by Rose Miyonga
The 2017 Golden Globes felt quite special to me.
It felt like the first time in a long while, if not ever, that there was some decent representation, that I could look at the list of people that the establishment had deemed “the best” in television and film, and see a more diverse range of people representing the many stories that touched us this year.
Representation matters! And, I don’t just mean one token person who is not straight, white, male and able-bodied on a show written, produced and directed by a white male. What I mean is a plethora of people telling an array of stories in their diverse voices. What I mean is the use of the arts to expand collective consciousness and aid in dispelling the limited idea of normalcy.
I didn’t grow up thinking that my family was strange; my gorgeous multi-cultural, multi-racial family was my first understanding of the world. I only became aware that the wider world seemed to have more restrictive views of what constituted the most inclusive values in the world: beauty, love, family, struggle…
At its best, television and film, like all the arts, can be a mirror into your soul, shining light on the deepest truths of human existence with love and compassion, inviting us to
contemplate who we are and where we find ourselves in the world. Television has always seemed especially amazing to me because you bring the stories and characters into your home, sometimes over a period of years or even decades.
It can engender intimacy and belonging, but at its worst, it can also encourage feelings of otherness and lacking, a feeling that people who look like you don’t belong in the collective narrative or don’t deserve a space to share their stories. I inhabited this realm for a long time, and only obtained self-love through hard-learning against the popularised lack of representation.
Self-love is really hard when you feel like an island; when it feels as though every message society sends is so foreign to yourself. I grew up in a society that didn’t encourage my self-love, that subliminally, and sometimes explicitly, taught me that I was not enough and that I certainly would never be “the best”.
My society taught me loathsome self-depreciation.
Television used to encourage the most negative feelings for me. But it is gradually becoming a source of delight, a place to go to feel understood and valued.
Some day Viola or Tracee or Thandie will win an award or nominated and it will just be about them.
I hope that day is near, the day when it won’t be remarkable that someone who is colourful and unique and universal can be hailed as the best at what they do and that the next woman of colour to win a Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a comedy or musical television series will not have to wait until 2052.
I hope that my children, whatever their colour, gender identity, or ability will be able to hold the television up to their faces like a mirror and proudly see themselves reflected and represented in the most beautiful and honest light.
For now, their wins are still also our wins. They are part of the long-awaited slow-dawning collective realisation that we, too, represent the world.
by Oyin Akande
Tate Britain hosted its final Late of the year 2016 on Friday with an evening at Millbank aimed at exploring family and belonging through an evening of art, music, and conversation.
The evening brought a peculiar object of the past into discussion with more contemporary issues and culture. Inspired by themes of family and identity in the infamous 17th-century painting, ‘The Cholmondeley Ladies’– a popular favourite at the Tate Britain- the night was aimed at creating a conversation around contemporary communities, family, and heritage. The translatability of the image is remarkable. This type of portraiture was very popular in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods but the linearity and the non-naturalism of the image are very familiar tropes to the contemporary eye.
The painting of the Cholmondeley Ladies is shrouded in an attractive mystery. The artist is unknown and, indeed, the identities of the figures are ambiguous. The image is of ‘Two Ladies of the Cholmondeley Family, Who were born the same day, Married the same day, And brought to Bed [gave birth] the same day’, as the inscription states, yet there is nothing in the genealogical tables either to support or refute the assumption that the subjects were twins or even sisters, which is the general assumption. They might only have married into the Cholmondeley family and the fact that they shared the same birthday could be explained as pure coincidence. Nevertheless, they share a strong resemblance.
A superficial glance will inform you that the figures are identical but the painting plays games and you are continuously finding idiosyncrasies with increased familiarity with the work.
Nadine Ijewere’s work offers such an interesting dialogue with the 17th-century oil painting. The Jamaican-Nigerian photographer struggled with her own mixed identity and the disconnection she felt from her heritage growing up in London. She developed an interest in people and culture and used her photographs to explore it. “I’m interested in how other people identify and celebrate who they are and where they’re from,” she explains.
Ijewere started Same//Difference, a personal project, to explore family and heritage through physical traits of siblings. Her project mainly documents non-Caucasian women as she hopes to give a platform to under-represented ethnicities and identities. She is interested in sisters stating that ‘being a sister and having sisters is special. Sisters share strong bonds. And that bond stretches further too, between women, uniting them and helping them recognize the beauty within one another’, in an interview with i-D magazine earlier this year.
I am a particular fan of the way she uses closeness and intimacy in the photographs. Her subjects are in contact with each other in away, perhaps only siblings can be. Faces are typically touching, sisters are in a comfortable embrace- one sibling might subtly mirror the other . The obvious resemblances of the siblings are only highlighted by the beauty of their differences. Next to on another, these sisters exhibit and celebrate their collective heritage. But as the eye moves across the image, almost disconcertedly, you discover their individualisms. And it is mystifying.
