London interview with Tessa Jackson, CEO of Iniva

Roaming through Rivington Street does feel cultural. Located right next to London’s well-known party-location Cargo is Rivington Place, the gallery where Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) is based. Iniva is a leading UK contemporary visual arts organisation which creates exhibitions, publications, multimedia initiatives, education and research projects. For more, I make enquiries with Chief Executive Tessa Jackson who takes the time for a talk.

Tessa, what is the concept of Iniva?

Iniva works at the intersection of society and politics and discusses contemporary issues through artistic practice. That’s the short version.

With a lot of content tough.

I think what Iniva is about as an institute is looking at the diversity of society and looking at the issues that face us all. How artists explore, discuss and make comment. What’s important is not just to have a European centric view or a British centric view, but to hear from voices who often historically have not been heard from - to hear comment from artists who are based in different parts of the world. What they have to say has as much resonance and significance as anyone else. So the purpose of Iniva has always been to diversify how we look at society – through the visual arts.

Do you have an example for what artist’s voice you heard lately?


Yes, the exhibition we have downstairs at the moment: The People are Demanding. The Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué is based in Beirut and his work is influenced by the ongoing conflicts in Lebanon and the Middle East, so it is quite a personal set of thoughts. And when he became aware of the recent uprisings in the Middle East he asked to change the title of the exhibition: from I, the Undersigned to The People are Demanding. That was a direct response to what’s happening in the society he’s particularly close to. But it’s not just in Lebanon, of course it’s in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and elsewhere. For us to give space for that discussion here in London is important.


Is all that for you a matter of personal importance?

I’ve always had a personal commitment to ensuring a wider range of voices get heard. I started to travel when I was quite young and I think you get a greater understanding of your own context and your own position of the world by learning about the position of others. Iniva has an extraordinary tradition of poking society in the ribs a little bit and reminding us there are different view points, different histories that historically in Britain we haven’t always given a proper platform to.

Iniva is funded by Arts Council England and governed by a Board of Trustees and you’re working with politics as well. Is it difficult for you to make your voice get heard?

There is a great deal more interest now when you look at the response to our work and our exhibitions. Looking back to the early 90s when Iniva was founded there was much less awareness with less travel and less sense of globalisation. But some of the issues remain the same – you tend to be more familiar with cultures that have strong media and therefore a stronger voice.

What about the local political discussion?


There are current discussions by prominent politicians like David Cameron and others saying that multiculturalism has not worked. I think we have to look at it differently – not whether it has worked or has not worked, multiculturalism is a factor in all our lives.

Is multiculturalism a reason for getting involved with education? How does education go with your mission?

Iniva works in partnerships with schools, teachers and others to ensure the issues we and artists are discussing are also discussed with young people. Hackney, where we are in London, has a history of being the receiving ground for many migrants. It means the discussions are of interest and hugely relevant.

Any final sentence?

We receive a lot of visitors to Iniva at Rivington Place who find our purpose and programme inspiring. We are committed to working with artists, writers, curators, critics, historians, academics and many others so that alternative views and alternative art histories are presented and debated.   


Rabih Mroué, Je Veux Voir, 2011, mixed media installation (detail), part of the exhibition Rabih Mroué: I, The Undersigned The People are Demanding,  23rd  March – 14th May 2011, organised by Iniva at Rivington Place, London

photos: Iniva | Theirry Bal | Swantje Diepenhorst



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