• ‘It Chose Me’: One Self Taught Artist to the World | London, UK

    EAS artist and writer Uji Venkat in conversation with artist Sharon Adebisi.

    (click on images to enlarge)

    Sharon enjoys documenting her world travels in photography and writing. Here she is at The Grand Palace in Thailand, 2018.

    Sharon is a self-taught painter based in London, England. Her work was chosen to be a part of Emergent Art Space’s Calling Across the Distance online exhibition in June. After following in her parents footsteps and earning a degree in the biological sciences, she volunteered in a rural village in Cambodia for 3 months. She discovered the significance of art and its use as a communication tool within society. Since then, Sharon's art has been a reflection of her mind. As she travels through her twenties, she aims to create a visual journal of this self discovery through contemporary portraiture. 

    She recently traveled to Ghana, to understand the roots of her heritage. Her trip inspired her current series. She explores her identity in layers as a black British woman. Sharon inherently identifies as born black, next with her Nigerian culture, and lastly, British.  

    Tell me about when you realized you wanted to be an artist.

    I don’t think I ever really chose to be an artist, it chose me. It started off with me just enjoying drawing and using it to entertain myself when I was a kid. Then as I grew older, I’d use my drawing and painting skills to create inexpensive birthday gifts for my friends (to appease my bank account!).

    “Free the Fro” 2019, Acrylic on Canvas, 60x75cm

    Over time, more people started to notice the work I was doing for friends and would ask me to paint stuff for them for a fee. I did this for a few years, especially during university to help me financially through my degree. People started calling me an artist, and I guess I just started to own it! It was during university that I then decided to create my art brand ARTBYADEBISI.

    As a self-taught artist, how did you learn and hone your skills as an artist? 

    Academically, I didn’t take art at a level any higher than sixth form (high school) because whilst I liked doing it for fun, it didn’t really feel like a passion at the time. Secondary school and sixth form taught me the basics in terms of colours, shading, and sketching, but the rest of my skills were learned from practise and visiting art galleries. The more works of art I observed, the more inspired I felt to create; and the more I created, the better I became. 

    How did this lead to the development of your work?

    Visiting different art galleries and exhibitions and seeing a variety of weird and wacky artwork made me see the beauty in abstract pieces, which steered me away from creating traditional art, to more unconventional pieces. I now create paintings of people without faces, landscapes that lack depth and dimensions and I use unrealistic colours to portray realistic objects. And I love the result!

    “The Foreigner,” 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 80x100cm

    What challenges did you encounter in your art and how did you overcome them?

    In the beginning stages of establishing my art business, painting started to feel like a chore and just a business transaction. Due to demands from commissions, I never had enough time or energy to create pieces for myself. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. In fact, I started to detest it. To overcome this feeling, I decided to stop doing commissions altogether.

    Around the same time, I graduated from university. Leaving the bubble of full-time education and joining the adult workforce was an emotional rollercoaster. I found myself leaning towards painting to visually journal my barrage of thoughts and experiences. Using art to self-reflect and process the changes around me led me to fall in love with it again. And now, due to stopping commissions and only creating from the heart, my art has gained recognition globally, been exhibited, sold, and shortlisted in competitions of all sorts! I definitely believe I made the right decision.

    “The Overwhelmed Foreigner I” 2020 from the Ghana Series (2/4), Acrylic on Canvas, 60x75cm

    What are you working on now?

    I am currently expanding my Ghana series; a series of paintings based on my experience traveling to Africa for the first time earlier this year. This series explores the realities of being a British-African hybrid with an uncertainty of where to label as ‘home’ and narrates the emotions I felt at different stages of my trip to Ghana.

    It starts off with 'The Foreigner' where before I departed, I portray my initial reservations about how I felt like I was going to be treated upon arrival to Ghana.

    'The Overwhelmed Foreigner' with its immense colours and flurry of activity depicts how I felt after I arrived, especially when I visited a market in the city of Kumasi.  

    'The Acclimatised Foreigner' is one of the final paintings in the series, where after being in Ghana for over 2 weeks, I was starting to feel a lot more at home.

    “The Overwhelmed Foreigner II” 2020 from the Ghana Series (2/4), Acrylic on Canvas, 60x75cm

    Can you tell me about your choice to not paint facial features in the Ghana series? I love that the defining features are ones that we have choice over: hairstyle, clothing, posture, color, surroundings.

    So about a year ago, when I was facing some challenging times, being rejected from medical school for the 12th time, I lost a sense of my identity. I no longer felt like I knew who I really was and would portray this in my art by painting blurred out, faceless portraits. In my solitude, I started reading books by black authors such as Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Yaa Gyasi and Imbolo Mbue, and began to learn a lot more about what it means to be black. My identity was slowly restored the more books from black authors I read, and I started to feel more confident in who I was as a black woman. Reading these books moved me from a state of an identity crisis, to being certain of one thing--my blackness, and I began to portray that certainty in my art by painting portraits with pure black faces and skin. My choice to not paint any other facial features and keep just the faces black stems from the fact that I am still trying to figure out who I am, but for now, the one thing I’m sure of about myself is my blackness. 

