I’ve Turned My South London Flat Into A Haven Of Black Art

What has been even more interesting has been going from seeing no one who looked like me in art to being a subject myself. Last year, I was asked to sit for Irish artist Ian Brennan, and a few years before that, Italian artist Rosso Emerald Crimson, experiences that were equally nerve-wracking and exhilarating. At Sotheby’s last month, while attending the unveiling of a painting Tatler commissioned for its Platinum Jubilee cover, its painter Oluwole Omofemi made the same request. Becoming part of the representation that I sought is humbling.

While studying fine art in college, I was particularly fond of the Renaissance period, but Black figures were either non-existent or relegated to the background. In response to this, I leant more toward self-portraits, reimagining classic works with myself as the subject. Frida Kahlo once famously said: “I am my own muse, the subject I know best,” and indeed, I often felt like Caravaggio’s “Narcissus”, fixated on my own reflection. But there was power in putting myself in the frame.

It’s interesting how art reflects us, in a less obvious sense. Our tastes, yes, but deeper parts, too. When writing this, I revisited my art book from sixth form, and it’s a fervid tome of baby feminism. My statement of intent outlined how I intended to unpack the sexism so prevalent within art. “From the vamp to the vixen, I will be looking at the various guises women are given,” I wrote, “how we are portrayed by men and how we are portrayed by ourselves.” I didn’t know the concept of the “female gaze” but art gave me a premature understanding of it. Similarly, when comparing the work of famous pin-up artists Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas, I noted that while Elvgren didn’t depict Black women at all, Vargas’s representations were, in my own words, “notably raunchier”. It stood out to me long before “misogynoir” and “fetishisation” were in my vocabulary.

For many, art articulates things words can’t, whether that be through creating it or viewing it. It is as much about showing us experiences outside of our own as it is reflecting the universal, and for too long that hasn’t included (or, rather, showcased) the Black experience. There is still a way to go before the art world truly reflects Black reality. Until it does, though, it’s been heartening to hang the art I wish I’d seen more of growing up in my own home.


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