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INTERVIEW: UK-based arts organization Black Blossoms: “If we are going to heal, let it be glorious”

November 22, 2017
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By Aliyah Blackmore*, AFROPUNK Contributor

Founded in 2015 by Bee Tajudeen, Black Blossoms is an organization which aims to amplify the voices of Black women in the creative industries. In 2017 the organization opened their exhibition, “If We are Going to Heal, Let it Be Glorious” with a first stop at The Royal Standard Gallery in Liverpool (September 7th until September 30th, 2017). With a variety of work from a total 31 artists, the exhibition shows works that explore “socio-political issues, feminism and self love from the perspective of self identifying black women artists, living in Britain in 2017.”

Below is a conversation with founder and creative director of Black Blossoms, Bee Tajudeen, and four of the exhibiting artists: Sola Olulode, Camilla ‘Mica’ Daniels, Rahana Dariah, and Rosa Johan Uddoh.

Can you tell me about Black Blossoms and what inspired you, Bee, to create this exhibition? Why do you feel that this exhibition may be of particular importance/influence now?

I began Black Blossoms in 2015, whilst I was a student at University of the Arts London, I felt that there was a lack of visibility of black and brown women in education and the creative industries. I started of by creating safe space conferences so black women could talk about their experiences in their respective industries. There is so much comfort and joy when black women can come together to freely express themselves and sometimes even challenge one another away from the male and white gaze.

Curating exhibitions for black women artist is an extremely important part of my activism and self care. This particular touring exhibition is tittled “ If We are Going to Heal, Let it Be Glorious ” which is a line from the poem ‘Forgiveness’ by Warsan Shire and was used by Beyonce in her 2017 Grammy performance. The line really got me thinking about what it means for black women to heal gloriously and decided, I definitely have found healing and light in organising this tour. I spend my time meeting with creative black women and enquiring about what drives their practice, there is something very therapeutic in doing this and I feel more alive and connected to a feminine divinity when in the process of curating exhibitions and installing the artwork. I also feel this power when I witness how Black women and women of color emotively respond when they are inside the exhibition space, it is very powerful and humbling. The exhibition also serves as a learning tool to non black women, as these viewers are given a unique opportunity to hear our narratives through the beautiful and informative artwork displayed.

Lastly, as much as it is about the having great exhibitions and inviting people into the space to heal, the exhibitions and accompanying artist catalogue is documentation of how black British women artists are responding to the current political, economical and social climate. In years to come, I want what we are doing to feed into History of Art courses. I envision modules titled; Black Blossoms a movement of Black Women Making Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic.

Would you like to see Black Blossoms touring outside of the UK in the future? And if so, where to next?

YES! I’ll love for Black Blossoms to have an international presence. Next, I’ll like to see the exhibition go around Europe however, I will only show a few of the existing art pieces from this current exhibition as it is important for me to work with creative black women and nonbinary folk who are creating art and living within those European cities. That is what will make exhibition powerful because my experiences living and growing up in London may be totally different to other black women who grown up in Paris or Ghent and it very important to me that the black women who attend exhibition can resonate with the works being showcased. Additionally, there is so much political turmoil in Europe and there is a lack of compassion towards black and brown bodies which is heartbreaking. This year, 26 Nigerian women were found dead on migrants boats and there was hardly any media coverage on the issue, if it were white women not only only would women charities be demanding answers but there would be a public outrage. Some may say well these women are not European but look at when Kim Kardashian got robbed in France, that story was in the news cycle for over 72 hours and it was reported that the President of France was personally involved in the investigation, that is wild and is proof our lives mean nothing. My hope would be that we could reclaim our value by presenting a powerful intersectional black voice through creative practices with the hope it is the catalyst for societal change.

If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be? How would you say your identity has helped you to evolve as an artist/creative mind in the present?

Sola Olulode: The first words that pop into my head are Black, Womxn and Queer but I realise that doesn’t tell you much about who I am as a person, just how those identities might have shaped the way I experience the world. I feel like those identities can sometimes box you in and stop you from progressing as an artist because the focus is more on your identity and not what your work is about and what you’ve actually got to say. People say things like “your work is about identity and being a black woman” but can’t actually gage what it is I‘m exploring about under the umbrella of being a black womxn. We’re multi-faceted beings and I’m trying to tell my perspective. I love Black Blossoms because it explores so many different narratives under that umbrella. But ultimately producing artwork is very personal to me a sort of therapy so how I identify plays an important part in this. Really I‘m quite a chill, quirky and happy person I don’t like to let things to bother me or get me down I like to keep it moving and stay mentally healthy.

Camilla ‘Mica’ Daniels: I always find it difficult and awkward to describe myself so I tend to get other people to do it. General consensus is that I’m open-minded, calm and shy/sensitive. I’m someone that observes a lot and absorbs energy in my surroundings before I open up, but when I do I, I sure get going and surprise a lot of people. As I go through life I become more aware of my personality and how it shapes my identity. Being creative and doing my art really serves as an outlet to just let loose, free my mind and express myself in ways that I don’t always do when in social settings.

