Joke Valerie Amusan is a Germany-born Nigerian artist based in England. She is a recent Art and English Literature graduate, and the voice behind Women of Colour empowerment blog ‘She Stands Firm’. A blog that strives to champion the voices of the women who aren’t heard. Her art practice is concerned with exploring her own cultural identity while also altering the oftentimes negative perception of black women in the media. She focuses on the beauty of their complex nature. “My practice synthesises sculpture, sound, film, and performance to examine the concept of ‘blackness’, and how this impacts the identity of black women today”, says Joke. The work demands not only to be seen and heard but felt. It is ultimately a celebration of a people who have overcome.
For Joke, the process of her work is just as important as the final outcome. Employing materials such as, and not limited to, hessian and wool, she depicts the power black women have. Her use of cheap everyday materials alludes to Arte Povera, a movement whose recognisable trait was the use of commonplace materials. This supports the notion of her work being for the ordinary wo(man). She reverts power to overlooked materials such as concrete and hessian by giving them a new and supreme lease of life. These materials now play vital roles in the same way she believes black women do. The objects become sculptural pieces strategically placed to initiate questions, stories, conversations.
Joke strives to alter the perception of hessian in her work. Hessian is a rough and irritating fabric African slaves were forced to wear, and making it large scale and elevating it, it becomes a thing to be looked up at and admired rather than something beneath us. You are to acknowledge what the slaves went through but also how they overcame and set the foundations for future generations not just in Africa, but all over the world. The unification of the hessian and the red wool statements symbolise how a negative material or situation can be altered.
Concrete is a building material that is quite literally all around us. It makes the walls of the buildings; it lines the floors we walk on. It’s a strong foundation. It’s everywhere and nowhere. We don’t truly acknowledge it. Creating stools out of concrete elevates it from its flat surface and makes it a support structure. In this way, one is forced to see it. The concrete in Joke’s practice evokes a city environment and enforces the notion of black women belonging to these cities. They have the right to be there.
One of her inspirations is Yinka Shonibare, a renowned London-based Nigerian artist who uses a range of media to explore topics such as cultural identity in a contemporary context. His trademark use of bright fabrics makes his work recognisable anywhere. Although the fabric is identified as “African”, it is, in fact, a Dutch fabric. “The fabrics are not authentically African the way people think…they prove to have a crossbred cultural background quite of their own”, says Shonibare. He examines the entwined relationship between Europe and Africa and often recreates British artworks inserting himself into them. See his work in the “Get Up, Stand Up Now” exhibition held at Somerset House.
See several of Joke’s hessian pieces, which explore statements by black women in her first solo exhibition entitled “Unpublished Voices” . This show has been curated by arts platform Dark Yellow Dot in conjunction with the collective Invisible Numbers and will be held at their new 1B Window Gallery in Walthamstow.
Founder of Dark Yellow Dot Lauren Little derived the platform to support artists who are just starting in their careers. Dark Yellow Dot strives to encourage artists to pursue their dreams by helping them to showcase their work to the world around them. From exhibition open calls, to articles about how to package your art, Dark Yellow Dot does everything it can to ensure a smooth transition into the art community. Be sure to check out their website and find out more about all the opportunities on offer. You can find links to all mentioned in this article below.
“Unpublished Voices” opens from 5th August and will be displayed until the 14th September. See you all there!