A chat with Ming Smith – the photographer whose work is soft, intimate & bathed in community through its documentation of the black American experience.

22.07.2020 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

Cover image: America Seen Through Stars and Stripes, New York City, NewYork Painted, 1976, by Ming Smith

Ming Smith, not necessarily a name widely known in photography, was the first Black woman to have her photographic work accepted into the Museum of Modern Art, in 1975.

The only female member of the Kamoinge Collective, and a dedicated image maker to capturing the humanity for the Black Experience, Ming Smith’s imagery and life trajectory is due a mighty relook. Currently staging an online exhibition of a selection of Smith’s work, from her image of Grace Jones as a Ballerina, to the playwright August Wilson, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery has moved the exhibition online through Vortic

We caught up with the photographer from her apartment in New York. 

How did you first get into photography?

I borrowed my mother’s camera on my first day of school in kindergarten and I took photographs of some of my school mates. The class was predominantly white, and we were about 10% of the class. I had a lot of friends and classmates that I took photographs of. 

Did you feel looking back that there was a central focus for your photographs?

It was just a natural thing. My father was a photographer. He was a hobbyist but he was really artistic: he drew, painted, did films and things like that. However he worked 12 hours a day as a pharmacist, so he didn’t do photography a lot, however I think it then became for me a natural thing to do. 

You trained to be a doctor initially, and then you decided to focus on a career in photography. 

My grandfather would always say that he wanted me to be a doctor. I liked that because he taught bible school, and my grandmother was helping all the neighbours, so I felt that being a doctor was a way of helping people. I know that might sound pretty naive but that was what I wanted to do. I did volunteer work at the children’s hospital when I was young. I saw a lot of pain around me, so I wanted to help.  Being a doctor was a way of trying to help. Then I read something about artists, and they were talking about the system and how your work could help humanity, and you work could be outside of the system, instead focusing and turning ideas into something that would be healing. 

Child Porter, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 1972 by Ming Smith

There is such a sense of intimacy and connectivity about your images. How do you capture that? What do you look for in your subject matter? 

Well there are stereotypes of the Black community, but there is so much love in the community, from people who were making and doing the best spiritually or going to church. There was just this stereotype of Black people, you know, and I never saw those types of images with the love and the empathy and the humanity with the people that were around me in my community.

You have become renowned for your portraiture for Black cultural figures and icons What did you hope to profess or present in these images of these icons?

I hope that other young people or students will find inspiration in what they are teaching: the struggles and what they went through to get to where we are now. For example, August Wilson, I went to Pittsburgh and photographed his hometown and economically depressed neighbourhoods and shot some of the places he talked about in his plays. He documented the comic and the tragic aspects of the African American experience in the 20th Century. The characters in Pittsburgh were the same characters that I knew in Ohio where I grew up, or Detroit, where I was born. 

Lou Drapper’s Pick, 1973 by Ming Smith

What would you say the main challenges you have faced in your career?

I would say being taken seriously. I am a better photographer than a talker. I am quiet, and I like that with photography you can be by yourself, you don’t have to talk. Being shy, photography was a way of me being in it but out of it at the same time. If you are a quiet person it’s harder to take you seriously.

I went to a gallery seeking representation, and the gallerist didn’t hardly even look at my photographs; it was very disappointing. Just like “ok, thank you”. Just total dismissal.

Did you have a lot of other female counterparts and friends that were experiencing the same in the art industry or the creative industry?

I am sure there was, and I’m sure there is, but I have really continued to be a loner and doing photography was almost like a friend or a companion and was how I spent my time. Being a photographer was a way of expressing yourself and going through your own challenges, and needs, and so I spent my time not really talking to anyone else. 

Ethiopian Crew, 1973 by Ming Smith

What was New York like when you arrived? What were you focussing your photography on?

When I got to New York I was photographing but I came for money, and one of the first jobs I had was as a model. It was like 100 dollars an hour: an Ohio pharmacist back then was making 100 dollars a week. 

Someone told me ‘you should be a model’, and so I tried it for a bit. When I first met Grace Jones, she was an aspiring model also. 

You were part of the Kamoinge Workshop: did you feel like things changed then, that you were a part of a group of like-minded individuals?

Going to the meetings, I was first introduced to photography as an art form. Prior to this I had not committed myself to being an artist.  I didn’t think of myself as a photographer as I was still studying pre-med curriculum. So when I came to Kamoinge, I had first heard about the collective on an assignment, where a photographer was talking about whether photography was an art form. I was invited into Kamoinge by Lou Draper, who also printed for Eugene Smith. He used to tell me stories about Lorraine Hansberry, who I loved. that was when I first learned about the goal of Kamoinge: to own and interpret our own images. Roy Decarava was one of the founders of Kamoinge, which came out of the Black Arts Movement, where they started plays, and there were writers, musicians, painters, artists. That is where I learnt about lighting. I remember one member saying that his neighbourhood grew up in Harlem, and that all the young men that he grew up with were all dead. That opened my eyes to the politics. 

Oolong’s Nightmare,Save The Children (for Marvin Gaye), New York City, New York 1979 by Ming Smith

Tell us about your experience of fashion photography.

