Back to Shop

6th February 2021 – 28th February 2021

Rizpah Amadasun

Artists in THEIR Residence: A Virtual Project

Each year The Wilson invites artists into the museum to take over a gallery, as an artist in residence. This year, we felt it was more important than ever to give 6 local artists a platform to exhibit their work and engage with local audiences. We have revised the traditional format for the residencies so they can take place safely from the artist’s home or studio, yet still have a presence within the gallery when The Wilson reopens in 2021, in the form of a group show.

Meet Artist in THEIR Residence Number 2: Rizpah Amadasun

We’re launching the second of our Artists in THEIR Residence collaborations. This residence is with Rizpah Amadasun. A creative in mixed media, Rizpah has developed set design for a local urban festival and a music video, produced interior designs for restored Georgian buildings, hand painted shop fronts, and learnt paper engineering to produce bespoke pop up cards.

Rizpah strives to learn more about the creative processes she loves and explore others as she develops as an artist. For the last decade she has dabbled, as a personal hobby, and is a self-taught henna artist and body painter, exploring North African and Maori skin art traditions.

Introduction to my residency

During my residency I intend to produce a collection of paintings based on four main themes of the Black British identity, and also create a piece of art that pays homage to African wax print.

The diversity within the Black British identity thrills me on a multitude of levels. It is shared experiences, ambitions and right to be recognised in mainstream spaces that I strive to address in my art.

Mixed race people are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United Kingdom. Our genetics means we could look like anyone, but most importantly, we are ourselves. For the residency I will be focusing on the Anglo African and Caribbean identities. My objective is to produce artwork where people can see themselves, and others can also be challenged to have an open mind about the realities of mixed race family structures.

Depictions of Black love is another theme I will be exploring. For me, Black love is about the positive representation of romantic relationships. Many depictions of Black love in mainstream media are often toxic and promote the over sexualisation of the genders. This does not reflect the different types of Black love, and perpetuates the fetishism of Blackness which I believe is terrifying to deal with first-hand and racist. The paintings I develop in my residency will reflect on genuine concepts of love.

From an early age my imagination has captivated by the lives of Afro Europeans throughout history. I bring my focus in this residency to Black British historical figures in a series of portraits highlighting inspiring parts of their lives with a contemporary illustrative backdrop. The intention is to engage people in this intriguing British history that has played a crucial role in underpinning how we live now.

I have naturally gravitated to working with African wax print ideologies through my art, usually in portraits. However, for this residency, I add a further exploration in my artistic development by combining body painting in the contemporary stance with African print inspired designs. I hope you find yourself entertained and enlightened as the residency unfolds.

Introduction to my studio

The space in which I create is the one tiny piece of the planet that I have complete responsibility for, maintaining its peace, enjoying it and attending to its manmade ailments.

My sanctuary away from the world, I can often be found at the bottom of my mother’s garden in a studio she built to replace the dark dingy shack here before we moved into this Georgian terrace.

It is an east facing studio that looks out across the garden and to a Scandinavian inspired view of the room of requirement, as the extension of the house has become fondly known.

Situated in the heart of Gloucester I can hear the sounds of urban life as I paint. On a very quiet day you can hear the rumble of trains pulling out of the station as they begin their journey to places I know not. I once heard my seven year old neighbour a few doors down, calling out to the child on the other side of her garden to ask her “what has been the best day of her life so far?” This produces creative nostalgia, taking me back to when we asked each other real questions and moulding playdough was fun. Vans backfiring and the smell of a bonfire all year round in an adjacent property occupies my imagination, mulling over as background noise to my artwork, the illustration of the world outside the shed I cannot see, but hear constantly.

 

Fully aware of how fortunate I am to have this creative space, there is one item in the studio to which I am particularly attached. Like many of the items it shares space with, it was found. My cousin unexpectedly arrived one day with an architect’s drawing table squeezed into his silver Volvo. He had driven from Coventry to collect it in Leamington Spa only to deliver it to me as a surprise, before swiftly returning to do his doctor’s nightshift at Coventry Hospital.

This act of kindness, championing my creativity, has remained a special moment in time from which I continue to take courage and confidence in my pursuit as an emerging artist.

Creating Work 1: Mixed Race

The mixed race identity holds a plethora of combinations, all as beautiful and unique as the next, across the history of the world and globally.

Excavations in London revealed mixed race bodies dating back 2000 years.

In my own artwork I often forget to reflect on my own mixed race identity, being of Anglo African descent. In this selection of art I made my first self-portrait in two decades.

Trying out a different painting technique to my usual style with acrylic paint, I made a portrait of my father and me, when we were young. I have my father’s surgeon hand and my mother’s creativity which combined has provided me with natural artistic abilities. It’s important to show the realities of mixed race families in artwork, that fathers are present, tender and loving.

