SEAS (Socially Engaged Art Salon) is a space for exhibitions, events and workshops, and an artist’s residency that concentrates on socially and politically engaged practices and themes. Founded in 2016, SEAS has became a beacon for socially and politically engaged art in Brighton and the south-east England. It is part of the Social Art Network and has links to local and national art organisations that engage with issues of social justice, refugees and migration.
SEAS was founded in a small house the heart of Brighton – an 18th century building intended for servants of the Royal Pavilion. SEAS’ unique model of home-gallery fulfilled a need for a dedicated space for socially engaged art, and provided a homely and less regimented setting, that was welcoming for both artists and visitors.
A successful programme of exhibitions and events drew in hundreds of visitors and participants, a new programme of community art workshops, and links to other community and arts organisations. This success led SEAS to the move to a much bigger space at the BMECP – (Black and Minority Ethnic Community Partnership) Centre, near Brighton train station and to a partnership with the Euro Mediterranean Resources Network.
SEAS operates about five exhibitions per year, usually during other festivals in Brighton such as Artists’ Open House / Brighton Festival, Brighton Photography Biennale & Photo Fringe, Black History Month, LGBTQ History month and Refugee Week. Some of the exhibitions are commissioned by charities (such as Brighton Pride, Platforma, Sanctuary on Sea), others are self initiated. SEAS is also exhibits the works of SEAS’s artists’ residency and is open to proposals from curators, artists and artists’ collectives.
Engagement with diverse audiences is the core of SEAS work, and exhibitions include artists’ talks, discussions and workshops open to the public and community groups.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow… A conversation between Lucy Finchett-Maddock & Gil Mualem-Doron,
published in the Latest Magazine 2017
Lucy: SEAS celebrate a year since it opened in May 2016, how seas came about?
Gil: Generally speaking, Socially Engaged Art, which is carried out in collaboration with local communities, as well as social and political art don’t have much space, if any, in commercial galleries and often, for various reasons, it is also marginal in public galleries. I wanted to create a space that is dedicated to such kind of art.
Lucy: considering that social and political art is side-lined by galleries and museums… is there actually need for such space?
Gil: the fact that each of the tree exhibitions we had visited by more than 500 each, and that the Mayor of Brighton as well as several art and community organisations endorsed SEAS says it all. We had amazing reactions from visitors who some faced this kind of art and others who said they were surprised to find the radical works exhibited here as part of Artists Open Houses in Brighton.
Lucy: you are not charging entrance fees for the gallery so is it economic viable? How do you operate it?
Gil: It isn’t easy. SEAS have been supported by several organisations among them Sanctuary on Sea, Platforma, Counterpoints Arts, and other organisation helped in publicise the events here. Some funds were raised by selling art works and the airbnb we started here. However, without the willing of the artists who has exhibited to exhibit, give workshops, and talks for free we couldn’t make it. As an artist I don’t see this as a sustainable option for the long run and we are now seeking funds that will cover 5 exhibitions per year were the artists will be paid, at least some fees, for their contributions.
Lucy: what were the exhibitions SEAS had so far?
Gil: We participated in Artists Open Houses in 2016, and 2017, and as part of Brighton Photo Fringe. In the later one of the exhibiting artists, Estabrak Al-Ensari even won one of the fringe awards. But SEAS is not only a place for exhibitions – we initiate also community projects. For example I carried out 3 months of workshops with the Migrant English Project were former refugees tell their stories by creating a series of collages that were printed on porcelain plates and created a multi-media installation with their work. Similarly, as part of The New Union Flag project that won the Art Council England award I conducted workshops in several school in Brighton and the pupils’ work exhibited here. Each exhibition also included workshops and artists talks which were very popular.
Lucy: Can you mentions some highlights from the last exhibition “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow”
Gil: For the opening we had (former) Mayor Pete West unveiling the proposal for a Brighton Flag, and a performance by Vocal Explosion, works that formerly exhibited in the Tate Modern (by Laura Sorvala and myself), and two very engaging photography projects by Russell Watkins and Alice Mutasa. One of the most exciting moment was to see the proud faces of the participants in the Migrant English Project workshop when they saw the installation and received copies of their art works.
Lucy: What are the plans for the future?
Gil: On Saturday the 17th of we will host a Refugee Week event that will include artists talks, poetry reading and short films. Currently we are looking for funding to create an artists’ residency where artists from migrant / refugee background and artists who practice socially engaged art can stay for a short period, produce work with local communities and exhibit it here.
More about SEAS and “Refugee Week 2017: does art matter?” can be found on Facebook: Seas Brighton, and on http://www.seasbrighton.com