Elements of the Same//Difference project has also recently been used in the Gap #doyou Fall 2016 campaign.
Late at the Tate:Generation also featured a photography exhibition documenting black diasporic communities in London in the 60s and 70s, ‘Stan Firm Inna Inglan: Black Diaspora in London, 1960-1970’, featured eight photographers: Raphael Albert, Bandele ’Tex’ Ajetunmobi, James Barnor, Colin Jones, Neil Kenlock, Dennis Morris, Syd Shelton and Al Vandenberg, whose photographs were as varied as their backgrounds and experiences of London. Many were vibrant, such as the nightlife culture and the interracial couples that fascinated Ajetunmobi after he stowed away to London from Nigeria, and the large community living in an Islington council housing project that features in former dancer of the English Royal Ballet Colin Jones’ The Black House 1973-76. But they could also be dark, such as the work of Dennis Morris- the photographer famous for his images of Bob Marley– whose London certainly appears more bleak and dangerous. The exhibition is a documentation of community through the literal lens of people within these communities. It is interesting to think how these fit next to the prevailing narratives that have been handed down to us about black communities of this time. The exhibition marks a moment where control over our representation was returned to the black man (literally ‘men’, would have been great to have some female names).
Artist Zak Ove and I have known each other for years, having grown up around a similar sub-cultural London melting pot where North London met West London over a couple of decade’s worth of music, parties, clubs and off-the-grid creativity. He, like me, is half Trinidadian, and we both have a lot in common when it comes to our fathers. Zak’s father is filmmaker/photographer Horace Ove, one of the leading Carribean movers and shakers of 60’s and 70’s London. Whenever we’re together there seems way too much to talk about, our stories overlap (my father was a London-based journalist during the 60’s) each other with zeal and I always leave him feeling that our Trini-trailblazing heritage, in all its crazy imperfection, triumph over adversity and tragedy, has given us incredibly strong themes to create with, and more significantly, a strong sense that we are continuations of our father’s journeys.
Our features editor, Oyin Akande, put together this piece on his most recent work at the entrance of Somerset House, London.
You might have seen the graphite army camped outside Somerset House in early October this year. Zak Ové installed “Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness”, 40 solemn-faced Nubian-black statues standing 2 metres high in the courtyard of Somerset House for the annual 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair on the 6th-9th October, during Frieze Week. With Art Basel Miami about to kick off, the artist has also set up an installation at the Untitled Art Fair in Miami, which opened yesterday.
At Miami, ‘The Invisible Men’ return- the name given to the figures assembled in London earlier this year. The statues are undoubtedly protest-ful. The site-specific installation at Somerset House references a play, which was performed at the former 17th century palace that featured players in ‘blackface’. The ‘hands up’ gestures that invited visitors to mimic and interact with the figures are almost channelling the tensions across the pond and the political ‘don’t shoot’ symbolism employed in the Black Lives Matter movement.
With the statues now installed on American soil, Ové augments the allusion by painting two of the three figures on display in American red, white and blue, creating tension on the bodies. It is somewhere between extreme patriotism and clownish mockery. Fascinatingly, Ove uses location lends to their potency and they have gained new significance in their new place, yet these towering figures seem resolutely unmovable. So, Ové’s work is undoubtedly as permeable as it is salient- his installation of ‘Moko Jumbies’ was exhibited last year in the Great Court of the British Museum. They will be moved to the Africa Galleries where Ové as the first Caribbean artist to enter the museum’s permanent collection.
The artist is London-born with Trinidadian roots and works with sculpture, photography, and film. His work is informed by ‘lost culture’ and African and diasporic history- the sculptures were likened to China’s terracotta warriors or the Easter Island monoliths.
These naked black figures are undoubtedly reminiscent of traditional African figures, almost like larger-than-life Kotas (right) on which Zak Ové can write his expression and politics. His work is more generally about a conversation between old and contemporary methods and materials.
We’re looking forward to seeing Zak continuing to clash cultures, deconstructing and reforming our ever-evolving African Diaspora.
Post by Kay
Gabrielle from thenublk.com kindly sent Thandie & I a selection of artwork from her collective.
In amongst our booty were two badges from 27 year-old, Nigerian-born Dorcas Magbadelo.
I got in touch via Instagram and asked her for an interview!
I’d describe myself as a creator. For the longest time I wasn’t quite comfortable with the term “artist” I didn’t really feel that I deserved it or that it adequately described what I do. I think for me creator sounds more accurate; I like to create whether it’s an image, a brooch, a written piece, a sketch etc.
I was born in Nigeria but grew up in London. I’ve only been back once, when I was 21.
I’ve struggled with my sense of identity; being somewhat part of two cultures; but not fully part of either. I don’t think I was aware of it until I went to secondary school. There were probably about 20 non-white people in my year group; and I’d never really questioned my blackness when I was younger, but adolescence changed that.
