The direction of my work has allowed me to explore and question my identity, and who I am as a mixed-race, “third culture kid” living in the “Western” world. My dad’s job meant that my childhood years were kept busy moving to different countries, trying to make sense of the cultures that I moved to as well as the two seperate cultures of my parents (My mother’s Zambian and my Father’s Northern Irish.) Moving around meant that I ended up seeing all corners of the globe, something that I am so thankful for. Whilst I was growing up, my dad nurtured my interest in art from a young age, and would take me to world renowned galleries and exhibitions on our travels. I chose to study art all throughout my education, and experimented with different forms of art- painting flowers, molding clay vessels or attempting to sew “haute-couture” dresses.
In all of my exposure to art, I had always felt that there was something missing in the art history books that I used for research. I could not understand why I barely saw references to non-western art being represented by my teachers and within the textbooks. I starkly remember wanting to do an art project on African masks, my learning environment was enlaced with whitewashed content and expectations, so my proposal was met with disproving pieces of advice. Breaking away from one dimensional representations in the art world will always prove to be difficult. In addition, I started to realise that as many exhibitions that I had been to, and as many artists I had admired- it was rare that I would be able to see “myself” or feel connected to work because the majority of the photographs and paintings that I looked at, showed a shocking imbalance of BAME artists AND muses compared to how many white artists and muses I had seen.
In response, I started to illustrate and paint as many portraits as I could, celebrating the beauty of black women. Each of my illsutrations are elite, adorned and decorated versions of myself and other black women around me, each highlighting a certain aspect of the African diaspora- be it afro hair styles or references to traditional/contemporary jewelry. During my degree, it has been a struggle for me to get my points and values across in a way that everyone can understand, which has meant that I have had to do a lot of research to back them up. Furthering my knowledge made me grow and become more aware of the term “african art” and it’s implications, and the real-life struggles of being an artist of color.
I truly believe that there are so many art forms that are embraced, though I do agree on the existing marginalisation. Thanks to the availability of sharing apps/sites like Instagram and Pinterest there is a room for everything in the art world now. Put your work out there and fill the vacuum of representation.
Pieces and Artwork by Aislinn Finnegan