When starting my Fine Art Photography degree at Camberwell College of Arts in 2017, I entered a new chapter in my life, in terms of academia, but I was also forced to confront my mixed-race identity.
Having grown up in a diverse environment, in West London, this wasn’t something that I had experienced before. Within my first few weeks at university, I received numerous requests, from different people, asking if they could touch my naturally curly hair. At first, I didn’t quite know what to make of this so I let them touch it. It did feel odd though, and through speaking to different peers and tutors, I learnt about the term ‘microaggression’, which is an unintentional hostility that’s brought in to the everyday culture, in regards to a person’s identity.
My early encounters led me to create an installation – ‘Dancing Outside of Camberwell College of Arts’ – where I wore a costume that I had made out of synthetic hair, sourced in Peckham. I went on to collaborate with the artist, Alix Bizet, who used her degree show to showcase her collection ‘Hair Matters’, which depicts human hair transformed into yarn, to create fashion garments. Through this, I learnt about the sensitivity which surrounds the discourse of hair as a form of one’s identity; particularly for black women. This compelled me to explore a more liberating perspective of black identity, within the arts, which was unbound by stereotypes, marginalisation, underrepresentation or colonialism; all of these became discussion points in my tutorials and group critiques as I was asked to discuss my perspective on these, when sharing my artwork, because of my ethnicity.
I found out about Afrofuturism by chance and I am eternally grateful to have learnt about this movement. The power of Afrofuturism is that it speaks to black audiences through a liberating perspective, which addresses the collective experience of being black in society, through a futuristic narrative and visual language. As part of my research into Afrofuturism, I have learnt about the likes of Sun Ra, who is the most pivotal example of what it means to be an Afrofuturist. Through his experimental jazz compositions, he has created a language of his own which is subversive, yet mirrors the real experiences of what it means to be a black person, in contemporary society.
Inspired by this, I wrote a dissertation proposing the first mixed-race gaze of Afrofuturism, where I integrated my personal experience of being mixed race into the narrative of my writing while evaluating the relationship between whiteness and blackness. This led me to propose artists such as 1970s performance artist, Adrian Piper, contemporary fashion designer, Grace Wales Bonner, and the abstract expressionist painter, Frank Bowling, as artists who represent the core manifestations of Afrofuturism and are influential figures in my practice. It was through the experience of my academic research, where I began to develop my passion for Afrofuturism.
The Fashion Allegory
When creating The Fashion Allegory, I initially approached the series as a fine art photographer. This involved me sourcing different models around my university campus and thinking about how I could stage a narrative which responds to my interest in fashion. I wanted to use the garments, as a signpost towards the way fashion is an extension of our self-identities. Throughout my degree, fashion communications have inspired the aesthetic in my images and I then think about creating a subversive depiction to contrast against this.
In The Fashion Allegory, I developed fashion garments which became the props for the shoot and I wanted to use the studio as the setting. This involved me visiting the local area, in Peckham High Street, where I sourced second-hand garments from Traid, during their £2.00 sale. Following this, I fused the garments with my own abstract expressionism mark-making. This was inspired by the drawing element of my practice, centring around Automatism, which is the intuitive engagement that one has with their subconscious when creating mark-making with materials. As well as this, I incorporated an Afrofuturism playlist into my act of designing and video recorded the process of making these designs to create performance art.
In The Fashion Allegory no.1, the central composition situates five models, who represent diverse identities, including mixed-race, black and white. This was essential for me when selecting the models, as I wanted to create a narrative between individuals who are recognisable for diverse audiences. The zig-zag formation, which follows the line between the models who are standing, mirrors the line of the studio environment, creating a distinction and relationship between the two.
The location is deliberately noticeable so that it highlights the performative act of wearing and modelling garments; this is reinforced through the models individually holding the garments that they are posing with, instead of directly wearing them. The female, who is seen with her legs spread open, alludes to the idea that she has just given birth to the pair of second-hand, oversized jeans. This pose becomes an access point to highlight the way fashion has become engrained into our every day as a natural form of culture – we wear clothes to cover our bodies, we wear clothes to style our identity. The industrial, and manufactured materiality of clothing appeals to me, which is why I wanted to contrast this against the ink expressionism marks which I added to the garments as a way of upcycling them. Following this collection, I am currently developing these designs in my upcoming project.
As a multidisciplinary artist, who is seeking to define Afrofuturism in contemporary culture, I am realising my passion for intuitive mark-making into the space of my designs to interpret a new approach to upcycling fashion garments. By creating The Fashion Allegory, which fuses sustainability, ink expressionism – with diverse models, staging fashion garments as props, I have created my first fashion collection. This has inspired me to start my own fine art fashion brand – Indera Studio – which is an intersectional critique and playful exploration of the relationship between one’s self-expression and fashion. I hope to collaborate with more new models, fashion brands and textile designers, to realise future collaborations as I develop my brand, post-graduation.