Friday, 31 July 2015

PoC artists, and the art of creating.

I have been spending the past few weeks thinking about people of colour and mental health issues, by ways of art and literature. 
As a young, black photographer who is also a woman, I am aware of the fact that whatever I make will be boxed into the category of political. Black. Black British. African. Diaspora. Where are you really from? I often feel the pressure of creating work within those specific parameters. My influences and intentions are often dissected and throughly examined, leaving me with nothing but anxiety and a need to please.
I was lucky enough to exhibit my work at this year’s Venice Biennale with Invisible Borders, the Trans-African photography organisation based in Lagos, Nigeria. However I was wildly out of my depth, and it showed. With no formal art school training and adverse feelings towards networking, I had no idea how to talk about myself and my output to the biggest and most influential in the contemporary art word. This is a problem not just restricted to race and gender, but also to class. Maybe if I had moved in different circles, if I wasn’t the only person in my family to have an interest in art, I would have been able to make the most of the opportunity. Instead, I blended into the background, avoided the artist parties and may as well have been a tourist. I wish I could have taken ownership of my position and my work. I think there is something to be said about modesty: the need to not seem big headed, but rather quietly talented, almost unnoticed. A classic girl-done-good success story.
Okwui Enwezor is the first black curator of the Venice Biennale in its decorated history. This was highlighted in virtually every press cutting possible, alongside the fact he had chosen the largest amount of black artists to exhibit than ever before. This year was the outsider’s year. As the biennale opened, critics panned the event for too much of a focus on the political, leaving visitors ‘overwhelmed’ by the apparent negativity of the world. What can you do if you cannot escape the politics of existing? What then? The oft-privileged world of contemporary art cannot or perhaps, does not want to comprehend the worlds of people outside of their narrow circles. Lives full of uncertainty, struggle and discrimination. Why shouldn't these issues be raised on a global platform? I was motivated and inspired by those in contemporary art’s peripheries, making statements for the rest of the world to stand up and take notice. Of them. Of us.
The project chosen by Invisible Borders, “Folkland” is admittedly introspective and political. In it, I explore the notion of DuBois’s double consciousness and existing in the diaspora. Through the medium of photography, I am able to work through feelings of displacement. I have also used the photographer Ingrid Pollard’s work as inspiration in the past, creating a body of work about “blackness” in traditionally white spaces (in this case, the Lake District.) Art helps me to make sense of my world but I’m starting to realise I might not have the steel to make this a career. Not full-time, and not without sacrifice. This world is for the tough skinned, the ones who don’t mind opening up old wounds for strangers to see time after time. 
Case in point: this evening, I received an email from an aspiring curator friend of mine, lamenting the difficulties in trying to build a career having been turned away for many opportunities over the past few months. She is lacking networks, confidence and money to survive. The emotions I felt when I read the email were painful, because in a way, she is me, or rather, I am her. In an age where cultural output and creativity are not truly valued as ‘labour’, many of us are living precarious lives with little stability.
I thought even more about this email outside of the world of art. My friend is my mother, the woman who has been working in the NHS for 25 years yet hasn’t had a pay rise in the past 5, despite the cost of living in the UK increasing year on year. The turmoil it takes to make ends meet is evident. My friend is the mother of a child who asks why black and brown bodies are less valuable. As PoC, our mental health is truly taking a battering, and I’m only too aware of how isolating it can be. How do you find the peace to create if you are constantly filled with doubt?

Solidarity is important when it feels that every breath taken is a political statement. Where to from here? Who knows? Black artists, academics and thinkers are finding their way into institutions and even creating their own spaces to discuss these very issues. There is hope yet. I hope for a time where my work and the work of my peers isn't tokenised and festishised, but merely given the same critique as artists from the West. Events like 1:54 fill me with hope. Collectives such as The Lonely Londoners make me feel less alone, less scared. The tide is turning, slowly but surely. Long live the artists brave enough to open up those aforementioned wounds. I wish I could be more like you.

Monday, 20 July 2015

VOLUME TWO: I'm back!

Having taken several years out of blogging, I decided it was time to start again with a new focus. It can be easy to lose sight of the things that truly interest you. Since my last post, I moved from my hometown of Manchester to East London, and realised how much I document, see and process on a daily basis. With so many institutions and fun happenings right on my doorstep, it's hard not to want to write about it all.

