Studying at Central Saint Martins

Memunatu Barrie is a 19 year old west African Muslimah from East London and is currently a student at UAL Central Saint Martins. She talks about what’s it’s like to study at one of the top art schools in the world and what got her there… 

I would consider myself an aspiring designer or creative at this point in my life. I won’t label myself as a designer just yet though, as I feel there is still much more to learn and experience before I can claim that title. 

I’m in my first year of the BA Textiles Design course at Central Saint Martins (CSM) , however all together this is my second year at CSM since I  did my foundation diploma in fashion and textiles here. Before I go more into why I chose to study my course at CSM and what its like being at CSM I’d like to talk a little bit about why I chose to study Textiles Design. Growing up, I was always interested in the creative side of things, things like drawing, and arts and crafts have  always been my thing. Art and design technology (which was the umbrella all creative pathways came under at my school ) was my favourite part of the curriculum. Textiles Design at my school wasn’t specifically named that but during one rotation under the design technology umbrella of the curriculum my teachers provided my classmates and I with loads of scrap fabrics. These scraps were meant to be used to create art out of ( a painting of a fish for example using fabrics instead of paper ) I enjoyed this very much and this was the part of the rotation I loved the most. At that age I was a little naughty and whenever I used to go into the ‘textiles’ rotation I used to sneak a couple of scrap bits of fabric into my bag to take home and make clothes for my dolls.  The clothes were of course tacky and held together by things like rubber bands and safety pins but I loved making clothes for my dolls , it made them feel more special and unique to me , and I loved the idea of making my own clothes even if they were just for my dolls. 

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I never lost interest in that and from a young age decided that I wanted to do something with fabrics and become a designer. By the time I got to secondary / high school I decided that I wanted to be a fashion designer, the problem was that there was no such course at my school. What was on offer was GCSE Textiles Design so I took it up, being the closest thing to fashion design. While on my course I was introduced to mainly printed textiles design. I learnt that Textiles Design is the process of creating fabrics / fabric surface design and the more I actually learnt about it and experimented with different techniques of achieving this, the more I began to love textiles design for what it is and I forgot about fashion design.  However, I still remained interested in it and wanted to create textiles for the use of fashion or maybe fashion textiles so after completing my time at college decided to take up a foundation year in fashion and textiles design. My teacher encouraged me to sign up to the foundation programme run by CSM a college under UAL which is recognised all over the world for its excellence in the arts , more  specifically in the fashion and textiles department . The course is extremely competitive with both home and international students fighting hard for their spots on the course. The application process was therefore extremely stressful, I doubted myself a lot during that time, I was afraid I wouldn’t get in. ALHAMDULLILAH I did get in in the end and up to this point can now say that the foundation year was honestly the best year for me creatively ever. 

While on the course I experimented both with fashion and textiles design . For the first time ever I actually understood the difference between the two. While they go hand in hand, Textiles Design focused more on the actual material features of a garment such as the qualities of a fabric an or its surface design whereas fashion design focused more on the structural design of the garment and how a garment drapes on the body. I decided by the end of the foundation course that I was more interested and passionate about Textiles Design and that is why I chose to study it further.

My experience at CSM has been quite positive overall I would say . I really like my teachers/lecturers a lot . they are all active in the industry of design, whether that be in fashion or textiles, so I feel their input is quite valuable and relevant . I’ve also made some great friends at my time at CSM. One thing I would say which isn’t so great however is the lack of diversity I see in the university. There are people from loads of different nationalities which is great however in terms of race its not really as diverse as it could be. My nationality for example is Dutch, I was born and raised, for the majority of my childhood, in the Netherlands. Despite this, my ethnicity is black African. In terms of ethnic diversity there isn’t much, most students are international from east Asia or white Europeans. There aren’t many brown or black people in short is what I’m trying to say, there also aren’t many Muslims .  In the beginning this made me a little uncomfortable, especially coming from East London where there is such a diversity,  but now I’m used to it. I haven’t really experienced any discrimination or anything like that, but there has been a couple of ignorant comments here and there from a couple of people. It doesn’t really phase me though , over the years I’ve had to develop a bit of a thick skin , unfortunately I feel that many others could relate to this and I feel that diversity in this sense is a problem in higher education in general , it is not exclusive to UAL or CSM.  Apart from that and the rude boujee people  ( haha I’m partially joking, people familiar with CSM and their stereotype will understand)  CSM is pretty great and offers some amazing opportunities and quality of education .

My  work is inspired by loads of different things . I have no ,one particular theme that I focus on but I am interested in exploring the idea of my identity in future works most likely. I have already done bits of exploring through other topics that I’ve already explored through my work but I’ve never really focused on the theme entirety. I feel that exploring my identity could make my work more personal and also create a dialogue between the viewer or public and myself. I am inspired by my African heritage I identify as a  Sierra Leonian, yet I was born and raised for majority of my childhood in the Netherlands , then I moved to London and now I also identify as being an East Londoner, I am also a Muslimah . I feel that I express this eclectic identity through my dress however I would like to explore it more through my work.

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