Digbeth-based Eastside Projects have been collaborating with South African artist, Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi and her team on creating a bold new series of artworks set in Birmingham thanks to funding from the British Council as a part of the Birmingham 2022 culture programme.

The funding from British Council has allowed for a research and development programme that builds a bridge between two major cities within the Commonwealth, Birmingham and Johannesburg. Beginning in May, and working through to the end of July, the development phase of the project has allowed for Eastside and Nkosi to explore ideas and pull together artworks based around spaces and people in Birmingham – all whilst being 8,000 miles apart.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi’s art explores, among other things, the notion of Black people inhabiting spaces where they have historically been excluded, mostly in what would be designed as traditionally white spaces. The development of this work would bring the artist’s creative processes to spaces within Birmingham.

Gavin Wade, Director of Eastside Projects said; “In 2014 I made a trip to Johannesburg, supported by British Council, to learn about new artists and their work and was fortunate to meet Thenjiwe on a studio visit. I was immediately struck by Thenjiwe’s exploration of architecture through painting which has developed over the years into a rich, complex painterly and critical space of black gymnasts occupying, surviving and supporting each other within imposing colourful geometries. This research and development phase, made possible thanks to British Council and the Birmingham 2022 culture programme, has allowed us to explore a collaboration that would have otherwise not been possible. We now look forward to the possibility of bringing our research to life in an exciting series of works set here in Birmingham.”

This project has allowed me to learn about the city through digitally connecting with people.

Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi added; “Although I have been to the UK, I have never had the chance to spend any time in Birmingham. This project has allowed me to learn about the city through digitally connecting with people there – and I am particularly interested in Black history in the region.”

It is hoped that the final output of the project will become a part of the Birmingham 2022 culture programme, a six-month cultural festival across Birmingham and the West Midlands from March to August 2022. The festival aims to promote and showcase the rich and diverse creative talent of the city and region to a global audience.

The project is one of seven research and development programmes funded by the British Council and managed by the Birmingham 2022 Culture Programme which linked artists and companies based in the West Midlands with creatives in Commonwealth countries. Development work included linking Coventry’s Imagineer Productions with partners in Ghana, India and Bali to share sculpting with bamboo and partnering Birmingham’s Beatfreeks with Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company in Rwanda to pay young artists in both territories the equivalent living wage to develop their work.

Ellen Berry, Director, British Council England, said: “We are delighted to support the development of new artistic work in the lead up to the Birmingham 2022 Culture Programme, connecting artists in the West Midlands to those across the Commonwealth. This project supports our wider work in strengthening the UK’s Creative Sector – helping organisations around the world connect, create and collaborate.  Well done to both Eastside Projects and Thenjiwe – we look forward to seeing this exciting arts project come to life.”

Louisa Davies, Senior Producer at the Birmingham 2022 culture programme added; “It has been a real privilege to be a part of helping these research and development projects enable creativity and artistic thinking in extremely difficult times. Whilst originally a project such as this may have only been able to take place in person, this global cultural exchange programme between artists in Birmingham with artists across the Commonwealth nations has provided invaluable opportunities to shape artistic work and ambition, across digital platforms. New relationships and methods of understanding have been forged, which will continue beyond the end of these current projects.”