Interview with art curator and producer Saziso Phiri

Sasizo Phiri is an both art curator and cultural producer who works alongside UK New Artists (UKNA). Voice Mag spoke to her about art and culture, the curation process and her involvement with the recent UKNA Leicester Takeover. 

Interview with art curator and producer Saziso Phiri

Firstly, I would just like to thank you for taking time out your day to talk to us here at Voice Magazine! To begin with, could you tell us about how you became an art curator and in particular curating for UKNA? 

Hi! So, I got into art curation because I have always loved the storytelling and expressive nature of art. Art is something that has always been a personal interest and this turned into me studying the subject. At 17 or 18, I’d studied both art and photography at college and subsequently history of arts at university.

Once I graduated, I got my foot in the door by volunteering and networking with people in the industry. After that it was all about learning on the job which I did by being mentored by those within the industry, in the entry-level positions I was in. 

With UKNA, I came on board to curate art, performances and residencies like the one you attended with The Leicester Takeover.

Given how eclectic the collection this past weekend was with paintings, digital art and performances, how would you personally define the word - ‘art’?

Ultimately, I believe art is expression.

An exact definition is difficult just because of how subjective something like art is to so many people, which is why I believe art is more about expression rather than the medium that the artist decides to use. An exact line in the sand is hard to draw.

Admittedly, I am by no means an art connoisseur which I am sure that you could tell when we met! What is it people like me should look for when we see artwork, like the artwork that was on display at UKNA’s Leicester Takeover?

So, there’s a difference between how I consume artwork depending on if I do it as a curator or spectator. 

As a spectator, the main thing for me is how a piece of art makes me feel and whether it ‘speaks to me’. Whilst I do take note of things like the skill, colours, size and scale that the artist has decided to use, there is no strict criteria I adhere to as a spectator.

As a curator, I look at it from a perspective of whether it is something that I would want to try to feature. This is when the criteria really plays a role and I do pay special attention to every single brush stroke. This can be hard to turn off though, even as a spectator these things do creep in!

What do you think are some of the main challenges that are facing the arts in contemporary society? What would you like to see done by the government and the industry to meet these challenges and make arts truly flourish?

I think the main challenges are things like race, class and socio-economic status which act as barriers. The thing is that the journey to a full-time career in the arts is expensive and so it requires resources, many artists have to pursue their dream part-time because they obviously have to work to live.

That being said, things are now improving through things – including the government’s Kickstart Scheme. Yet, they can do better and I think it starts by appreciating just how important the arts are in society – Rishi Sunak’s comments about upskilling for example are valid but they were perhaps a little insensitive. 

For example, in lockdowns we consumed more arts and culture than ever through platforms like Netflix. An analogy I love that I heard relatively recently is that artists are akin to those who were playing music at the sinking of the Titanic.

The UKNA I think is great because it is helping to meet the challenges that I had mentioned earlier on. 

Are there any other things that you would like our readers to know or perhaps take time to check out?

Absolutely, The UKNA's next city takeover will be taking place next year and it will take place in Lincoln.

In Leicester, ‘Bring The Paint’ which is a graffiti-arts festival will be taking place between May 23 - 29.

For any of your readers who may even be budding artists and are based throughout Nottinghamshire, The New Art Exchange is an exciting opportunity and I would definitely recommend that they submit their work!

Header Image Credit: Saziso Phiri


Dheeraj Chutani

Dheeraj Chutani Kickstart

Dheeraj is a recent postgraduate having graduated with a BA and MA in Politics from The University Of Leicester. He is interested in all things politics and current affairs but when he is not catching up with all the latest headlines, he enjoys reading, jogging, weight-lifting and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).

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