During the UK Black History month of October, I’m privileged once again to introduce another guest blog by fellow creative Livingstone Mukusa on his current project celebrating African architects and architecture.
People, locale, environment. These components of a landscape are interrelated, and in the hands of a sensitive practitioner, are approached collectively when considering design intervention. In Sub Saharan Africa, however, this is the exception, rather than the rule.
Colonialism introduced to Sub Saharan Africa new means of construction and building aesthetics. Dominated by industrialized, mass produced materials, this new architectural language spread, permeating rapidly through previously distinct architectural landscapes to creating a region replete with architectural expressions reduced to basic physical attributes that are divorced from their environments, and social meaning of those who inhabit them.
Traditionally, African architecture, much like its art, has always been a verb rather than a noun. It was a language of ritual rather than objectification, a language of climactic response, a language of resource availability.
Patterns, tessellations, fractal designs, and numerous other elements were generally not for the embellishment and decoration that ordinarily meets today’s eye, but carried with them specific meaning and purpose. While the Western tradition of compartmentalized knowledge, combined with the modernist concept of the exploration of each medium in isolation, led to a virtually complete separation of art and architecture. The integration of art or craft and architecture, on the other hand, was and remains an essential part indigenous African cultures— a result of the experience of unity between art and life.
Today, architecture throughout Sub Saharan Africa, and its Diaspora is more of a testament to expressions and materiality borrowed from elsewhere. Occasionally, a nod or two is given to the locality and culture, forms and techniques that speak of the place and the people. Where does this place the idea of an African Architecture? In our attempts to frame, within a modern day context, what African architecture is, how can we bridge the huge chasm of a dichotomy between African architecture of old and new African architectural expressions? What frames African architecture? Should it even be framed?
Sub-Saharan Africa is incredibly diverse in landscape, climate zones, ethnicities, cultures, and economies. And the answers to these questions are as complex, contradictory even, as this diversity. But these are questions worth examining. To this end, I am seeking an assortment of UK and Europe based architects, artists, activists and scholars to lend their thoughts for an upcoming publication.
Livingstone Mukasa, founder of Afritecture, a blog focused on the contextual engagement, and exploration of the African vernacular in modern architecture. He can be reached with Twitter: @livmuk, or email: email@example.com
It’s always such a pleasure to meet inspiring artists and be exposed to their wonderful work. Amber Henry is one of those artists who, aside from being an excellent painter, has highly admirable aspirations to assist charities and agencies supporting those affected by cancer. A former Laguna Beach gallery owner, she relocated from Southern California to Salt Lake City in 2011 to take care of her mother who was suffering from breast cancer.
Amber graduated from Laguna College of Art + Design with a BFA in Fine Arts and Illustration. She went on to show in local Laguna art galleries such as Fingerhut and Orange County Creatives. While in California, she was a leader in the Laguna Beach art community, served on various committees such as First Thursday’s Art Walk, and Laguna College of Art + Design’s mentoring and alumni committees. She recently featured in a solo exhibition at Alpine Art Gallery in Salt Lake City. Amber kindly agreed to talk further about her art, career and future objectives.
I love your artwork. What’s your story and how did you become an artist?
I have always been consumed by imagination and creativity. Wandering, wondering, sensitive to unique patterns in everything and the many levels of colour and beauty these created. As long as I can remember, unique stories and ideas would play out within my imagination. It was as though these stories were so real I could reach out and touch them. As the creative environment travelled with me, so did my crayons, markers, pencils and torn pieces of paper. My pockets would overflow with drawing utensils and various “fascinating” objects which had been collected throughout the day. At one point, the discovery that I could create a world with paint and canvas lead to the realization that art has always lived within me and that I was destined to share this with the world and make my impression.
Do you specialize in portraits or do you work on different commissions?
Though I am passionate about portrait painting, I have and will work on any custom art. I tend to pour my soul in whatever I do, so creating custom art that will make a deep impact on anyone viewing the art, is an important to me and a large part of what I do. All of my art must evoke some sort of experience in the emotional sense. Otherwise, I feel as though my work is not complete.
I had the privilege of first seeing your work via Twitter. Can you provide further insight on how you managed to develop a theme of patient portraits?
I feel that people make an impression on the world. Every crease, wrinkle, scar and expression, tells a story and reveals pieces of a unique journey. Eyes reflect all kinds of emotion, from love, joy, pain, passion, and in many cases more than we can ever fathom. For me, to tell a story is to create a portrait and capture every one of those details in that moment. Storytelling in a single moment in time. A moment that can appear to be only what you see on the surface, yet gives a glimpse into what lies beneath the surface. I want my art to inspire people to use their imagination to interpret a particular piece and its story.
It all began with a portrait of my mother who passed away of cancer. I used this as healing process for myself. I wanted to capture the inner light and positive outlook she most often carried. From there, my hope was to capture likeness in a deeper sense. Yes, likeness can be captured by the artist in the physical sense. One can take a photo of a person and create a version that looks just like the person on the outside, but how many are able to successfully capture the inner person as well? It is the little nuances that matter. A certain depth and twinkle in the eye, a slight turn of the mouth, an eyebrow raised slightly higher than the other.