In New York I never knew about fashion photographers and advertising: it was a completely new world. I had a chance to go into both of those worlds, as I was modelling. I met people like James Moore who was a beauty photographer, or Arthur Elgort or Deborah Turberville, who I loved. She photographed my lips for a Bloomingdales bag! She did fine art photography besides that; I really liked her. I lived in the Village, so I knew Lisette Model, and I would go eat at this little dinner, the Waverley – the cheapest diner! You could buy a meal for five dollars there, and that was where Lisette Model would eat too! She would tell me stories about Diane Arbus, and she would call her Dion. For the longest time, I didn’t realise she was talking about Diane Arbus as she called her Dion!

You documented some of the greatest spokespeople of the African American experience. 

August Wilson really told our stories through his plays: the comic and the tragic of the African American experience. That is what connected me to him, to go to Pittsburgh and photograph him. Eugene Smith did a famous series on Pittsburgh, but the African American experience wasn’t documented. This is another aspect of my work. We also have Katherine Dunham. She was an anthropologist, choreographer, writer. She was an activist as well: she wouldn’t perform in places unless they de-segregated the audiences. There is always a struggle, that is extremely distressing of the black American community. They simplified the experiences of the black community in the 20th Century. Katherine went to Haiti and Africa and notarised the dance technique. When she won the Kennedy award, she talked about how hip hop came out of her technique, meaning the isolations and different notations of moves and contractions and release. Now we have dance, twerk, afro-latin, west African, Haitian, rumba, Caribbean, west African beats. We have had all these different classes come out of the diaspora. That is what Katherine Dunham did. 

Flying High, Coney Island, 1976, by Ming Smith

How do you get inspired?

I follow mainly instincts and my heart about things. I hope to say these things in my work: that is the intention. 

Would you say your photography is driven by intuition?

Definitely. Intuition, which is also very spiritual. It is like there is a spirit that speaks within me, and I go with that. I trust that more than I trust my brain. 

What changes do you see in the photography industry now? 

There is a lot more inclusion, and participation. There are different avenues for photographers – there are now young black American fashion photographers, and I think a lot of the hip hop generation are participating in that inclusion, you can go into documentaries, they work with the NYT. I think this is not only in America, but globally. 

Beauty, Coney Island, 1976 by Ming Smith

Do you think there are still many racial obstacles that need to be overcome in the art industry?

I think of course, but I am in the middle of it, and sometimes it is harder to see, but of course I think there has been many steps in the right direction. Dr Deborah Willis, she started doing books on black images, she started this in publishing and the School – she has made a life of that. I remember she came to Kamoinge to do a book. It wasn’t easy for her to receive support so I think that we have a voice now greater than before and it is growing. People are conscious of it, and they are trying to make it right, or more honest: the documentation of us, including us. Not just the stereotypes. More human.

Do you see more women photographers being showcased?

Most definitely, but I also think that there is more of an option. Before, it was a question of what could you even do with photography! Photographers and artists now, there are different avenues and you can earn a living from it! I see this more and more. Before, what could you do with it, how could you earn a living? Now, photographers both men and women are like ‘oh I could do photography, portraiture.’ 

There wasn’t any kind of show, exhibitions, talks, creating a book… there wasn’t those options. You did it out of pure love in the beginning. You did photography as an art form.

Self Portrait Nursing (Total), 1986 by Ming Smith

Do you still photograph regularly?

Yes I do! The main obstacle with that is everything is digital now. I am doing a book at the moment for Aperture, and so taking it from film to digitising it, to having to re-edit everything over again… it’s a lot! I need a lot of help with the translating of it. 

What do you hope viewers take away from your works?

I think just the personal struggles, the empathy or the humanity or the altruism or just being supportive. Maybe the humanity, and that being exposed to the people I have photographed, they will know what to do. It was like when I heard my first August Wilson play, or the drum, and I went and took my first dance class and the teacher told me he was a Katherine Dunham dancer. People will get what they get from my photography: hopefully an experience that will inspire them in some kind of way. 

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PRADA launches instagram live series – PRADA Possible Conversations

14.04.2020 | Blog , Culture , Fashion | BY:

In the midst of the current global health crisis, Italian fashion house Prada is set to launch a conversation series to help us deal with our quarantine woes. Prada Possible Conversation is a series of live discussions between thinkers, cultural arbiters and fashion insiders across the world in an effort to piece together a community of collective thoughts and thinkers. Set to take place on Prada’s instagram page, guests will be engaging in real time conversations that the house promises to be enlightening , engaging and maybe even revelatory. Guests will include personnel from all sectors of the creative industries including fashion, art , architecture, film, literature etc. 

The headliner of the series is scheduled for this evening April 14, 2020 at 6pm CET, and will feature Pamela Goblin, author curator & Artistic Director of Jacquard x Google Arts Culture Residency and Alexander Fury, fashion features director of Another Magazine and Men’s Critic of the Financial Times. The duo will be having a conversation under the theme, ‘Fashion in Times of Crises’ and will also allow for questions from their audience. 

This and all the upcoming Prada Possible Conversations will result in a donation from Prada to UNSECO. 

Be sure to tune in via PRADA

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Tallawah: A Jamaican story by Jawara & Nadine Ijewere

17.01.2020 | Art , Beauty , Blog , Culture , Fashion | BY:

Later this month photographer Nadine Ijewere and hair stylist Jawara will reveal an exhibition titled Tallawah in collaboration with Dazed Beauty at the Cob Gallery in London.