    “The Acclimatised Foreigner,” 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 76x61cm

    In what direction would you like to expand your work?

    Whilst I still want to maintain my current style, with saturated colours and negative space, I want to experiment with different materials, such as gold leaf, and work on different bases, like glass or wood. I also want to make my work more educational. I want to use my art as a tool to teach people about black history and culture within Africa, Britain and other parts of the world.

    As an artist, do you work with other media beyond paint? 

    I only work professionally with paint for the time being, as I find it to be my strongest way to visually articulate emotions I have felt. I do dabble with photography when I travel, but it’s more to just capture aesthetically pleasing sights. I only feel comfortable labelling my work as ‘art’ when it captures my emotions and mind frames, which my photography lacks. 

    What initiated your trip to Ghana earlier this year? 

    I travelled to Ghana to undertake a medical work placement there. Aside from art, I am interested in science and medicine, with my first degree in Physiology and Pharmacology, and my upcoming degree in Medicine. I chose Ghana specifically for this work placement because I wanted to learn more about the culture, especially of the Asante people and visit the Cape Coast to learn more about the transatlantic slave trade, directly from one of its sources. 

    “Layers” 2019, Acrylic on Canvas

    Your art and travel diaries express an awareness that we are living in a global, interconnected world. How has this impacted your work as an artist?

    In 2017, I volunteered for a few months in Cambodia to help boost youth employability. During my time there, I lived with the loveliest Cambodian host family. But there was one problem. We couldn’t understand each other. I only knew tiny scraps of Khmer, whilst they knew virtually no English. So being unable to verbally communicate due to the language barrier, I would instead use drawings to engage with them. During my time there, I created art purely for communicative purposes and it felt sooo good doing so. This fulfilling experience definitely played a part in my decision to start only creating artworks that express my mind.

    Sometimes art can reach places in communication that words can’t. Even though we are in such an interconnected society, especially with tools such as social media, differences in our languages still pose a huge barrier in our connection. But at times, art can overcome this.

     

    What advice do you have for young artists around the world? 

    Never compare your art journey to someone else’s. Just focus on yourself and invest time, money (yes, money! your skill is worth it), energy and consistency into your craft. In due time, you will see results.

     

    See Sharon's 'Ghana Series' here.

    More information about Sharon and her artwork can be found on her website.

  • The Power of Art | Juba, South Sudan

    Gail Prensky, creator, executive producer and director  of The Jüdische Kulturbund Project, dedicated to exploring issues of oppression and response through music and art, shares her interview with young South Sudan artist Akot Deng Agoth. 

    Gail Prensky and Akot Deng Agoth in Juba

    South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been torn apart by ethnic conflicts and civil wars for many years since. Very recently, on 22 February 2020, a national unity government was formed, opening the door to a peaceful resolution of the conflicts and hopefully to the end of the violence.

     

    'Vision'  by Akot Deng Agoth  | Acrylic on canvas, (90x69cm), 2020

    GP: You live in South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world.  What would you like to tell people who know little or nothing about South Sudan, specifically about its art and culture?

    ADA: Well apart from that our people are tall and they have a good figure... and I think our ladies are really good as fashion models...  South Sudan  has a very unique culture and diversity of its people: sixty-four tribes with different cultures, dress and marks.

    'Diversity'  by Akot Deng Agoth  | Acrylic on canvas, (80x80 cm), 2017

     

    Currently the arts in South Sudan are moving in the right direction, mostly in last ten years.  [I am] happy that others are presenting us [South Sudan artists]  internationally, which is something very good.

    GP: What is the power of art and artists?

    ADA: Artists have a very big power that is reflected  in the art  itself.  It is also powerful in educating people and giving awareness.  This is what we are doing currently during this pandemic.  Other works showcase issues what we have worked on before, for example gender-base violence and child abuse ....and so on.  So we artists have tools that can make a change.

     

    'Calmness'  | Oil pastel on paper, (70x50 cm)  ||| 'A Lady', both by Akot Deng Agoth  | Acrylic on canvas, (70x50 cm), 2017
    'Hope' by Akot Deng Agoth  | Acrylic on canvas, (50_40 cm), 2020

     

    GP: How do you think you and your artwork affects other people?

    ADA: It is good to see your impact in your own community, in a positive way.  Yes, I am doing my part, hoping  that I can create something good for my country and what we are after: peace and unity.

    GP: What inspires/motivates you in creating art?

    ADA: Sometimes [I get inspiration] from my surrounding environment.  Also my imagination, that I translate to a visual work that can be seen by others.

    GP: What are your favorite art medium/media and why?

    ADA: I love oil paint because it can last for a long time, like in the famous paintings of the past.  I really enjoy oil paint, but currently I am dealing mostly with acrylic paints because they are more available than the oil paints.

    'Peace Must Hold' | Acrylic on the wall (250x100 cm), ANATABAN mural, 2020

    GP: And what about your artwork that depicts peace and unity for South Sudan?

    ADA: Well, my work concentrates on things that can help to bring us to together as one--to the peace that is most wanted right now in South Sudan.

