View looking up at the dome on the South Wing of Somerset House
Blog

Introducing Somerset House Young Producers Pt.1


22 Jan 2021

Somerset House Young Producers share their experiences of their first months working at Somerset House, the research and collaboration processes they've undergone together, and share visual research and creative references curated on Pinterest.

The Somerset House Young Producers programme was launched in September 2020, a new paid programme designed to inject fresh voices and perspectives into our cultural programming, while offering training and development to nurture the next generation of emerging cultural producers.

Six young Londoners joined Somerset House as the first Young Producers collective, working with Somerset House Studios resident COMUZI and project partner Pinterest on a project exploring Black history, heritage and culture in relation to Somerset House. The Young Producers will realise a digital resource that tells this story and engages people with Black history at Somerset House, to be launched in early 2021.

In part one of a series of three work in progress reports, Young Producers RHYANRHYAN-ART and Jahnavi Inniss talk us through what they've been working on.

RHYANRHYAN-ART

When I got the call to find out that I got the Young Producers role at Somerset House, I knew this was a sign from the universe that this was just the beginning of my journey into creating positive change within my community. If I’m going to be honest, on my first day at Somerset House I felt quite intimidated, simply because of how large the building is. Despite the intimidation, the first day was great because I got to meet the other Young Producers, COMUZI and the Somerset House team in person and Kiki.

The project really began with the tour we got around Somerset House, where we learned about Somerset House’s history and then discussed our initial thoughts with historian Aleema Gray about how we would use this information we learned alongside the digital web experience. However, one of the most interesting things about the tour was there was no mention of Black History at all - the next day we were given an assignment by COMUZI to do research on a point of focus that we wanted to look into after our tour around Somerset House.

Personally, because I LOVE research and presentations - this was a really fun aspect to the project. I looked into the ‘full scope of the absence of Black History at Somerset House’ because I found it interesting that there was a ‘rich’ history of 500 years at Somerset House which parallels slavery and yet there is no mention of Blackness within the institution??!!

My research uncovered interesting facts. In 1837, the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages was documented at Somerset House - which spanned 130 years, which made me come to the possibility that anyone of Afro-Caribbean heritage would have been registered at Somerset House!

Once we'd presented our research to the Young Producers collective (which was amazing), ideation was the next stage of the programme. Ideation for two days was ALL ABOUT THE IDEAS - this stage was in fact brillant. I loved ideation because it taught me how to think on the spot and collaborate on ideas alongside the collective. We started off with 16 ideas, and managed to condense it down to two by a vote. 

Ever since ideation, we’ve been working hard endlessly on developing those ideas in teams, thinking about the logistics, accessibility of the resource and the design, in which we have now recently merged the two ideas together. Currently, we are in the making stages of the digital resource, which I think will be the most challenging part of this programme... but nothing that can’t be done.

The Young Producers programme has really shown me that you shouldn't be afraid to voice your own opinion and to be honest within any working environment. The Somerset House staff and COMUZI have always encouraged us to take the lead, and it perfectly makes so much sense as this society evolves as the generation of Covid-19. So to anyone who is reading, don't hold back, don’t be silent, you'll be fab. 

RHYANRHYAN-ART (Rhyan Jordan Holder) is a Black Queer multidisciplinary artist based in Hackney London. Influenced by Afro-futurism, African Spirituality and artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, RHYAN uses his talents to celebrate and document Black Queer identities and experiences. RHYAN’s work is a symbol of representation that as Black Queer identities, we exist in the UK as majority-“minorities”. “This is For Us and By Us, the extraordinary - because nobody is going to illustrate our stories better than the people who live them”.

Jahnavi Inniss

Doing this project at Somerset House has really made me further question the ways in which historical narratives are constructed, and how these narratives and lack there-of have a direct influence on the ways in which different groups of people are seen. Whilst I’ve seen Somerset House as a symbol of colonialism through it’s architecture and former royal occupants, it’s been interesting to actually learn in-depth a timeline of its history. However, through learning this history I was disappointed, but not surprised, at the erasure of the Black existence in Britain throughout the timeline.

This intrigued me to think of the ways in which the project with COMUZI can counter these biased narratives and provide validity for Black people and their lives throughout British history. So far we’ve had some really fun ideation sessions where we come up with a range of different ideas which re-centre Black people in the history of Somerset House. It’s inspiring to work with a like-minded group of young people as we ultimately share the goal of educating people and creating greater visibility for Black British history.

Through this experience I’ve learnt the importance of teamwork and evaluating ideas and concepts through different perspectives. It’s encouraging to see how a simple idea that you come up with can be elevated through the input of others.

Jahnavi Inniss graduated with a BA in Graphic Communication Design from Central Saint Martins in London. She often reflects on the role of designers, artists and curators and the direct influence they all have in the construction of social attitudes towards groups of marginalised people. Her practice is primarily focused on surfacing lesser known narratives, dismantling 'single stories' and providing visibility and empowerment for underrepresented communities. Her design process involves experimenting with and evaluating a wide range of mediums as she considers the best method of communication. In addition to designing work, Jahnavi also takes on the role of the curator, connecting objects and ideas, surfacing and presenting them in the most appropriate way to tell stories.

Somerset House Young Producers x COMUZI has been made possible with support from Art Fund, with additional funding from Pinterest for the first project.

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