The showcase takes it’s name from the Jamaican patois word Tallawah, which means small but nonetheless fearless and strong-willed. Throughout the exhibition, Jawara explores his childhood of growing up in Kingston during the peak of Dancehall culture and the influence of creativity in the fashion & hairstyling by the women around him. For photographer Nadine Ijewere, she dives into her Nigerian-Jamaican heritage and aims to paint an image of the stories shared by her mother about the island of Jamaica. 

“This project is very close to my heart,” said Ijewere in a statement. “It was empowering to be able to explore part of my heritage by photographing these beautiful, strong people. The relationship between hair and identity is one I wanted to capture and celebrate – it’s a story that’s important to tell.”

Jawara added: “Small but Strong. Likkle but Tallawah. The strength and beauty of Jamaica.”

Tallawah opens it’s doors at the Cob Gallery in London on January 23rd and will run until February 1st. 

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Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines by The National Gallery of Victoria

20.12.2019 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

Cover Image: John Sex, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring at AREA Club, New York, 1985
Photography © Ben Buchanan

The 1980’s in New York City was a period known for several genres of creativity including music, fashion and of course art. There exists a fair share of names who have all helped define contemporary art as it is today, but two of the most prominent influential names are Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.

Which is why the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne has presented the work of the two artists in an exhibition entitled Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines.

The exhibition offers interesting insights into the artists’ unique visual languages, and reveal for the first time, the intersections between their lives and ideas throughout their friendship. Curated by Dr Dieter Bucchart, it features over 200 artworks including samples of their work to exclusive collaborations as the audience is given a glimpse inside their star studded world with names like Grace Jones , Andy Warhol and Madonna. The exhibition is currently open to the public and will run until the 13th of April 2020. For more info visit NGV

Grace Jones body painted by Keith Haring, New York, 1985 Art © Keith Haring Foundation Photography Tseng Kwong Chi © Muna Tseng Dance Projects
ean-Michel Basquiat in his studio at the Annina Nosei Gallery, May, 1982Photography © Marion Busc

“Ishtar” (1983), synthetic polymer paint, wax crayon and photocopy collage on canvas and wood – Jean-Michel Basquiat Artwork © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York, from Collection Ludwig, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen

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“The Hoodie” – An exhibition by the Het Nieuwe Instituut

14.12.2019 | Art , Blog , Culture , Fashion | BY:

If one was to compose a list of the most political articles of clothing in modern day fashion, the hoodie would undoubtedly be in the top five of that line up. The garment which went through it’s prime evolution period with Champion in the 1930’s has grown to tell a variety of several narratives including perspectives in music, subculture, androgyny, gender fluidity and most pressingly tales of social equality. Throughout the past two decades with the aid of the media, the hoodie has come to be accused as the narrators in many cases of police brutality & racism. 

“The Hoodie” exhibition, recently opened at the Het Nieuwe Instituut Rotterdam curated by water and curator Lou Stoppard is an in-depth mixed media showcase involving artworks, garments, printed matter, digital footage, social media posts and other cultural artefacts to tell the story of the garment’s history in society.

It explores and examines conversation themes which enable its viewer to consider and reflect on the hoodie’s complicated relationship with contemporary culture from streetwear icon to workwear to political garment. It features work from a lineup of seminal artists and photographers including David Hammons , Campbell Addy, Sasha Huber, John Edmonds & Lucy Orta as well as brands such as Rick Owens, Off-White, VETEMENETS and Vexed Generation.  The exhibition will run until April 2020 and will also be accompanied by a digital magazine featuring specially commissioned essays, interviews and visuals. 

‘February II, 2019’ by Devan Shimoyama
‘EUnify – Berlin 2019’ by Ari Versluis & Ellie Uyttenbroek,  Exactitudes 168 

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PAMPAS by Jessica Bishopp – A Short Film on how to spot a Swinger

07.11.2019 | Blog , Culture , Film | BY:

For her directorial debut filmmaker and artist Jessica Bishopp explores the practice of swinging — habitual group sex or the swapping of swapping of sexual partners  — in the 1970’s. In an imaginative documentary, she  the rumoured notion that suburban swingers identify themselves within the community by planting a feathery planted called Pampas on their front lawns as hidden invitations to each other.

The documentary features the voices of a group of women discussing the rumours that were connected to the plant as they also reminisce on the swinging parties that occurred  in the 70’s. With model and author Naomi Shimada centerstage , the film gives a peek into the worlds of female desire, subcultures, botanical myths and this intriguing suburban legend. 

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Saatchi Gallery Presents – Sweet Harmony: Rave ft Seana Gavin and others

12.07.2019 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

Today,  London’s Saatchi Gallery opens it’s doors to an immersive retrospective exhibition devoted to presenting a revolutionary survey of rave culture through a variety of various voices who have experienced it. The exhibition, titled Sweet Harmony: Rave| Today is set to open on Friday July 12th and will include several portrayals of the new world which emerged from the acid house scene. Throughout the exhibition, the space will feature multimedia room installations and audiovisual works by some of the rave movements experienced by first hand. As the concept of the acid house revolution is set to be recalled through photo series , live music events, talks and panel discussions by the movements’ architects and influencers of the 80s and 90s. 