    GP: During the pandemic, there have been efforts to paint murals around the country. 

    Who are the artists painting them and how would you describe their impact?

    'Use Mask' | Acrylic on wall, (300x300), ANATABAN mural, 2020

    ADA: Well, I am happy to be one of this group.  Actually the artists are from the umbrella of Visual Art Association in South Sudan (VAA).  Works are made by many artist including #Anataban and others initiatives like the Fight Against Coronavirus initiative.  The aim is to give the right information to the public and it is really, really helping.

    GP: You are a member of ANATABAN.  Can you tell me about them and their artwork?

    ADA: ANATABAN is a youth initiative [comprised of artists, musicians, and activists]. Their main aim is to promote and initiate peace among the youth themselves, by creating a peaceful environment for all.

    GP: Are you planning an exhibition of your work that has a particular theme?

    ADA:  Yes, I am now planning to have works done on the theme: Life Should Go On ...

     

    'Be Calm, Stay at Home' | Oil paint on iron sheet ||| 'Use Mask' | Oil paint on iron sheet, (509x300 cm)--Fight Against Corona Initiative, South Sudan group work, 2020
    'Corona Awareness' | Oil paint and spray on iron sheet (3000x150 cm), Visual Art Association group work, 2020

    GP: Anything else you would like people to know or you would like to share?

    ADA:  Just that  I have really learned a lot in this pandemic.  That we are united to overcome anything that comes our way.

    GP: You are involved with The Jüdische Kulturbund Project that explores issues of oppression and response through music and art.  How does your art express your feelings/concerns about issues of oppression?

    ADA: Art and music responses are amazing all across the world. I have been involved in creating beautiful murals and experienced amazing performances by the musicians.  I think artists have created very powerful ways of awareness, especially here in South Sudan where  the majority of people can't read and write.

    'Keep Social Distancing' | Acrylic on wall, (300x20 cm), ANATABAN mural, 2020

    Photo credits — All photos are courtesy of Akot Deng Agoth


     

    ABOUT THE ARTIST

     

    Born in 1992 in Alobjed, Sudan, Akot Deng Agoth graduated from the college of the Arts, Music and Drama, Department of Fine Arts at the University of Juba in 2017. He is a member of ANATABAN and the Hope Society in South Sudan.  Akot’s talent was
    identified at an early age when he began drawing people and animals.
    He fulfilled his dream of becoming a professional artist through his studies in fine arts.
    His work, characterized by realistic, semi-realistic, abstract and mixed-media imagery
    has been included in numerous local, regional and international exhibitions.

     

     

     

  • ‘Stay True’: The powerful works and words of Eze Mariagoretti Chinenye

    EAS artist and writer Uji Venkat in conversation with Nigerian artist Eze Mariagoretti Chinenye.

     

    Born and raised in the state of Enugu, she now resides in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Mariagoretti was the overall winner of the 11th Spanish Visual Art Competition in 2016 and Life in My City Arts Festival in 2012. She studied art at the Institute of Management and Technology to get her Higher National Diploma (HND) and is currently working on her masters' degree in Fine Art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

    Through collections of her photographs, Mariagoretti tells stories of how society and its surroundings affect individuals. In her work, 'Nobody Has to Know', she documents the isolation and trauma of child abuse. Upon first glance, an audience may only see the wounded figure cowering. However, in addition to the child depicted as a part of each piece, she envelops the subject with Moringa seeds which have curative powers. 

    You can see more images of her work on her website:  http://ezemariagorettichinenye.visura.co/

    How and when did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

    As a child, my interest was mainly in drawing. I drew on walls, sandy grounds, and books. I realized I had to pursue my passion after secondary school because, while in school, I was always receiving gifts for being the “best student in fine arts.” I started to call myself an artist during my final undergraduate year. By that time, I was already so confident in my art practice.

    “Behind my Smile,” Photography 2017

    I learned my basic [art] skills from school. I subscribed to some online photography newsletters, so I get mail from them, and I read them up. In my free time, I tried out my discoveries. I also studied some photographers whose styles appeal to me.

    Are there any artists or people that inspired you to pursue your work in art?

    As an undergraduate student, I was only focused on producing artworks which were basically my class assignments. Then, I was not bold enough to call myself an artist, and I was scared of art exhibitions. I had three lecturers: Dr. Okay Ikenegbu, Dr. Ayo Adewunmi, and Mr. Emeka Egwuibe who inspired me at that time. They encouraged me to start putting out my works for exhibitions. Finally, I summoned up the courage to enter an exhibition and surprisingly my work was sold. That was the first money I earned from my art, and that made me really happy.

    You quote Chinua Achebe¹ in your Emergent Art Space portfolio profile excerpt. Does his writing have special significance to you?

    Yes, it does, especially this: “art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.” I like his concept for the definition of art.

    Your photographs are so emotional, even though many don’t reveal details of the characters’ faces. The images shrouded in darkness, the postures, and the contortions are all so evocative. Where do you pull your inspiration from?

