Interview with ‘Futures Artist’ Ben Malcolmson

Ben Malcolmson
© Ben Malcolmson

Interview with ‘Futures Artist’ Ben Malcolmson

Ben Malcolmson (b.1999) is an emerging photographer born and based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He has worked with Belfast Exposed, and participated in many programmes, since the age of 10. From a young age, Malcolmson participated in workshops with Belfast Exposed, and followed that by taking part in Summer Schemes and the Young Futures programme, and assisting the organisation through volunteering in the gallery and assisting in recent programmes for younger people.

Malcolmson is currently studying his Bachelor of Photography and Video at Ulster University and has recently been awarded the opportunity to join the photography programme at Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK) as part of Erasmus for 2019 and 2020. He was recently nominated by Belfast Exposed and awarded the Arab British Centre residency ‘Making Marks’. Since then, Belfast Exposed worked with Malcolmson to produce a solo exhibition ‘Murmur‘ that responds to his experience as a participant in the residency. Belfast Exposed is thrilled to interview Malcolmson about his experience abroad and his aspirations as a young emerging talent.

What age were you when you first attended Belfast Exposed Gallery? Why did you connect with us?

My first involvement with Belfast Exposed is when I was 10 years old, Belfast Exposed was running a photography workshop in the Waterfront Hall during the summer of 2009.

Do you think your experience in Belfast Exposed’s Young Futures programme affected where you are today in your photographic career?

Totally, attending the Young Futures programme in 2016/17 was an opportunity for me to expand my knowledge of contemporary photography and to further understand the gallery scene in Belfast.

Tell us a bit about your recent residency with the Arab British Centre in Kuwait.

During the end of April, I was informed that I had been nominated to attend a residency with the Arab British Centre funded by the British Council to travel to Kuwait on a 5-day facilitated trip. ‘Making Marks’ is a project by the Arab British Centre that invites four UK regional intuitions (MOSTYN Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield, Fruitmarket Gallery, and Belfast Exposed) to nominate an emerging artist to attend a residency in Kuwait and subsequently to make a body of work (this could take the form of an exhibition, public event or talk) with the idea on international working and collaboration and how that can benefit your practice. Being awarded came to me as a surprise, being nominated was an honour but being awarded was such a privilege.

How do you think the opportunity to develop your photographic career on an international platform will impact your practice?

During the trip to Kuwait, I did a lot of self-reflection. Which I think was greatly needed for myself as an artist and as a young person in contemporary Northern Irish society. Being given the opportunity it has helped me refine and better articulate on where my practice is heading. Developing my voice has and still is a progression, however not only will my practice develop but my professional working career as an emerging photographer will be evermore highlighted from the achievements made from being a part of this project with the Arab British Centre.

While you were in Kuwait did you make any connections in regard to your career or personal life?

The group I was travelling with had such a lively and exciting dynamic, as mentioned I was one of four artists selected across the whole of the UK. So, all of us had informative discussions on a range of topics from our wide range of disciplines involving photography, sculpture, curation and installation and the understanding of how we can all benefit from collaborative initiatives.

Can you talk a little bit about the art scene in Kuwait? What were some of your favourite experiences? How would the art scene in Kuwait compare to Belfast?

I feel that my experience of the Kuwaiti art scene was highlighted and reinforced by the array of artists that we met in Kuwait; the passion that the artists had for their craft and outreach within the wider public, such as Manifesto13 an art school that promotes social awareness within the arts and has programmes that involve a wide demographic in Kuwait. Or another highlight was during the first days in Kuwait, we meet with Kuwaiti artist Deema Alghunaim, who give us a guided tour around the city and explained about the deep history that Kuwait has with its land and the tribes of people that once inhabited it and how the relationship between people is still ever evident within Kuwaiti culture and traditions. Comparing, the Kuwaiti art scene makes me appreciate the variety of galleries and spaces that Belfast offers, Kuwait has similar spaces but not to the same scale found in Belfast or other parts within the UK. However, I hope in future years to come the artists that I meet will soon change the face of Kuwait’s art scene, that could even reveal its European counterparts.

Did you have opportunities to collaborate with other artists, or make connections to do so in the future?

Yes, given the trip allowed us to connect with other artists during our visit via a networking event that was held along with other emerging artists from Kuwait. The possibility to also collaborate with my other Making Marks team members is also a real possibility, everyone has expressed interested in going to each other’s cities to explore the given art scene.

What are some of your ambitions as a young artist/photographer? Have your travels inspired any new career goals?

Some ambitions that I want to achieve as a young artist in the next number of years are that I want to showcase my work in exhibitions, shows, fairs and galleries, locally and internationally. Travelling to events such as Paris Photo, London Photo and many more festivals around Europe has made me aware of the possibilities for exposure and recognition for my work. Travelling to Kuwait has further made me think about ways in expanding and developing my craft such as looking at international programmes across the globe that offer short or longer-term residencies that intern benefit my practice within my discipline.

I hear you are preparing for a solo exhibition with Belfast Exposed. Can you talk about any of your plans for the show?

Being given this opportunity to have my first solo show, I am beyond excited about what I can create. As I mentioned previously, I did a lot of self-reflection, and the understanding of the country I was born in, and how geographical and social factors can shape the ideas of one’s identity and responding to that fascinates me. For this project, I think the exhibition will take the form of a multidimensional piece involving video, photography and installation. I’ve always wanted to push photography and myself further and being given this opportunity from Belfast Exposed and the Arab British Centre, that can now happen.

Ben Malcolmson’s solo exhibition ‘Murmur‘ eventually took place in Belfast Exposed Gallery 2 in February 2020.