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  • Writer's pictureJaz

'It is time for people to feel uncomfortable...'

I’ve had a good response to my callout on social media. However, there have been lots of clashes with timetables and uncertain availabilities. It is taking longer than previously imagined.

In other news, I had the absolute pleasure of going to some exhibitions.

Lady Skollie was showing her work Weakest Link at Eastside Projects. She was looking at chains, and Birmingham’s history of creating the chains used in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Lady Skollie says that the chains of history link us together and continue to bind. She wishes to be that Weak Link that breaks the bonds and prevents history repeating itself. The piece that stood out to me was this image of a tree made of shackles. Around the tree was another circle of shackles, but on each end, and gold link – the weak link, the most valuable link.

Skollie also draws a lot of her inspiration from her personal experiences, as well as the plight of women in South Africa.

‘It is time for people to feel uncomfortable, and for people to ask themselves very hard questions about how they relate to women, how they treat them, how they talk to them.’

- Lady Skollie

Once again, there’s discomfort being evoked. When I heard that Skollie’s Weakest Link exhibition was also including Birmingham’s relationship with slavery, I was surprised. One of the first things that came to mind was how uncomfortable it would make the white people living in Birmingham. When it comes to the topic of slavery, cities like Liverpool and London are always seen as the perpetrators, and that’s IF we ever talk about the UK – the education curriculum tends to indulge in America’s role.

This idea of history repeating itself, generational ties, and links that join us together makes me think of Mary Sibande’s new exhibition at Somerset House in London. I Came Apart at the Seams pays homage to the female domestic workers in her family. She has created these stunning sculptures, being very intentional with the colours she’s used. In a conversation she was having with some other Black women, she talks about how when she was pregnant, there was this feeling of her having to ‘fix [the world], and I have nine months to do this.’ Nobody questions her sentiment, which didn’t surprise me. Sibande is also from South Africa. The legacy of Apartheid and colonisation lingers, affecting the way that the Black people living there navigate it. Despite South Africa being in Africa – a Black continent/space, it is dominated by white people and has a history of anti-blackness, rendering it a “white space”.

I also went to see Lina Iris Viktor’s exhibition; Some Are Born to Endless Night: Dark Matter at Autograph in London. This one was particularly great because Lina was actually there with curator Renée Mussai to talk about the work. For her, it was all about keeping imagery small because it forced the audience to engage, which I agreed with. Her work could have been interpreted to be a million things because of its subtle potency.

‘Absence is the highest form of presence

- Lina Iris Viktor

She saw the colours gold and black as siblings, with ‘black’ being reminiscent of black people, black holes, dark matter, all colours of the spectrum; and ‘gold’ being wealth, value, and the substance created after the death of a star. Thus, her work was a visual soliloquy.

In much of Lina’s work, she paints herself pitch black and colours her hair with gold leaf, representing this relationship. Just like with the other artists I’ve mentioned, my descriptions cannot do her work justice. I’ve put some of my favourites below:

This has been very inspirational for me – Sibande’s very intentional use of colour, and Skollie and Viktor specifically using gold to represent value and connote Blackness within their contexts. This further affirms me wanting to have black and white portraits with a gold finish on the eyes. It demands that my audience engage, and brings to the forefront Blackness, space, and value.

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