    “Mythification of Womanhood 3”, Eze’s exhibited work in “The Last Image Show” in Dar es Salaam, September 2018

    I get inspiration from my inner feelings and my environment. As an artist, I am interested in creating works that call for the participation of the audience to the same extent as my own involvement in the artwork. I love to create works with conceptual attributes.  It contributes to the appreciation of my works. As every artwork is made in the context of a particular society, it thereby addresses the issues of that society.

    What challenges did you encounter in your art and how did you overcome them?

    First, by defining the area of photography that I want to be identified with and [figuring out how to create a unique path for myself. Knowing that my work will be perceived individually, I decided to bring conceptual qualities into my work. This helps to relate my intent to the viewer.

    What was your experience with Emergent Art Space and being in the international exhibition 'Last Image Show' in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania?

    It was quite inspiring, seeing from different interpretations [of the theme of silence] from different perspectives and from different creative minds. It was an artists’ environment. To me, it was quite a good exposure [for my work] and getting to see what other artists, in other places, are doing. It was quite inspiring.

    Eze’s image of Saadatu. Saadatu’s impairment was caused by polio. Once a street beggar, she decided to quit in order to gain self-respect and engage in skillful work. She now makes and sells bedspreads such as the one photographed

    What are you working on now?

    I am working on two projects right now, involving photography and photographic prints.

    1. Challenging Your Challenges 

    This series is an ongoing long-term project focused on people who are with a physical, sensory or developmental disability as a result of congenital defects, hereditary and environmental influences, accidents and diseases. The key concept of the project is to reshape the misconceptions and representation of disability in photography. It is about people that are pushing beyond limits. They have overcome self-pity and sympathy not minding their conditions.

    1. Nobody Has to Know

    This work is a visual representation of the increasing number of child sexual assault in our society. This series calls attention to child molestation and the negative effect on the victim. Any child who is a victim of sexual abuse dies in silence, experiences emotional trauma, feels isolated and this makes the victim highly secretive and afraid to talk because of what the consequences might be--not being believed, punishment, blame or abandonment. This makes her lonely in her world. This abuse is usually accompanied by the threat “nobody should know.”

    What advice do you have for other young artists?

    1 of 3 from Eze’s series “Nobody Has to Know” collection, an exploration of Moringa seeds on photographic print

    Just one thing, to stay true to yourself. As an artist, you are being called. There is a divine cause that calls for your creation.

    Research is very important. Be open to exploring technique, and medium, be determined, be patient, be authentic in your approach, and stay consistent in your practice; results are never instant.

     


    ¹ Chinua Achebe is a renown Nigerian writer, novelist and critic.

     

  • ‘A Year in the Life of an Artist’: in conversation with EAS community member Nathi Khumalo | Johannesburg, South Africa

     It has been a productive year for South African artist Nathi Khumalo, actively engaged in artists collectives, art incubators, residencies, exhibitions, as well as curating, including co-curating a show of South African artists in New York. Congratulations, and thank you for sharing the news!

    "Iphakathi: Ripple Effect", AfroLuso Experimental Residency, Modzi Arts, Lusaka, Zambia, 2019. Photo by Nathi Khumalo

    How has your work evolved in the last year?  What new influences,  interests or themes are you exploring?  

    Yes, my work has certainly changed, as I'm doing a project based on identity and how fluid it is, rather than a solid form. Through the Modzi Arts Experimental Residency , that I was invited to attend in Lusaka, Zambia, I created a project called "Iphakathi Ripple Effect", a continuation from the 2018 "Iphakathi" ("in between" in Zulu). This one was influenced by the recent xenophobic attacks that occurred in South Africa in September 2019.  To the multiple questions that the locals were expecting me to have answers, like "Why is this happening? How can this happen?", the only way I could respond to address the issues that came up was through photography.

    "Iphakathi" series on our identities that we construct through clothes and the meanings we attach to them. Talent Unlocked Mentorship at Turbine Art Fair, 2018. Photo by Nathi Khumalo.

    Tell us about any exhibits you have recently been involved in.

    My work was showcased in a recent international group show Building Bridges Yangon, promoted by Emergent Art Space, which took place  in July 2019 at the Old  Tourist Burma Building in Yangon, Myanmar.

    During August and September '19, I was in a residency with three other visual artists in Lusaka, Zambia, and the outcome was showcased at the Modzi Gallery.

    Recently I was invited to a local festival in Soweto--Makhelwane Fest, where I showed the work Ripple Effect for the first time in South Africa since returning from Zambia.

    Off Market / Off to Market opening - Photo Incubator Edition 4, BLD Collective at Market Photo Workshop, March 2019.

    I worked on different projects for the BLD [Between Life and Death] Collective and the Market Photo Workshop (MPW), including a family archive which was part of the photography incubator -- Edition Four that launched on 30 March 2019.

    Between Life and Death Collective (BLD) is an organization of photographers, multi-media and post-production artists. Our vision is to shape critical thinking, create our own narratives by employing photography as an educational tool.

