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Anna Bunting-Branch, The Linguists, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.

Artist blog: Fauziya Johnson

by FACT

Blog

Part of the Autumn/Winter 2019 season

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Fauziya Johnson runs ROOT-ed Zine, a North-West based zine and online platform for creative people of colour with fellow artist Amber Akaunu.

We invited Fauziya to share her thoughts and feelings on our current exhibition, you feel me_ which explores themes of power, justice and bias.

I recently attended a symposium about Black Creativity in celebration of Lubaina Himid, and there was a question that popped up following a lecture about Claudette Johnson, regarding how women of colour make work from an ‘us’ and ‘we’ point of view. Like –we– have to consider –us– when making the work as we are so often the most invisible, but the most criticised within the arts and media. The majority of artists (whom aren’t a minority) don’t have to think from such a perspective, due to the privilege they hold. They make work without weight on their shoulders to fight for the causes that can actually determine life or death.

A similar feeling of a group is displayed in you feel me_, as the artists have actively made work specifically in response to six words: construct, justice, perceive, reclaim, repair and revise.

you feel me_ 's curation by Helen Starr, throws you into an indistinct, auditory spaghetti, with bells chiming in an uneven manner from Mother Tongue Mother Master by Phoebe Collings-James, and the gentle, low continuous sound with soft, dewy visuals from Rebecca Allen.

Personally, I enjoy exhibitions more when it’s a typical white cube look, with the artwork presented in a designated place. It’s self-explanatory and clear where you can walk. It’s brightly lit, so I can gauge where things are, and signage is posted clearly and easy to read.

I never really know where to go or what to do in exhibitions this visually stimulating – I feel I’m scared of missing something... There’s so much to take in. I’m pretty sure this anxiety I feel from exhibitions that are creatively curated stems from the power and pretentiousness of art, the grandeur of an institution, and the distance between visitor and creator. Shows like this can equally entice a new audience, as it feels like a new, immersive experience, but simultaneously it can deter some from entering, or walking around without this overt awareness of where you are, what next step you’ll take and where.

I’m not sure why, but I noted small details to be more impactful to me than the whole artwork(s) in itself, including Brandon Covington Sam-Sumana’s guide on to how to apologise. I was particularly drawn to the last sentence, ‘Thank you for taking the space to read.’

Colloquially, most would say ‘time to read’, as if time is the only construct we can use to measure importance, validity, and worth within our lives. It certainly seems the most obvious, but like stated, it’s also about space – how much space do you have the power, in your home, your workplace? How much space do you take up, and what space do you give up for others? When you think of space, do you think of physical spatial possession, or indiscernible power?

There’s a line in Megan Broadmeadow’s virtual reality experience too, in which someone exclaims, “It’s just a meme.” That instantly reminds me of “It’s just a joke”, leading to “It’s just a word”. Any statement or action can use just to reduce and invalidate the severity of an action, which prompts me to think of politicians and problematic comedians, to be honest.

Broadmeadow definitely toys with power relations with the visitor. For example, at one point in the VR film, large white hands appeared and smothered my face - large boots walked around me, as I was left with no choice but to be rooted to the spot and attempt to follow with my head. I couldn’t engage or challenge what was happening to me; I felt as powerless as sometimes I feel in real life, which I guess was the intention. I haven’t had an extensive amount of interaction with VR, but I’ve decided it’s definitely not a medium I can engage with for long – even the goggles on my face induced a sense of defencelessness.

Everything concerning you feel me_ is deliberately trying to examine overall systemic structure of power. The artists aren’t coming from one, hegemonic angle, peering down on the visitors and patronisingly preaching to them , but from a more subtle and expansive one. They’re questioning their own methods of perception, and the visitor’s own ‘place’ in relevance to their physical surroundings and context provided.

I feel Salma Noor’s typography is parallel to the exhibition – asymmetric shapes are placed with one another to make a letter, to form a word and then a sentence. The shapes are like the artists, different in ethnicity, ability, gender and class fitting together to form artworks relative to one another and the wider context, to form this exhibition. The works are varied, but the message is uniform: explore injustice and uncertainty, delicately. With respect. With empathetic mindfulness and research.

I doubt this would have had the same outcome if the curator was white – there are experiences you would need to have to go through as a Blixn*, to get this sort of conversation correctly informed. I hope Helen Starr is not an end to a long list of possible BAME curators to be commissioned at FACT.

*Blixn = (Black womxn)

Helen Starr is an Afro-Carib Trinidadian Blixn* who lives between Trinidad and the UK. She has worked in the Arts sector for over 25 years. She founded The Mechatronic Library in 2010, to enable artists to engage with new media tools such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual reality (VR), Game engines, and 3D printing technologies. Starr’s focus is on the wellbeing of local communities. Working with museum curators and education teams, Starr’s hope is that cutting edge artworks can provide a glimpse of a future filled with hope.