'A reflection of the world we live in’

Louise Evans from the UBS Art Collection speaks to Monocle about exciting new acquisitions by Khadija Saye and Zanele Muholi, and bringing marginalized communities to the fore

Zanele Muholi, 'Sine II, Sheraton Hotel, Brooklyn', 2019, Gelatin silver print, 65.5 x 48.6 cm (25 13/16 x 19 1/8 in), UBS Art Collection © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of the artist, Yancey Richardson, New York and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg

As one of the world’s most important corporate collections of contemporary art, the UBS Art Collection strives to reflect wider society, including groups which have historically been overlooked within the art world. It is a responsibility keenly felt by its custodians, among them Louise Evans, who manages the collection across Northern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

‘We believe that artists are the spokespeople of our time,’ Evans asserts, attributing the strength of the Collection to its rich mix of international artists from over seventy countries. With a view to its future direction, UBS is further diversifying the Collection and has recently acquired work by names like Shinique Smith, Rana Begum, Derrick Adams, Xaviera Simmons, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Ding Yi, and is particularly excited by two recent acquisitions.

The first is a group of powerful self-portraits by Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye, who tragically died in the Grenfell Tower disaster just as her talents were being recognised on the global stage. ‘in this space we breathe’ has been produced posthumously, with proceeds supporting disadvantaged young artists through the Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme – an example of how, through meaningful partnerships at a grassroots level, collecting can create far-reaching social impacts for marginalised communities. The programme continues the work of IntoUniversity, supported by UBS Community Affairs UK for over a decade, which itself nurtured Saye’s potential from the age of seven.

Another is a photograph from the series ‘Hail the Dark Lioness’ by Johannesburg-based artist and visual activist Zanele Muholi, whose work – the subject of a major Tate Modern exhibition in 2020 – explores race, gender and sexuality, foregrounding minority perspectives. ‘Zanele identifies as non-binary,’ explains Evans, ‘and from the early 2000s they’ve documented and celebrated the lives of Black LGBTQI communities in various South African townships. Muholi’s self-proclaimed mission is to rewrite a Black, queer and trans visual history of South Africa.

Evans is currently planning to add several additional pieces to the displays at 5 Broadgate, London, where Muholi and Saye will be shown alongside other BAME artists like Chris Ofili and Yang Fudong. It is part of a wider shift in focus that Evans hopes to see transform the art world in the long run. She observes, ‘Many collectors are reassessing the breadth of their collections and are actively making them more diverse to truly reflect our society.’

At UBS, a commitment to championing diverse voices is embedded across the organisation and felt far beyond its Collection. Key to this is the MOSAIC network, which aims to recruit, develop and retain Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees to further the firm’s inclusivity agenda. In celebration of black history month in the UK, MOSAIC in collaboration with CAN are hosting a rich and diverse range of events to celebrate Black history, Black cultures and Black excellence.

With over 30,000 artworks from the 1960s onwards, the UBS Art Collection represents artists from over 70 countries, with artworks displayed in approximately 700 UBS locations worldwide.

Listen to the conversation in full in a special podcast presented by UBS and Monocle.

October 2020