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Issue 1782 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

A (late) summer exhibition at the RA

Summer of 2021 arrives in style at the Royal Academy of Art - albeit a tad bit late

Soly Cisse 1 Photo: Artist and October Gallery, London


in Issue 1782


Summer Exhibition 2021

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Royal Academy of Arts
Until 2nd January 2022
£20 (Students)

The RA Summer Exhibition usually takes place every year, from May to September. However like many other events in recent memory, it has been repeatedly postponed and so here we are now, with a summer exhibition happening in autumn-winter. 

Often described as the “anything and everything” show, the exhibition is a dizzying array of artwork, a space to display and sell work by British artists conceived in the year before. The RA, like many other institutions, has been shut for much of the past two years, and with this exhibition, it has reopened with a weird yet wonderful feast for the senses. 

This year’s theme is “Reclaiming Magic”, which the exhibition co-ordinator, Yinwa Shoniabare says is about restoring value to marginalised practises. Taking place in the autumn-winter is not the only thing that sets it apart from previous Summer Exhibitions. The exhibition begins with a piece of work created by the American artist Bill Traylor decades ago. The self-taught artist was born into slavery in the US in 1854 and did not start painting till he was 85 and, in many ways, having his work introduce the show is a fitting reflection of the climate of the past two years. With a slight nod to the RA’s founding legacy from the heyday of transatlantic slavery Shonibare’s introduction of the work underscores how Bill Traylor’s work singularly inspired looking beyond the boundaries of Western Art history.

Mali Morris 1 Photo: The artist and Sulger-Buel Gallery
Colour Go Round (7), by Mali Morris. Acrylic on Canvas, 90x60cm.

The exhibition’s artwork is diverse not just in the background of its artists and the themes explored, but also in its media. Traditional oil paintings are housed alongside sculptures, knitting, and quilting, and the sheer abundance of work means it is hard to focus on one piece for very long. It is even harder to pick a favourite. With a total of 1382 pieces of art on display, the exhibition is overwhelming, and each tall room is filled with hundreds of artworks from floor to ceiling. Some themes of the work are to be expected; depictions of the pandemic in the form of face masks, thermometers and medical heroes would be impossible to exclude this year. Much of the work is political and addresses the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in 2020. The subject matter of much of the artwork has been on all our minds in recent times, and it is comforting to see it all displayed like an awe-inspiring mood board, especially after such a solitary year.  

A highlight of the exhibition is Felt Food by Sliz Gilard: felted and embroidered structures resembling a food pantry. A woollen tin of “Baked Boris” alongside “Loans and Poverty” makes a striking statement about the free school meals campaign.  

 Much like the rest of the exhibition, it is utterly unique and not to be missed.

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