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Ronan Mckenzie, Mamu
“Mamu”Photography Ronan Mckenzie

Ronan Mckenzie’s new exhibition proves there’s no place like home

The photographer, publisher, and curator launches a group exhibition with works exploring themes of home and family

I’M HOME is the latest project from photographer and publisher, Ronan Mckenzie, who is adding curator to a growing list of multi-hyphenates. Alongside showcasing her own images, Mckenzie invites fellow artists Liz Johnson ArturRhea Dillon, and Joy Gregory to join her in an exploration of home and family, through visual images.

The exhibition continues Mckenzie’s quest to bridge the gap between emerging creatives and more established names – as she did with her magazine, HARD EARS. “Rhea and myself are very much at the beginning of our careers, whereas Joy and Liz have been practising artists for over 20 years,” she explains. “I wanted to encourage the sharing of skills and experiences between us, and also create a space where experience doesn’t mean that you can’t have work sitting in the same space.”

Alongside the themes which surround the work itself, Mckenzie says that the venue, Blank100, will look and feel like a home – with interior design from Sandra Falase and Rochelle White. “I want visitors and artists alike to step in and feel that both they and their work belong in the space,” she adds. “It’s a space which you return to, which you can throw your things down in and relax, and, more importantly, a place where everyone belongs.”

A series of events will also run from the space, including supper clubs, life drawing lessons, photography workshops, film screenings, a library, and an introduction to tarot, with contributors from Nadine Ijewere, Eloise King, and Joy Miessi, amongst others.

As the photographer, publisher, and curator prepares to launch the show this week, we caught up with her to find out more.

“I wanted the works to explore a topic that is arguably more binding than race and gender, something that everyone can relate to; home and family” – Ronan Mckenzie

Why did you want to explore themes of home and family for this show?

Ronan Mckenzie: When I started planning the show, one of my main aims was to create a space that contextualised the work of black artists for them, so that there didn’t need to be a text next to the works explaining what they’re about, and there most definitely didn’t need to be an article or text that begins with “Ronan Mckenzie – a BLACK…”. Although the show is a thoughtful curation of black British female artists, I wanted the works to explore a topic that is arguably more binding than race and gender, something that everyone can relate to; home and family.

As well as featuring your own work, the exhibition presents the work of Liz Johnson-Artur, Rhea Dillon, and Joy Gregory. Why did you want this to be a group show rather than something solo?

Ronan Mckenzie: I honestly believe that there is space in art and fashion for everyone, and I’ve never been someone to be competitive about work. There is so much strength in sharing a stage and presenting together, so I always saw I’M HOME as a show that would include many different artists in different ways; presenting work and engaging in events within the space. For me, home is a place for discussion and conversation, and it’s tricky to converse alone.

That said, why did you choose to curate the work of these artists in particular?

Ronan Mckenzie: They are all artists who I admire and am inspired by, but they are also completely different to me and each other in style and artistic voice. As well as being interested in how these artists respond to home and family, I am very interested in how these works sit amongst each other, and what dialogue they would create as a collection of works under one roof.

The space itself feels like it will be its own character or have its own role in the show and it will also be dressed like a home. Can you share more about the reasons behind doing this? What dialogue do you hope the surroundings will have with the artists and the artworks?

Ronan Mckenzie: For me, a space can be so powerful. No matter how much I relate to a piece of work. If the space in which it’s shown isn’t a space that I feel comfortable in, it can massively change my experience of it. I want to create a space that visitors want to return to and that they can fully engage in. Which gave me the idea for it to look and feel like a residential space in some way – so that when people step in, there’s no barrier of “I can’t touch this”, but it already feels lived in, which encourages engagement. By hosting it at Blank100, it gave me the space to do this as it actually is two residential flats.

As well as presenting Joy, Liz, and Rhea, alongside my own work, I wanted to use the show as an opportunity to bring together other black British women that I admire and whose work I enjoy, with a programme of events that allow other people to enjoy them too. I want all events to be free, so I put in place a £5 booking fee just to ensure attendance, but on attendance, this can either be refunded or donated to Hackney Quest.

What do you hope people will take away from the exhibition?

Ronan Mckenzie: I’M HOME is a completely self funded project and show, not only because it’s very difficult to get funding for a project like this - where I had no idea what my exact budget would be before I began confirming spaces/events/etc. - practising because I wanted to take ownership over it. I have worked so hard to make it a show that I would love to attend and be part of, so I really hope that other people feel the same and come down to the opening, book places to come to events, join in with the discussions, and just hang out and be open to meeting new people within the space. I’m very interested to hear feedback during and afterwards to what people did take away from the show, because I think, like the concept of home, I’M HOME is a show that is open for interpretation.

The exhibition runs from 27th October to 4th November at Blank 100 - tickets are available here.