The Saatchi Gallery’s director Philly Adams in partnership with co-curator Kobi Prempeh have assembled a team of youthful visionaries and photographers including Sheryl Garratt, Agnes Bliah, photographers Tom Hunter, Vinca Petersen and a Twin favourite Seana Gavin. In anticipation for the upcoming event, we called upon the London based artist for a quick chat on what to expect. 

. In anticipation for the upcoming event, we called upon the London based artist for a quick chat on what to expect. 

For the exhibition, your work is mainly based off your time during the Spiral Tribe,  what would you say was the definition of  the term “rave” during a time such as this?

The raves I attended began in London. They were parties put on by collectives and sound systems such a Spiral Tribe who would take over abandoned empty buildings like office blocks, factories, post offices and outdoors in fields and quarries and would transform them into spaces where people from all walks of life could sweat the night away on a dance floor surrounded by likeminded individuals. The parties were run on a donation only entrance policy. Their ethos were all about the freedom to party as a way to break away from the commercial club culture that was emerging at the same time. They were illegal, very underground and it became a subculture. When Spiral Tribe left the UK in 1993 they would continue their mission across Europe. Other sound systems followed and raves turned into multi sound system Techno Festivals known as  ‘Teknivals’.

New Years day,Barcelona by Seana Gavin

 How would you say rave culture has changed since then and in what ways has the way in which you document rave culture since then evolved?

Overlapping with the scene I was part of, rave culture expanded from illegal warehouses into ticketed commercial club events. Even though raves and Teknivals still go on today they can’t have the same energy and rawness from the early days. Nothing can be repeated like that. In the early days to find out about the parties there was a secret party line info number you’d call on the night. It is incredible to think that between 30-50,000 people attended the iconic Castlemorten 3 day rave in the British countryside in 1992 purely through these channels and on a word of mouth basis.

In Europe, flyers were also handed out to pass on info about the next party. In my era it was pre-smart phones and social media so there was less documentation. Nowadays the digital age and overload of selfie culture has tainted things. Everyone has a portable camera in their phone so there is less mystery around it.

I think it’s great that clubs like Berghain in Berlin try to keep things more old school by storing your phone as you enter the club. Which also forces you to be present in the experience and not live through the lense of your smart phone camera.

record dusting, hostomice Teknival 1998, by Seana Gavin

 What would you like your audience to take away from your series?

I’d like to think the viewers would feel a sense of intimacy to the subject matter. I wasn’t a photo journalist documenting this scene at the time, I was immersed in this way of life . The photos I’ve included in the show capture the raves locations, the journeys in between, the aftermath of the parties and people who defined the scene.

I would hope the viewers would get a sense of the perspective of what it felt like to be part of that community which was more than a night out but an alternative outlook to society and a way of life.

Twice as Nice, Aiya Napa, London, 1999
VINCA PETERSEN Bus And Rig

Other names of images makers included in exhibition are Ted Polhemus, Dave Swindells and Mattko. Throughout the exhibition, a space is created featuring the visually stimulating collections of each artist accompanied by a Spotify playlist with sub-genres of Detroit Techno, Acid House, Happy Hardcore, UK Garage and Grime. Uniting a selection of like, yet diverse minded creatives including electronic musician, visual artists and of course photographers. After the exhibition’s debut this Friday, it shall remain open to the public throughout the summer, until September 14th. For more details, visit Saatchi Gallery.

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Somerset House Studios : Get Up, Stand Up Now – June 12th – September 15th

27.05.2019 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

This summer London’s Somerset House Studios will host an event in celebration of 50 years of black creativity and culture in Britain through an exhibition of art, music, photography, film , literature, design and fashion. The exhibition, set to debut on the 12th of June will feature a round up of around 100 interdisciplinary artists whose works are centred around the black experience and sensibility around the culture as they explore the definitions of what it means to be black in Britain today.

The series will feature several days of live music, drag, and performance art, as they aim to nurture a safe free space for black youth of all kind.  This will feature names like Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S) — a led sound system whose events prioritise the comfort and safety of black and non-white women , femmes queers and trans folk who will be taking over the House’s Lanchester Rooms for a few nights in July. An evening of poetry in August entitled “Deep End” and a series of club night performances called “No Tea, No Shade” addressing the use of drag culture.  For more information, visit Somerset House. 

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Foam: “I Can Make You Feel Good” by Tyler Mitchell

01.05.2019 | Art , Blog , Culture , Fashion | BY:

Cover Image: Boys of Walthamstow, 2018, Tyler Mitchell

This Spring Foam Museum has opened photographer and filmmaker Tyler Mitchell’s first solo exhibition entitled I Can Make You Feel Good.

Since his historical debut last year with American Vogue’s September issue, featuring Beyoncé as cover, the photographer has been exploring the visuals of the black utopia ever since. This exhibition showcases a compilation of images that feature black youth in safe spaces. With the use of his signature candy coloured palettes and natural light, Mitchell creates images of young black people in gardens, park and in front of idyllic studio backdrops where his subjects appear as free, expressive and vulnerable beings. He creates a  sort of utopia around his subjects that mimic scenarios that are in contrast to what one might acknowledge as reality, bringing a sort of humanity to the forefront. 

