Ronan Mckenzie launches HOME: A new Black-led artistic space

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Part gallery, part community space, HOME aims to provide a supportive environment for all

2020 has been a year of change. Global Black Lives Matter protests have forced institutions, including those in the art world, to reflect on their policies, histories, and values. The unfortunate reality for many Black artists, especially during a pandemic, is a significant lack of opportunities. When Black artists do get the credit and recognition they deserve, it can be tainted by the realisation that you are the only one in the room – the one who made it. Fashion photographer Ronan Mckenzie made it. She doesn’t want to be the only one who does.

“I don’t want my legacy as a person or artist to be something that was handed to me. I really feel that if more of us take up space, and we use our power collectively, we have such a strong voice.”

All images © Ronan Mckenzie.

Black artists and Indigenous artists of colour specifically have been excluded from the institutional hierarchy for so long that when a little bit of rope is given, it’s easy to take it and feel the buzz of being accepted by those people,” Mckenzie explains. “I don’t want my legacy as a person or artist to be something that was handed to me. I really feel that if more of us take up space, and we use our power collectively, we have such a strong voice.”

This is the mission behind HOME. Based in north London, HOME is a new Black-led artistic and communal space. It launches digitally on 26 November, with WATA: Further Explorations, a collaborative exhibition between Mckenzie and mixed-media artist Joy Yamusangie, exploring Black history, mythology, spirituality and jazz. Beyond this, HOME hopes to soon further its exhibition roster with shows focusing on Black women artists. The space will open physically when it is safe to do so, and intends to be an environment for everyone, merging the white-walled gallery with an informal, welcoming, and loving space.

The inspiration for HOME came from Mckenzies’ desire to see more Black and female artists in galleries. “My mum always made a point of taking me to exhibitions…. I think I was just really disappointed in how I had to do all of my own learning and education about Black and Indigenous artists of colour late into my teens and into my early 20s. I’m still learning and discovering  artists every day who are not new — they’ve been around — but it’s just so rare that we get to experience that work.” HOME has been built specifically for these underrepresented artists, giving them the recognition they deserve.

'The Musician' from WATA, Further Explorations, 2020 ‘Title of image’, from Name of Series, 2020 ©Joy Yamusangie.

Mckenzie gained her reputation in fashion photography through her heartfelt and tender portrayals of Blackness, displaying unspoken bonds between generations, friends, lovers and family. Through capturing the person behind the clothes as well as what they wear, Mckenzie is able to put the subject, as well as the viewer, at ease. 

“Community is really, really, really important to me,” Mceknzie emphasises. “I’m really not about creating another space of exclusivity — It’s about creating a place that really shines a light on other artists and gives a voice in the way that they want to be represented.” Mckenzie says Black artists are “never really given an opportunity to just shine individually”, and are prone to be grouped together based purely on their colour. HOME gives a place for these artists to represent themselves, on their own terms.

“I stand in my power by saying I’m a Black artist, but the colour of my skin is not what my work is exclusively about. I am proud to make work about Black love, Black tenderness and Black relationships. I’m happy to own that, because I don’t feel that being Black devalues my artistry. I think it only strengthens my practice and my power.”

All images © Ronan Mckenzie.

As soon as they see me as a ‘Black’ artist, they have already projected their own connotations on to me” Mckenzie explains. “I stand in my power by saying I’m a Black artist, but the colour of my skin is not what my work is exclusively about. I am proud to make work about Black love, Black tenderness and Black relationships. I’m happy to own that, because I don’t feel that being Black devalues my artistry. I think it only strengthens my practice and my power.

As well as the exhibition space, HOME plans to offer affordable photo studios, open work spaces, a curated library, and, eventually, community events. . Plans for life drawing classes and film clubs are already underway. “I want it to be somewhere you can come see an amazing exhibition, but you can also bring your family and do an art workshop” Mceknize says. “It also means that a lot of the programming that we are doing is with a specific focus of getting people in who maybe don’t normally go to galleries.” Situated between Upper Holloway and Crouch Hill, HOME plans on serving its local community by becoming a welcoming space for artists and visitors alike.

All images © Ronan Mckenzie.

Change in a majority-White art world won’t come about by exclusively having Black artists exhibit in White-run spaces. By having multifunctional and multipurpose spaces such as HOME, a new way can be found. HOME gives a chance for generations of BAME and other marginalised communities to not just exhibit, but run the show.

Mckenzie has big plans for the future of HOME. “As much as I enjoy photography, creating a space for my community and others to actually feel like we have a place where we can connect, to just be somewhere and create together, is really where my heart lies,” she says.

HOME will open digitally on 26 November with WATA: Further Explorations, with plans to physically open the doors when safe to do so.

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.