Rahana Dariah: I would say I’m definitely empathic, honest and laid back, exploring my identity and gaining knowledge of self has completely shaped who I am as an artist, I most definitely have evolved, I embrace being a black woman by painting and sketching just that, to be honest I see creativity as my identity.

Rosa Johan Uddoh: The aim of my practice is to reach ‘Maximum Self Esteem’. I’m not sure those three words will ever accurately describe me, but everytime repeat those words as my aim, it makes me consider whether I’m believing in my abilities… and also whether I’m giving myself a break.

Who serves as an inspiration to you in your work?

Sola Olulode: All the Black Womxn and Femmes that surround my life and have made me the person I am today. From my mother and best friends to Black people on twitter and Beyoncé. The relationships I have with Black Womxn are the most important to me. I longed for them while studying at university in a very white space which is why I try to recreate those relationships the feeling of comfort and joy they give me in a painting as an act of self care. It brings me happiness that other Black Womxn might see my work connect with it in a similar way.

Camilla ‘Mica’ Daniels: I suppose it’s more of a combination of who and what. I’d say right now life experience is the biggest inspiration behind some of the pieces I do; debates and images circulating on social media tend to creep in and especially in the papercuts currently in this exhibition. But if I could pinpoint a person who begun the influence, I would say Kara Walker and her papercut art in terms of themes of race, sexuality, violence and identity that she explores. It was during my final year at university I was introduced to her work and it resonated quite strongly with me; and found these themes really manifesting with my final major project and have stayed with me since.

Rahana Dariah: I wouldn’t say anyone in particular is an inspiration but it’s an amalgamation of many people, things and experiences. Exploring my African ancestry, previously living and frequent visits to the Caribbean really inspired me a lot, as well as growing up in London. Seeing all these amazing black women do their thing really inspires me and definitely pushes me to do great things.

Rosa Johan Uddoh: My peers and black lesbian activist and writer, Audre Lorde. About 3 years ago, when I was working as an Architectural Assistant and I didn’t even know what performance art was, I bumped into an old friend from secondary school, artist and writer Rhoda Boateng, who asked me to be in a performance she was putting together. With the other performers formed a really close knit and supportive group of black female friends and I remember them introducing me to Audre Lorde’s text ‘The Uses of The Erotic: Erotic as Power’, saying “it comes to everyone at the right time”. They were right! – I read that text and within the year I was pursuing my dream to become an artist. I still return to it at least every 6 months to recenter myself, and remind myself how radical self love has to be at the core, the reason, of anything I do or make.

Has your upbringing inspired your artistic endeavors in any way? Have particular spaces and times influenced you creations?

Sola Olulode: I come from a Mixed heritage family, my mum is half English and Nigerian and my dad is fully Nigerian. My nigerian heritage is something that I’ve recently began to explore in my work, I realised I felt disconnected from this part of me as grew up in South London. I loved where I grew up being surrounded by so many rich varied cultures and of course Black culture at home, at school and just all around me, It’s a constant source for inspiration in my artwork. And you know what? Shout out to Dunraven A-Level art class of 2014! That time period was truly special to me. There was a group of like 10-13 of us all were extremely talented in our own way. Every lesson was full of story telling, cracking jokes, playing our favorite tunes dancing round the classroom while we did our creative thing. The teachers were great at giving us the freedom to experiment and explore anything we wanted to. Till I discovered Black Blossoms I hadn’t found an environment like that to create art. A space full of diverse upbringings and opinions but all with a passion to make art.

Camilla ‘Mica’ Daniels: My parents I think combined both British and West Indian influences within the home and I think I’ve come to embrace them more as I have gotten older. I will say for the most part that the time I spent in primary and secondary schools have shaped my art a bit. I felt like I grew up in fairly multi-cultural environments which maybe made me more willing to try different things? I grew up watching and taking to things like Pokemon, DragonballZ; I went through a period after GCSE obsessing over anime and manga and trying to recreate the style of drawings in EVERYTHING! It has calmed down a bit, but I’d say I’ve refined the style in my own way now.

Rahana Dariah: Growing up in a British West Indian Pro black household definitely influenced me and my creativity, spending a lot of my time in Saint Lucia, I’ve seen and experienced the culture first hand, you see the African influences in our culture and that has made me really want to explore different African cultures and incorporate that into my art.

Rosa Johan Uddoh: Yes, definitely, I feel like my upbringing is a goldmine for my artwork haha. I grew up in a mixed race family in Croydon, my Mum is Welsh and my Dad is half Nigerian half Jamaican. Just to run you through a few highlights of this: my tennis playing Dad attempting to train me, my sister, and my brother too, as a three pronged British version of the Williams Sisters; my Mum spontaneously singing me her celtic rendition of Nina Simone’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ via Skype webcam when I was feeling really isolated as a black girl at Cambridge University. From this upbringing, I’ve developed a practice exploring black feminism, involving me bursting into song, writing Williams sisters fan fiction, and making ceramic vessels for my family to use.

When did you begin to imagine this work/pieces for Black Blossoms? What do you feel is the importance of exhibiting this work as part of Black Blossoms?

