First-year student Rosy Akalawu-Ellman describes how her passion for Art History was ignited and her first term at Cambridge.
Why Art History?
In Year 10 my art teacher convinced me to enter ARTiculation, a public speaking competition which encourages young people to hone their presentation, research, visual communication, and analysis skills. Until that point I had never been told that Art History existed. I knew that I enjoyed art GCSE, and quite often the written reflection aspects more so than the actual process of making the art, yet had no clue that there was a subject dedicated to the writing side.
After discovering the discipline through ARTiculation studying any other subject didn’t really make sense. Art History allowed me to continue with my great passion for the humanities without having to compromise. It allowed me to study History, Philosophy, Theology, Classics, English literature and so much more, all through a creative lens.
Being involved with organisations like ARTiculation and Art History Link Up and institutions such as the Whitworth and The National Gallery, my passion has been encouraged, easing my journey from discovering Art History aged 15 to now studying it at Cambridge
What would you say to someone contemplating Art History at university and as a career?
The Art History world is as small as it is supportive – get involved in whatever groups you can find, say yes to all the opportunities they offer and it will take you far.
Don’t be intimated by ‘traditional’ Art History, the discipline is rapidly evolving and needs fresh ideas, so be creative and ambitious with the direction you allow your passions to flow towards. ‘Art History’ will eventually have to catch up!
Not everything is in London. Quite often people feel disillusioned by the arts world as so much is based in London. However, ARTiculation has heats regionally and makes a point of outreach past the south of England. Look out for groups, initiatives and competitions in your local area, as without getting involved and making it clear that there is interest across the UK it’s easy for people to dismiss the rest of us.
Why did you choose Cambridge and Trinity to study History of Art?
I couldn’t think of a better university city to immerse myself in architectural history and gallery culture; from the Fitzwilliam Museum, King’s Chapel and Cambridge Central Mosque to Kettle’s Yard and the Round Church, this city is rich in primary resources and art/architectural historical masterpieces to luxuriate in.
I was familiar with the work of my Director of Studies, Professor Alyce Mahon, who has a very contemporary approach to Art History, specialising in Dada, Surrealism, performance art and feminist art practice in Europe and the United States. I was keen to study under her as I felt that she would support my interests which heavily overlap with her own.
What activities are you involved in at Cambridge beyond your course?
I’m still at the stage of feeling like a little kid in a candy shop. I’m amazed how much there is to do, and I am trying to experience a little bit of everything as I attempt to stretch the hours in a day and days in a week, so I can get a feel for all the incredible things this city has to offer.
I’ve been to netball sessions, poetry writing workshops, African Caribbean Society events, ADC theatre set design assisting, a Cambridge University Jewish Society Friday night dinner, a panel on de-criminalising abortion, international film club, life drawing … and there are many more things in my diary.
I’ve realised that all you have to do is look for whatever you are interested in and you will be met by an encouraging group of people. Cambridge is as much about your degree as it is all the things you do outside and around formal studies as they are what really keep you on track.
What do you hope to achieve while here?
To finish my degree knowing that I have spent every Cambridge moment embracing and experiencing Cambridge in its entirety.
What are your career aspirations?
This is an ever-evolving matter in my head. At the moment I’d like to use academia as my base (although that really does depend on whether my second essay goes better than my first) and from there dabble in public programming, journalism, creative consultancy and whatever else I come across that sounds interesting and I feel I could contribute towards.