     

    Off Market / Off to Market opening - Photo Incubator Edition 4, BLD Collective at Market Photo Workshop, 1989 Gallery, March 2019.   Left: Sanele Moya (BLD Collective), Leboganag Thlako, Nathi Khumalo (BLD Collective), Nocebo Bucibo, Tsepo Gumbi, Bekie Ntini (Incubator Coordinator).   Right:  Discussion on The Archive: Kabelo Malasti and Legketho Makola in the audience.  Photos by Thando Ngidi.

     

    "Transitions: South Africa", group exhibition by Market Photo Workshop alumni at the Bronx Documentary Center, New York, United States of America. Installation photo by Cebisile Mobnani.

    I understand that you co-curated a show in New York City this year.  Tell us about the show, how you got involved and what the experience was like.

    Yes, I did co-curate a photography group exhibition with Khona Dlamini (KD), Lekgetho Makola (LM), Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera. I was approached by LM, head of the Market Photo Workshop, and KD, Manager of Public Programming, about a show that the school was invited to bring to the Bronx Documentary Center. The show was the result of a collaboration between a team from the Bronx Documentary Center and Market PhotoWorkshop. My role was to bring about a concept and selecting the artists and artworks to present to both institutions.

    "Transition: South Africa", group exhibition by Market Photo Workshop alumni at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York, U.S.. Installation photo by Cebisile Mobnani.

    The title of the exhibition was Transitions: South Africa. I must say that putting together this exhibition was really challenging, since time and space were a huge factor. But we managed to pull together something special, that also celebrated thirty years since Market Photo Workshop was founded.

    Fstop Club SA, Photo Incubator Edition Three. Kids from Fundujabulilie from the University of Johannesburg, Soweto and Buyaphi University. Students creating their own Zines during the opening, October 2019. Photo by Siphoshile Mkhwanazi.

    The exhibition in fact honored three decades of photography, multimedia training and public programming, to help bring photography to the forefront of social consciousness in South Africa and around the world. Photography was introduced to Africa via the colonial gaze, but Market Photo Workshop  has helped shift the dynamic to new stories that challenge former degrading and racist perspectives.

    The feedback was great and I learned a lot during this process. Going to New York was certainly like a dream. The art scene was amazing. The highlights were definitely the Bronx Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. The work I saw there was incredible.

    This is the second exhibition that I curated. The first show I did was at the U-care Center in Park Station Johannesburg.  That too showed works by alumni of Market Photo Workshop. What was different was that this was not a gallery space, but a medical facility.

    Left: Fstop Club SA, Edition Two. Images on display, August 2019. Installation Photo by Ludwick Ramalira.      Right: "UKUDINGISWA" Zine for AfroLuso Experimental Residency. Photo by Nathi Khumalo, Freedom Statue in Lusaka, Zambia, August 2019.
    Fstop Club SA, Edition One opening. Co-Founders Sipho Gongxeka , Siphosihle Mkhwanzi and Nathi Khumalo with the logo, May 2019. Photo by Ludwick Ramalira.

    What are you learning from these recent experiences?  Is it shifting your thinking and influencing your work in new ways?  If so, how?

    My experience keeps shifting, as I am always, too, trying to find new methods in my processes. I am also working to create a new community of visual artist who are interested in showing their work in alternative formats, through the FStop Club SA, a company that I co-founded in late 2018 with Sipho Gongxeka and Siphosihle Mkhwanzi. We are interested in self-publishing photo-books and zine-making, as a new and innovative way to showcase our art works.

    What are the next steps for you? What new projects are you working on?

    This year I look forward to continuing the work I've done with the collective and Club respectively. I also want to grow my own projects and, hopefully, finally get a solo show that I can present to the public.

    ......................................................................................................................

     

    Nathi Khumalo is a visual practitioner from Johannesburg, South Africa, His work varies from personal works that interrogate his home and the different relationships and spaces in his life, to social commentary on a variety of topics, including consumerism, and issues of representation. 
    He is a member of the collective “Between Life and Death”. In 2018 he co-founded FSTOP CLUB SA, a company focused on promoting self publishing ideas and innovative ways to display artworks, through Zine making and photobooks. 
    Khumalo’s work has also been exhibited in South Africa, Zambia, India and Myanmar.

     

    For more updates, you can follow Bhande_Nathi on Instagram, Facebook and Emergent Art Space.

     

  • ‘How Are We Showing Up in the World?’ | Oakland, California

    EAS correspondent Uji Venkat in conversation with American emerging artist, Jasmine Brown. 

     

    Jasmine and I discussed her journey as an emerging artist and the development of creative, socially cognizant work. In the past Jasmine found herself frustrated by employment opportunities that did not place her in proximity to her dreams. Her new mantra is, “How am I showing up in the world?”  Instead of trying to fit into prescribed roles she currently strives to carve out space for creativity in her work, drawing inspiration from poets like Nayyirah Waheed, and activist organizations such as Essie Justice Group and the BlackFemaleProject.  

