The Student Art Prize

The Student Art Prize launched in October 2019 to expand opportunities around creativity and to develop a new permanent student art collection, housed within the university’s wider art collection, but available as a resource for the whole community.

Want to know more about the University’s annual art prize, see works by previous winners, meet other artists, find out more about our ‘Art Prize Art School’ programme and, most importantly, find out how to apply? The launch party for the 2021/22 Student Art Prize will take place on Tuesday 9th November, 5.30pm-7pm at the Oriental Museum. Spaces are limited and booking is essential.

To get you in the mood, here are 3 of the shortlisted works from last year’s prize where the theme was HEROISM, accompanied by some words from the artists:

Ewan Jones

Dr Li Wenliang by Ewan Jones

“In my opinion, Dr Li Wenliang is one of the first heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst working in a Wuhan hospital, Li noticed cases of a SARS-like disease, which he attempted to make public on Chinese social media. Local authorities promptly took him to the police station, requesting that he stop ‘spreading disturbing rumours’. Li submitted and continued his life-saving work in the hospital, however after getting infected by the disease himself, the authorities apologised and announced Li a hero. Even bedridden with Covid-19, Li  demonstrated heroism as he continued to post on social media, informing the world about the coming catastrophe, shown in my artwork by the newspaper background. Following his death, China has marked Li as a martyr, and he is still remembered as a coronavirus hero in China and around the world today.”

Maddy Ramsey

The clothing of forgotten keyworkers by Maddy Ramsey

“When I first heard the prompt of “Heroism” my mind immediately went blank. I had absolutely zero ideas! Once the original panic had left me, and I reviewed the presentation and supporting documents given out at the presentation evening, and I turned to my tried and tested method of mind mapping. My mind map process at this stage was an absolute free for all, every idea, no matter how stupid was whacked down on the paper. I think this is a super important stage when you just allow any idea to be expressed while not judging the quality of it.

The final idea came to me while sitting at my desk refusing to start an assignment by staring at a coat rack I have on the back of my door. A very literal zap of inspiration came to me which was pretty much the thought “What if that was a Sainsbury’s uniform and you did a still life of it, to represent key workers”. As this was during the third national lockdown, it was an idea that had been in the back of my mind. T

I had been thinking a lot about key workers during the Covid-19 crisis. As I mention in my submission, while a lot has been – rightly – said about the heroism of NHS workers, less has been said about the quiet heroism of everyday people who keep the country running. The people who have gone in to work everyday, who deal with an often angry and uncooperative public on a daily basis and still keep the country fed and running. They are less remembered but no less vital than the NHS.

I sketched this idea out a couple of times and it morphed into including various different articles of clothing for different forgotten keyworkers: Delivery drivers, infrastructure personnel, farmers, teachers, cleaners etc. I did much larger versions than the work I submitted, with versions being as big as A2. Eventually I decided to keep the artwork small and intimate, as I wanted the scene it depicted to feel the same. I usually work in watercolor, but I wanted the vibrant color that acrylic can give a piece”

Rachel Roberts

The Heroic Tarot by Rachel Roberts

When I first heard that the theme of this year’s Student Art Prize was Heroism, I immediately thought of classic ‘Heroes’ like Hercules, Perseus, and Achilles. Having studied Classical Archaeology and Ancient History as an undergraduate, my knowledge of heroism sits firmly in the historic sphere. Highly idealised sculptures of impossibly muscular men were prevalent in Ancient Greece and Rome, whilst female power and physicality always seemed relegated to the ‘dangerous’ realms of seduction and jealousy. Whilst male Greek heroes by no means had happy endings, they are certainly better remembered than their female counterparts.

When I started thinking about what I wanted to explore with my piece, I knew the focus was going to be on female heroism in its various forms. There’s been an amazing move in recent years towards celebrating female power in really positive ways, and I wanted my piece to express that. I really wanted to draw out the different aspects of female heroism – especially those that have often been condemned or belittled in the past – to highlight the amazing qualities that I experience daily in the women around me, whether that’s in real life or in the media.

When I was studying Ancient History I was always fascinated by how different the myths would be if female characters were given more agency. One of my cards, for example, shows a naked Aphrodite as ‘The Star’. In Tarot, ‘The Star’ conveys hope, opportunity, and inspiration, but historically the image of a nude Aphrodite has been associated with destructive female power: in one Greek satire, one viewer of the statue of Aphrodite in Knidos is so enamoured with her image that he attempts to copulate with it, and upon being discovered throws himself off a cliff. In my piece, I instead wanted to emphasise the positive aspects of the power of female physicality. The process for the other cards was very similar; whether the subject was a Greek goddess or a contemporary female Hero, I wanted to explore how the often negatively portrayed aspects of women’s lives are actually positive and powerful. Whether it was how strong women have been accused of ‘talking too much’ or how women’s pursuits have historically been relegated to ‘the mystic’ or arcane, female power and heroism have been devalued. I wanted to address this in my piece, and present my own personal heroes as representative of the traits that I most admire in them, but which have not always been valued as heroic in women. Using the art style and format of tarot, which has been used for divinatory purposes for hundreds of years but has recently seen a lot of popular use, with custom decks becoming more commonplace, I aimed to centre the presentation of each of my heroes on one central feature of how I see them (and heroic women in general)”

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