In anticipation of next week's event, I:M sits down with the 'Reclaim The Night' artists. The night will celebrate work from young female artists inspired by the movement which raises awareness of sexual assault and harassment. It will take place at the Square Club on February 8th. Want to know a bit more before it begins? Have a read of this and find out what Emma Walton, one of the artists featured, has to say about creativity, race and being a woman in today's world.
SO, WHAT'S YOUR NAME?
AND YOUR DEGREE?
WHAT YEAR ARE YOU IN?
WHAT ARE YOUR INTERESTS? TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?
It’s always changing. It’s such a hard question but right now I’m listening to a lot of hip hop and I’m really interested in how a lot more voice is being given to black queer artists like Arca and The Internet and this other woman called Sophie. And then a lot of ambient stuff as well. Also I’m really enjoying listening to whole album’s at a time, listening from beginning to end instead of kinda frantic listening. It’s like going to a gallery and only looking at one piece of art. I’m also from South Africa, so that’s probably another thing.
WHAT DOES THE THEME ‘RECLAIM THE NIGHT’ MEAN TO YOU?
Reclaim the Night means a lot to me, especially coming from South Africa. The first time I came to London I felt like I could walk alone at night for the first time. I realised it was actually normal to inhabit the night time and not feel like your body is threatened and, even in the day time, not feel alert and on edge all the time. It was such a relief and I’d never realised that was normal and something that everyone should have a right to. Then realising, when I went back to South Africa, how much mental energy I used on thinking of my body and taking up space and just being a woman. I hadn’t realised but, my whole life, I’d wake up in the morning and put an outfit on and be like ah no, I can’t wear that I’ll get too much attention so I’d change and then go out. There’s much less here. It’s not that it is gone but it's just pushed me to realise how important it is. It's not just about reclaiming the night, its reclaiming a space that has been taken away from us. Growing up in a patriarchal domineering society where you are told that the space you take up is not valid, you have to fight for it. Like, you see it in all kinds of situations. Whether it’s in the night time and walking along the street and, even, my family does thing, its called Male Collision Theory, where you walk along and you see, if you just walk straight and don’t move out of the way, how many men you bump into because so many just don’t move. So yeah just learning to take up space in all manners of ways. And just how magical the night time is. I find that I do my best creating and thinking during the night because you get this feeling that you’re simultaneously alone but so connected to everyone else who is awake at that time, especially at like 3 or 4am in the morning. You enter this different psychic space. Also I think the moon is an age old symbol of femininity and female power and I really like having that time. It sounds really cliche but the moon is just really stirring.
HAS THIS INSPIRED YOUR ART?
Mostly I do quite illustrative stuff and I tend to, because I’m with myself all the time, do a lot of self portraits and use my own body as a reference for drawing bodies. I get worried that my art looks really egotistical but it's just because I am the easiest thing to draw because I’m always there. A big part of it is figuring out how my body takes up space and learning how to love my body through making art because that’s another thing, when your body is constantly under threat you learn to hate it and be disgusted by it. And we are always assessing are bodies and wanting to take bits of it off, wishing we were thinner, wishing we just weren’t there or were somehow different but I find that painting and drawing is a way of honouring it and just realising that its there all the time and it’s going to be there so I have to learn to love it.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ART?
It’s just a good way of processing things. I’ve done a lot of moving around in the past few years, I moved from Cape Town, I travelled for two years, and now I’m studying here but my journals and my drawings are the only thing I have from then. I don’t have the same clothes or shoes or baggage that I had then, I only have my art which has been a good way for having some continuity. Mostly a lot of it is me trying to figure out my identity. I’ve been thinking a lot about race recently, being white in South Africa I obviously have a heavy and toxic past that I have some sort of responsibility to. Then being in England, the home of the colonisers, seeing how white washed history is here and seeing how people are so quick to deny any responsibility they have to the general fucked up state of the world which, I think, is a lot to do with colonisation and systems of abuse and power. Right now I'm thinking about those internal conversations I’m having, trying to figure out my place in that.
WHO ARE YOUR INFLUENCES AS AN ARTIST?
I am so grateful for Instagram. I can keep in contact or track what current artists are doing. In the past you would only learn of something at the end of a movement, unless you were deep in the art scene, you’d see it when a book was published or when a gallery was up but now you get to see people’s processes and their thinking and them and their life attached to their art. I feel so privileged to see so many artists and be inspired by them. So like this illustrator, Lena Marca, she does these really nice figurative illustration things and a lot of them you can’t really tell whether they are male or female. And then, quite a few photographers and a lot of my friends in Cape Town are creative - artists, photographers, designers, that kind of thing. I can’t see what they’re doing so instagram is a good way of keeping up to date. Then obviously Frieda Kahlo and surrealist artists like this guy, Mikey Burey, who’s actually a friend of mine but does phenomenal digital art.
TELL ME ABOUT THE PROCESS BEHIND YOUR ART?
I used to be a bit of a perfectionist. I’d have an idea of what I wanted to do and then work towards that and then I realised that was the worst way to approach any kind of creativity because it means you box things in and you get upset with yourself from the start. So now, I’ll only have a few reference photos, especially if I’m doing something more figurative. I really hate using pencil so I go straight in with pen or gauche paint. Guache has the vibrancy of oils and I like mixing pen over it because I really like fine details and the contrast of big undetailed spaces with super detailed fine aspects. With line drawings and figures I like reinterpreting things just as shape and seeing the graphic space it takes up.
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH YOUR FINISHED PIECES FOR THE EVENT?
All very much a work in progess but this is an interesting space to come into because I don’t think any of us are claiming to be professional artists at all but we’re trying to make that clear with informality. I feel like I very rarely have a moving experience at a gallery, they're kind of like zoos. You go in there and the art is like an animal caged to a wall and you’re far away from it and can’t touch it. It’s more immersive this way. More of a conversation. And I think we’re going to try and push that across by having more small things in weird unexpected places so not directly at eye level but everywhere because when you’re making art it never goes into just one place, it filters into everything, your thoughts and what you see.
DID YOU HAVE ANYONE SPECIFIC IN MIND WHEN CREATING YOUR ART?
Well, my sisters are the biggest influence on my art just because they’re both artists and writers themselves so a lot of my creative processes come from them. But also I think generally it's for anyone who feels doubt about their body and the space they can take up and the power they feel as a girl or non-male.
IF YOU HAD TO SUMMARISE YOUR ART HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN IT?
It’s about occupying space and trying to represent spaces in between things. So, like, it’s basically a representation of a mental space where I don’t feel fully settled but I’m trying to just be as comfortable in my body as possible. Often I feel a strong sense of body disassociation where I feel quite detached, where it feels like its something other that I can manipulate. I have to remind myself, no, it’s not.
ANY FUTURE AMBITIONS?
So I’m studying neuroscience now. There is a strong tendency to believe that science and art are completely distinct which I think is so false and it means that because all the funding goes into science and there’s so much importance put on science, that people then sideline art and art is seen as something pleasurable and extra. it’s also seen as a privilege. Art influences everything and it’s a really important way of processing things and communicating with each other. It’s like a universal language and the power is undeniable. So I’m kind of trying to find a way of breaching science and art.
ANY LAST THOUGHTS BEFORE YOU GO?
Hmm... I think something we lack in society is communal spaces. There’s an emphasis on being independent and strong and solo. 'Successful' is equated to doing stuff on your own and I think that’s a very patriarchal way of viewing the world. I would like to build spaces where people can be together. A lot of feminist movements are about saying look 'I can be just as much as a man as a man can' and do it on my own which I think is still denying the power of the feminine. I think we need to work towards rethinking this.