So, here's to Coastal Image, volume 2!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

oporto, portugal

i have to say, i've been extremely lucky to visit a few wonderful european cities over the past few months. i feel like i'm getting to the end of my sporadic travel adventures for now (never say never), and although i probably shouldn't pick a 'favourite' trip, maybe this would be it. although that could be seen as an equivalent to picking a favourite child... all my trips have been great.

last weekend i travelled to portugal's 2nd city, porto, for a short stay with my oldest & best friends. my friend A is studying abroad there so we had a lovely place to stay, as long as we were ok with 3 of us sharing a bed. at first, i was overwhelmed by the stunning architecture, which i feel porto's character is built around. every building looked like a work of art. it was sad to see so many vacant structures, and i spent far too much time daydreaming about what i would do if i had access to such amazing spaces. studio space, mainly...

back to the weekend itself --- it was such a treat. trips to the beach, lots of amazing portuguese food, an introduction to caipirinhas and an enormous erasmus party in a 25 person house that was formerly a primary school. all of the people i met were warm, welcoming, gracious, witty and most of all, determined to have a great time. the more i write, the more i am convinced my words won't do my wonderful experience in this city any justice. i'm not sure my photos will be able to do that either.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

jim naughten's costume and conflict

i feel like i've been slacking majorly on going to photography exhibitions recently, which is a shame as they tend to provide me with the most inspiration for my own work. jim naughten's costume and conflict at london's margaret street gallery is one i'm definitely a little upset to be missing. i've noticed nothing but great reviews all over social media sites, and i have to admit, i cursed everything when i realised i probably won't get a chance to see it in person.

costume and conflict is a series of striking portraits based around a tribe called the herero, based in the southern african nation of namibia. think beautiful outfits from the victorian era with the backdrop of the vast and expansive african desert and you're definitely along the right lines. i have to admit, i was surprised that the thing that struck me the most about these portraits were the intense expressions of the subjects. the significance of these outfits harks back to the time of colonization in namibia (around the 1800s), with the herero tribe embracing the clothing and culture of german missionaries who came to settle on their land.
These portraits are not intended to serve as a conventional documentary of Herero culture. They do not capture the subject in a snapshot of everyday life nor with objects typical of routine or social station. Subjects are removed from their home and intentionally suspended in a confrontational posture. As such, their identity as Herero tribe members is reified in their garments and their gaze, a colour and vibrancy brought into acute focus by the contrasting setting. 
the exhibtion sadly ends on the 13th of this month (this saturday!) so i would definitely advise going and checking it out on my behalf (or yours) - my only consolation is that a book on the series has been released which will take pride of place on my bookshelf very soon. jim naughten's interview with image source is also worth a look, if only to get an insight into the painstaking work that can go into commissions such as these.

all images by jim naughten

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Sunday Smile

I remember how much I used to hate the mere thought of 'Sunday' when I was in primary & secondary school - they came with restrictions and curfews, and there was always the sense of impending doom that I may have forgotten to do a vital piece of homework for the next day. Nowadays, although my days aren't much simpler, I've started to treat my Sundays as a day to relax / catch up on things that may have passed me by during the week. Today, I decided to take some time out to read Kaleidoscope's Summer 2012 'Africa' Issue. It's taken me far too long, and as soon as I started to flick through, I realised why I had gone to the effort of ordering a back copy all the way from Kaleidoscope's offices in Milan.

All images courtesy of RD-OK & Alessio Ascari for the Kaleidoscope "A is for Africa" issue

"In a time when the once-dominant western model is collapsing, the impressive growth of Africa’s economies looks likely to continue and its cultural offer is growing more and more vibrant, exposing the international audience to an incredible offering of art, music, architecture, film, design and fashion."

The issue is, of course, all about Africa and its new 'rising' tag which I feel is still pretty contentious, but exciting to look at all the same. The essays are written by influential artists living on the continent and the diaspora abroad, which made all of the points raised brutally honest. No over-exaggeration, or glossing over the rough bits, which I've noticed can happen when the issue of 'Africa' as a continent is written about. I've definitely been inspired to check out more of Santu Mofokeng's South African photo essays and Ghanaian filmmaker Frances Bodomo's work. I'm a sucker for beautifully printed magazines, and this one doesn't disappoint.

