By Lizzie English.
When the world was so very different, back in October 2019, I attended the Student Art Prize Launch with many others and learned about the competition theme, ‘Diversity’. After contemplating the complex topic, I began painting my piece in January alongside my studies.
My friend, Augustine Ihm, a Cranmer Hall student, was the perfect subject for my painting: he epitomises my experience of diversity in Durham, as a black, adopted, gay, religious, mature American student. I titled my acrylic painting ‘Papa Gus’: an affectionate nickname for Augustine, with Papa signifying his career as a vicar and him acting as a fatherly figure to students at St John’s College.
I chose to place a black body at the centre of my artwork to unapologetically celebrate diversity and normalise art featuring black models as non-stereotyped characters. Despite being exposed to discrimination, Augustine spreads joy with his infectious laughter, bright smile and big personality, which I hoped to capture in my painting.
I was thrilled to learn that my artwork had been shortlisted in March. Then in June I was truly astonished when I was selected for the final five of the competition. As my artwork was my first ever painting of a black person and my first work on canvas, I was incredibly surprised to be praised so highly by the judging panel! The online exhibition of my artwork and the other amazing shortlisted pieces can be viewed here: http://sitcfestival.org/student-art-prize/
In mid-July, the Student Art Prize awards evening took place via Zoom. Although my piece did not make the top three, I was awarded a cash prize for placing in the top five, kindly donated by John’s own Richard Roberts!
Towards the end of the evening, I was delighted to discover that my piece won the most public votes of the shortlisted artworks. As the Popular Vote winner, I received an art shop gift voucher and my artwork has permanently become a piece within the University Art Collection, whereby it may be exhibited in university buildings, as well as national and international museums and galleries!
I hope the exhibition of my painting will help others to embrace diversity and promote equality across Durham University, the art world and wider society. I am currently discussing the possibility of exhibiting my piece at St John’s College – so although Augustine is graduating, he may be found around our college for some time yet!