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Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) announces new commissions by two Devon-based artists

The Exeter City Council museum has commissioned Exeter-based artist Janet Sainsbury and Plymouth-based artist Ashanti Hare to create new works.

Janet Sainsbury is a figurative painter living and working in Exeter. She graduated from Brighton Art College in 1991, and her work has been shown extensively, including shows at Bloomberg New Contemporaries and The Plough, Great Torrington. Her commission for RAMM will consist of new paintings to be presented in the museum’s core wall space in the courtyard gallery. The paintings are portraits of four women artists whose work is in RAMM’s art collection; two living Exeter-based contemporary artists, Michelle Sank and Amy Shelton, and two artists with links to the south west, Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and Gillian Ayres (1930-2018).

Janet says, ‘I paint portraits of artists because I’m interested in their different paths and connections, how that relates to their inner lives and how that is expressed in their work. All four artists are connected, for me, by a passionate determination and how they emotionally and instinctively respond to the world around them. An important bonus for me was that I could go and visit Amy and Michelle in their studios and hear them talk about their work, which enabled me to create better informed, personal portraits’

Ashanti Hare is a Plymouth-based multidisciplinary artist originally from south London. Minkisi or ‘power bundles’ from the Congo in RAMM’s World Culture collections have inspired their new work, created specifically for this special evening.  

Hare’s new commission for RAMM will result in a performance on 21 February inspired by a range of cultural concepts about rivers or water spirits. Explaining their approach to making the new artwork Hare says: ‘I have been exploring the idea of a sentient River Exe which reveals itself as the watcher, connecting physical and documented histories of Exeter with the wider south west through the oral histories of global majority people and wildlife that travel to it.

RAMM is home to a beautiful and vast collection of local and global histories and is a great supporter of contemporary art. RAMM also platforms local artists, creatives and voices from the global majority. I was particularly interested in working with the museum after seeing the recent Earth Spells: Witches of the Anthropocene exhibition as it aligned with my current research and general practice.’ 

RAMM regularly commissions and shows artwork by artists living in the south west; recent commissions include work by Amy Shelton of Exeter project Honeyscribe, Dartmoor-based Léonie Hampton and Cornwall-based Lucy Stein.

Contemporary art curator Lara Goodband said: ‘With support from Arts Council England RAMM can continue to commission exciting new artwork inspired by the museum’s collections by both emerging and established artists. Since 2018 RAMM has supported more than 10 artists to create innovative work in a range of media including video, photography and ceramics. This year’s commissions continue this ambitious programme with two artists of contrasting styles and approaches. Ashanti Hare is a young, critically-engaged artist who first came to live in Devon to study and whose practice has quickly become influential and inspiring to the local artistic community. I can’t wait to see what she creates for her one-off performance in February. Janet Sainsbury is well-known in Exeter and across Devon for her bold, colourful portraits that are both beautiful and disconcerting. This is the first time she has shown her work at RAMM.’

Exeter City Council lead for Arts & Culture Laura Wright said: ‘It’s wonderful that RAMM has been able to commission not one but two Devon-based artists to create new work. Exeter and Devon have a vibrant art community, and it’s important that we both support artists in our city and region, and enable RAMM’s visitors to see exciting new art. I look forward to seeing the finished works at RAMM.’

Janet Sainsbury’s work will be displayed in RAMM’s Courtyard wall from 21 November 2023 until 19 May 2024. Ashanti Hare’s performance will take place at RAMM on 21 February 2024.