I don’t wish to only go skin deep when painting people. Capturing the soul is what I strive for whether it be painting a portrait of someone who has passed or one that is still physically with us.
An impression of the soul and capturing that moment in time…the essence of a person.
Are there any charities or agencies you would like to work with to develop this project further?
I would love to work with any non-profit organizations which promote healing for those affected by cancer in some way, survivors, caregivers and family of those afflicted. Currently, I am looking to raise money larger organizations like Komen as well as smaller, community based non-profits. Since giving back is such a big part of what I am trying to do, for those who mention this interview when ordering any of my artwork, I will donate 25% of the proceeds to a charity such as Komen or one of their choosing.
Progress has been made in how the health sector uses art as part of the healing process. Do you have any ideas how this can be furthered?
I’m no doctor, but I believe that by raising awareness on how utilizing the arts can promote healing and can bring hope and joy to so many. There is so much focus on treatments in the physical sense, like chemo, radiation and nutrition, and exercise. What about the fine arts, music and dance? Even if it provides a creative distraction from whatever treatment a person is going through, I do believe our emotional health and personal fulfilment directly reflects our outlook and physical wellbeing. If someone can get lost in imagining the story behind a piece of my art, it’s certainly better than thinking about their battle with whatever illness or challenge they are facing. I believe anyone affected by any sort of physical challenge can be positively uplifted by creativity whether it is through their own, or experiencing and enjoying the creativity of others.
What other projects and activities should we look out for?
I’d like to further examine people. People affected by a variety circumstances, like homelessness, poverty, etc. Based on their story, I would paint them, striving to re-create the moment in time in which their story was told. Even if is a painting of a space with no people, this would reflect a specific experience or story told.
I wish Amber the very best for the future. For further info Amber can be contacted via the following links
Hoping you’re well and having an enjoyable week so far. Moving away from the arts for a minute, I would like to draw your attention to the continued efforts of the JAGS Foundation based in London. Over the last couple of years I’ve befriended its CEO Tracy Ford, who is a strong, persistant and determined individual I’ve come to admire and respect.
It has been 10 years since Tracey’s son, James Andre Smartt Ford, was fatally shot in Streatham ice skating rink. Since then JAGS was born, an acronym of his name, to campaign in reducing youth on youth violence on the streets of London. Since its start, JAGS has reached thousands with its message, from conferences to schools to universities to workshops. The organisation has campaigned in a number of youth violence specialisms, such as restorative justice, joint enterprise, female offending and supporting families of lost lives. JAGS has won multiple awards for its efforts and continues to support, educate and empower those affected by youth violence. The JAGS Foundation has its Gala Dinner at London’s City Hall on Friday 17th November and invites you to attend. If you are in London in November please join us for a night of inspiration where friends and supporters will come together to help mark the 10th Anniversary of what has become a catalyst organisation of change for young people in London.
For colleagues and blog followers in the UK, the Architects for Social Housing (ASH) collective take up residence in London’s ICA Upper Galleries. ASH are exhibiting their designs and work, including a map of London’s existing estate regenerations, at public open days on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 August, and they host informal discussions about different aspects of the housing crisis every evening of the week. As an ongoing presence, the group embodies the application of cultural practice within social activism. Established in 2015, ASH is a working collective of architects, urban designers, engineers, surveyors, planners, filmmakers, photographers, web designers, artists, writers and housing campaigners operating with developing ideas under set principles.
With the dramatic increase in economic disparity across the UK, there is a heightened need to find sustainable solutions to the housing ‘crisis’. ASH’s work responds to a lack of support for social housing and the communities they home. First among the principles they work to is the conviction that increasing the housing capacity on existing council estates, rather than redeveloping them as luxury apartments, is a more sustainable solution to London’s housing needs than the demolition of social housing, enabling the continued existence of the communities they house.
The residency runs from August 15th to 20th. For further info please visit the ICA website.
A colleague was kind enough to forward me the attached link on a project featuring the work of artist Neequaye Dreph Dsane. This British-Ghanaian artist is painting huge, beautiful murals of ordinary black women on London’s streets. Please take a look.
Unfortunately, despite the quality of art, I’ve found the subject of painting only black women is making headlines for the wrong reasons. It seems Dreph‘s work has come under scrutiny with claims on social media that the work is racist and unnecessary in a modern society. I disagree entirely with those who feel such work in the public realm is wrong and I would champion other underrepresented groups to do the same, provided it is executed with the aim of creating aesthetically pleasing, therapeutic and social benefits to public spaces . There are many artists painting work which is publicly displayed that does not include people of colour but I wouldn’t claim such work to be racist. However, maybe I should?
Disappointingly, some people remain ignorant and naive regarding the disproportional levels of black female representation in the media and have not questioned the mechanisms that sustain this flaw. The artist’s work appears to address this and balance an issue that undermines the very idea of equality or equal representation in a modern democratised society. He is celebrating his cultural heritage proudly as he should. When we explore mainstream art and media, we should note that the most underrepresented groups of people are black women and the physically disabled. You just have to look at British television to see that the representation is still falling short and its depiction of BMEs remains stereotypical in the main. In modern British society, the depiction of people of colour, their cultures and contributions remain marginalised or even trivialised.
