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The Aesthetics Of Diversity: A Symposium from the Centre for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts.

The Aesthetics of Diversity: what does the decolonisation of cultural practice look like?

Wednesday 22nd November, 09.45-15.30, STEAMhouse Belmont 2 space, Birmingham.

A Symposium from the Centre for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts. The symposium is co-curated by Dr Karen Patel; Director of CEDIA and Research Fellow, Birmingham City University and Lara Ratnaraja; Independent Cultural Consultant.

The visual arts and craft canon is predicated on a Western and Eurocentric standard against which all art is measured. Bias in aestheticism means that the viewing of work always comes overlain with the patina of colonialism and empire.

This stems from production using Westernised practice methods and theories, where ethnically diverse work is exoticized and othered, and follows through to the commissioning of work in a system which is predicated on systemic racism and institutional colonialism.

This whitewashing of work by artists of colour, perpetuates their marginalisation and inequality and reinforces the structures and power dynamics that exclude artists of colour and other marginalised artists.

The Centre for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts (CEDIA) will draw together speakers from academia and the arts to explore true representation in making work, the bias that perpetuates a Western standard of practice and what a future diverse aesthetic could be.

The symposium will feature keynotes and two panels on decolonising practice and commissioning in the cultural sector, the racialised environment and representation with regards to race through a lens of intersectionality that considers all aspects of diversity and the impact of colonialism.


09:45-10:15 Registration

10:15-10:45 Welcome to our world- culture, decolonisation and what it means for us: Dr Karen Patel and Lara Ratnaraja

10:45-11:45 Panel 1 Decolonisation in Practice: It’s not about you it’s about us. What does decolonisation mean for artists of colour? A conversation with artists Roo Dhissou, Roxanne Simone and Papa Nii Akushey Quaye. Chaired by Karen Patel.

11:45-12:00 Q& A

12:00-13:00 Lunch

13:00-14:00 Panel 2-Decolonisation in Commissioning. How can the commissioning of cultural work be underpinned by a framework of decolonisation and inclusivity? Panel discussion with Jaivant Patel, Artistic & Creative Director/Chief Executive Jaivant Patel Company; Deirdre Figueiredo, Director Craftspace; Rohini Malik Okon, Writer and Curator and Curatorial Project Manager for Future Collect. Chaired by Lara Ratnaraja.

14:00-14:15 Q& A

14:15-14:30 Break

14:30-15:00 Keynote: Decolonising Museum Practice; Co-creating the South Asia Gallery Nusrat Ahmed – Manchester Museum Lead Curator for South Asia Gallery

15:00-15:30 Q&A

15:30 Close

Speaker bios

Lara Ratnaraja


Lara Ratnaraja is an independent Cultural Consultant who specialises in culture and diversity, innovation, leadership, collaboration, and cultural policy and placemaking within the cultural, the HE and digital sectors.  She also co-produces a series of cultural leadership programmes for people from diverse backgrounds linked to geographical place and also curates a digital Conference called Hello Culture.

Projects include working with the 8 Welsh National Arts Companies to develop a cultural framework for diversity co-designed with creative stakeholders and residents and working in Aberdeen for Robert Gordon University, co-designing a cultural framework with private and public stakeholders. She is currently involved with the development, stakeholder management and evaluation of a Southbank collaboration with Apple, that is delivering a programme for black artists in London, Birmingham and Manchester, bringing in regional and national stakeholders to develop a road map for both follow-on engagement and also future partnerships.

Karen Patel


Karen Patel is a Research Fellow in the College of English and Media at Birmingham City University, and Director of CEDIA. Her research interests include inequalities in craft and the creative industries, cultural workers’ use of social media and the politics of expertise in cultural work. She is author of The Politics of Expertise in Cultural Labour, Arts, Work, Inequalities, published by Rowman and Littlefield.

Roo Dhissou


Roo Dhissou is an artist and doctoral researcher who works with communities, diasporas and her own histories. Using community engaged practice, craft, cooking, performance and installation she explores how communal and individual identities are formed.

Roo has worked with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, New Art Gallery Walsall, The Bluecoat, Tate Liverpool, Primary, Eastside Projects, Ikon Gallery and more recently internationally in Spain, Canada and Poland via residencies. She is currently working on a practice-based PhD, fully funded by AHRC. Her title is, Cultural Dysphoria: exploring British Asian women artists’ experiences through arts practices. Roo is the recipient of several awards, most notably the Tate Liverpool artist award 2020 and is part of permanent collections in New Art Gallery Walsall, Surrey Art Gallery in Canada and The Arts Council Collection.

