41-year-old South African visual artist and writer Sharlene Khan was awarded a Sir Abraham Bailey scholarship in 2011. This support from Goodenough College enabled Sharlene to take up a place as a Commonwealth scholar on the Visual Arts doctoral programme at Goldsmiths, University of London.
The scholarship gave me the gift of time and the ability to concentrate entirely on my own work for three and a half years. This was a luxury I didn’t get as an undergraduate or postgraduate student in South Africa. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for college, so I had always needed to work while I was studying.
Being able to spend every day of my PhD reading, writing and researching and creating my own work was amazing – I couldn’t put a value on how important this has been to me and my career. There’s no way I could have afforded to study and live at Goodenough College without the scholarship. It simply wouldn’t have been possible.
My time at Goodenough was just wonderful. Lots of us describe it like being at Hogwarts! It feels a bit magical and the people you meet become your family while you live there and friends for life. Living there means you are part of a global community and it really widens your horizons. I made friends from very different backgrounds, from all over the world. These friendships can also later turn into connections that help your career. Everyone may work in very different fields but there are always opportunities to work on inter-disciplinary projects
I loved studying in London for so many reasons. There’s a lot of informal learning that happens in London, you can pick up so much from exhibitions and what’s going on around you every day. It’s a very student-centred place, there are so many spaces that are welcoming to international students. You can use amazing resources like the British Library and Senate House and get just what you want and need for your studies. The British also appreciate curry, cricket and tea, all of which are very important in my life. I needed those basic luxuries away from home!
By giving people the time, space and a place to study in a focused and creative environment these scholarships can be truly life-changing. My time in London has set me up for the next 10 years of my career. The research I began at Goldsmiths is not only helping me to teach and develop my own creative work, but also to run research projects here in South Africa. Everything I am doing now has grown from the consolidated time I had to work at Goldsmiths.
Sharlene took up a post as Associate Professor in Visual Art at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in January 2019 and continues to create her own work.