    Jasmine Brown
    Artist: @visual_lit
    Title: Ascension
    Medium: Photography
    Model: Jenné Afiya @left_thigh
    Quote: “You can have powers all day, many of us have powers, most of us have a power whether that is the gift of being able to be clairvoyant, hearing spirits, most people do, they ignore that or they use them to manipulate people that’s just big facts.
    Use your power wisely. “- Jenné Afiya
    Description: check out @visual_lit ‘s blog for the full story and if you aren’t already following please follow @sugarwater_gallery

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Uji: Tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and go to school?

    Jasmine: I am from Oakland, California. As far as my background, I was raised by my mother who, at the time, “forcibly” made me listen and watch things pertaining to black cultural iconography. Anything she felt I needed to know. I recall being very agitated by her insistence when I was younger. I would always ask why these things were important. I did not realize until I got to college how much my upbringing shaped how I saw and navigated the world. I really did not grasp how much these cultural lessons from my mother would come to influence my decision to pursue a degree in African American studies with an emphasis in Film and Television from UCLA.

    To backtrack, I was in undergraduate school, planning to graduate. I’m not sure when I decided to pursue a degree in sociology and pre-law. I think it was in my aunt's kitchen when I told my cousin I wanted to pursue art, as it was my favorite subject in high school. I remember him saying that art would not make any money and that I should pursue law. Mind you, I only saw this person once a year. I’m not sure why I took his word for it. I think I was embarrassed by his comments. I think it shamed me a bit socially. So there I was in the counselor's office pursuing what would “make money”. I believe it was my 19th birthday. I was not feeling the coursework, and I could barely get into the required classes. I really enjoyed the African American studies and film classes. Tears just started flowing in that office, that day. The counselor asked, “If you could do anything and you didn't have to worry about anyone else's opinion, what would you do?" I said, “I'm going to go into film. I'm going to go into television. And I'm going to be an African Studies major…” Film spoke to me in ways that allowed me to transcend whatever I was going through and wherever I was in life. Suspension of disbelief allows one to insert themselves into the narrative and live vicariously through the characters. Film helped me to compose my dreams and aspirations.

    Jasmine Brown
    Artist: @visual_lit
    Title: Mystical
    Medium: Photography
    Model: Jenné Afiya
    Date: 2018
    Description: This is the first part of a series of conversations with women of color and their transformational
    healing practices. The series located within @visual_lit ‘s blog space.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Uji: What experiences made you realize that you wanted to be an artist? 

    Jasmine: 
I’ve had many realizations along the way.  I realized I wanted to be an artist in film class. Our instructor provided examples for our final projects. One of the shorts followed a Black woman in a blond Nicki Minaj-esque wig culminating at Applebee's. Everything has its place, but I began to question 'How are we showing up in the world?' For my own project, I searched for footage of people who fought for our right to representation in the world during the Civil Rights Movement. That was the only place I knew to start. I asked 'What would they say if they could see us now? Would they put up the same fight? What is the continuation of that legacy?' At the time, it was the early 2010s. I titled the piece Hindsight is 2012. I really could not listen to rap music for a while. I could not tolerate our representation in the media. There was an awareness I could not ignore after my studies. So the piece Hindsight is 2012 mixes images from the Civil Rights era with more derogatory images. Comparing and contrasting the eras with music from the Pointer Sisters and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Representations of a golden era I grew up hearing a lot about and aspiring to return to in many ways at the time.

    Uji: When did being a woman become a crucial part of the identity you express in your work?

    Jasmine: I distanced myself a lot from being a woman, which is a really crucial part of my identity. I felt it made me more vulnerable and weak. I am currently nestled somewhere between the distance and the getting to know. In much of my current work, I fellowship with women who are also coming to know just how much womanhood is crucial to who we are, through activism and storytelling, which is activism in my communities.

    I grew up with a lot of toxic masculinity from both men and women, and there was also the issue of my father’s absence growing up. I felt like I disassociated with my body. I could walk into situations and be totally absent within my form. There was clearly a part of myself I cut off in order to exist and function in the world. In my family, community, at work, on the creative path, all of these things became disjunctive by default. At work, I felt my body and labor were not valued. I was good enough in conventional workplaces to do all the tasked assigned but not good enough to be more creative at work. To do the things I wanted to do, were outliers to my job description but integral to my interest in working for the organization(s). I think many come to understand that their gender and/or race is an inhibitor in an ill-suited workplace. My work with the BlackFemaleProject, that aims to positively impact the wellness and professional experience of Black women and prepares younger women for the realities of the workplace, affirms so much of what I’ve stated.

    If I can cite a moment for when I came to understand how crucial womanhood was to my identity: it was at my first Essie Justice Group[1] retreat. On my bed there was a message from the founder Gina Clayton-Johnson under a Nayyirah Waheed quote. I took a long breath and replied ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’ I broke down crying. I had never felt safe in my own form. My truest form, my light, has always been stamped out trying to fit into certain spaces. I am much more committed to just allowing myself to be me.

    Jasmine Brown
    Artist: @visual_lit
    Untitled
    Medium: Photography
    Model: Jenné Afiya @left_thigh
    Quote: “I became more comfortable with my magic. More comfortable with receiving signs and
    messages from spirit, not viewing it as scary, viewing it as an essential part of life. “ -Afiya

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Uji: What does safe mean to you?

