With a sleek, black facade that sets it apart from the predominantly red brick cityscape of the locality, New Art Exchange, (NAE) which stands as a local (and national) landmark at the heart of Hyson Green, is celebrating their 15th birthday. Saad Eddine Said, artistic director and CEO at the NAE speaks about how the institution has emerged as a centre that celebrates the diversity of artistic expression and creativity rooted in South-Asian, African and Caribbean traditions.
“It has been a special fifteen years during which we have grown immensely as an organisation committed to the mission of promoting diversity and inclusivity in art which bridges cultures and stimulates important conversations, especially at a time when our society is so divided,” Saad says.
His message on the occasion of NAE’s fifteenth anniversary is one of gratitude and celebration. He goes on to say that their success would not have been possible without the support of artists, patrons and the community around them. “As an organisation, we are reliant on the generosity of taxpayers across the country and the public. This makes every year an anniversary for us and we are very grateful to be around,” he adds.
Marking their anniversary is an exciting lineup of events and exhibitions that have been planned across this year. “We will have key exhibitions, workshops, talks and collaborations, celebrating underrepresented voices as part of the sparkling mosaic of events and programs planned for the next season extending from October through December’” Saad says.
He explains that this year is also special because it marks the 75th anniversary of Windrush and how it becomes important to look back at the history and input that came from this underrepresented community.
Looking back at some of NAE’s milestones, Saad mentions that their biggest achievement would be fostering dynamic cross-cultural collaboration and artistic expression which has led to several thought-provoking projects over the years.
“It is a privilege to be able to stand up and be an advocate for fairness and equal opportunities. We have been committed to this mission based on the upliftment of communities. This is important to our art and it is vital to our DNA. By staying true to that mission, we can see the impact we have in engaging both the local and global artistic community in meaningful dialogues,” says Saad.
By staying true to that mission, we can see the impact we have in engaging both the local and global artistic community in meaningful dialogues
“There has also been an incredible increase in the support we have received from Arts Council England, which has positioned NAE as the most funded gallery in the midlands and the fifth most funded gallery in the UK. I believe that that is a real testimony to the work that we have been doing,” he adds.
“Highlighting marginalised art cultures remains at the forefront of NAE’s mission with the centre becoming a platform for artists from diverse backgrounds to showcase their works, access resources, educational initiatives and art training which contribute to growing young talent which might otherwise go unnoticed,” Said explains.
The organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident in every aspect of their functioning, right from the location and the artists featured, to the choice of background music and the staff. Some of the current pieces on display further highlight this. A painting titled ‘Ahimsa’ by Sarith Ratnayake juxtaposes pre-colonial Sri Lanka’s liberated queer history with the criminalisation of homosexuality under colonial rule which remains so to date. Another sculpture made of steel plates unpacks the narrative of untouchability encountered by the Dalit community in India, and the rebellious act of creating art with materials they were traditionally not allowed to touch.
“I think the ethnic diversity within the local community as well as Nottingham as a whole brings in a myriad of perspectives and experiences which makes it a true reflection of the community itself. For us, NAE is within Hyson Green and we can see Hyson Green within NAE,” says Said.
He also believes that the organisation helps in keeping the cultures of the diaspora in the local community alive. “By being a stage for their voices, I am hoping that we play the role of a good ally and facilitator for them. Beyond the exhibitions and these walls, we are grateful that we have been able to build trust and a relationship rooted in the values that we clearly share with the community,” he adds.
Saad has also co-founded ‘Citizens in Power’, an initiative that aims to empower marginalised people in society to take power and become part of making important decisions. He says that a lot of beliefs that went into shaping this initiative aligns with the values and vision of NAE. “Looking at NAE as a service provider that highlights unheard voices and facilitates representations brings out how its mission is similar to that of Citizens in Power and what it seeks to do to advocate social change,” he adds.
Looking forward to the next fifteen years, Saad speaks about NAE’s vision when it comes to harnessing the potential of art as a powerful tool to give back to society by reflecting, challenging and reshaping narratives.
“NAE has risen to the rank of a national treasure in many ways and we are looking forward to expanding its reach globally while still remaining deeply rooted within our local community. We hope to find that balance between relevance and excellence, between locality and globality and emerge as a trailblazer in exploring innovative forms of artistic expression, new technologies, nurturing emerging talent and continuing to be a driving force for positive change,” he says.
NAE continues to remain as a vibrant hub of creativity and inclusivity and on the occasion of their fifteenth birthday, Saad says that they will continue to be an advocate for the communities they serve and magnify their cause as they go forward.
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