Just Be You is a self-portrait that features a background with phrases ‘You don’t have to explain the colour of your skin’, ‘You don’t have to justify the expression of your identity’, and ‘You can create who you want to be’.

There are two reasons behind displaying these words in the artwork. The first is to encourage mixed race people not to get caught up in defining themselves based on other people’s expectations, that being of mixed race heritage is a superpower and that we owe no explanation, there is no obligation to answer questions about our identities.

The second is to highlight to the observer of the artwork who isn’t asked where they are from or to explain the colour of their skin and that asking such things of other people is unnecessary and invasive.

There are phrases written in smaller writing in the painting that highlight some of the micro aggressive things people say to people of mixed race identity.

These include, ‘you sound really white’, ‘that is really black of you’, ’are mixed race people confused?’, ‘why are you so white?’, ‘why are you trying so hard to be black?’, and ‘where are you really from?’

These are really damaging external questions to process while we journey through our mixed race identity. Race should not continue to be defined by such limiting stereotypes. Define whiteness, define blackness, and consider that the only true box we can fit in is human.

Creating Work 2: Body Art 1

In 1960s western society, particularly among hippies, contemporary body painting was developed.

Applied by subcultures and creatives, with bright colours and embellishments, body painting continued to grow into a modern form with airbrushing equipment and the addition of UV body paint.

It was not until the 1990s that body painting came into the mainstream of the Western hemisphere without the negative connotations around nudity that previously existed in popular social norms.

It was Joanna Gair’s ‘Demi’s Birthday Suit’ for Vanity Fair’s August 1992 issue that can be noted as a changing point in Western body painting history. There is now a world body painting festival held in Austria annually.

 

Body painting has always been used as a form of self-expression to display messages and symbolise solidarity with a concept. Historical evidence, discovered by archaeologists and anthropologists, has so far dated body art back to the Stone Age.  Temporary body painting is still practised in the traditional form the world over with natural materials such as clay, and charcoal in sacred ceremonies and celebrations.

Observing how a wide demographic of couples interacts with each other in Gloucestershire, I was inspired to incorporate an emotive scene in my exploration of body painting to touch on intimacy whilst we are in a time when we are restricted legally in relation to who we can be close to physically.

Painting a geometric background with a nod to African inspired patterns, I designed the backdrop to the models to include triangles as they are the strongest shape, reflecting the unity of the couple. The couple was hand painted moved in front of the background to complete the final composition of my design.

The sense of intimacy I was aiming for was definitely captured by the composition of the models and their authentic affection for each other. The paint amplifies their love for each other despite being covered in a colour palette that purposely wasn’t warm.

The colour palette was chosen in consideration of the cold technological way dating and communication takes place, and continues to be the dominant detached platform in which we replicate intimacy from afar.

 

Creating Work 3: Body Art 2

Human skin is the largest organ of the body with a surface area of nearly two square metres. Made up of 2000 billion cells, the skin expresses our emotions and our desires, secret or hidden.

People paint their bodies for several reasons, which includes rites of passage, religious rituals, in times of war or seduction, for a sense of belonging in self-identification to non-human beings, self-individualism, and self-deconstruction.

From Native Americans to the Xhosa and across the African continent, through tribes in Asia all the way to Aborigines and the Maoris, body paint remains a sacred process.

In western society capitalism consumes us with transforming ourselves to be better versions of who we are, to buy, camouflage, distort, hide, emphasise and highlight our body.

Body painting adds to the addiction of escapism in the use of it in carnivals and festivals; by painting our bodies so that even we do not recognise the mirror image we project daily, we loosen our inhibitions, daring and empowering ourselves to act out our desires.

Is the world a stage and men and women merely players with an extensive wardrobe? If clothes are the real camouflage, is body paint the real person? Is the expression of body paint only skin deep and to seek pleasure in contemporary society? Or is the psychological open door into the mind of the person wearing the paint lost in the loud music, flashy lights and UV paint?

In the development of this body painting piece I created an African wax fabric inspired pattern to paint on a board behind the model. Then based on popular contemporary Western body painting methods, I replicated the same pattern onto the model so the model blended in to the board.

Unsatisfied with the simplicity of the artwork, I continued to paint additional shapes onto the model going against the grain of the pattern and, at times, working with it.

The finished results are bright and playful, almost magical, I would go as far as to say that my model looked like some sort of woodland creature. Transformed at first glance, was the model wearing my true colours that transmitted out of my brush flowing with no regard for the original design?

Creating Work 4: Black Love 1

What does true love look like?

We have assumptions and expectations; we have love languages that get lost in translation when we express them to those around us. I dip into an exploration of Black Love in a series of art works that study joy, playfulness, and tenderness, eros and storge.

Depictions of Black people openly loving one another are important to combat the criminalising assumptions we face. It is important for all humans to see that we too are made of love, and can give love.