    Jasmine: Safe means being allowed to show up, fully present, not on the defensive. Who would you be without your guard up, not at war? Growing up in Oakland, I felt my life never presented an opportunity to walk up and down the street smiling, wearing what I wanted to wear, being my truest self. Truly. Real or imagined. Being allowed to love the things you love. The ability to be creative. That is safety.

    I work now to create safe spaces for myself. Someone told me, you are your greatest resource. Self-reliance within the community is where it’s at. Spaces, where you benefit and are encouraged to grow, are beautiful. My work with Essie Justice Group was a big part of my ability to create a safe space.

    Uji: In what direction would you like to expand your work?

    I am leaning towards photography and returning to film editing. I will continue to write. I have an Idea Wall at home. I learned how to make an Idea Wall at the Brioxy Executive Leadership Bootcamp in Baltimore. The idea wall contains six tenets I orient my life around. These things keep me on track and feeling like there's some rhyme to my reason. The six tenets are women, writing, visual art, the earth, travel, and healing. As long as what I do ticks off or connects to these boxes, I will continue expanding in ways I feel good about. I know that in the next six months I will travel to a few countries. Spaces that I am interested in living long-term, not just to see. Now is the time for me to explore. I also would like to continue the series on my blog around the women in my network and their healing practices.

    Uji: Do you have any advice for young artists at Emergent Art Space?

    The first thing that comes to mind is: do your thing. Even if someone else is doing the same thing, still do it your way. There’s a Black woman entrepreneur on Instagram called @supacent and she talks a lot about this. Your tweak and your voices are unique. I just want people to raise their voices, to be present for who they are called to be. If ninety-nine people do the same thing and you want to add to the conversation, be that hundredth person.
    Nobody can contribute for you, like you.

    Speak to everything you feel compelled to speak about. Put your two cents in; add your life’s work to the world. In Black/African culture there is a request for “permission to speak.” Give yourself permission. Tell your story. I am a Black woman and I am going to tell my story.

    Jasmine Brown
    Artist: @visual_lit
    Title: Untitled
    Medium: Photography
    Model: Jenné Afiya @left_thigh
    Description: This is the first part of a series of conversations with women of color and their
    transformational healing practices. The series located within @visual_lit ‘s blog space.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    THE PATH FORWARD

    As an artist integrating visual imagery and writing, Jasmine created a blog space. Blogging is an enriching, multidisciplinary and expansive practice.  It has given her a platform to explore, reflect and share her vision, thinking, experiences and stories.  She has also used this as an opportunity to conduct interviews with other artists of color about self-care and healing.

    To hear more from Jasmine, check out her Visual Literacy blog.

     

    [1] Essie Justice Group is a nonprofit organization of women with incarcerated loved ones taking on the rampant injustices created by mass incarceration. Their award-winning Healing to Advocacy Model brings women together to heal, build collective power, and drive social change.

     

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Jasmine Brown is a writer, editor, and activist from Oakland, California. As a creative much of her work centers around social advocacy
    for the overall wellbeing of people of color. She is a logistics and programming guru who loves lending her organizing capacity to heart-centered work. She is a graduate of the University of California Los Angeles, where she received a degree in African American Studies
    with an emphasis in Film and Television. She has worked with and continues to work with a number of non-profits in and beyond the
    Bay Area as a consultant. Including the BlackFemaleProject, Essie Justice Group, the Museum of the African Diaspora, Out of the Box Projects, GirlFly, and CatchLight. The tenants that govern where she goes next are: writing, the earth, travel, women, healing,
    and visual art. She records her journey on her website: www.visualliteracy.me.

     

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

     

  • Looking Back to ‘Building Bridges – Yangon’

    Looking back at the now famous exhibition 'Building Bridges -Yangon' we are happy to publish here clips of interviews with some of the artists who were part of that special event: Aung Thu Phyo, Bay Bay, Kaung Swan Thar, Pho Wa, Shun Wint Aung and Bo Bo talk about their works in the exhibition, what inspired them, and how they interpreted a theme that encouraged reflection on divisions, conflicts, separations, and the effort to move beyond, to find ways to communicate across social and cultural divides.

     

    Many thanks to all of you for your participation!

    The exhibition ‘Building Bridges -Yangon' took place in the historic Tourist Burma Building
    in Yangon, Mynamar,
    in July 2019. You can read more about the exhibition here.

  • ‘Game Changing Faces’: in conversation with Kolapo Kingdiah | Abuja, Nigeria

    EAS correspondent Valerie Amani in Tanzania catches up with artist Kolapo Kingdiah from Nigeria, talking about his motivations and evolving art practice, and reflecting on how emerging artists are now creatively using both physical and online spaces to share and give exposure to their works.

     

    Kolapo at the Artist Residency Program in Lagos, 2018

    Young emerging artists are increasingly creating for themselves the spaces they need. Artist collectives being one of the driving forces in changing how communities perceive and engage with younger artists. Social media has transformed into a hybrid ecosystem - acting as portfolio, website and business front for most emerging artists. In the face of this apparent independence from traditional art spaces - what role do galleries and exhibitions play? I caught up with Kolapo Yemi, an emerging artist from Nigeria who exhibited in the international "Last Image Show"  [an international art exhibition co-produced by Emergent Art Space in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in September 2018]  to discuss this and his own journey as an artist.

