These UCA students are using design to solve real-world problems

From mental health to lockdown and the climate crisis, UCA’s 2021 graduates are hoping to offer a fresh perspective on the world.

At a time when the future and funding of creative arts education is under threat, it’s more important than ever to showcase the talent nurtured at UK arts institutions. And in a challenging year, the graduating students at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) have sought to solve real-world problems, tackle wrongs and change perspectives through their work.

Having explored both their personal and creative potential at UCA, the students demonstrate an impressive range – looking to help people and places in crisis or meeting the emotional and physical challenges of individuals and society at large. This selection of work shows the graduates’ innovation, energy and vision, as they are poised to enrich the creative sector with a mindset for positive economic and social change.

You can view the entire graduate showcase at UCA’s website.

Reflections on the pandemic

Betty Onion’s illustration work

University students have risen to the challenges of the last year. In moments when the world seemed to turn inward, they have done the opposite – setting their sights on using their creative talents to make a difference. They have explored the pandemic’s effect on themselves and on the world around them, using that inspiration to create work that is thoughtful, provocative and sometimes even amusing.

Illustration student Betty Onion captures the unique time in history through illustration and words, focusing on continuity and change. Graphic design student Joshua Wijsveld created, a platform for artists around the country to come together and collaborate during the pandemic. In her video comprising over 300 images, fine art student Rose Sambrook reflects on lockdown and the never-ending feeling it conjured.

Identity and reimagining stereotypes

Ebony Barrett’s Sweet Shop Six

The work of the 2021 graduates explores students’ own identities and challenges preconceptions and stereotypes around them. This exploration strengthens them not only as individuals but also as creatives. Here are some examples of the directions they have taken and their discoveries.

Animation student Izzy Argent explores body positivity, feminism and taboo subjects in a blend of mixed media and animation. Beyond the Binary Wave, from hand embroidery student Millie Whitehead is a collection that combines both traditionally male and female elements, influenced by gender, fluidity and movement. Sweet Shop Six focuses on uplifting the black female community and the recognition of modern black storytelling created by fashion promotion and imaging student Ebony Barrett. Somali-born Nadiya Sharif (fashion design) reflected on her own journey and experience as an immigrant for this collection.

Sustainability and the climate crisis

Lucy Green’s project

The urgency of the climate crisis and challenges is clear in the students’ work, as is the responsibility to take positive action and bring fresh creative perspective to these issues. They are committed to addressing, and preventing, the damage being done to the planet.

Illustration student Lucy Munt has created a book to show the impact of humans on the world’s coral reefs, and their importance to our planet. The ocean is also the focus for foundation student Charlotte Keiller whose Think Outside the Sink project features jewellery from recycled materials. Lucy Green (BA glass, ceramics, jewellery, metalwork) works with “unloved and premade” ceramics and glazes to create “orchestrated canvases”. Fine art student Caitlan Walker explores the idea of what she calls a “contemporary dystopia” looking at the impact of the pandemic alongside issues such as climate change and plastic pollution.

New perspectives on mental health and disability

Superhuman, from Anna Lis

The pandemic has brought health issues into the spotlight over the last 18 months with many facing physical and mental challenges that have been compounded by self-isolation – with students in higher education facing more difficulties than most. Determined to use their talents to make a difference, UCA students have dug deep to find grit, resilience and flexibility, while raising the profile of specific issues.

Raising awareness of inner ear disorders is the focus illustration and animation student Emily Larkin’s Spinning into Silence film, a 2D hand-drawn animation that draws from Emily’s own experience of a vestibular disorder. Product design student Anna Lis has already had her work recognised by a spinal cord injury charity. Her Superhuman shoe and orthosis has been designed to help those with drop-foot. Through sculpture, tapestry, painting and more, fine art student Zara Gabriel’s practice explores the experience of disability and mental illness with a mix of media and techniques. Product design student Nathan Spiers was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at 11. His memories of sensory overload at primary school prompted him to design furniture that would help to better control the varieties of stimuli impacting young children on the autistic spectrum.

Innovations for a better world

Nellie Ogbonna’s project

Architecture and design thinking can bring radical and much-needed change to very specific local problems. These architecture students have identified issues around the world that can benefit from creative input, using their skills and experience to facilitate changemaking, and offering solutions through sympathetic interventions that respect geography, culture, the environment, the community and the individual.

MA architecture student Vivina Joseph Selphy designed a terminal for India’s Kerala backwater boat industry that helps to manage the impact of this tourism on the local environment. Another MA architecture student Nellie Ogbonna‘s cultural centre project in Abuja, Nigeria, is designed to help revive the leather and textile industries to support local people, and the local and national economy. The annual Regatta Lepa in Sabah, Malaysia was a key consideration in the building designed by Xzen Hung Lee (MA architecture) which offers a range of social facilities for the local community as well as welcoming tourists. Debris still litters Beirut after last August’s massive explosion. MA architecture student Hanna Makhoul’s scheme proposes taking this broken glass to create fibreglass panels that can help rebuild the city. His designs include a factory, workshops, commercial and residential areas.

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