Sola Olulode: I worked on the paintings I produced for the exhibition over the summer I was thinking about painting Black womxn as we often present ourselves in ‘squad goals’ photos online. I wanted to capture the way we can make ourselves look like goddesses proudly displaying our bond of friendship, beauty and creative talents with our outfits and our hair often adorning our faces like a crown, which is why I titled one of the pieces Crowns . The context of my artwork being displayed alongside the work of other Black Womxn is so liberating. A whole show of people I can relate to who my work has direct conversations with is really refreshing.

Camilla ‘Mica’ Daniels: I remember hearing about the first Black Blossoms Exhibition which happened in 2015 at University of the Arts London and thinking..”This is a big deal, I have to check it out” and was so glad that I did. That same day I visited I followed all the social media handles, and then discovered the open call late last year. I find myself constantly exploring my thoughts experiences and openness surrounding sex and my own body, and contrast them against the societal expectations that are imposed on us on a daily basis. The more I saw debates and opinions floating around, the more shocked I became. I felt it was important to share the “Not Yours” papercut pieces because I wanted to challenge this policing and control of Black Women’s bodies that have occurred throughout history and sadly still continues in the present. From the abhorrent but minimally covered gang-rape case involving Tommy Poindexter, to hypersexualization in music videos and ‘victim blaming’. I want to remind people that are bodies are our own, and those who choose to inflict abuse on to us must always be held accountable.

Rahana Dariah: The pieces for Black Blossoms were something I wanted to do for my upbringing in London; I wanted to do something where black women and girls saw themselves and could relate to the images, Exhibiting these pieces with Black Blossoms is wonderful because Black Blossoms is a safe space for Black women to showcase their art, us black women are not given enough credit for our creativity and it’s great to see a platform where we are finally seen.

Rosa Johan Uddoh: The Thigh House is a project I’d been working on for a while when I saw the Black Blossoms open call. It is inspired by a story I heard in Cuba that it was the role of black female slaves to make barrel roof tiles, on their thighs, by pressing clay slabs on their thighs until it takes it’s form. These are the long curved terracotta tiles that you see all over the world; in South America, the Mediterranean and China. In response to this story, I began to, and am still running, tile making workshops for black and brown women and non- binary people to attend and learn to make roof tiles from their thighs. We create a social space, in the act of meeting and talking, and a physical shelter, the roof, in the process. Each interlocking tile on the Thigh House is made on someone’s thigh. It’s such a personal project in that way, that I felt it was really important that it was shown to a black audience, surrounded by other work celebrating black folks. Black Blossoms provided that kind of amazing and rare space- it is a real honour to show with them.

What does it mean to engage with and be in conversation with the arts, as a Black body? What feeling does this foster for you?

Sola Olulode: Being a Black person is the arts can often feel so isolating as there’s often so few of us being represented in major art institutions or exhibitions. It can feel like I might have struggle to gain recognition or get proper critic. Now I’m discovering things like Black Blossoms I know I can take my work anywhere that I don’t have to just be known as ‘the black girl who paints’ I can be seen as a talented portrait/figure painter. Exhibiting with Black Womxn removes the awkwardness some people feel around the subject of race and gender and opens it up for free discussion. I’m excited about where I will take my work next.

Camilla ‘Mica’ Daniels: It’s hard to put into words-but there is sweet feeling of awe that I’ve only begun to feel more recently. Identifying as black; a woman; a human being. Having the capability to be raw, unapologetic and to make others feel and appreciate what you’re trying to convey in your artistic expression. It really is magical.

Rahana Dariah: Being a black woman amongst the art scene it’s definitely freeing, self expression is on a high, no one is tip toeing around anyone anymore and it is beautiful to see, It’s very encouraging and overwhelmingly joyful to say the least.

Rosa Johan Uddoh: It’s privilege to be able to express myself and spend time making the works I think of a reality. Really getting to know my mediums, kneading clay, pouring glazes, sewing costumes, dressing and performing, sampling sounds, editing videos: these are all processes that put me in touch with my body, in all it’s black- woman-ness. The art institutions in the UK are generally very white and middle class, so often exhibiting work and performing as a black body is difficult and misunderstood. However, being part of Black Blossoms has shown me what is possible and what the art world could be, when it truly celebrates and respects black women and non- binary people. I have a friend, the artist G Lucas- Going, who says Art is Life- Saving, and I think for black artists and black people confronted with Art that speaks to them, that’s really and seriously true.

*Photos of the exhibition space courtesy of Jade Foster

Instagram: Black Blossomss | Sola Olulode | Camilla ‘Mica’ Daniels | Rahana Dariah | Rosa Johan Uddoh

Black Blossom Twitter | Facebook | Website

(launching 2018, inquires can be sent to: info@blackblossoms.org )

*Aliyah Blackmore is a DJ, Digital Content Curator, and Writer based in Harlem, New York. Her art making research, and writing is interested in engaging with the multi dimensional threads, narrative and histories, that run through African Diasporic experiences to understand, how historically and in the present, our modes of cultural production foster spaces of resistance and recovery for our bodies. Follow Aliyah:
Instagram: @aliyahblkmre // Soundcloud: DJ LotusMoon

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