From papercut art, to thigh-tile workshops – these are just some of the ways the artists of Black Blossoms exhibition: If We’re Going to Heal – Let It Be Glorious, are sharing their experiences and spreading black girl magic.
“Our generation is going through one of the worst political periods in modern history,” says Black Blossoms founder and UAL alumna, Bolanle (Bee) Tajudeen. “There’s high anti-immigration sentiment, we’ve got people who want to create borders; we have this white nationalism creeping back in. So helping people heal when this is happening, amidst guns blazing, is a very hard thing to do. But we can’t wait until we’re already caught in the battle – otherwise we’ll forever be fighting. The healing must start now.”
Joining forces with other black women – Bee found strength in the power of community – getting together with other black women to talk about their experiences and share their stories.
What transpired was Black Blossoms – an organisation which celebrates and highlights the voices of black women in the creative industries. They channelled their voices into a powerful exhibition that launched last year at UAL’s Showroom – showcasing a collection of stunning artwork from black women exploring the intersections of gender, race and identity
“There’s no point in me telling a group of young black people to go to a museum and look at some old school white guys. I think that art itself has to reflect the people who are looking at it, or make an attempt to reflect their narratives and their stories. That’s what this exhibition is about.”
If We’re Going To Heal Let It Be Glorious exploring has now gone on tour, heading to Sheffield from 16 – 27 October, Oxford Brookes University 20 October, Arts University Bournemouth 23 October, Nottingham New arts Exchange 28 October, and then touring Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester, before returning to London.
Buki Kekeré: ‘Rediscovering Her’
“I want to create art that enables women to reclaim back their body. I draw what represents me as a black woman. I am very passionate about it – not in a sexual but in an aesthetic way. There’s something about every line, every crease, every fold I draw. When putting pen on paper it becomes so hypnotic, so beautiful and so controversial. I don’t yet understand what it is about the female body that is so political and even troublesome to some. I use my work as a tool to challenge the mentality of society in order to get answers to these questions.”
Camilla ‘Mica’ Daniel: “Not Yours”
The collection of papercut art “Not Yours” was created from the artists’ ongoing journey of sexual assertiveness. Each woman is illustrated in a different position, according to what is commonly viewed as sexually provocative, submissive or neutral. “Not Yours” serves as a reminder that our bodies are our own to do with what we will. Too often the blame for sexual assault, rape and harassment of women is because “she asked for it” or “she wore this”. These opinions advocate the behaviour of some men to think they have a right to do what they want and not be held accountable.
Dionne Ward: ‘If You Really Saw Us’
‘If You Really Saw Us’ is the result of an extended study of a photograph in coloured pencil made over a period of four months and more than 160 hours by Camberwell College of Arts, UAL alumna, Dionne Ward who says: “It centres on the hands of my mother, my older sister and me. There is so much to be seen in the hands of black women. There is evidence of so much culture and life, from the way they are used gesturally, to how they are decorated; they are as telling as a face in the history of a person. This drawing became a long process of me looking and truly seeing my past, and my future in first my sister and then my mother. The surprising layers of colour that make up our brown pigment, the variations in tone and texture, the influences from our father and the beautiful marks earned in work, suffering, love and play.”
Dorcas Magbadelo: ‘We Were Here Before; We Will Be Here Long After’
Illustrator and product designer Dorcas Magbadelo’s work often explores black female identity. She aims to combat the notion that black women are a monolith and interchangeable. As a Nigerian British woman herself, she says it’s important that her work reflects her heritage and the complexity and changing nature of identity. We Were Here Before; We Will Be Here Long After is inspired by the idea of generational blessings and curses – how familial decisions made by their ancestors for survival, for protection, for personal gain, can have a profound effect on their descendants lives today. It also explores how their own individual legacy will impact those that come after them whether they knowingly connect to it or not – it’s a part of all diaspora Africans; stubborn roots that resist erasure.
Rosa Johan Uddoh: The Thigh House’, Fired Terracotta, Timber
The ‘Thigh- House’ is inspired by a Cuban myth that it was the role of black female slaves to form clay roof-tiles on their thighs; these tiles interlocking to make roofs sheltering Spanish colonial homes in Havana. Rosa is currently running Thigh- Tile workshops for black and brown women and non- binary people to learn to make terracotta barrel roof tiles from their thighs. The aim is to create a usable structure and space, whilst forming a social space, in the act of meeting and talking, in the process. Together, participants re-appropriate the original colonial myth for their own ends. The more people/ thighs involved the more exciting the community becomes, and the bigger the shelter gets.
J C Cowans: ‘Common Thread’ Fine Art, Watercolour
“Cultural, racial and traditional tendencies attribute to how we value ourselves and the things belonging to us, in particular the traits that are considered beautiful – such as full, lengthy hair. The artistic portrayal of women who share the Common Thread – the decision to shave their hair – explores a subconscious sisterhood that transcends the biological make up of race and origin. It rightly intends to decolonise, strip back and unearth the many ways in which women define their womanhood. Our hair can depict how we feel, how we see ourselves and in turn, how others see us; it’s an extension of our personality, an agency that empowers us, that speaks to people before words are exchanged. Common Thread, by J C Cowans who studies part-time Visual Merchandising at London College of Fashion, will document women from different backgrounds to present that the choice of shaving your hair is a self-affirming, self-loving but ultimately unifying decision.”
Tineka Ashley: ‘Black Men Don’t Cry,’
Tineka Ashley is a multi-disciplinary artist currently due to begin a BA in Art Direction at London College of Communication. Her work focuses on socio-political issues with affect the black diaspora. She directed ‘Black Men Don’t Cry!’ to highlight the effects of depression on black men as the negative stigma of depression within the black community is a prominent issue.
Naomi Jovanna Joda: ‘Don’t Touch My Hair,’ Film
Central Saint Martins, UAL alumna, Naomi Jovanna Joda’s film ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ explores the theme of ‘microaggressions’ (everyday non-verbal/verbal, subtle offensive comments directed at minorities that are often unintentional but reinforce stereotypes). She says: “The intention of ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ is to understand the personal relationship people have with hair and how preciously it is valued.” She hopes it will “start more conversations” but that it will also be “encouraging and empowering to those that have struggled to love their hair”.
Rene Matić: Brown Girl in the Art World II
As a queer woman of colour, Rene, a first-year Fine Art student at Central Saint Martins, naturally draws on queer and intersectional feminist theory examining gender, race, class and sexuality in her work. As such, a great deal of her work explores her own marginalised identity and the challenges this entails, as well as systems of social class, race relations and feminine labour. Brown Girl in the Artworld II, the work exhibited in Black Blossoms, is a response to a racist and sexist remark by the founder of Cactus Gallery when questioned why he doesn’t exhibit women. The Image shows the artist doing a naked hand stand in Cactus gallery in the summer of 2016.
The ‘I’m Tired’ Project @theimtiredproject
The ‘I’m Tired’ Project is a photography project that seeks to highlight the lasting impact of everyday micro-aggressions, assumptions and stereotypes. We invited a number of brilliant black women and femmes in Britain to share their frustrations, ranging from queerness to motherhood to mental health who each had their picture taken with their statement written on their backs, paired with their short powerful essays unpicking and exploring the statement they chose – both painfully raw and relatable.