Canaan Brown

Art and Design - BA

Canaan has always been passionate about art and design, but it wasn’t until he was inspired by other Black artists that he realised he wanted to pursue his passion at degree level. He is now exceeding expectations on his course, a finalist for the Black Heritage Undergraduate of the Year award and creating a sculpture that celebrates Black Heritage in Britain.

“I was always excited by the idea of studying at university. I knew that my Mum had been the first in her family to study at university and, seeing how it had so significantly benefited her life and career, I felt inspired to study in higher education as well. In this sense, going to university was a goal of mine. However which university, and to study what, was a question for which my answer seemed to be less obvious at first.

I initially wanted to study engineering, and chose A-levels which focused on science, mathematics, and technology. However, after visiting inspirational art exhibitions such as Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Boom For Real in London - and becoming later introduced to the concept of Black excellence - I realised that I wanted to pursue my lifelong passion for art and design.

My first visit to Birmingham City University came about through sport, as opposed to through art and design. I was scouted by a BCU Sport officer, at a tournament near to one of BCU’s campuses, and I was offered a sports scholarship at the university.

This inspired me to look more carefully at the courses at BCU. Through applicant taster days, open days, and presentations about the course and its alumni, I realised that I could pursue a career in art and design - and that the Birmingham School of Art would support, and propel, my ambitions. When I found the BA Art and Design course, I knew that it was the course for me!

To get on to the Art and Design course, I needed to study a foundation year. I had initially decided to study my foundation year in London, and it was only two weeks before I was due to enrol that I realised that the decision was not the best for me. I realised that studying my foundation at the Birmingham School of Art would help me to adapt to life and work in Birmingham, so that I would already be familiar with the resources and support available at the university when I went into the full BA Art and Design course.

When I came to this university, I was inspired by how BCU feels like a space that treats students as individuals, and not as statistics. Especially on my course, BA Art and Design, which celebrates ambition and catalyses achievement. The tutors here support, recognise, and develop the ambition of their students.

At the start of this year, I wanted to create a film based on a Black British sailor from the 19th Century. Upon sharing this idea with my personal tutor and my course mates, I was immediately encouraged to start working on this project. Using creative writing, research trips, and filming in Naval museums, I was motivated to create a fictional memoir inspired by the sailor’s (Joseph Johnson’s) life. I also then felt inspired to create a sculpture re-imagining 19th Century Naval statues, and to project an image of a Naval ship blueprint over my work. This resulted in a body of work called The Naval Spirit, which was exhibited as a film at Nightschool (a monthly public arts evening at the Birmingham School of Art).

I’m most proud of being awarded as a finalist for the Black Heritage Undergraduate of the Year Award, 2022. I’ve worked very hard during my time at university and thrown myself at opportunities to advance my socially engaged practice, so being a finalist for this award was highly motivating! In my art and design practice, I strive to advocate, exemplify, and inspire Black excellence, and to help make the world a better place. To be recognised for this at such a prestigious competition definitely helped boost my confidence - as an artist, and as a person more generally.

I have been fortunate enough to have been awarded a place on an Emerging Artist scheme. At the start of this year, I was commissioned by Legacy West Midlands to design and create a sculpture celebrating Black Heritage in Britain. Mentored by the Birmingham-based artist Luke Perry, I helped organise meetings and consultancies with the local community where the sculpture is planned to be installed. I used feedback and insights from these consultancies to create drawings, 3D models, and written responses, which later formed the proposed design for the sculpture. As a result, the sculpture is now in the process of fabrication, and is planned to be exhibited in Handsworth as a permanent installation. My goal for when I graduate is to have completed this sculpture - a monument to the Black histories that have helped shape this country.

Thanks to these projects, my tutors and others on my course, I’ve learnt the importance of speaking up. Having the courage to recognise that my opinion matters, and that I am shoulder-to-shoulder with the confident, talented, and successful, people around me.

For me, ‘I AM BCU’ means courage, creativity, and the enjoyment of hard work.”