The exhibition also premieres two of Mitchell’s video works: “Idyllic Space and Chasing Pink” and “Found Red. ” These are presented as audiovisual installations that explore the senses of play and childlike freedom within the black utopia. His stimuli for the exhibition was based off a younger period of his life where the dynamic site of Tumblr was very influential to the development of his creative vision. “I would very often come across young, attractive white models running around being free and having so much fun — the kind of stuff Larry Clark or Ryan McGinley would make. I very seldom saw the same for black people in images — or at least in the p hotography I knew of them.” I Can Make You Feel Good presents Tyler’s rendition of an earlier Tumblr in a time where it provided creative nutrients inclusive of black youth. The exhibition will run throughout the Spring at the Foam in Amsterdam until the 5th of June. 

Untitled (Two Girls Embrace) 2018, Tyler Mitchell
Untitled (Hat) 2018, Tyler Mitchell

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Congregation by Sophie Green

24.04.2019 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

For the past two years British social documentary & portrait photographer Sophie Green has been working on a project in celebration of Southwark’s community of Aladura Spiritualist African churches and congregations. As the product of her detailed studies, Green has created a compilation of all the documented images of the community that is often referred to as the “white garment” churches and will be presenting them in the form of an exhibition and hardcover titled Congregation this Thursday at the Hannah Barry Gallery. 

The images give a front row seat to the Christian denomination practised by Yoruba Nigerians that throughout the past 40 years has become a greater part of Southwark London —  being the community which hosts one of the highest concentration of African churches in Europe. Congregation will also raise conversation about collective identity and power within subcultures, cultural practices and traditional dresses, food and customs in modern technology and fashion. For the project, the photographer collaborated with members of the congregation through portrait sessions and photographic workshops which go hand in hand with the candid images of the men, women and children throughout their religious practice. 

Congregation will be launched available online this Thursday and can be purchased via Loose Joints.

Congregation by Sophie Green 
Congregation by Sophie Green
Congregation by Sophie Green

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Centre National de la Danse: “Where Did Our Love Go?” – March 16th & 17th

11.03.2019 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

In the early 90’s during the Great Depression of the US, there began an interesting tradition of exhaustive dance marathons.  Participants would dance for hours while mesmerised audiences made bets on winners and predicted losers. Although they included many rules with risks of disqualification, these marathons offered a  cathartic release as they acted as a sort of mirror to the crisis happening where the main aim was survival as opposed to glamour.

French institution Centre National de la Danse as a part of their Trois Fois Rien exhibition recently tapped artist and choreographer Émilie Pitoiset to conceive a performance titled, “Where Did Our Love Go?” in ode of the iconic dance marathons. The 6-hour performance set for March 16 &  17 at the institution’s headquarters in Pantin, France will explore the dance form which Pitoiset has been studying since 2009. It will include repertory of gestures and postures which are at the heart of her studies and artistic works from the time period which will feature the bodies on the borders of falling, intimately enduring the mechanisms of capitalism in ways to appear increasingly contemporary. For more information, visit CN D.

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“The Wahi Series”, – Northern New York City as seen by Kasandra Enid Torres

07.03.2019 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

Kasandra Enid Torres is a culture and fashion photographer based in Washington Heights, NYC who has been documenting the soulful inhabitants of her neighbourhood for the past three years. Her series titled “Wahi” — short for Washington Heights —  diaries the vivacious poetic spirits of the busy district in ways which treasure the Old New York City aesthetic with a 21st Century twist. In conversation with the photographer , Twin discusses her inspirations and experiences throughout the process of the project. 

When did you first start shooting in New York? 

I moved to the city at the beginning of 2013 after graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2011. For the first two years I didn’t shoot much, I was constantly working 24/7 and if I had free time I spent it sleeping. I was also on an artist block, I wasn’t sure what to shoot. I came from an art background making abstract photography and films. To get myself unstuck, I started to shoot anything and everything.

What inspired you to start the “Wahi” series? 

Around 2015 I started to shoot regularly. At the time I didn’t have access to models so I decided to shoot outside in my neighbourhood. I am not the most extroverted person and having to go out to make pictures by approaching strangers was daunting to me. It was definitely a challenge. I slowly got more comfortable with it and found my flow. I got my hands on a Hasselblad Superwide C, which is a medium format camera with no viewfinder. It was fun experimenting with it and finding its sweet spot. It is a somewhat big and chrome camera. I liked shooting with it for this series because it attracts attention. It is also a conversation piece, people approach me asking me about it and allow me to take their portrait. 

How do you select your subjects? 

I walk up and down on St Nicholas Ave between 168th and 191st street, keeping myself open for opportunities. I am attracted by really interesting people, how they are dressed, how they walk, their  expressions etc. I also choose things that speak to the culture of the neighbourhood, such as the supermarkets, the crowded bus stops, the chairs, domino tables, and the empanada carts. 

What’s your favourite thing about Washington Heights?