In the abundance of images we scroll through daily, or are projected on to our different realities, there is not a consensus that shows a diverse range of positive narratives to all of us.

My phone knows I am Black, and markets to me as Black, but even then, I have to actively source imagery that reaffirms that I too deserve love. These images, art, and photography are few and far between, there is a limit on any search engine and app search for those that are loved and look like me.

In this set of images, you see two paintings, one of a father and baby and one of a couple laughing.

Capturing unity and a sense of belonging inspired me most to produce these paintings. Laughter is undeniably powerful in private or in public; it can be a bonding experience that allows us to commune over different topics in the present that prepares opportunities in the future for shared memories.

Storge depicted between a Black father and child gets neglected in regular, consistent matters of realistic representations in western society, and yet is so lovely to see not just among the fathers around us but in art too as a historical documentation.

Laying down the foundations is essential in every relationship including of that between artist and paint. For me taking time to design and paint a background is a display of my commitment to the overall outcome.

I take time, paying attention to the details, clearly setting out my intentions for the artwork so that it may marry harmoniously with the portrait for a long lasting existence. Even the simplest of backgrounds will have been painted with painstaking time and energy.

Creating Work 5: Black Love 2

Love is Love. All love is love. We crave it, we seek it, we express it, we miss it, we are consumed by it, we reject it.

Black love, white love, mixed race love, interracial love is all the same; the politicisation of skin pigmentation creates the stereotypes, fears, assumptions and expectations we project on to our skin for us to play out with real consequences.

The portrait ‘Being with You’, depicts a couple sharing an ice cream. Culturally among many Black identities this scene would not take place, they would have their own ice creams.

The decision to paint this fun, bright, sexy scene was to show something relatable and playful to a wide demographic. The background was inspired by honeycomb. The use of oranges and yellows in the majority of portraits in the black love collection was because of the spiritual meaning of those colours.

Orange represents confidence, joy and enthusiasm. Yellow means personal power, clarity, courage and happiness. Gold inspires a deep understanding of the self and the soul which is important in cherishing and nurturing a relationship.

Yoruba weddings, like many traditional weddings around the world, are big luxurious affairs. Families visit each other in simple ceremonies of exchanging gifts long before the engagement.

The garments featured in the wedding ceremonies represent the houses, the genders, this is called aso-ebi. With glamorous geles’ and agbadas and a master of ceremonies, the wedding takes place with dancing, tears and speeches, wardrobe changes, outlandish gifts and many, many, many photos.

 

The portrait ‘Rasheed and Yaana’ features a glimpse of my cousin’s Yoruba wedding in Belgium from 2020. Restricted by pandemic guidelines, many of his family missed the sensational event. However, we will have the pleasure of supporting their marriage for years to come.

A modern Black fairy-tale, my cousin and his authentically kind bride met by chance travelling. They both work in the NHS, one as a doctor and the other a nurse. With the stress and pressure they are currently under it’s stories like this that should be documented for British history. A simple love story of Black love, a celebration of tradition, love of the community and love of each other.

Creating Work 6: Black History 1

From an early age my imagination has been captivated by the lives of Afro Europeans throughout history, particularly the adventurous life of General Thomas Alexandre Dumas who inspired his son Alexandre Dumas, the famous French writer, to pen The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

General Duma was Napoleon’s right hand man and a victorious military leader, much to the envy of Napoleon.

I also became fascinated with the life of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint Georges, who was a champion fencer, a virtuoso violinist, and a phenomenal classical composer.

Contrary to a belief that is rapidly being in assumed in mainstream society, the transatlantic slave trade, which was global organised crime, did not start the existence of Black Britons. Historical research has consistently provided evidence of Black Britons across all societies contributing to the country we know today.

Adelaide Hall, originally an African American born in 1901, enjoyed an extensive jazz career out of London for 70 years. Madam Hall set up clubs in the 1930s in London and Paris with her husband Wilbur. Performing into her 90s, Madam Hall was part of the development of scat singing. In the portrait, displayed in the patterns are gold vintage microphones that pay homage to her singing career.

John Blanke was a 15th century musician in the royal courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII. It wasn’t uncommon for Black European musicians to perform in royal courts across Europe. The documentation of Mr Blanke was referenced in the accounts books for Henry VIII. During his career, he wrote a letter to the king requesting a pay rise and a promotion, and received it. We don’t know what Mr Blanke looked like so this portrait is from my imagination. In the background of the portrait are interpretations of the trumpet, the instrument he played, and the Tudor rose.

These portraits are to celebrate these Black Britons from history who decided what they wanted and went out to get it, establishing themselves in society and clearly knowing their self-worth.

For further interest, some other Black Britains to look up include Mary Seacole, Olaudah Equiano, Dido Elizabeth Belle and Olive Morris.

Creating Work 7: Black History 2

A significant figure in British history is William Cuffay, a Victorian of mixed-race identity.

