black, british, and muslim, this artist explores intersections with visual project

August 9, 2018
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Navigating a multi-faceted identity can feel like a mine-field when one’s heritage is a tapestry of different – often conflicting – histories. London-based multidisciplinary artist Ejatu Shaw endeavors to make sense of her own broad tapestry through imagery that breaks down and explores the confines of certain parts of her identity. “The prefix ‘poly-‘ means more than one or many. Made up of many different identities (British, Fulani, Muslim, West African), I find that I often struggle to have a firm understanding of myself and my place in all the communities I belong to,” mentions Shaw.

“‘Poly-’ explores the conflict I have with my identity whenever I try to connect with my Fulani roots outside of the confinements of Islam (a religion that 99% of Fulani people follow), and my struggle and failure to meet both the religious and cultural requirements of my tribe due to my British identity and values.”

Shaw skillfully fashions imagery that encompasses her struggles, playing with elements of each facet of her identity, weaving a narrative that feels like a visual conversation between the elements. The unlikely combination of plastic accessories – polymers meant to depict a tangible form of her ‘poly’ identity – reveal Shaw’s internal dialogue on the matter of her intersecting identities.

“Throughout the project I use the theme of polymers (using polymeric materials such as plastic bags, cling film, plastic containers and bin bags, to highlight the fact that my identity feels synthetic and not true to me. The properties of these materials mean they cannot easily be destroyed, the same way I cannot easily rid myself of Islam or my Fulani culture. Plastic cannot break itself down naturally, and instead pollutes our oceans and landscapes. Burning plastic releases toxic fumes. Every time I try to reinvent my identity to suit my values, every time I try to break down the polymeric chain that is my cultural and religious upbringing, nothing but toxicity comes from it and I end up feeling as though I have no identity at all.”