Inside Kings: The cultural community at King’s and beyond


Dr Kai Syng Tan and Philip Asherson in front of the completed #MagicCarpet.
Photograph courtesy of Studio Maba

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of InTouch.

Collaboration is at the heart of the cultural community at King’s. Working with artists and cultural organisations helps us to develop and illuminate our teaching and research. With projects like King’s Artists, an artists in residence programme that brings together artists and academics to test pioneering approaches, to spaces like the new Science Gallery London at Guy’s campus that connects King’s with London and its communities. These King’s initiatives generate new insights, learning experiences and networks.

Stepping forwards

Munira Mirza, Executive Director of Culture

Over the last five years, the university’s Culture team has supported King’s in developing a distinctive approach to arts and cultural partnerships. These collaborations bring new perspectives to research, drive innovation and enrich education while serving the needs of the cultural sector and, more broadly, society. Munira Mirza joined King’s in January 2019 in a new role as Executive Director for Culture. Munira’s 18-year career has spanned arts, academia, politics and media. She is a former Deputy Mayor for Culture and Education in London (2008–2016), where she led City Hall’s cultural planning for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Speaking about the cultural community at King’s, Munira said:

‘We live in a world where culture plays an increasingly important role – in the economy, politics, health, communities and global exchange. It’s exciting that King’s has led the way in placing culture at the heart of the university and made it integral to its work. I’m excited to build on the strong connections that King’s has developed with London’s cultural and creative sector, and there is an incredibly rich and varied cultural community here which we want to celebrate and strengthen.’

She describes the Culture team as ‘a swiss army knife – a tool that can do many things. The team works across all the faculties on a range of opportunities and challenges, from increasing public engagement in the university’s world-class research to enhancing campus life and co-creating creative educational experiences with students.’

One programme Munira is particularly excited about is the artists in residence programme. She says, ‘King’s Artists is a flagship initiative which places artists in faculties with the aim of generating new and thought-provoking approaches to research.’

We hear from artist, curator and researcher Dr Kai Syng Tan about her involvement with the programme and why it was so rewarding.

An artist and a psychiatrist meet

Dr Tan tells us: ‘I first approached Philip [Asherson, Professor of Molecular Psychiatry,] as I wanted to learn more about my ADHD.’ Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a common neurodevelopmental trait with a wide range of outcomes, including very high achievement for some, and severe impairments for others.

Professor Asherson’s research interests include the phenomena of mind-wandering and how the minds of people with ADHD jump between ideas. Through their conversations, Dr Tan realised there was a connection between this phenomena and the way artists like herself worked, allowing their minds to roam and drawing disparate ideas together.

Dr Tan explains that by working across borders and disciplines she is able to produce what she calls ‘productive antagonisms’. These antagonisms are collisions between different people and ideas that open up new areas of thought that help open up the conversation to a wider audience.

Weaving ideas together

Together, Dr Tan and Professor Asherson created a tapestry, titling the work We sat on a mat and had a chat and made maps! (aka #MagicCarpet), which weaves together research, narratives and questions about mind-wandering and the boundaries between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ behaviour. #MagicCarpet seeks to raise awareness of ADHD and engage wider society in a conversation about how we think about difference, disability, (neuro) diversity and mental health. Their work is contributing to local and national training with healthcare professionals and researchers, and features in an academic paper exploring mind-wandering as a new framework to understand ADHD. The project arose out of Dr Tan’s interactions with Professor Asherson and his fellow academics, as well as with students and diverse communities across London and beyond.

Whilst working on the project, Dr Tan has also been wearing specially designed badges reading ‘Mind-wanderer in action’. As she spoke to more students and staff at King’s, and as they continued these conversations with others, similar badges were handed out, thus ‘infecting’ the university with (conversations about) mind-wandering, ADHD and wellbeing.

Find out about other innovative projects from across the cultural community at King’s.