Director of the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora and winner of one of UAL’s Vice-Chancellor’s scholarship award, Teleica Kirkland is currently studying on LCF’s MA History and Culture of Fashion. CIAD’s inaugural exhibition opened this month in London, featuring garments from Vivienne Westwood and the Black Watch Museum.
Who or what first inspired you to follow your chosen career?
Actually my family are from Jamaica, from the mountains, that means they were quite poor so in my direct line going back my nan, great gran, great aunt, everyone made their own clothes, my mother sews and knits, it’s a family thing – not on purpose to be passed down, it’s just something that we do, it’s just one of those things that we just end up doing. It wasn’t necessarily an inspiration, it was just one of those things that just happens, it’s just there.
What are you working on at the moment?
The exhibition – for the rest of my life! Basically this exhibition has been about two and a half years in the making. It started on the 23 June 2011 because it was the first time I traveled to the Caribbean specifically to visit seven countries finding out about the different types of traditional dress, it was from there that I really picked up the understanding about madras and its link to tartan, so it was really from then that the whole idea started to percolate, it wasn’t even an idea then to be a project, the project itself has ballooned out of all proportion, mushroom clouded – you tell a few people and they tell a few people and then the V&A and Vivienne Westwood are involved, and then here you are!
What are you most passionate about?
Creative freedom. Having the freedom to express yourself as you see fit – as long as it’s not causing detriment to anyone – to creatively explain or pronounce what is going on in your heart without fear of reprisal or retribution. People’s ideas of creativity are different but as long as it’s not causing harm to anyone or living thing then I think it should be allowed to be. When you think of Pussy Riot, I mean that’s not my thing, but what happened to them was ridiculous. When you’re creative and sensitive trying to traverse the seas of life is more difficult when your only avenue of being able to live some kind of life is curbed, in whatever form those retributions come, I just can’t have it!
Which piece of art/design/performance/communication/fashion do you wish you had created?
There have been several pieces of art, I’m a trained fine artist – I couldn’t go through the standard fashion route and so I went through the fine art route – I’ve come across so many pieces that make me go “that’s amazing”. One of the most amazing pieces of dance that I’ve ever seen is Revelation by Alvin Ailey, it’s just really a stunning piece of dance and the choreography is amazing, the music is so fitting using old slave songs to choreograph the dance pieces to and it’s just beautiful. Also work by Andy Goldsworthy, I’ve got a real thing about circles and curves and he does some of the most amazing things with leaves, petals and bits of found objects, lines, curves, pathways, it’s so impactful. Things like that really make me want to stop. One time when I was doing my first degree I saw a piece by Richard Wilson, 20:50, which is crude oil in a tub. That at the time was so impactful because it was so still, it was so powerful because the oil is so heavy, it was in a steel tub, black steel, black oil, and the reflection on it was so still and clear, it looked like a shiny hard surface, the fact it was oil and the play on sensory perception, I can’t even find the words! Amazing doesn’t do it justice. Things like that have really impacted on me.
Where is your favourite London haunt?
I really love the Southbank, I love the river, the river at night time is one of the most beautiful places in the whole of London, the skyline, the light, the blue trees, it’s absolutely perfect, especially at this time of year, there are people chatting, skateboarders, people on dates, it’s such a nice atmosphere, it feels oddly safe.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I don’t think I have one, isn’t that boring! I don’t live far from Farringdon and there’s Bea’s of Bloomsbury Bakery there, they have these amazing cinnamon buns, I’m going past looking at all kinds of naughtiness. Also there’s a cheese shop in Covent Garden, it stinks to high heaven and I’m allergic so I’m not supposed to eat it but I love cheese, so I go past and see the cheese in the window, sometimes a tiny little bit of cheese is my guiltiest pleasure.
Name a favourite book, song and film
The Life of Pi, before the film, Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah.
I’m a real lover of musicals, I think for ages my favourite film was Cabaret, for the story more than music. A film I truly love is Burning an Illusion, it’s a film from the early 80s by Menelik Shabazz but it’s such a great story and it says so much about the Black British experience.
So many songs resonate with you. Leave My Kisi Loo is a really old, old, old Jamaican song, by Stanley and the Turbines, it’s not like a favourite song but it’s one of the first I ever heard, whenever I hear it I have real nostalgic memories of my Nan and her putting it on. The lyrics are a bit out of order if you listen to it, it’s a bit off key, but I’ve just got fond nostalgic memories of being with my grandmother when I hear it.
What is your signature dish?
I’m vegetarian so I like making a variation on a Gambian dish called Domoda, I make it with peanut sauce.
Do you think University of the Arts London has an important role to play in Britain’s cultural life?
Yes I really do, I don’t know that there’s a uni bigger than UAL that focuses on all the different types of art. I do think that it has a really important role to play in the UK to outline and underline what creative culture is in this country. It’s very difficult because UAL have a push to try and bring together a more ethnically diverse understanding of the student body, but the UK has never been one single type of people, as an island all kinds of people have settled here over thousands of years. There needs to be a creative education with regards to that and UAL has a role in terms of that. When you teach things in a creative way it’s fun, if UAL can really get to grips with that it can really fly.
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?
Do whatever you can, however you can, wherever you can. Don’t think you can’t do something because there isn’t funding, space, whatever; there is nothing to stop you doing anything if you want to do it enough. I can’t stand when people think there’s only one way to do something, there are millions as long as you find one way, anyway, find a way to produce, find an outlet. When I was younger there was no internet, but people still found a way to produce and get their stuff out there, now it’s much easier. Just do it!
Tell us more about your current exhibition
The exhibition is called Tartan: Its Journey Through The African Diaspora, but really it’s about how the cultures in Africa and the Diaspora have used tartan in their own material culture, to highlight the agency and autonomy of these people, what they’ve done with what was left after colonialism and drawing the story back from where they are now. Pointing arrows to those links and trying to highlight the autonomy of these people. They were in this awful situation but look what they did with what they were left with.
Tartan – Its Journey Through the African Diaspora is at Crafts Central until 30 August. Read more
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