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  • Writer's pictureJaz

'The Masks Grow to Us' // 'Throne for the Ancestors'

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Today's title is courtesy of Clarence John Laughlin's 'The Masks Grow to Us'...

...and Albert Chong's 'Throne for the Ancestors'

So I've noticed that ultimately I'm looking at resistance. I'm using archives to piece together the factors involved in the first Handsworth Riots, and I'm looking at resistance as a natural and chaotic precursor to change.

Handsworth Riots

I've amassed several journal articles, studies, and book chapters that look at the Handsworth Riots, and I'm currently trawling through it. I'm telling you, the one thing I have never gotten used to in academia is the sheer amount of reading.

It isn't surprising that there's a fair amount of information covering both riots, covered in journals like Criminal Justice Matters, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Race and Class. What's quite mad is the fact that there is far more information on the 1985 Riots, than on the 1981 Riots, even though in 1981 the whole country was practically rioting. This means that as I continue to venture into online archives, it is even more important to find sources that help contextualise what was going on.

As a side note, it's hard to believe that the riots were almost 40 years ago, and 30 years before the 2011 Riots. How timely is that? And with everything going on at the moment (ahem, Windrush, Grenfell, NHS cuts, child homelessness, etc.), it *might* be worth exploring what makes a person resist in such a way.


This has been my main focus at the moment, as I think it will require far more logistical work than my research on the Riots. Last year, the frames and even print quality of TRTO was just not good enough. I want to be ahead of things this time so I can avoid this. And hopefully, if I have time, I'll be able to reprint my old work.

I've been looking at literal and abstract forms of resistance in art, and I've been looking in the most random places. I didn't want to just draw from the artists I'm already familiar with. Artists like Laura Gilpin, Gerardo Suter, Clarence John Laughlin, Olivia Parker, Val Telberg, and Martha Maria Perez Bravo. I collated some of these pieces into a mood board so I could adequately capture the mood and feel I want my work to have, but without having done much work yet. A peer of mine described this as a 'practice of intuition', where she begins with heavy research and surrounding herself with inspiration. From there, she begins to evolve her work through trial and error. I can't think of a better way to explain what I'm doing right now.

Various works from Photography as Fine Art (1983), and The Portrait in Photography (1992)

From that practice came this sketch:

And from that sketch came this sketch:

I really wanted to elaborate on this idea of an underground people tethered to their oppressors. But rather than how Peele initially presents it - as insidious and hostile - I wanted it to evoke a sense of hope, or justice. There's this generic street, but underneath lies all of these almost celestial-looking bodies, biding their time, or waiting for a moment to act.

I showed this sketch to some of my peers and I was glad that they noticed how I tried to capture movement in my work - much like Denzil Forrester's work that I referenced before, except he can actually sketch. The peers I shared my sketch with were mostly white, which was useful in the sense that I could gauge their discomfort. Whether it's fair or not, they would be the people above the ground in my work, and so if they weren't bothered by the work, I would likely be coddling them.

Themes that came up included the uncanny and post-structuralism. After some thought and research, I think my work would better fit into the category of surrealism, rather than the uncanny, though I suppose that stores with generic names and no real branding could constitute as 'familiar, but in a creepy way' I guess. Same would go if I end up going with self-portraits (which may be the case considering the spread of COVID-19).

A peer also mentioned the St Paul Riots in 1980, where apparently £400k worth of damage was done to public property. I have no idea why he felt to talk about riots - either my work is already speaking louder than I thought, or I told him what I was looking at and had forgotten.

Moving forward, I want to turn these sketches into an actual proper draft, taking pictures of myself and "collaging" them on Photoshop. As I'm not yet sure how white thread will factor in, I'm going to omit using it for this draft. For my final piece, I'd like a much larger sale piece than the seven pieces I made for TRTO, so this could be a good time to experiment with collages, layering, and scale. I want to omit the vehicles and buildings and stuff from this draft as based on my feedback, it seems like it will distract from my work rather than add to it. I'll likely just remain with the pavement to emphasise that the setting is underground, and these celestial bodies are 'seeds'.

Oh, and have I mentioned that this piece will be accompanied by a zine? I've never made a zine before so I hope to God that it's going to be fun to do. I'm thinking of assembling things like found photos, poetry, quotes from books, a "manifesto" I wrote up a while ago as an exercise (front cover worthy methinks), newspaper clippings, Bible scriptures, and anything else that may help reinforce my point. Apparently you can get free QR codes, so I might even have some of them linking to moving image pieces online. Sky is the limit I suppose. But I'm definitely gonna need to look at some other zines, cause I've already overthought this.

Hopefully by the time I write my next post, I'll have done some online archival research, confirmed my research question, visited Sonia Boyce's exhibition at Eastside Projects, and completed at least one new draft of my work.

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