FUTURE: FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
This work is in progress
Click on the thumbnails to view full image
ABOUT THE WORK
In Barbara's own words
WORK IN PROGRESS
Mixed media: Wood frame, lace& calico material, paper, hand embroidery and acrylic
Blood+Tears short film (some distressful imagery) https://youtu.be/kmnnD6NVi0k
About the work
I chose the Future: Freedom of Association theme because I saw the opportunity to utilise my ongoing research at the Royal College of Art. It is a practice based self-critical study on identity construction and the impact of Yoruba mythology on individuality. The bulk and aim of this project is to focus on the construction and transformation of the ‘black’ identity. I am investigating deep-rooted perceptions of ‘blackness’ and how the racialisation of the socially constructed ‘black’ identity impacts the way members of the group are valued and treated in society.
‘Escaping race’ explores the tensions between the individual and the collective identity constructs in our society.
W.E.B Du Bois notes an inward ‘twoness’ and psychological conflict experienced in ‘black’ bodies caused by the racialised ‘black’ collective identity and the oppression that comes along with it. He coined the term ‘double consciousness’ when describing the phenomenon.
Yoruba mythology celebrates and encourages individuality, often focusing on the head (Orí) as a symbol of the individual’s divine power, personality and destiny.
I am creating a tryptic to visualise the past, present and future of association with the ‘Black’ identity:
1. The ‘past’ explores the concept of ‘blackness’ and how it was constructed.
2. The ‘present’ looks at the suffocation and of ‘blackness’ and other repercussions of living with the socially constructed identity.
3. The ‘future’ proposes breaking free from ‘double consciousness’ and embracing individuality in line with Yoruba spiritual principles. The focus is on our agency as individuals to break free from socially constructed identities, labels and stereotypes.
I want the viewers to reflect on how their biases and stereotypes affect lives not only in the court room, but in daily life.
Why is the ‘Escaping race’ is still a ‘Work in process’?
My current research investigates the relationship between the art, the artist and the process because Yoruba spirituality and art are seen as interlinked.
As my creative process is intuitive and experimental, I started by exploring suffocation and skin drawings. As the drawings developed over the weeks, on 10/08/2020 I noticed how the drawings I created subconsciously resembled my brother and choice of colours reflected his emotions. As soon as recognised this, I told him and he expressed how it resonated. As he constantly feels suffocated and redistricted as a young black man , we also discussed his dreadful experiences with police.
The next day (11/08/20) whilst driving he was stopped by police and let go because they couldn’t find a reason to interrogate him. On 12/08/20 the hottest day of the year, my brother was on his way to go karting and stopped again, two minutes away from our family home. He was stopped because the police had suspicions that car was stolen, as it is forbidden for a ‘black’ man to drive a nice car. I rushed to my brother’s whereabouts, I witnessed my brother in handcuffs against the car, criminalised without any valid reasons. The car was searched, he was searched and the car is legal but he was still aggressively put in a van for further search.
To cut a very long traumatic experience short, my brother was missing for 10 hours not found in any police station in London. We found out he was in hospital through the same officers harassing the area, aggressively manhandling a 13-year-old outside my house on the same day! (just after midnight)
Through this coincidence, one police officer gloated to me that my brother was admitted to a hospital and ‘not dead’ as they ‘didn’t hurt him too badly’. My brother was hospitalised for 4 days and treated inhumanly at the hospital also because of the presence of the police.
‘Escaping race’ is a work in progress because I was literally interrupted by real time affairs. Real life ‘black’ experiences and a present moment of racial suffocation. It felt surreal and unbelievable, the theory of my work reflected back at me, clear as day and unfiltered.
I decided to name the ‘present’ frame ‘Blood+Tears’ two days after the incident. During the week it was continuous floods tears from me and my family. Drowning in pain. Unconsciously it was painted red with stitched ocean waves days before. My brother suffered from continuous nose bleeds from the assault and I started my period the same day he was taken. Both painful, raw and somehow in sync. The art, process and artist dynamic were truly interlinked in this experience.
Approaching 100 years of justice brief, I was particularly passionate about producing work because of previous unjust experiences with my brother, criminal justice system, the law and police. So naturally, I had my brother in mind. However, I had no intention on solely basing the art on his experience or including my practice-based research process. But I guess this experience was a gradual build up and the fight of racial injustice and construction is a working process. And through this, I can only lean on my imagination to recreate a future of freedom.
I will be completing the tryptic, so please stay tuned to see where the process leads me to.