Roxanne Simone


Metalsmith, Roxanne Simone is a visual artist with a multi-disciplinary approach to contemporary art. Through ethnographic fieldwork and an auto-ethnographic approach, Simone’s work aims to develop metalwork with a focus on an intersectional diasporic journey by layering contemporary art practices. Simone’s metal-based work explores the dismantling of physical and metaphorical boundaries within contemporary craft, investigating through colour and materiality.

“My practice is multilayered with an emphasis on metal, I explore a practice-led methodology, developing a multifaceted approach to object-making with a conceptual application by layering Film, Poetry and image making to further explore narrative through the medium. With this approach I navigate through the hydroforming process by engaging in the disruption of making metal objects in this way. By positioning Hydroforming into metal object-making, I explore the ‘other’ and the ideas of the ‘imperfect’ objects. The objects are primarily formed by water and pressure, which allows me to draw parallels to the body; the outcomes carry a disruption and require repair and often patination to highlight the contours the process has burdened the material with. My research is navigating within contemporary Metal-objects, collage and moving image, by combining traditional and non-traditional making practices—the hydroforming creates a pressurised environment drawing parallels to the plight of diasporic people over time, future, past and present.’’

Papa Nii Akushey Quaye


Papa Nii Akushey Quaye is a British-Ghanaian multidisciplinary artist whose current practice is centred around the diasporic identity and experience. His practice consists of, but is not bound to, photography, textile and time-based media. Through these mediums, Quaye deconstructs cultural symbols, everyday objects & fragments of his own memory and reassembles them in an attempt to express the tension between combat and harmony that seems so familiar and almost customary to the diasporic experience.

Deirdre Figueiredo


Deirdre Figueiredo, MBE is Director of Craftspace, a craft development organisation creating opportunities to see, make and be curious about exceptional contemporary craft. Craftspace positions makers to take an active role in civil society facilitating change through building cultural, social and human capital. We do this through a range of activities including: touring exhibitions, residencies, cross artform productions, participatory projects and research. Deirdre has worked as a curator, producer and manager in the field of contemporary visual arts, craft and museums for 35 years. She has developed expertise in diversity, social engagement and audience development. In a wider role she has contributed to a range of advisory panels, boards and steering groups and has selected for numerous awards including the Jerwood Makers Open 2017 and the Woman’s Hour Craft Prize 2017. In 2021 she gave the prestigious Peter Dormer lecture. She was the Co-founder and Secretariat of CraftNet, a national craft leadership network which ran for 10 years. She is currently a Trustee of the Crafts Study Centre, the British Ceramic Biennial and The Feeney Trust.

Jaivant Patel


Jaivant Patel is an unapologetic Gujarati queer dancemaker and is currently one the leading voices in amplifying LGBTQ+ South Asian narratives, on the UK cultural landscape and arts scene.

Jaivant’s artistic journey seeks to authentically assimilate Kathak into a creative practice that compliments a contemporary dance background. Jaivant’s approach to Kathak integrates a curiosity in understanding the classical form’s unique nuances rooted in diaspora heritage and relationship to his own British-Indian Identity. Jaivant is artistic director of the award-winning Jaivant Patel Company, creating bold work that reimagines pertinent global intercultural narratives and joyfully celebrates the intersectionality of modern lived experiences. Previous works include the award-nominated production YAATRA and dance film I Am Your Skin. A new work entitled Waltzing The Blue Gods will tour from 2023.

Rohini Malik Okon


Rohini Malik Okon is a curator, producer and writer based in London. For more than twenty years she has commissioned and produced projects and events with a wide range of artists and communities. These initiatives have often evolved through collaborations and partnerships with various individuals and organisations, both nationally and internationally, and she has a particular interest in highlighting diverse cultural perspectives on knowledge and creativity. Her work is rooted in interdisciplinary exchanges, performative and collaborative practices, and an exploration of the relationships between art, public space and civic dialogue.

Previous positions include Participation Producer (Visual Arts) at Southbank Centre and co-ordinator of the AHRC funded research project ‘Translating the Image – Cross Cultural Contemporary Arts’ at Goldsmiths College. She is currently Curatorial Project Manager of Future Collect at iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts).

Nusrat Ahmed


After 25 years’ experience within the voluntary sector, Nusrat joined Manchester Museum in 2019 and is now the lead Curator for the South Asia Gallery. The first permanent gallery in the UK dedicated to celebrate the experiences and contribution of the South Asian diaspora. A ground-breaking project spanning over five years, uniquely co-curated with a collective group made up of thirty community members.

Nusrat actively promotes social justice as co-chair of the social justice group; she is passionate about driving forward conversation in the heritage sector around representation, inclusion and many other social justice issues. As a first generation British born South Asian, Nusrat has a close attachment to her heritage and is extremely proud of her role, its impact for the South Asia Gallery and all those who visit it.


STEAMhouse, Belmont Row, Birmingham B4 7RQ