Raised in Chatham in Kent; Mr Cuffay became a tailor by trade through an apprenticeship. The New Tailors Union went on strike in 1834 and Mr Cuffay subsequently lost his job. Outraged, he joined the fight for universal suffrage so working men could be represented in parliament. He was involved with the formation of the Metropolitan Tailors Charter Association in 1839 and his activism continued as a national executive in the National Chartist Association.

He rose to be elected the President of the London Chartists in 1842. He was one of three leaders representing London at the National Chartist Convention and he played a part in organising a march to the House of Commons to deliver a petition which was cancelled much to his frustration.

Convicted of plotting domestic terrorism, he was transported to Tasmania in 1848. Mr Cuffay was pardoned three years later but remained with his wife in Tasmania as a tailor. He continued to fight for workers’ rights, influencing changes in master and slave laws in the colony.

His consistency and conviction through the highs and lows of his activism is inspiring. The drawings made of him suggest an intelligent, comical personality and hopefully this is reflected in the painting.

History is always being made. Today Marcus Rashford MBE is similar to William Cuffay in his fight with policies and calling for MPs to consider the needs of the people. Mr Rashford, a professional football player for England and Manchester United. He broke the record in 2016 for being the youngest player to score in his first senior international match. Mr Rashford’s activism is aimed at ending child food poverty in the UK. Raising £20 million to provide free meals in Manchester he took his campaign nationwide working with charities Fareshare and Food Foundation.

While campaigning for the government to continue the free school meal vouchers through the summer holidays to allow 1.3 million children to claim, Mr Rashford wrote an open letter to MPs sincerely stating the need for the continuation of this support and the immense difference it makes to families.

Final reflections

Completing a creative project is a fragile state of satisfied accomplishment and a drained energy mixed with a sense of loss.  With the conclusion of every art compilation comes a short grieving process as the creative juices rest and restore to jump enthusiastically back into the next project. Looking at the collections of artworks made for the residency, I am filled with a pride. From the development and display of the work, I hope that my intentions are fulfilled as engagement with my creations takes place. My intentions are to continuously inspire positivity in the consideration of one’s own perspective, to challenge the assumptions formed. That the African diaspora of the Cotswolds and surrounding areas feel represented in a gallery platform, maybe even mitigate the emotions of isolation in an already isolating environment. I hope that people look at my work and reflect on the value of their own identities and how they approach conversations about other identities without microaggression.

Black British people are here, we have been here for a long time. I hope my art inspires further research into British history and contemporary role models. In all my activity, I attempt to combat the exotic-ism that takes place in all aspects of society to show the normality and plethora of Black identities. Everyone is exotic; it’s not limited to skin colour and hair type. The term exotic is a loaded word; the relativity of the term has yet to be activated in mainstream dialogue by Caucasians when considering their own identities.

Art has an important role in the anthropological documentation of Britain, the representation of Black people in British art displayed in mainstream places not just for Black history month is essential in contributing to the understanding of how Britons live now, how we express our desires and thoughts, how social norms transform and grow, how we love, hate and express our experiences through creativity.

In concluding my work with The Wilson, I thank you for following my art process and the conceptions behind my creations.

Summary

In contemporary society it’s important to represent black positive narratives through art to inspire younger generations and affirm lifestyle choices being made now.

The portrait of Michelle Obama, made by Amy Sherland, captured the self-empowerment of a four year old girl called Parker Curry. The photograph taken of her staring up at a portrait of the First Lady stood out for the rarity of a Black child looking at an artistic expression of a Black role model.

Art needs to work towards this being a norm for all children to see across the Western hemisphere.  Black creatives are out there in abundance producing a plethora of incredible work. They can be supported through social media promotion, expose them on your own accounts, comment on their work. We appreciate you; every acknowledgement reaffirms our creative path.

Wrapping up my artwork to store away in anticipation of the physical exhibition at The Wilson, I reflect on the things I learnt during the residency. The bubble wrap and tape at the ready, I procrastinate, flicking through the pictures, documenting the development of each piece and the videos that didn’t make it in the content, time moved fast as my paint brush was steady and slow with precision.

Through the residency I noticed a reduction in my fear to go over and adjust work, often terrified I would go one stroke too far then have to do the whole thing again after hours of care, I found more courage in changing the paint on canvas. I also concluded that in advocating for the representation of others I have not truly considered my own identity which is something I will be exploring further in my artwork going forward.

I would have loved more time to produce more content for each theme that was touched on in the residency; however, additional pieces inspired by the residency will be included in the physical exhibition. It will be exciting to see any changes in the development of my art practice from the art residency to the physical exhibition.

Project Funding

This project was funded by the Arts Council England Emergency Support Fund

Print

Back to top

Donating to the Cheltenham Trust will support future art, culture and sport activity and much more…

Donate now