Ronan Mckenzie launches new arts space with joint exhibition

Wata, Further Explorations is a collaboration with artist Joy Yamusangie that examines ancestry and cross-cultural connections, and launches online as the debut project hosted by Mckenzie’s new art space Home

This year has been one of enormous upheaval for creatives. Livelihoods have been upturned, opportunities curtailed, stability eroded. Yet in the face of the uncertainty facing the creative community, Ronan Mckenzie has found her home.

The photographer and curator, whose work covered last year’s issue of the Creative Review Photography Annual, has launched a new creative space in north London.

Stemming from personal experiences of institutions, Home has been formed to address the need for creative spaces and infrastructures that contextualise the work of BIPOC artists – and is one of very few Black-owned art spaces in London.

The inaugural project to run under the Home banner is Wata, Further Explorations, which launched online this week in light of lockdown restrictions in England, with plans to run in a physical capacity from December 10 when the space opens to the public. The exhibition comes as a collaboration between Mckenzie and multidisciplinary artist Joy Yamusangie, whose practice encompasses illustration, ceramics, text-based works and beyond.

Artists, friends, and now creative collaborators, the pair wrote and directed a short film, Wata, supported by Gucci, which they released earlier this year. Drawing inspiration from Mami Wata, a water deity that has connections to West Africa, Central Africa and the Caribbean, and introducing a secondary figure known as the Musician, the film explores identity, ancestry and cross-cultural connections through a potent blend of dance, colour and jazz. Whereas light tends to be diffused and sound obscured while submerged underwater, the film is in no way diluted, instead featuring an energetic score and vibrant variations of the colour blue.

The concept proved so rich that Mckenzie and Yamusangie decided to flesh it out with Wata, Further Explorations, a joint body of work that teases out these threads, namely through the continued exploration of blue, white and brown palettes, and experiments with the human form.

The show is a coming together of mediums and aesthetics, positioning Yamusangie’s vibrant wall hangings in dialogue with Mckenzie’s captivating photographs – a correlation neatly illustrated in the placement of pieces shown in the online exhibition.

The exhibition marks one of many functions that Home will offer. A hybrid space by nature, it’s set to assume various guises upon its opening following lockdown restrictions. Serving the needs of artists will be a library, workspace, a daylight photo studio and portfolio review sessions, alongside a wider roster of cultural and community events spanning film nights, music events, talks, workshops and even supper clubs. Upcoming events already pencilled in for next year include a discussion between Mckenzie and Yamusangie in February, and painter Cece Phillips’ debut solo exhibition, I See In Colour, in April.

The ambition behind Home is to foster “intergenerational conversation”, skill sharing, and the feeling of community and identity. The latter was a key influence for the visual identity for the space, created by Caterina Bianchini’s Studio Nari, which also aims to create a sense of nurturing and evolution. Subtle details like the joined serifs on the M and E of the wordmark were designed to allude to the idea that “Home is one’s sense of selfhood and creative expression, and the freedom and safety to keep evolving,” the studio explained on social media.

Home by Ronan Mckenzie
Wata, Further Explorations installed at Home. Images: Vanessa Peterson
Home by Ronan Mckenzie

With considerations for accessibility, social engagement and sustainability all intrinsic to Home, Mckenzie is aiming to build a more mindful space than that typically found in the mainstream arts. “A new art space concept is desperately needed, not only because the representation within most gallery spaces is still not diverse enough to respond to and appreciate the incredibly vast talent that is currently working, but no spaces are able to offer programming that has community and artistic development at the heart of its practice,” Mckenzie said of the impetus behind Home.

“Art spaces remain hierarchal and out of reach for most – especially BAME audiences, making entering artistic spheres extremely difficult and maintaining a place in them even harder. Drawing on my own experiences of showing work at institutions, and working across fashion and arts, I am all too aware of the difficulties of navigating the creative industries as a Black female, and amongst the current offering in London, there needs to be a Home.”

WATA, Further Explorations by Ronan Mckenzie and Joy Yamusangie is available to view online, with the physical exhibition set to open at Home in north London from December 10;