From symposiums to Iraq and attempted murderers turned portrait painters, Roma Piotrowska’s job is never dull.
Since joining the team at Ikon, Roma Piotrowska has been involved in projects involving art in a wide variety of mediums from across political and national
Last week her talk at Future Now in York inspired the audience so we decided to catch up with her to find out more.
“It was great for me to be at the symposium,” she said.
“I have never been before, I was very impressed by the organisation and the fact that Aesthetica is based in York not London. It is a beautiful surprise that they are based in York.
“I was really pleased to meet colleagues from other organisations and also so many people interested in photography. It was quite refreshing.”
Roma started working at Ikon in 2009, becoming exhibitions manager in 2016.
She believes the gallery – internationally acclaimed as a contemporary art venue – plays a vital role in its home city of Birmingham.
“I think Ikon is important for Birmingham’s art scene and communities in general,” she said.
“There is no other art space like it in the city. I think for a city of two million people there should be another art space like it.”
While there are lots of fantastic artist-led spaces in the city, Roma said there aren’t any other ‘contemporary art galleries on the same scale’.
“We show art from all around the world of different mediums, including paintings, sculpture, installations, video, sound and photography.
“We aim to make our programme as diverse as possible, reflecting our audience and the diversity of Birmingham city as a whole.”
Roma is also passionate about the role art spaces have in education.
“We are an educational charity so we want to make our programme as accessible to the public as possible,” she said.
“One of our main aims is to develop dynamic relationships between art, artists and audiences.”
While Ikon is mainly recognised for its work with contemporary artists it also features work from historic figures.
Later this year the gallery will showcase the work of Thomas Bock.
Born in 1790, Bock worked as an engraver in Birmingham until he was 24 years old.
However, his life changed forever when he tried to poison the mother of his unborn child in an attempt to get rid of the baby.
His guilty verdict saw on him on a boat to Australia, ready to serve a 14-year sentence.
It was there that he found his true calling – painting portraits of Aborigines and new comers to the territory.
His paintings are now considered to be some of the earliest sophisticated portraits of the indigenous people.
This year’s exhibition will see work from Australia and the British Museum go on show at Ikon.
“We will be bringing Thomas Bock back to his home town,” said Roma.
“He left as a convict and never returned, starting a new life and family in Australia. That is why we are very proud to bring him back to Birmingham.”
Berlin-based Sofia was born in Sweden but grew up in Birmingham. Through a combination of sculptures, photographs and films, Hultén conveys an ongoing preoccupation with the material world and how we navigate it through time.
Edmund Clark is an award-winning artist whose works link history, politics and representation.
His recent works have focused on incarceration and hidden spaces of control – from the secret prisons of the CIA, to being Ikon’s artist in residence for the past three years at HMP Grendon.
His experience at Guantanamo Bay led to his body of work Guantanamo: If The Light Goes Out.
It illustrates three experiences of home: at the Guantanamo naval base, home to the American community; the camp complex where detainees were held; and in the homes where former detainees, never charged with any crime, found themselves trying to rebuild their lives.
Roma described Edmund’s admission to the camp and subsequent work as ‘extraordinary’.
His exhibition at Ikon later this year will explore HMP Grendon as an environment and a process, as well as a place of incarceration.
The Iraq Pavilion
Away from the gallery, Roma has had some extraordinary experiences of her own.
For several years she has been working with The Iraq Pavilion project on a freelance basis.
She first got involved in 2013 when Ikon director Jonathan Watkins was invited to curate the project by the Ruya Foundation.
“I had this amazing opportunity to assist and actually went with Jonathan to Iraq,” she said.
“I assisted him with his studio visits in Baghdad and Babylon for about six days.”
Ruya’s goal is to promote culture in Iraq at a time when priorities are focused elsewhere.
It also wants to build a platform enabling Iraqis in the arts, particularly the young, to benefit from, and participate in international events.
The National Pavilion of Iraq is at the 57th Venice Biennale from now until November 26.
Archaic shows the work of eight modern and contemporary Iraqi artists in dialogue with 40 ancient Iraqi artefacts drawn from the Iraq Museum and spanning six millennia. Most of the objects have never left Iraq before now.
The exhibition is also accompanied by a new commission by internationally-acclaimed Belgian-born artist Francis Alÿs on the subject of war and the artist.
“Francis Alÿs’ work is related to the idea of the role of the artists in this war,” said Roma.
One thing is for sure, the life of Roma Piotrowska is never dull.
“All of the projects are very different, every time there is a new challenge so I never feel bored in my job,” she said.
To find out more about Roma’s work visit romapiotrowska.com.
For more details of upcoming exhibitions at Ikon visit ikon-gallery.org.
Copy editing by Sheena Campbell.
Main image: Jamal Penjweny, photograph from the series Saddam is Here (2009-10), courtesy the artist and Ruya Foundation