
Q: How do you work with the gallery in branding your exhibition and developing a concept etc.
A: It’s a discussion, liaising back and forth, talking about the visual language - the curator is often responsible for overseeing the branding of the exhibition.
Q: How do you get funding?
A: Various ways such as applying for funding through funding organisations, eg. Developing Your Creative Practice, private funding, kick-starters - and I’ve even hosted a fundraiser dinner.
From learning self-confidence, discipline and entrepreneurship to money issues, insider tips, and how to deal with success, rejection, and life’s hurdles, each speaker was truly unique in their approach to developing their career. They all shared a common thick skin, a desire to keep learning, strong networks, and a resilience in the face of obstacles.
At the end of the day, I just felt truly lucky to have opportunities like the Xhibit Professional Development Day. I came away with new friends, fresh inspiration, and knowledge I will definitely utilise in my own career path.
Thank you Xhibit!
Melody Uyanga Ramsay Uuganbayar
Melody Uyanga Ramsay is an Art Director on the MA Fashion Communication course at Central Saint Martins. Her work focuses on community, craft and culture by mediating debates around current critical thinking in fashion and postcolonial studies. Melody has facilitated multiple community-focused projects celebrating fashion and multiculturalism within Britain. https://uyanga.com/
Images: David Povilaika