Sarah Park drops in on SAASUM's compelling exhibition on African identity. Sarah Park is a 2nd year Art History student who is super jazzed about collaborating with Label this year, and loves chatting about art when not binge-watching Community or The X-Files. Other interests include dogs, making SNL references and Instagram (@sarahpark_)
Last week, the St Andrews Africa Summit in collaboration with ST.ART Magazine launched a one-night-only multimedia pop up gallery titled Identity. Being in both an Art History and a Social Anthropology module, the event appealed to me. So, despite being hip-deep in deadlines, I went along to explore. With student-run creative events, there’s always the possibility that they’ll be unorganised or poorly executed, but this was definitely not the case with the SAASUM pop-up.
I walked in the door and was handed a glass of South African wine, to go with the theme of the evening. Set in the ultra-sleek Spoiled hair salon after hours, the ‘gallery’ space gave off a cool, modern vibe with a DJ spinning tunes to match. Among the display were photographs, watercolour paintings, charcoal sketches, and poetry created by students, as well as a preview screening of a documentary created by St Andrews students. A silent auction was also part of the evening, allowing people to purchase their favourite photographs from the collection.
Upon entering the back room and the heart of the gallery, attendees flowed through the space, admiring the lively photographs and colourful art. The hairdressing station mirrors were transformed into an immersive viewing experience, with photos and poetry taped to each reflective surface. Moving through the collection, examining the photos against the backdrop of a mirror forced a certain degree of reflection. A powerful poem written by Sharnika Power-Montaque adorned the walls, telling her story of recognising beauty and power amidst a world determined to teach us otherwise.
The photos echoed similar stories, ones of rich lives, tradition, and family; the juxtaposition of a gallery exploring identity with a hair salon—a space centred around image and appearance—called to attention how we view ourselves and others, and how culture is interwoven throughout our experience of life.
I spoke briefly to 4th year Rina Agboraw, the co-director of SAASUM and one of the organisers of the event, about what the vision was for this pop-up gallery. She told me that the point of this exhibition was not to show Africans as these poor people that we need to send money and aid to, but to show the many rich cultures and traditions of Africa and highlighting a Pan-African identity as well as the individuality of each subject in the photo portraits.
Rina also discussed how her modules over the years rarely touched on the subject of African art, and her solution to this was to create an event that showcased it. By diversifying perceptions of Africa through art, the Identity pop-up gave a voice to the photographs’ subjects, enabling them to speak to audiences that they may never reach on their own.