Double Trouble: RSA New Contemporaries 2024

This year’s RSA New Contemporaries exhibition celebrates two ambitious cohorts of Scottish art school graduates from both 2022 and 2023

Article by Harvey Dimond | 28 Mar 2024
  • Ammna Sheikh, The Richer A Persian, The Finer His Rugs, 2023.

Oh, what a time to be an art school graduate. The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertain funding landscape and the ongoing cost of living crisis makes navigating arts education (and sustaining a practice) particularly challenging in the present moment. Despite this, the graduates selected for RSA’s New Contemporaries this year have not only produced work of an exceptional standard, but have also exercised great tact, resilience and perseverance.

Marly Merle graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) in 2022 and is now based in Glasgow. Merle’s wearable sculptures focus on creating a space for discussing ideas of ‘otherness’ and the questioning of societal norms. She is interested in speculating about new worlds, cities and civic spaces, creating physical artworks that provoke ideas around new and better ways in which to exist.

Merle’s ongoing Thestra project delves into geological history and the notion of a lost land of the same name that existed in the Iapetus Ocean, which closed 400 million years ago as continental plates shifted. Thestra was separate from other civilisations and had the freedom to evolve its own geology independently; however, its location is unknown. The project aims to establish a human connection with this forgotten land through an archive of fragmented replica pieces of this lost continent, represented by the four wearable sculptures. These sculptures invite the audience to physically interact with this geological anomaly; particularly fitting in our current era of climate crisis and ecological catastrophe. 

Thestra by Marly Merle.
Thestra (2023) by Marly Merle. Photo: Samuel Edwards

Sara Pakdel-Cherry also graduated from DJCAD in 2022 and uses photographic techniques to examine forms of misogyny experienced by women, as well as methods of resistance. Photographic installation Six Feet Under is the continuation of Take Back Your Voice (2021), and depicts Persian women from ancient times to Iranian women of today. Meanwhile, in Restore My Hymen, the artist conveys a message of encouraging women to be brave and strong, to speak up and stand in solidarity with one another.

Pakdel-Cherry works with the term ‘kafan-e siah’ – used by women to fight against the Islamic state laws imposing mandatory hijab in Iran. The kafan is a length of white cloth in which the deceased is wrapped for burial, while siah means ‘black’ in Farsi; therefore ‘Kafan-e Siah’ is a pejorative reference to the black chador. The artist’s 2022 work, Kafan-e Siah, is a visual concept of this term: the chadors symbolise the restrictive laws imposed on women. The suspended chadors evoke the challenges and discrimination Iranian women face in their daily lives. Pakdel-Cherry’s work is also currently on display as part of the exhibition Crafted Selves: The Unfinished Conversation at Kirkcaldy Galleries.

Beth Radic’s performance practice bravely reflects on her experience as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a newly diagnosed autistic woman. Radic uses her practice to revisit her childhood experiences through a new lens, highlighting the present impact that her past experiences and autism has on her. Since graduating in 2022, Radic has been highly commended for a joint application to Dundee University’s Honorary Graduates Award for Inclusive Practice 22/23 and received the Boom Graduates Neurodiversity Award for her dissertation exploring autism within the art industry. Beth currently works within DJCAD and is a passionate activist for the inclusion of autistic artists.

Photograph of a woman in a long red coat, standing at the centre of a series of concentric circles painted on a concrete floor in a playground.
Untitled (2022) by Beth Radic. Photo courtesy of the artist

Graduating from Edinburgh College of Art in 2023, Ammna Sheikh’s work celebrates Pakistani cultural heritage, emphasising and promoting handmade craft techniques that have been passed down through generations. Sheikh received recognition from the Edinburgh University Purchase Prize 2023, while being shortlisted for the Global Design Graduate Show 2023 and long-listed for the Aesthetica Art Prize in 2024. The artist emphasises the significance of preserving handmade crafts amidst the growing dominance of digital technology. Her vibrant work explores colour, pattern, language and comments on colonial displacement. Her fascination with handmade craft evolved through understanding its historical importance as a form of expression for self-taught artisans like the women in her family. Influenced by Pakistan’s vivid cultural backdrop, she draws inspiration from the vibrancy of decorated trucks, buses, and rickshaws that infuse colour and pattern into otherwise mundane settings.

Khadija Moustafa graduated from Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Fine Art Photography in 2023. The artist often uses her artwork as a form of intervention in a space, combining her experience as a musician and DJ with her visual arts practice. Moustafa’s Ritual Resonance is a video and sound installation inspired by the underground music scenes of Los Angeles and Glasgow, paying homage to the cultural significance of dance music and club culture in both cities.

Meanwhile, Samuel Temple works with photography and filmmaking to examine queer intimacies. By The Bedside, made in collaboration with Scotland-based artist Grunvold, explores momentary recollections of moments of intimacy or romance with someone. The film acts as an ‘audio and visual landscape of tranquillity and tensions’, somewhere between lust and longing, expressed by the subtle shifts through sounds, tonality and the interplay of light and dark. The catalyst for this piece was the discovery of the filming process as a form of foreplay; a moment of connection became no longer just a recollection, but was also now recorded in a piece of footage. Temple works extensively with writing, which the artist says ‘often provides body and dimension to the visuals in my practice’. 

By the Bedside with Grunvold.
By the Bedside (2022) by Samuel Temple. Image courtesy of the artist

Rho McGuire graduated from the BA (Hons) Contemporary Art Practice at Gray’s School of Art in 2023. They are an interdisciplinary artist who work with performance, movement, spoken word and happenings. They use endurance running, walking, skateboarding and wild swimming as a form of documentation and creation, allowing them to ‘deep map’ their local landscapes. They work to disrupt using participatory and co-creation methods, to collaborate with others and create conversation between people and the planet. Since graduating, McGuire has gained a place on Dance Base’s Dancers Emerging Bursary Scheme. They have also exhibited at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, responding to caring for Alberta Whittle’s work at the 2022 Venice Biennale. 

RSA New Contemporaries, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, until 24 Apr, £5-8; Academy Late, 19 Apr, 8.30-10.30pm, £15