Art graduates ask the art world: Can you let us in?


Talented emerging artists who have persevered through the turbulent years of Covid are bursting onto the art scene with a plea to “let us in”, as the Lord Mayor of Leeds opens their degree show.

The university exhibition, which is free and open to the public until June 18, is a chance for the 49 students to showcase the work they have produced over the final year of their BA Fine Art degree.

Curated and staged by the students themselves – unusual for university degree shows - the title of the show ‘Can you let us in?’ asks the art world to help the up-and-coming creators bridge the gap from university study to life as professional artists.

It is also a playful reference to a regular message that appeared in the students’ group chat whenever someone had forgotten their access card for the shared studio space.

BA Fine Art student Molly Newham, part of the show’s organising committee, said:

“I can honestly say that ‘Can you let us in?’ is the final year Fine Art students at their best.

‘Can you let us in?’ is a loud knock on the doors of the wider art world

BA Fine Art student Molly Newham

“This show represents a perseverance and resilience fostered over the last three years. From physically being locked out of our building and holed up in halls in our first few years due to pandemic lockdowns to slowly and steadily reclaiming the studios as our own. 

“’Can you let us in?’ is a loud knock on the doors of the wider art world. The show acts as an amplifier, with us as the next generation of creative workers shouting ‘are you listening, this is important!’.”

The exhibition encompasses painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, sound and moving image installations, using materials that range from oil paint to a kinetic ice sculpture.

It was formally opened by Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Al Garthwaite at a private viewing on Wednesday, June 7, accompanied by her Lord Mayor’s Consort Catherine Mitchell who is herself a fine art graduate from the university.

Cllr Garthwaite said: “I am completely blown away by the excellence of the concepts, the imagination, the use of the media that have gone into making these art works. There is such a variety as well – from the paintings to the ice sculpture to the amazing ceramic forms, and the Amazon boxes which have been transformed to show the interior of student houses of Hyde Park.

“It genuinely gives me the most enormous pleasure to be able to formally open this show.”

BA Fine Art student Izzy Spriggs, the show’s director, said organising the show was “challenging yet hugely rewarding”. She thanked the technicians who gave their time to help and taught the students’ valuable skills they will use in their future careers. 

Lecturer Dr Julia McKinlay, who led the module for the degree show, praised the students for their resilience through a disrupted three years at university.

They have risen to this challenge brilliantly and produced a wonderful exhibition full of exciting and challenging work

Dr Julia McKinlay, module leader for the degree show

She said: “It has been a pleasure to work with this cohort of fine art students in their final year of undergraduate study. They have had an unprecedented university experience with dormitory lockdowns and a year working in isolation at the start of their degree.

“Despite this, they have thrown themselves into developing their studio practices and have produced their best work for this year's degree show. There is a huge range of fantastic work to see ranging from printmaking to audio visual installations.”

She went on to explain that while many universities see degree shows curated by academic staff, the Leeds students run the entire endeavour themselves even managing the budget and arranging marketing campaigns.

“This is a huge collective endeavour but also an opportunity to learn what it takes and gain the skills to put on a public exhibition of this scale. All the while, producing their own work as artists in the exhibition,” Dr McKinlay added.

“They have risen to this challenge brilliantly and produced a wonderful exhibition full of exciting and challenging work.”

The students were also congratulated on their “complex and astute” work by Dr Joanne Crawford, Head of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies. Dr Crawford said the show was a chance to reflect on the impact national and global events have had on our lives.

“This has been acutely evident in the arts sector where the gap between aspiration and reality becomes one increasingly difficult to cross, especially for the generation represented by the 49 final year artists asking ‘Can you let us in?’

“It is sometimes difficult not to be pessimistic in such changeable and often volatile times, but the hope, enthusiasm and sheer determination of this extremely talented group is reassuring. Through their artistic endeavours they are all are looking the future straight in the eye and demanding a say in how their world will be shaped and experienced.

“The range of art on display in this exhibition shows a complex and astute questioning of the status quo in the hope for something different. What impresses me the most though is that in doing this they demonstrate a real kindness; a call for collective action and real connectivity.”

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