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Curating the East Midlands: Melanie Kidd

Melanie Kidd is an arts professional working across fine art, design and contemporary craft and specialising in exhibition curation, commissioning and production, audience development strategy and socially engaged practice. She is currently Director of Programmes at New Art Exchange, Nottingham – an arts organisation dedicated to culturally diverse artists, audiences and perspectives – where she leads the strategic development of NAE’s artistic and audience engagement programmes. Melanie is also NAE’s Senior Curator. A selection recent exhibitions include: Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf (2016), Hurvin Anderson: Dub Versions (2017), Akram Zaatari: The Script (2018), Hardeep Pandhal: Paranoid Picnic, The Phantom BAME (2019) and Shezad Dawood: Encroachments (2020).

Find out more about New Art Exchange on its website and follow it on InstagramFacebook and Twitter

Encroachments by Shezad Dawood shown at New Art Exchange, 2020. Installation view

How did you come to curating / producing?

I studied fine art at University (Nottingham Trent) and during this period, whilst I loved the process of making art, I recognised that I really enjoyed researching, writing and talking about art and I started to become interested in the notion of curation. I spent a lot of time visiting shows in London during my degree and the raison d’être of the exhibitions began to intrigue me – why these artists and why this subject matter?

I was particularly drawn to installation and exhibitions which became a full sensory experience and I was interested in how I felt after visiting various venues, becoming aware of what made for an engaging and enlightening visit, and what curatorial strategies could leave visitors feeling stupid and shut-out. In short, all of the above encouraged me to become not just a curator, but an exhibition maker (I feel these can be two different things), with the desire to create arresting exhibition experiences which leave visitors feeling informed, empowered and inspired.

The Script by Akram Zataari shown at New Art Exchange, 2018. Installation view

Tell us about the programme at New Art Exchange.

New Art Exchange is a contemporary visual arts space with a commitment to championing culturally diverse/BAME artists and diversifying the broader landscape of the arts and cultural sector. Our various programmes have a strong focus on talent development and we reach out to those who have been historical disaffected from the sector, with the aim of using our programmes to develop the next generation of artists, curators, producers and arts leaders as well as those that engage with art and consume art. We believe that art and galleries play an important role in reflecting the world around us and challenging the status quo. It is therefore essential that the voices that get to speak from the platform that galleries create represent the broadest range of backgrounds and experiences.

Visitors to Hurvin Anderson’s Dub Versions, 2017

Who is in the programming team?

The curation of our programme across the various exhibition spaces, including touring, is led by me as Director of Programmes and delivered by myself and the curators: Cindy Sissokho, Ritika Biswas and Jade Foster. The Technical Manager, Craig Humpston, also plays a really important part of the exhibition development process. The engagement producers are Merce Santos, Parmjit Sagoo, Aaron Schoburgh and Ruth Lewis-Jones, along with the marketing team. The CEO, Skinder Hundal, is of course heavily involved in our decision making around artists, and collectively we all contribute to the visioning and critical development of the artistic and engagement programmes.

NAE will re-open with Here, a solo exhibition by Phoebe Boswell, following the Covid-19 crisis. Shown here is the award-winning immersive, interactive moving image and sound installation Mutumia (2016), which salutes women who have used their bodies in protest when not permitted to use their voices.
Here by Phoebe Boswell shown at Göteborgs Konsthall, 2019. Installation view

Tell us about your current exhibitions and projects.

We are incredibly excited about opening our forthcoming exhibitions, as and when the Covid-19 crisis allows. We were part way through an exhibition installation when the shut-down period began. We will re-open with a solo show by the fantastic Phoebe Boswell. We first presented her work in a 2017 through a group exhibition – group projects are often a great way to get to know an artist and get a sense of how their work resonates with our audiences. The response was such that we knew we wanted to do something more involved with Phoebe in the future. Her practice merges draftsmanship with digital technology to create layered, open works to house and celebrate stories like her own, stories often marginalised or othered by the (art) world’s dominant voice. Born in Kenya to a Kikuyu mother and British Kenyan father, brought up in the Arabian Gulf and now living and working in London, her work is anchored to what she refers to as a “restless state of diasporic consciousness”. At the same time, we will open an exhibition by QTAC in our Central Gallery space. QTAC are a newly established art collective in Nottingham for queer and trans creatives.

We should have been supporting NTU’s photography degree show around about now, but sadly that has been cancelled. Another Covid-19 casualty was the NAE Open 2020. We were extremely disappointed to postpone this given the phenomenal success of last summer’s iteration; however, we’ll be returning to the project next summer.

Here by Phoebe Boswell shown at Göteborgs Konsthall, 2019. Installation view

How do you select the artists you work with?

Selecting artists for exhibitions involves research, mainly through visiting exhibitions, arts fairs and festivals and through reading and connecting with artists via studio visits and online. Researching and developing new exhibition ideas is a significant part of my role and the curators’ roles.

Our artistic activity centres around NAE’s vision, mission and values. For example, NAE’s mission statement is to ‘stimulate new perspectives on the value of diversity in art and society’. New artist and exhibition ideas are only considered for future activity if they first fulfil this statement. Thereafter, future artists and exhibition ideas are measured against the potential they present for engagement and audience development (with NAE’s priority audiences in mind), the diversity they bring to the programme, the pertinence of the subject matter to 21st century living, and whether they demonstrate innovation and quality in respect to contemporary Fine Art practice. In addition, to ensure a balanced programme, several other factors are considered in this decision-making process: stage of the artist’s career, their geographic location, the artist’s gender and other protected characteristics, and the core artistic medium represented.

Laced will be a group show of seven women artists exploring themes of love, labour and liberty. Michaela Yearwood-Dan is currently producing new work for the exhibition from her studio. Shown here is The Dark Abyss Never Seemed So Bright, 2019
The Hands of Love, 2019, by Michaela Yearwood-Dan

What’s happening behind the scenes at the moment?

Whilst the building is closed and most of the team are currently furloughed, there is still an incredible amount of activity taking place. Much of this orientates around managing the impact of the temporary closure and scenario planning for re-opening, however there are still ways for our audiences to engage with NAE through our digital engagement programme. Do connect with our social media for various blogs from the curators, virtual fly-throughs of our past exhibitions and creative activities for young people. Our website and YouTube channel also houses a growing archive of interviews with our past artists, including John Akomfrah, Hassan Hajjaj, Larissa Sansour and Yara El-Sherbini.

We’re also busy developing future exhibitions. There are two we hope to open before the end of 2020. This includes a solo exhibition in the Mezzanine Gallery by Arit Emmanuela Etukudo, a Nottingham Trent MFA graduate who won the NAE Exhibition Prize during last summer’s NAE Open. In the Main Gallery, we will launch Laced, an exhibition that will coalesce around the themes of love, labour and liberty. It will feature both existing and newly commissioned works across painting, video, textile, photography and performance by seven artists: Simnikiwe Buhlungu, Rahima Gambo, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Zohra Opoku, Tabita Razair, Lerato Shadi and Michaela Yearwood-Dan, curated by Hansi Momodu-Gordon

Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf curated with the EM15 group for the East Midland’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015. The 9-hole artist designed miniature golf course was shown again at New Art Exchange and QUAD in 2016.

What dates should we put in our calendars?

Watch this space! We will re-open as soon as we feel its safe to do so. Stay in touch by connecting with our socials and joining our mailing list via the website.


Melanie was interviewed in May 2020.