    Valerie (V): When did you first experience art?
    Kolapo (K): Growing up as a kid, I had few friends who loved drawing comics and playing with clay; my older siblings were also making artistic lettering. I was thrilled and I tried what they were doing, and took it more seriously than them, even though I was just copying. That, I will say, was my first experience. Unfortunately, amongst those friends and siblings, I am the only practicing artist now.

    'Strength Like an Eagle' | Oil on Cavas

    V: How did you begin to create your art (apart from the copying, haha)?
    K: I remember telling my mum to buy me a sketch pad and she refused; so I used up all my exercise books to make a comic story I called “Thwart” which I will call my first body of (art) work.

    V: What was ‘Thwart’ about?
    K: Thwart... it's a superhero comic about domestic accidents children go through at home and a super hero character coming to rescue them before the accident happens 🙂

    V: Are there other artists in your family?
    K: I am the only practicing artist, but my two brothers were artists growing up, until they choose another profession as they grew older.

    V: And are you a full time artist right now?
    K: I have always been a full time studio artist, even before university - although I studied physics at the university.

    V: Why do you choose to focus on peoples faces?
    K: I use charcoal and oil paint majorly to create abstract, realistic and hyper realistic art to illustrate the connections that human beings make (or don’t make) through language, gesture, look, expression, physical placement, cultural values, standards, emotions and desires, which can be seen vividly with portraiture.

    'Shades of Passion' | Oil on Cavas

    V: With this in mind, what do you want to say with your art?
    K: With every work I make, my intention is to take you on a journey and make you see more than what I myself can see. The only artist that inspires me to the bone is Dirk Dzimirsky. I am not always thrilled by super hyper realistic works but [I am inspired] by the strong interpretation of messages which I find in Dirk.

    V: Let’s talk about the Nigerian Art scene, what has been your experience?
    K: It took decades for art to be appreciated in Nigeria, but the value for art is increasing everyday now in Africa as a whole. It takes extra talent and connections to stand tall in the industry and also the masters (leaders in art) here are not giving space to emerging artists.

    V: What is the biggest challenge you've faced?
    K: My first challenge was my parents. It took them two decades to accept my choice of occupation, as they wanted me to be an engineer. After I was able to get their support, surviving was so hard, as I wasn’t selling; but I kept on working to be better and different, which was my escape route.

    Artist Residency program in Lagos, 2018  |  Charcoal on Paper

    V: Are there any events/spaces available to emerging artists in Abuja that offer support?

    K: We have a lot of events/exhibition spaces in Abuja city. Unlike Lagos [which is much larger city], Abuja doesn’t have many galleries and art promoters; so artists individually or in groups organize exhibitions. For instance, I belong to an art movement of which I am the leader. We do live painting hangouts and also exhibitions in both art spaces and alternative spaces; and our aim is public sensitization. Our last exhibition was in October, on breast cancer awareness, with the theme “Let’s Go Pink”. We are working on more to come and, hopefully, in the future [we will] be able to collaborate with EAS [Emergent Art Space].

    V: Talking about Emergent Art Space, why did you apply for the Last Image Show?  

    K: A friend sent me the call poster. Before then I had been working on showing my work to the outside world; so when I saw the call, I saw an opportunity. Before then, I had exhibited in few countries like Belgium, Malta, Dubai, New York and most cities across Nigeria.

    'Pixelation Difference' | Oil on Cavas

    V: Why do you think exhibitions are important?
    K: Even though the new generation of artists sell mostly on social media, exhibitions are still very important for every artist, as they are the main way to showcase your body of work with a traceable record, and get [to be] known for a style of art. Art exhibitions are archival objects in their own right, important indicators of perception and appreciation of art and artists at a certain point in time.

    V: And what kind of art have you made since Last Image Show?
    K: After the Last Image Show exhibition, I decided to put charcoal works on hold for a year, and decided to marry my physics experience with art using oil paint. Since then, I have been creating a body of work I call “equation and dialogue”.

    V: What keeps you motivated?

    K: Talking about motivation, I always have one thing in mind.

    'The Real and the Virtual' | Oil on Cavas

    The world has a lot of BESTS (best in all professions); so being the best is not enough. The world is looking for the exceptional and those with the difference. [I want to] be the game changer.

     

    The structure of the art industry preserves the relevance of art shows and exhibitions. As Kolapo so brilliantly put it, exhibitions are a key indicator of perception and social context - however, it is still important for young artists to create their own spaces with their own rules as Kolapo has done. What does it take to be a game changer and cross from emerging artist to established artist? Well it seems the only way to be the game changer is to be yourself. Kolapo's recent work incorporating physics is so unique to him because of what he studied. Emerging artists must keep on claiming space online, offline and within their communities. A gallery show or exhibition should just be a part of the journey, not the final destination.

     

    At a group exhibition in Abuja, 2019
Archives