My favorite thing about this neighbourhood is the people. I love being surrounded by other hispanics. Having lived away from my family for the past eight years, I like being reminded of my culture and roots. I like listening to the radio blasting salsa or reggaeton while walking to the supermarket. I like watching the intensity of people playing dominos. I love the sidewalk parties of people chilling on their lawn chairs, drinks in paper bags, puffing from hookahs and grilling up on barbecues.  I love the wafts of food smells, such as pernil, mofongo, empanadas, and asopao. It feels like home. 

What would you like people to take away from viewing this series?

I want these images to give the viewer a look inside this Old New York style neighbourhood. There really aren’t many places like this in the city. Majority of the city has been gentrified and franchised. I want them get an honest raw interpretation of this community.  I want them to be able to see how interesting and cool the neighbourhood is, to feel as if they were there. 

Can we expect to see more projects like this from you in the future?

Yes I will continue to document series like this one. I just wrapped up a series I shot near the Adirondacks in January of a Snowmobile drag race. I shot that one during an insane blizzard! I am also currently shooting a series at busy subway platforms like Times Square, documenting all types of people.

What’s next for you as a photographer? 

I am always looking for new ways to challenge myself. With each new series I try to do something I haven’t done before, be it a camera technique, lighting technique, shooting a specific way or subject matter. 

Where can one view more of your work?

Majority of my work is online. I have work published here on Twin (my Afropunk series), Document Journal, a couple of other indie magazines and my website. My Dependence series is published on issue 7 of Recens Paper, another of my favorite project. In the future, I aim to have a gallery show at a space in the neighbourhood. I want to give back to this community that has given me so much. 

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UNHCR & Giles Duley: The Refugee Women of Congo

29.10.2018 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, violence against women has been particularly brutal since war broke in the Kasai region in March 2017.  Rape and sexual violence has continued to be used as weapons of war in a pool of conflict that has triggered internal displacement of some 1.4 million people — and the flight of over 35,00 refugees into Lunda Norte province in northeastern Angola. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) teamed up with renowned war photographer Giles Duley to tell the stories of the female survivors who have bore witnesses to these crimes in a photography series to pay tribute to their strength.  For more stories and information on how to help, visit UNHCR.

“To be honest, I am not that strong. I lost everything. I am not sure how to carry on.”

Sylvie Kapenga, 26, from Tchissengue feels broken by the violence she witnessed when armed groups attacked her fellow villagers, killing and raping indiscriminately. She has four children and says life in Lóvua settlement, Angola is tough with little food or clothes to give them. 

“They pointed a gun at my husband, but we managed to escape with our two children.”

Some of 42-year-old Bernardete Tchanda’s friends were raped and killed when armed men attacked Kamako, Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the past she has suffered domestic violence. She says she feels protected in the UNHCR settlement in Lóvua, Angola. 

“As a refugee it is harder as a woman, we have the responsibility for food and the children. But here the women have given me inspiration.”

Ani Tcheba, 19, fled her village on a Monday morning at 6am, heavily pregnant and helped along by her husband. In Lóvua settlement, Angola she says the women share food and other essentials, and help each other with the hardships. 

“They killed my uncle and his sons. We couldn’t even bury them. Sometimes I am very sad at all we have lost. Other times we let it go, we have our lives. I am never tired. I am so strong, my body is always moving, ready to work.”

Mimi Misenga, 45, escaped barefoot into the bush from Kamako, Democratic Republic of the Congo to Lóvua settlement, Angola. She says armed men forced her neighbour to rape his own daughter. 

“The militia would go to a house and I would see them carry out the woman. I knew what they were doing. I lived in fear.”

Chantal Kutumbuka, 45, fled the town of Kamako in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when armed militia men killed her husband. She abandoned all she owned and crossed the border to Lóvua settlement in Angola.

“I thought they would kill the baby inside me, that’s where I found my strength.”

Thérese Mandaka, 19, has not seen her husband since she fled across the border from Kamako in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Lóvua settlement, Angola. When the soldiers came he was out looking for work while Thérese was at home, pregnant and sick. He has not seen their child, Munduko, who is now four months old. 

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NOMA : Lina I. Viktor, A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred

25.10.2018 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

For her most recent body of work, London raised Liberian multi-media artist Lina Iris Viktor partnered with the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) to present an exhibition which explores the factual and fantastical narratives surrounding America’s involvement in the founding of the West African nation of Liberia. The nation was founded by the American Colonization Society in 1817, and was used as a conduit of resettlement upon and throughout the abolition of slavery. Through the exhibition which is titled “A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred,” the artist reimagines Liberia’s colonial past through the eyes of the  ‘Libyan Sibyl’ which is an ancient prophetic priestess who was said to predict ill-fated futures and would later re-emerge as a common motif in American art and literature. For the exhibition, which began on October 5, 2018,  Viktor uses paintings, paper works and installations to connect these references to modern and traditional West African textile culture and evocation figurative imagery.  “Liberia appears in Lina’s re-imagining as a kind of paradise lost, and as a cautionary tale,” said Allison Young, Andrew. Mellon Fellow of Contemporary Art. “ At the same time her work transcends this narrative, revealing how examples of visual culture — from Dutch Wax fabrics to national emblems to gestures in the history of portraiture—exists as remnants of these colonial histories.”  The exhibition runs until January 6, 2019 in the Great Hall of the  New Orleans Museum of Arts.