Alongside my bagel and latte, this was the perfect companion to my quiet Sunday. I've also spent the majority of the day playing Laura Welsh's 'Unravel' on loop. Produced by Dev Hynes (who really does seem to be everywhere right now) of Blood Orange/Lightspeed Champion/Test Icicles fame, this really is a great collaboration.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Culture: The Portico Library, Manchester

I have to apologise for lack of blogging. There have been many occasions where I've thought, "I'll have to write about this when I get back", but it's never really happened for some reason. To make up for this, I'm going to post about the various cool places I've had the pleasure of visiting over the past few weeks.

First up is this hidden gem in Manchester city centre, the beautiful Portico Library. When I say hidden gem, I really mean it. Located on Mosley Street, just a few minutes walk away from the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Gardens, it's the perfect place to take a break and admire the large collection of 19th Century literature. The Grade 2 listed building is striking in its Greek revival style architecture and beautifully designed interior. As I found out after I had visited, the Portico Library has a members only collection, but they also host various cultural events for the general public so it's well worth checking out.

The Portico Library is one of those buildings that needs to be seen in the flesh to be truly appreciated - the sense of history and yesteryear hits you as soon as you walk in. Described as "the most refined little building in Manchester," I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would disagree.

For more information, check out their websitetwitter and Eventbrite page.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Photo Diary: A short tour of the South of Holland

I'm going to predict that the majority of bloggers have had the pleasure of visiting my favourite European city, Amsterdam. Easy access with flights from all major UK airports and a short flying time makes this the ideal place for a weekend getaway with friends. Despite the reputation Amsterdam seems to have nowadays (you know, the drugs/Red Light District part), I feel it's the perfect city for soaking up a bit of culture and enjoying the wonderful architecture the Netherlands has to offer.

What I didn't know was that a short train ride away (20 minutes from Schiphol Airport/30 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal), the student city of Leiden has everything you need to escape the bustle of the Dutch capital. Located in Zuid-Holland, Leiden is home to the oldest university in the Netherlands AND a windmill museum. It's also the birthplace of Rembrandt, so if you're into your art, you can have a look around Rembrandtplein - a square with dedicated artwork.

Here are a few things I would recommend you do on a day trip to Leiden:

  • Take 30 minutes or so to walk up the staircase at de Burcht, and enjoy the wonderful views of Leiden when you get to the top. An ancient shell used in times of trouble during the 11th/12th century, there are lots of historical notes scattered along the way. Knowledge is power, as they say.
  • Leiden's main shopping street, Haarlemerstraat, is perfect for your tourist/gift needs. Pop into H&M, or buy stroopwafels and clogs. On this 1km stretch, the choices are seemingly endless.
  • Visit the market that takes over the whole city centre all day Saturday. It feels like the whole of Leiden spends its Saturday wandering around the sprawling stalls, and you can get everything from raw herring to fresh fruit and veg. If nothing else, it's a pretty interesting insight into Dutch living.
  • Quell your hungry in Bagel & Beans, a wonderful cafe located in the city centre. There are 2 branches in Leiden so go to whichever is nearest - you won't regret it. I love to spend my afternoons in cafes, and the food here is simple yet delicious. A wide range of bagels (self explanatory?) with coffees and smoothies to go alongside, I would guess this is popular with the student population.
  • Take the time to walk down the banks of the Rhine, and treat yourself to a cold beer in one of the many riverside bars you'll come across on the way. I can only imagine how busy it gets in summer, but it's definitely worth it for soaking up the relaxing vibes.
  • Lastly, visit some of Leiden's museums/libraries/churches. All beautiful to look at, and perfect for discovering more about this great city.
I think that just about covers everything! Of course, if you have a bit more time, take the 10 minute train journey from Leiden Centraal to Zuid-Holland's capital, The Hague or Den Haag. Home of the Dutch Royal Family and the majority of the Netherlands' foreign embassies and major international organisations (The United Nations and the International Court of Justice, for starters), it's a really exciting city with a gentle buzz about it. Think Amsterdam, with fewer tourists and impressive skyscrapers.

Last weekend taught me there's much more to Holland than Amsterdam, and the ever-efficient Dutch rail system makes it easier than ever to get out and explore.