Draw with illustrated objects of Black British art in the Decentralise interactive toolkit

Somerset House has launched Decentralise, a new digital art project offering a playful way to interact with Black British cultural history. Made by the institution’s Young Producers collective, together with design studio Comuzi, the website allows visitors to draw using objects of Black cultural significance as brushes, to make their own digital artworks. The illustrated objects range from a hair relaxer by David Hammons to a speaker system by Gaika and a Pan African Flag by Larry Achiampong, all taken from previous exhibitions at Somerset House.
The brief to the Young Producers was to create a body of work that celebrates Black British cultural history, stories that have largely been left out of much of the UK’s cultural archives. Decentralise therefore aimed to demystify these archives by making them interactive and open to everyone. “Whilst archives remain largely inaccessible, we saw the value of using Somerset House as an accessible, decentralised vessel for Black cultural appreciation and history,” explains Young Producer Jahnavi Inniss.
All 16 objects fit into one of four categories: political art, afronowism, disobedient objects and afrofuturism. When you choose an object to draw with, you learn more about its history, its original creator, the show it was part of at Somerset House (for example Get Up, Stand Up Now (2019) or Return of the Rude Boy (2014) and the themes addressed by the artist. Users can also choose from a selection of background scenes on which to create their artworks. All the creations saved will form part of an online gallery archive.
The illustrated style of the objects is intentionally various, to honour the eclectic visual heritage it tributes, so users can “explore different artistic expressions of Black British history and culture,” Inniss adds. Some objects are influenced by the artists who created the original, for example, the Deborah Roberts figure uses collage, while others show the individual Young Producer’s artistic interpretation of an object and its meaning. “For my illustrations, I put an emphasis on line work and colour, as a reflection of the vibrancy of Black British Culture,” says Kayleigh De Sousa. Having said that, the team worked hard to ensure there was “artistic harmony” across the toolkit, to ensure a coherent vision.