08 / 03 / 17
Women-Art-Belief, a multi-arts collaboration between 3FF and Near Neighbours, invites ground-breaking artists in West Yorkshire to speak in their own words about being women in the arts, and about how their beliefs and identity connect with their work.
At a time of heightened religious and racial discrimination, where women’s identities, beliefs and religious practices are distorted through the lens of inflammatory media and political rhetoric, these artists demonstrate the complexity of identity and belief through their creative practice.
Here are some extracts from their interviews. Read all twelve interviews here
I am Catholic so when I was younger I would go to Church with my mother in the Caribbean, at first it was under duress and then I started to enjoy it, so when I moved back in the UK I found a church that I quite liked. Along with my belief in Catholicism, I believe any place of worship is a place to unburden, a place to ask and a place to give thanks and offerings.
I am Grenadian and Guyanese. I went to Guiana as a baby and I moved back to the UK when I was eleven… School was incredibly difficult, I was bullied because I was different. I came from a place where race and ethnicity wasn’t important, to a place where there were demarcations of black, white, where you came from and what you look like.
When I think the work is done, when I think things might be changing, they are not. Our stories always need to be pushed to the forefront. As a woman, in Britain, I am aware of the privilege that I am able to write and speak freely where as there are women in some places on this earth where they cannot and where they do not have these rights. For example, when violence against young women on campuses in America is at an all-time high, I still have work to do. When people still ask a victim, ‘what were you wearing?’ I still have work to do.
When I grew up there was only one other artist that I knew of in the Jamaican community. We had to learn to be pioneers. As a visual artist from my cultural background it was difficult to get your work appreciated. I remember being at university, and my tutor said to me, ‘when will I see some white faces in your work’.
It caught me off guard and I was really shocked, however before I could respond, a fellow student defended me. So from very early on, I had to learn to be a pioneer and I also had to learn to stand up for my art, because the black community need a representation in every walk of life. As well as being a black or Rastafari artist, I am also a community artist and I have always loved the ability to interact and engage with all kinds of people from the wider community.
The link to both my spirituality and my history is important to me and my artistic journey, because we were the children who were taught that we don’t have any history. Sometimes my work is very autobiographical, which involves self-portraits and reflections to tell a particular story from my life, and what I have experienced through womanhood. Being a Rastafarian woman in the arts is extremely significant to me. Women have a unique perspective and this should be represented in the arts but we don’t have that equality right now. I want to help inspire this change.
Women of colour have always been leads in the vast body of work I have created. I put them in the centre because these women are my mother, my sisters, my nieces and myself, and we can do anything. Why are we always the cameo or the sidekick? My life isn’t that, I am not the cameo or the sidekick of my story. As women in the arts we are still fighting for our spaces, and we are still fighting for the same recognition as men. This is why I will always write about women, writing them in to the centre of my stories and giving them power and in turn give myself power. It’s not just about being a woman, but it’s also my class, my ethnicity and my race. The more that I have been writing, the more that I question the world around me.
Religion is one of those areas. The fact is that it was used as an oppressive tool to colonise Africa, has meant that that what we, as Africans held as our cultural beliefs were told were primitive and needed saving from. Generations later, we are disconnected from our cultural beliefs. I want to know whole of me. I want to know who we were before we were given Christianity. Spiritually I am reconnecting with my ancestors and learning about Ndebele traditions.
As a Sudanese Arab living in the UK, art wasn’t seen as a positive thing to pursue. I spent a lot of time exploring my Sudanese and British identity through my poetry and photography, and finding out where I fit and where I belong. My art helps me to find the missing pieces and to search my identity in a creative space. The things that I couldn’t express with my words manifested as poetry on a page and where my identity was uncertain, photography helped to make things clearer for me. I have a lot of love for being creative, I don’t know where it came from but it’s always been there. For me, there is a drive in being able to tell a story in a way which has not been done before.
My hijab is not important to me, it isn’t the first thing that I see when I look in the mirror. I do not see it as a limitation to what I do or what I can achieve. As a woman I don’t limit myself to what others believe I should or should not do, I will always strive to always achieve my goals.
When I first began playing instruments, my brothers learnt to play the both the Tabla and the harmonium, whereas I only learnt to play the harmonium. It wasn’t really encouraged for girls to play the Tabla, and one of my regrets is not learning how to play it… There was a gender bias, however I think it is changing now as there are more female Tabla players in the Indian classical music industry.
Guru Nanak promoted gender equality and, aside from perhaps motherhood, there aren’t really any prescribed gender roles in Sikhi. My religion gave me an “excuse” to be myself and not to modify myself to feel accepted, whereas in society, women are not considered beautiful unless they are well-groomed, or unless they remove hair and wear makeup, and there isn’t that option for women not to do these things without being considered less acceptable. Other people might say my religion is restrictive in this sense, but I have found that it has liberated me from the pressures of having to be a certain way according to society’s standards.