The Black Blossoms Exhibition celebrates the voices of Black Women, a group which is often invisible, silenced and oppressed within society. Through film, photography and illustrations recent UAL graduates have explored the intersections of gender, race and identity.
TNC spoke with one of the exhibitors and recent UAL Graduate Mikela Henry-Lowe about her contribution to The Black Blossoms Exhibition.
Hi Mikéla, thanks for talking to tNC, how have things been going?
Hi, things have been going great!
Congratulations on your recent graduation, did you have any nerves getting up and accepting your degree?
Thank you, yes and no, I kept fixing my robe to distract myself from the fact that I was going to walk across a stage in front of so many people. Thank God I didn’t wear heels.
What has your experience been like at UAL?
In three words, interesting, confusing and challenging.
Just before your graduation a recent exhibition opened featuring your work, Black Blossoms at UAL, how did this come about?
One of my tutors emailed me about this exhibition and advised me to submit work asap. I did just that and was lucky enough to have my work selected to be a part of the show.
What has it meant for you as an artist to have your work featured in such a unique and salient exhibition?
It means the world as it’s my first exhibition outside of the degree show, I am pretty proud that I am a part of an exhibition that is solely focused on black women.
Can you tell me a little bit about the pieces that you selected for Black Blossoms?
Mamma – Afro is a painting of a black woman wearing her natural hair out for all to see. It’s simply a representation of black beauty, you don’t have to have straight hair to be seen as beautiful. I wanted to show that kinky, curly and coily hair is very acceptable because it naturally grows from your head. So why should this form of beauty not be celebrated?
Haitian Beauty is a representation of this black woman I found on Instagram. The image was stunning and I just wanted to work with that image and made the process that more exciting because I knew her cultural background.
Has the success of this exhibition surprised you?
No, because a lot of black women are standing up, standing together and finding their voice to express to the world their knowledge and acceptance of their own identity. With this kind of unity success was going to happen. I am surprised at how much my paintings have had such an impact on so many people, not just blackwomen. I am still processing the magnitude of what my work is representing for some many women and I am excited about this fact!
How important is it for you to be able to create your work that is, above all, a beautiful celebration of Black Women?
The utmost importance, little black girls need to see representations of themselves, they need to tug on their mom’s skirt and say “she looks like me”. Stereotypes need to be broken and society needs to realize that black women are more than they are made out to be. I need to keep that Black Girl Magic going.
Who are some of the women who have had an impact on you and your work?
My mother. She is every definition of what it is to be a black woman. She is strong, smart, confident, beautiful, vulnerable, sensitive etc. The stunning images of women I find on Instagram impacted me greatly, I absolutely love seeing these women just being themselves and connecting back to their roots. Starting up companies that are about representing the heritage and culture of African print, its the most exciting thing to witness.
Have you always had a passion for art?
Absolutely! You can ask my mom about the story of me running around the house with a red crayon drawing all over the walls, man I got into so much trouble! Hahaha. Art has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I had one main goal and that is to be an artist.
What was the first painting you did?
I actually can't remember because I was more into drawing a lot, my first proper drawings were of Disney characters like Simba, Genie and Princess Jasmine. I had this massive book of Disney stories and I just copied the illustrations of the characters non stop.
"My style is still very expressive but I have more control of what it is I am trying to translate."
Does it ever get easy parting with your work?
No way, I have an attachment to them that I only noticed when I had to let them go. When you spend so many hours working on that painting, it becomes a part of you.
Of all the work you've done is there any one piece that is very special and personal to you?
‘The Pieces of Me’ painting, I love this painting. It was with this piece I realized another level to my artistic skill, like I broke down this barrier to untapped creativity and I have been running with it ever since.
What inspires your work?
How much has your style changed over the years?
My style has changed quite a bit but my sense of colour has remained the same and I am so glad for that. At one point I went a bit monochrome. Thankfully I broke out of that. My style is still very expressive but I have more control of what it is I am trying to translate.
What advice would you offer an up and coming artist?
Whatever it is you are passionate about, hold on to it because you will meet people that will try their best to steer you in the wrong direction. If you are not passionate and excited about what you create, what’s the point?
And finally what do you hope people will take away from your work?
That beauty comes in all shades and hairstyles . Black women are no longer excluded from what is deemed beautiful. Just be Yourself.