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Gucci ft. Maurizio Cattelan: The Artist Is Present

15.10.2018 | Art , Blog | BY:

On their latest venture, Italian fashion house Gucci partners with artist Maurizio Cattelan to curate a project which raises conversations about the significance of originality in an exhibition titled The Artist Is Present. Creative Director Alessandro Michele is said to have shared utopia with the artist which is a dream of the Chinese metropolis; homeland to the idea of “the copy is the original.”

Launched on October 10th at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, curated by Cattelan, the exhibition is described as an act of of appropriation. The project explores the complex relationship between image and reality and representation and presentation in the art industry. The title of the exhibition itself aims at demonstrating how the act of copying can be considered a noble act of creation. The line up features a list of over thirty foreign and Chinese artists of which propose simulation and copy as a paradigm of modern and global culture. These artist display both site-specific and existing works which question some of the most basic principles of art such as originality, intention and expression.  The show explores how originality can be reached through the act of repetition, and how originals can be preserved through copies. “ Copying is like a form of blasphemy, it could seem disrespectful towards God but at the same time it is the significative recognition of its existence, ” comments Maurizio Cattelan. It is an entire appeal to prove the idea of originality is overrated. The exhibition is on display until December 16th and feature artists such as John Ahearn, John Armleder, Nina Beier, Brian Belott etc. For more information , visit Gucci.

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Fondazione Prada: The Black Image Corporation

05.10.2018 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

For their latest venture , Fondazione Prada presents a collaborative effort of American publishing house Johnson Publishing Company and installation artist Theaster Gates in their latest exhibition titled “The Black Image Corporation”.

This project which is on display at the foundation’s Osservatorio venue in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan explores the historic visual evolution of the contemporary African American identity. The exhibition includes the archives of the Johnson Publishing Company which feature more than 4 million images that have been captured throughout decades by photographers Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton. The publishing house was founded by John Johnson in 1942 and was also the mother of the two landmark publications Ebony and Jet magazines, which both celebrated black culture.

With the work of the publishing house’s two photographers, Theaster Gates has curated an exhibition which honours the culture in an a way which speaks to beauty and black female power, “for this show I hope to tease out the creation of female iconic moments created by Sleet and Sutton and also offer small forays into the lives of everyday people through never-before-seen images of the Johnson Collection. Today it seems to me a good times to dig into the visual lexicon of the American book and show images that are rarely seen outside of my community. I wanted to celebrate women of all kinds and especially black women.”

At the exhibition, while most frames contain developed images, some will show the reverse of photographs which will include the date, time and photographer. The audience is invited to freely interact and explore with these images which will be kept in various cabinets of the exhibition. On the first level of the Osservatorio, the artist has also installed original furnishing and interior design elements mimicking the publishing house’s downtown Chicago offices. Within this area, spectators will be allowed to browse and read copies of Ebony and Jet magazines while viewing Avenue In Full Bloom (2018) , which is a short film shot by gates documenting the actual office space in Chicago.  The exhibition is on display from September 20, 2018 to January 14, 2019.

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New African Photography III

22.04.2018 | Art , Culture , Fashion | BY:

Following the success of previous collaborations between Nataal and Red Hook Labs, Nataal curates an exhibition of some of most exciting image-makers documenting modern Africa in a new exhibition. New African Photography III opens at the Brooklyn space in May.

The new exhibition will showcase the work of six female artists: Fatoumata Diabaté (Mali), Rahima Gambo (Nigeria), Keyezua (Angola), Alice Mann (South Africa), Ronan McKenzie (UK) and Ruth Ossai (UK/Nigeria).

Together these works celebrate female identity and diversity, offering an empowered and positive vision. A sense of energy is conveyed through the celebration of movement and the use of powerful juxtapositions – both in terms of colour and of form.

The event also coincides with the launch of Nataal’s first print issue. The website and magazine work as a platform to champion creativity and culture in Africa. You can find out more here.

Alice Mann, Dr Van Der Ross Drummies, Delft, South Africa, 2017, from the series Drummies

Ruth Ossai X Mowalao

Fatoumata Diabaté, Kara et ses oreilles, 2012, from the series L_homme en Animal

Sailing Back to Africa as a Dutch Woman, 2017, from the series Fortia

Nataal: New African Photography III, 4th – 13th May, Red Hook Labs, 133 Imlay St, Brooklyn, New York. Opening times: 10am-6pm daily. 

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Watch This Space: An Exploration of the Object that has Become an Extension of our Modern Bodies

08.11.2017 | Blog , Culture | BY:

Watch This Space is a book that examines our relationships with our screens, ‘the defining object of the twenty-first century’. A limited edition collaboration between writer, editor and curator Francesca Gavin, and Pentagram partners Luke Powell and Jody Hudson-Powell, the book questions the function of our screens, and how they shape our everyday experience. Watch This Space provides an in-depth analysis of the object that has become an extension of our modern bodies, looking at the impact of screens on society, culture and the self.

The book includes the work of almost 50 contributors, including Yuri Pattinson, winner of the 2016 Frieze Art Award, conceptual documentary photographer Richard Mosse, and artist and director Margot Bowman. It has been produced by Pentagram, an independently owned multidisciplinary design studio with offices across Europe and the United States.