Most art galleries in art hubs in cities such as London and New York are primarily owned or managed by white proprietors. The feeling amongst many groups is they tend to showcase work by white or European artists for predominantly white audiences. Perhaps this perception is wrong but it remains a perception. Yes, there are shows and exhibitions that showcase the work of other demographics and prominent artists of colour but are these isolated cases, where the decisions to exhibit are linked to minimal levels of financial risk for curators, galleries or museums with expected commercial returns? This I guess is a reflection of the sector, its market and interest of those investing in art, which is something I’d like to address later.
Black women on our screens, magazines and billboards may have improved over the last twenty years, just like employment figures, but significant steps towards change must be made. In this day and age, it is disappointing to know that significant players, for example in advertising and media, feel certain ‘looks’ and ‘features’ don’t sell or exhibit the wrong image unless you’ve got the ‘Beyonce or Rihanna look’ which is seen as more palatable. If people in positions of authority are able to reflect society, exhibit a broader church of representation, to celebrate differences and embrace ‘multiculturalism’ we wouldn’t need to go down this road of discussion. Such excellent work, like others around London would be seen for what they are- works of art! However, as it is art so it will also provoke discussion, like, dislike and controversy. If anyone feels voiceless and underrepresented, is it right to ignore it and wrong to challenge it?
Whilst I’ve focused on the wrongs of some who contribute to the status quo, the blame cannot lay solely with them. Disenfranchised groups and communities who do not see a balance of representation must address this by investing in, championing and promoting art that reflects them. Moving forward, if they do not see it, like Dreph, they must support and independently create platforms which allow them to. This includes art on our streets, buildings and anywhere within the public realm, bringing art to the masses. There are some things you will not value if you cannot see. Moreover, there are some things others will not value until they see more of it. In conclusion, this isn’t so much about Dreph’s choice of subject but more a reflection of how damaged our society is and what we must do collectively to fix it. What do you think? I’d be happy to hear views and opinions.
I’m undecided which way to vote and need to consider to what extent the EU provides opportunities I can personally take advantage of. In theory, access to Europe and the freedom of movement is great but a rise in far right politics, nationalism, Islamophobia and continued discrimination, particularly against ethnic groups, doesn’t encourage me to think we are closer to practicing the harmonious union of nation states our leaders advocate. Many groups consider it difficult enough in the UK so will Europe, with all its challenges, be any easier for citizens with non-European origins to move freely? It’s all about perspective.
For most people, the Brexit issue didn’t appear life threatening but with the vote less than a month away, Brits are now considering the benefits of staying in. Despite the scaremongering and poor performance of leading politicians explaining the issues, we do need to consider if benefits of lower prices, more jobs and increased trade will be at stake.
The UK economy is undoubtedly strong and has benefited from being in Europe. Whilst the ‘Out Campaigners’ argue Britain is the fifth largest economy and can survive on its own, we should consider whether its economic ranking is a direct consequence of having preferential access and influence on the EU trading block comprising of half a billion people. We also need to consider the view of the Bank of England and IMF who provide an overview of the UK’s likely performance as a consequence of exiting. There remains a belief by many that Britain is in a position to command the same political and economic clout as it did at the peak of is colonial empire but this simply isn’t true, particularly with the rise of new global economic blocks and their growing influence on the political sphere. There are so many things to consider such as what is right for businesses, particularly small enterprises and how will they compete on a world market?
So what does this mean for the UK Arts sector?
In theory, being in the European market opens up opportunities for its creative industries. European Union funding nourishes and protects innovation in the UK and it is hoped such benefits will continue. Arts funding has historically been one of the first areas to be cut by UK Governments in periods of austerity so would a UK Government exiting the EU act differently during what may be a financially turbulent time?
The vibrancy of our arts sector is one of Britain’s great qualities. It is an arts superpower and home to recognised artists, musicians, filmmakers and theatrical impresarios. The UK is apparently the second-largest exporter of television in the world, worth £1.2bn in 2012 and home to the second-largest design sector on the planet, worth £131m in exports in 2011. The EU is Britain’s second-largest export market for music. Approximately 1.6 million people in the UK are employed in the creative sector, pumping out £71.4bn in gross value added. Of course, this is the result of the talent and drive of individuals in the British arts sector but there is no doubt that EU membership and funding from the EU’s Creative Europe initiative has and will continue to be been a contributing factor.
So Yes or No?
I’ll be the first to say the EU is not at all perfect and I do have my concerns about how the UK handles immigration and its economy. Is it right for Britain to throw away 40 years membership of one of the most lucrative markets on its doorstep, not to mention once again jeopardize the continuation of the union of the UK with a possible second Scottish referendum? What will all this mean for the creative industries? I’d love to hear your views. It’s time for UK arts professionals to speak up and vote!