A Q&A with the Curator of Corita Kent: Power Up

In conversation with Olivia Ahmad.

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  • Events, Exhibitions, Feature

In the final weeks of Corita Kent: Power Up, we chatted to exhibition curator Olivia Ahmad to learn more about the remarkable artist-nun.

Want to know more? Join Morag Myerscough, Lucienne Roberts, exhibition designer Fraser Muggeridge and Eye Magazine editor John L. Walters at Corita Kent in Focus. Tickets include an after-hours private view of the exhibition in its final week – get your tickets now.

Why did you decide that now is the time to exhibit Corita’s work?

“Much of Corita’s work is about finding joy in the everyday and having hope when things aren’t so great – messages that are always relevant. But it’s Corita as “the joyous revolutionary” that really speaks to us right now. At a time when our political discourse and online debate can feel so toxic and divisive, Corita’s sense of hopeful resistance is especially captivating. Her work protests injustice while being imbued with positivity. She definitely deserves greater recognition – this is only the second exhibition of her work in the UK so we hope we’re starting to get the word out about her!”

What is it about Corita that makes her a good fit for House of Illustration?

“Corita described her own work as a kind of “illumination, like the old monks did”, embellishing and celebrating letters and words. Despite our name, House of Illustration is also dedicated to graphic arts – illustrated images, graphic design and typography are all closely related and Corita is a champion of all these things.”

How did you choose which of her many works to exhibit in the gallery?

“We are showing a selection of works that represent the many distinct periods of her life and the varied focus of her work. The exhibition starts with her strikingly modern figurative prints from the 1950s that reinterpreted Catholic iconography, then moves on to the dramatically different work she made in the 1960s, full of bold letterforms, songs and political statements. The final section shows the commercial work she did after she left the Immaculate Heart Order, including commissions for contract furniture, advertising and book illustration.”

What can graphic design and typography enthusiasts and practitioners learn from Corita?

“Corita’s approach to composition and design was decades ahead of her time. The layering and manipulation of typography she was doing by hand in the 1960s have become ubiquitous in digital design applications today. Her aesthetic has been hugely influential on generations of designers and there’s still so much that practitioners can learn from her today.

Corita was an artist with a unique vision, but she also worked with her fellow sisters and students at Immaculate Heart College, in a collaborative, creative community of women - her work shows that there is much to gain from an open collective approach.”

Get tickets for Corita Kent in Focus on Thursday 9 May. Catch Corita Kent: Power Up before it ends on Sunday 12 May.