The design of the book actually reflects the subject matter, with the material used on the cover replicating the physical feel of a screen. Inside, pages are printed using Vivid Colour, a new five colour process that adds violet to CMYK, combined with stochastic imaging, which creates a near photographic definition image.

The book launches on November 8th at Tenderbooks in Leicester Square.

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Tameka Jenean Norris: Cut From the Same Cloth

25.11.2016 | Art , Blog | BY:

At a time of gross political uncertainty, American artist Tameka Jenean Norris’s new exhibition at the Ronchini Gallery is timely. Opening today, the exhibition sees Norris employ an expansive range of mediums, from video installations to painting and photography, to explore vital themes of black, female identity and self-image in today’s society.

Having grown up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Norris later moved to L.A., a transition that influences her new exhibition, in which the artist uses portraits to reconnect with distant relatives. The new collection of work illustrates the pivotal role of history in informing a sense of self, exploring the tension between discovering and owning one’s image and how identity is inherently linked to the past. Throughout, the work forms an engaging critique of contemporary social issues surrounding the appropriation of black culture and female-identity.

Tameka Jenean Norris, Marilyn No Matter What He Do, work in progress, 2016, fabric, canvas, acrylic paint, thread, 55 x 50 in, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery

Tameka Jenean Norris, Marilyn No Matter What He Do, work in progress, 2016, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery.

Speaking to Twin about the influences behind the exhibition and her work, Tameka told us:

The exhibition is a continuation of my first show at Ronchini Gallery ‘Almost Acquaintances’, and the works were mostly created at the MacDowell Colony in summer ’16, Peterborough, New Hampshire, and during this fall at The Grant Wood Fellowship, University of Iowa, where I am a Visiting Assistant Professor. Both the residency and the fellowship offered an opportunity for me to concentrate on a new body of work and have some space from the larger, more complicated world. During these periods of isolation, I spent some time contemplating about success in general, ‘black striving’ and missing my ‘family’ on the Gulf Coast and the surrounding areas.

Tameka Jenean Norris, Joel Want a Hamburger, work in progress, 2016, fabric, canvas, acrylic paint, thread, oil pastel, 50 x 50in, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery

Tameka Jenean Norris, Joel Want a Hamburger, work in progress, 2016, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery

Although I have been making progress as an artist and academically, I feel that I have become disconnected from my family/community/tribe/village in the southern US, and this show is an attempt at reconciliation and reaching out to them. The reference photos I have worked from are mainly taken from Facebook, and some of the family members are deceased, incarcerated and others I have only ever been able to reach via social media. 

The exhibition also displays abstract fabric works created by Tameka, as well as an installation of a large woven braid – both serve as metaphors for the memory. “My goal with this exhibition is to create a family tree of sorts and attempt to untangle the line of systematic oppression that has burdened my family and black American culture at large.”

Tameka Jenean Norris, Meka Jean Too Good For You, 2014, video still, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery

Tameka Jenean Norris, Meka Jean Too Good For You, 2014, video still, courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery

 Tameka Jenean Norris: Cut From the Same Cloth, Ronchini Gallery, London, 25 November 2016 – 21 January 2017, ronchinigallery.com. 

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Pippa Choy ‘Pineapple’ 2015

Grand Magasin Deux: Your Early Christmas Present

08.12.2015 | Blog | BY:

Christmas shopping. Two words that strike fear into the hearts of even the most hardened of consumers. But turn that frown, upside down, as Nat Breitenstein’s Grand Magasin Deux (a continuation of 2013’s successful Grand Magasin) is back at Bethnal Green’s French Riviera for a festive take on the “experimental examination” of a shopping experience.

For just five days (from 16-20 December) customers can peruse a plethora of unexpected delights from various artists at this unique pop-up shop, in which every single thing on display is for sale as part of a “playful exploration of labour, value, art and commerce”.

From ceramic pots and painted plaster pineapples and pomegranates, to turned timber and pom-pom vases, cast glass receptacles, furniture, drawings, prints, houseplants, Victorian Stereoscopes and lingerie – there is no shortage of things promising to capture both the eye and the imagination.

With no defined limits, the creatives involved have imagined a series of collectibles with the loose theme of a “shopping show” – the only condition? That the pieces created are affordable.

Artists taking part this time around include: Daisy Addison, Fay Ballard, Nat Breitestein, Owen Bullett, Harry Burden, Stuart Carey, Pippa Choy, Dan Coopey, Will Cruickshank, Denise de Cordova, Marie D’Elbee, Thomas Dozol, Tom Ellis, Kris Emmerson, Jessie Flood-Paddock, Seana Gavin, Ludovica Gioscia, Lynn Hatzius, Holly Hayward, Joey Holder, Siân Hislop, Samuel Levack and Jennifer Lewandowski, Bryan Mills, Nicholas Pankhurst, Berry Patten, Sonya Patel Ellis, Lyle Perkins, Marianne Spurr, Nicola Tassie, Jennifer Taylor, Cicely Travers, Bea Turner, Jeremy Willett and Lucy Woodhouse.

Grand Magasin Deux takes place from 16-20 December, 2015. Open daily, 12–7pm and by appointment.

You can find French Riviera at 309 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 6AH.

frenchriviera1988.com

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