Anissa-Jane (b. 1980, UK) was one of 11 artists featured in the exhibition Uncomfortable Truths: The Shadow of Slave Trading on Contemporary Art which was held in 2007 to commemorate the bi-centenary of the pariamentary abolition of the British slave trade. Her work seeks to explore the intricacies of identity, ancestry and cultural adaptation and her own experiences as an African British West Indian woman are integral to her creative expression. Her signature medium is to manipulate brown paper - a representation of her own skin - into sculptural forms. In this interview she discusses her work and the Uncomfortable Truths exhibition.
What for you is the appeal - or necessity - of addressing slavery in your work?
My aim is to challenge pre-set perceptions and raise questions about identity and to celebrate the accomplishments of my forebears who have lived through and adapted to their changing social situations over the centuries. For me creating art is an indispensable necessity to life. There is a valuable link in the history of my culture that makes me who I am today. I am a contemporary artist and I have a grand role, I feel through my art I can stimulate interest in the multifaceted subject of slavery next to highlighting and documenting certain ideas on this subject.
The art I create originates from inner inspiration and from culture. The appeal to me is about remembering my ancestors and reflecting on who I am today. Slavery is a large subject matter and the reality is that it is part of my history. By addressing slavery I take up the challenge to encourage and spark enthusiasm to talk about such an intense subject. Personally I do not believe slavery should be an uncomfortable subject to address, hence the reason why the appeal to me is to communicate my ideas and attract debate. I bring forth a negative subject matter in order to shape a positive change in attitude on the subject to pass on to generations.
Through showcasing some of my work in this exhibition I would like to stimulate interest in a previous hidden history and to encourage enthusiasm to connect with art to all social classes.
Can you talk visitors to our website through the creative process that led the work on display in the exhibition to take the shape it has done?
'Lucy' and 'The Spirit of Lucy Negro' was created to highlight and represent part of the unknown history of Black people in Britain since 3rd Century AD. The creative process developed from research and readings of Shakespeare's sonnets. The investigation of looking back in history interconnected with my own personal work and became part of a project I started in 2002.
'Smell the coffee…' is a wealthy out of bounds display of trauma, brutality, perversion encased in the fabric of the upholstered chairs, a rich display of potency and sophistication redefined. The materials to my work are all significant. It's taken shape from an installation that consisted of six chairs.
The creative process to my work with brown paper is important to the pieces I have made. By using brown paper in relation to my identity I have been able communicate some of my ideas on the complex matter of slavery. I use brown paper as a metaphor for my skin, silently showing different qualities of strength, delicacy, flexibility and fragility. While an element of my standpoint is of my identity, being born in Britain with Caribbean parentage, my artwork has wider relevance and can hold meaning for any person. I have been able to transform Brown paper from its original context by manipulating it in different ways. Although the paper has changed from its original context the origin of it remains the same. When creating the un wearable "Womanifestation" sculptural garment it became more than a mere voice bound by words and interpretation it became a physical manifestation of the earthly and spiritual journeys many have endeavoured throughout history. From taking the Brown paper through certain processes the garments gain a life of their own transcending boundaries and restrictions.
How do you feel that the environment of the museum impacts on the perception of your piece(s)?
I believe that the environment of the museum has impacted on my art as the museum has some of Britain's most significant cultural treasures on view. I am joyous to have had this opportunity to exhibit my work.
The Henrietta Suite, (British Galleries)
In this period room the character of the chairs from 'Smell The Coffee...' worked in the harmonic architecture that gave the concept a sense of solid form and direction. The distinctive look of the room took my ideas further. There it kept my art alive and excited a strong feeling of the wealthy significance of growth in the world economy.
Fashion gallery (Room 40)
The Fashion gallery is known for holding evolving styles in fashion. My representation of my identity through garments and photography helped contribute to cultural diversity in the arts, as it is in a place where it can rise up and be seen. It has become a historical document to reveal positive progressions and hopefully a growing interest in a diverse culture.
When I was growing up people of colour were seen to have a little part to play in history and I saw stereotypical portrayals of them. My ancestors were deprived of freedom and did not have the opportunity to show their creative talents because of ignorance and hatred.
People of colour have had a large part to play in history. From my work being in the museum environment makes it a mark in history that will contribute to attitudes of future generations. I always aim to be a positive role model, even through hardships you can still achieve what you want to do. The environment will have a positive impact on my work as it shows how times have changed. Could you name any black female artists from 30 years ago?