An interview with The Art of Resilience’s Laura Day Webb
Lewa Next Gen’s The Art of Resilience will premiere in New York City from September 1–11, 2021 at the High Line Nine in partnership with Montague Contemporary. The exhibition captures the stories and faces of individuals living and working around Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya.
Exhibition curator Laura Day Webb is pursuing her Master’s in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in NYC and has a deep passion for contemporary African art. Day Webb has extensive experience curating events and exhibitions around the globe.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. How did you come to enter the contemporary art world?
I initially made my foray into the art world as co-founder of La Doyenne, a demi-couture womenswear line exploring the convergence of art, fashion, and technology. We create oil and watercolor works in house that are then digitally manipulated to form new works on fabric. When donned, the garment transforms the wearer into the final canvas. This experience prompted me to re-evaluate what I wanted to do long term.
Ultimately, I decided to embrace a career fully pivoted into the art world and am currently pursuing my Master’s in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in NYC. Alongside school, I am the Brand and Partnerships Lead for newcube, a curated digital platform that challenges the traditional art acquisition model and facilitates the discovery of artists on the rise. I am also the Content Manager for Friend of the Artist’s Studio Image Project, whose online portal and volume to be released next year, showcases the studio spaces of emerging artists across the globe.
How do you interact with art today? What informs how you view a work?
I find myself drawn to the story behind a work and the artist’s approach first. The “why” informs my experience of a particular piece and gives me a better appreciation for the subject matter. One of the things I enjoy most about working with early career artists is having that direct connection to their process and getting to see how it evolves over time as well.
What role do you feel the curator plays in the art world?
The role of curator can vary greatly depending on the nature of the exhibition being staged. However, at its core, I view it as one of liaison and steward. When working with living artists — as is the case with this exhibition — it is particularly important to understand the impetus behind their work in order to position it effectively for public viewership. The curator is uniquely positioned to advocate for the artists and with that comes a responsibility to them. Working to facilitate all aspects of an exhibition requires an understanding of the desires of the parties involved and ensuring a balance is struck while not losing sight of the creative vision.
Tell us about your work with the exhibit. What do you hope viewers will take away from it?
Building this exhibition from the ground up has afforded me the opportunity to work incredibly closely with both the artists and Lewa alike. It has been a creative and administrative endeavor to juggle all of the various moving parts — one I have enjoyed immensely. The exhibition really weaves together art, community, and conservation. Delving into these ties and illustrating them to the viewer in a multi-sensory fashion has been unlike any other project I have taken on to date. The issues highlighted in this exhibition are universal ones regardless of one’s prior exposure to conservation or to Kenya.
I hope viewers will walk away with the realization that the challenges facing these communities mirror their own. By working together to effect change via vehicles like a community-driven approach to conservation driven by tourism, we can positively impact both people and nature alike.
What inspired you to lead Next Gen’s art exhibition for Lewa Wildlife Conservancy? Why is this project meaningful to you?
I had the privilege of visiting Lewa a number of times while growing up, and Lewa’s approach to conservation had a profound effect on how I view conservation’s relationship to surrounding communities. Its model is one that has global application and makes a tangible positive impact on the lives of the people who co-exist with its neighbouring wildlife. Lewa’s staff is also 80% Kenyan, and to me, this is a critical factor in ensuring the success of this model. A couple of years ago, I discovered Lewa had staff in NYC where I am based, and I reached out because I was eager to support its work however I could.
Earlier this year, I relaunched Lewa’s Next Gen initiative, which aims to engage a younger audience around the merits of community-based conservation. I have a small committee of individuals supporting Next Gen from Kenya, the US, and the UK, with the goal of growing its global presence over time. One of those individuals is Charlie V. Rose, the videographer on this exhibition. Alongside painter Pie Herring, Charlie approached Lewa and myself in hopes of raising awareness of the challenges local Kenyan communities were facing due to COVID by going out to Lewa to capture their stories.
As someone who works in the art world and focuses on emerging artists, I was excited by the concept and believed it was something I could help bring to life successfully. However, I felt it was of critical importance that we would not only provide a platform for voices within the community, but also include local artists in the exhibition who, through their work, could expound upon some of the key issues Lewa’s tackles through its programmes. The aim of this exhibition is therefore twofold: To shine a spotlight on talented artists whose work is less well known outside their home countries and for a new audience to discover the merits of community-based conservation and its relationship to tourism.
There are many up-and-coming artists participating in The Art of Resilience. What are you most excited to see in the exhibition? What comes next?
Most of the artists in this exhibition have yet to show in NYC, so I’m excited for a new audience to experience their work. There is an incredible array of different mediums represented in this exhibition from ballet to textiles and oil, which showcases just how rich and diverse the art scene within Kenya is. I have a passion for the African contemporary space and I hope this is the beginning of many collaborations to come.
Through a range of mediums, art can inform and inspire viewers to explore new ideas. How does art — particularly African art — connect viewers with conservation?
Art has the power to shed light on places, people, and things viewers may never encounter firsthand. This makes it an incredible tool for creating dialogue and educating its audience on various subjects, cultures, and locations.
Some of the most exciting work on the market right now is coming out of Africa. There are a host of young artists all working in different mediums and styles, and the energy behind it is palpable. This exhibition combines ballet, oil on canvas, textile, video and more, so it is truly a multi-sensory window into Kenya.
Conservation is ultimately at the core — reflecting the relationship between people and nature. This isn’t an issue relegated to one particular country or group of people, it is universal. As global citizens, we all play a role in this equation, and the art in this exhibition highlights issues that have broad resonance from education to pollution. Tourism is a catalyst for effecting positive change and enabling communities to combat these challenges. I hope through the works exhibited, people will be inspired to contribute to Lewa’s endeavors and to visit themselves.