Barbara is a multi-disciplinary artist who experiments in her work, the complexities of her bicultural identity. Exploring the tensions and alchemical process of the African diaspora experience. Using skills developed during her BA Textiles Embroidery degree at UAL and social science background in Sociology. Barbara effectively communicates her ideas, also drawing influences from her heritage. Yoruba mythology has heavily shaped her approach to investigate sociocultural narratives. As she intelligently theorises her self-discovery process. The main purpose of materialising this process is to document for generations to come as cultural artefacts. Barbara combines digital and time-honoured traditional embroidery, hand-painting and printing techniques both from Western and Yoruba culture. Vibrant colours are cleverly used as a tool to display her distinctive, rhythmic, idealistic illustrative style.
We had a short chat with Barbara to get to know her better
What has been your creative journey?
I've always been interested in art. I wouldn’t say I rolled out of the womb trying to be Picasso, but I always had a creative way of thinking. There was one point where I even wanted to be an actor.
In primary school I tried to go to an after school art club but one of the teachers said I didn’t have enough artistic ability to join the class, so that was quite traumatising. When I got to secondary school art was compulsory and I realised that I could actually draw. When it was time to pick my subjects for GCSEs I chose art and textiles, because I was really into clothing and then I chose textile art for A-Levels too. I really wanted to be a fashion designer, but I was worried about employment and my future, so I convinced myself that I wanted to be a nurse. I based my whole A-Level project around giving birth. I didn’t get into any midwifery schools, so I applied to do Sociology through clearing then after 2 years I just stopped. For a couple of years I worked in a sales and marketing job, but I realised I missed art so I went to do a Foundation Course.
I did my Fashion, Textiles & Embroidery degree at London College of Fashion. In September I’ll be starting an MRes in Fine Art and Humanities at Royal College of Art. It’s quite a new course, and I was interested in doing it because with Fine Art I have a lot of freedom to take my textiles in any direction that I want but the research aspect will fuel my Sociology brain. It’s a great combination of everything that I am interested in. For my A-Levels I did Textiles, Sociology, English Literature and Language. It’s funny because that fits my Masters to a tee! You kind of know what you want in life from the beginning, but then you just let society and life derail you.
What drew you into working with textiles?
It was the general sensation of working with material, as well the colours and textures. It was something I could experiment with quite easily. Also I think because of fashion, I wanted to be a fashion designer - I still do! I’m very interested in how fabric is on the body, how it is on the wall, how it is as furniture - the whole design aspect of it is fascinating to me.
And how did you get into embroidery?
It was during my degree course. I was choosing between print and embroidery, but at my foundation I saw myself being very detail-oriented and using my hands to create a lot of things. The embroidery element to me feels like taking something, and embellishing it and that appeals a lot.
Hand embroidery is so labour intense - do you feel like that impacts your work in any way?
No, not at all. The only thing I have patience for is embroidery! Even when I did a small module in printing I did not have the patience to wash the screens. Embroidery for me is very meditative and maybe that’s why I like it so much. It’s a real labour of love. I’m very detail-oriented so that helps a lot too.
Do you use Sociology in your art practice?
It impacts my way of thinking, everything I do comes from a Sociological perspective. I’m curious how my work fits in with society, how I can translate and interpret my personal experiences.
What stimulates you more: personal experiences or observed experiences? Is there something specific that you like to address in your work?
It’s been a process figuring it out. My work is mainly about my cultural identity as a British African (Nigerian specifically) woman - those are the overarching themes in my work. Before it was about displacement and diaspora, but as I’ve grown I’ve moved away from displacement as a lot of that was rooted in anger. Now I’m more interested in actually investigating these experiences from a multitude of angels in an objective way. I feel like I am finding my creative identity at the moment, and investigating my signature work.
What’s your creative process? How do you go from a hint of an idea to a completed piece of work?
I always have ideas, so I record everything in a notebook whether it's a sentence or a quick doodle. When the “right” idea comes along I get really obsessive. My whole mind revolves around that and I seek information through all mediums available on the topic. There would be lots of research like reading, watching films, going outside. Suddenly I will see something that clicks and I start drawing, mark making.
I’m very intuitive with fabrics, so I take my time with sampling. First is the colour, then it’s the fabric. I look at it and question how is this fabric going to achieve my idea? Which will be the best to use? What can I do with this fabric? I cut it, I fray it, I distress it, I put something on top of it… And then I look at how I can communicate what I’m trying to say. I often use illustration for that - either through hand stitching or a CAD machine. At university I had the resources! Now I mainly do it by hand.
What does art mean for you?
I can put it in three words: expression, communication and documentation.