Whenever someone complimented me on “not being too dark” I was happy. I was ignorant. I think not having access to social media the way it is now; being able to easily connect to more people who think and feel like you do, was quite damaging to me because I felt like an anomaly.
I wasn’t black or Nigerian enough for the black people in my school; but I wasn’t really English either. I had a very narrow definition of what blackness was and it took me until I was about 19/20 to really consider my blackness as my own; something to figure out and mold for myself, not what other people projected onto me.
I was really inspired by the characters in the books I read. I wanted to be as brave, interesting, self-assured as they were. I was also inspired by historical figures. The story of Queen Boadicea really resonated with me for some reason.
I actually wanted to write. I should’ve knocked out a few books by now; I had so many ideas for stories; all involving young girls who looked like me but had much more interesting lives! I also wanted to design clothes, and cook professionally.
I think I just wanted to try something new; and it’s been amazing seeing a tangible version of my illustrations. I quite like the idea of transporting my work everywhere you go, of someone wearing several of my badges; like a magical black girl super squad.
Brianna McCarthy, Sara Golish, Henry Matisse, Daniela Yohannes, Kehinde Wiley, Victor Ekpuk, Toyin Odutola
When I first started drawing again (early 2015), I drew inspiration from fashion images found via Tumblr. They were mainly of white woman, and I just thought it was slightly ridiculous that I wasn’t drawing women who looked like me.
I’m deeply inspired by the shared cultural experiences of women of colour. Women of colour are consistently told through the media and wider society that we’ll never be good enough because we’ll never be thin enough, smart enough, sexual enough or pious enough; because we’re not white enough and never will be. Black women get a particularly rough time in the media.
Everything we do is viewed first through the colour of our skin. If we’re desired it’s through the lens of whiteness or through a dehumanizing fetish. We’re over emotional, we’re too angry, we “ask for it”.
Too light and you think you’re white. Too dark and you’re ugly and undesirable.
When I was growing up the women that were held up as standards of beauty or grace or intelligence or elegance were exclusively white or light-skinned. I am neither. I consider myself and every black woman regardless of their shade of brown skin just a beautiful, graceful, intelligent as anyone (actually I’m incredibly clumsy so maybe not that graceful!).
I want my work to be as authentic as possible – so I decided to focus on the subject I’ve struggled with, fought with, cried over the most, the subject I’ve come to know very well; my blackness and how I identify around it. At the moment my work is focused on black women and femininity, but I’ve been thinking a lot on black male masculinity also, so I’d like to explore that too.
Currently I have art prints, lino prints, brooches/badges and greeting cards
I’ve always wanted to branch out into fashion, in particular printing my own fabrics. I’d love to explore the range of things I can create from my illustrations/designs. Wallpaper, maybe ceramics or homewares. I’d like to try lots of different outlets and see what I like and maybe settle into different mediums. At some point I’d like to combine all the “crafty” things I do like sewing, collages, printmaking into mixed media pieces. I also like to write (as you can probably tell from some of my long responses!) so I’d love to write a collection of essays, or short stories, or just some of my random thoughts.
To keep creating and be able to make a living from it; that would enable me to travel, exhibit my work, meet and collaborate with a wide range of creative people. I’ve been amazed at the people I’ve managed to reach out to, and those that have reached out to me via Instagram, Email, Facebook Tumblr etc just from me working in my bedroom in South East London! So I can’t imagine how much more connections I could make if I could travel more. I’d also love for my work to have a social impact. I don’t know how yet; but it’s something I’m thinking deeply about; praying about; just about how I can be a positive influence in the world.
I work in School Administration. There’s a lot of behind the scenes work that people don’t realise goes into running a school. It can be incredibly frustrating, but I really like working with young people and I don’t think I could do anything else as a “day job” and not hate it.
Personal acceptance. Of who you are, how you look, what you like/dislike/love. I want my work invoke a sense of belonging; of letting you in, of kinship; family. I really don’t like work that makes people feel excluded or feel like they need a superior intellect to understand it. I think my work is quite straightforward, but you can still enjoy it and gain something from it
I’m a Christian and I believe in God the Creator. I think the curiosity that I have and the desire to create comes from my faith. I can’t imagine that everything we are; we have is the result of a cosmic accident. So I’m always trying to push the boundaries of what I can imagine, what I can perceive and then interpret through my drawings or the things I make. Maybe it’s my way of trying to understand God more or trying to get closer to Him, I’m not really sure; it’s just something I have to do, I honestly can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
Creativity is an outlet. It’s healing but for some reason society suppresses it, trivializes it or makes it seem like only certain people can be creative. We all have the capacity to create something and I wish people focused more on harnessing their passions and creativity than striving for more status, power, wealth etc.