WILDABOUT sat down with London based artist Rosa Johan Uddoh. Rosa works mainly through performance, ceramics and collage on themes of spatial agency, colonial memory and radical self love. She is currently studying MA Fine Art Media at the Slade School of Fine Art. Her work will be on show at the ‘Mene Mene Tekel Parsin’ exhibition at the Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridge opening May 20th until July 9th.
WA: Can you describe your art and talk about projects you’re currently working on?
Rosa: The aim of my work is to reach maximum self-esteem. The reason I started to work in that way is because I did a lot of things before I came to do art. I did my undergrad in architecture when I decided to give art a proper go and be properly committed to it, and put myself first in my work. I’m also interested in themes of re-appropriation of architecture, feminism, dancing, ceramics, and performance.
At the moment I make these pots from my body, putting clay on my body, I wait for it to dry then take it off. It’s all about making ceramic homeware. It’s quite a performative way of making ceramics. I have this idea that ceramics is this kind of feminist medium of place making and space building. Whereas most of architecture which is the conventional way of building space is quite male dominated. Even in its approach it’s patriarchal, top down designs given for you and I to live in. I’m looking at ceramics as a kind of counterpoint to this way of building. Thinking about this as a medium women have been traditionally associated with, specifically black and brown women for example in Nigeria and Perou. When you make a vessal you also construct a very small space and sometimes the pots that women make can be absolutely huge. Also when you meet you are working in a group, in a circle, you’re forming spaces, they’re more temporary perharps, sometimes they’re smaller but they’re still ways that women build. That’s what I think of my ceramics, these are my little interventions in space, and I put them places and they’re like my clones. (laughs) Ceramic have often been stolen from the colonies and I can’t really get away from that. It’s often just seen as a craft but there’s something inherently political about ceramics.
WA: Who are and who have been your inspirations in the past?
Rosa: I actually made a performance about that the other day, it’s about the Williams sisters, I wrote this story about them. They’re an inspiration to me because they’re also black women who are operating at the heart of a white elite institution, that is for them the tennis club. It’s predominantly white audiences, but they’re the greatest in their field. The way I see it or the narrative I’m gonna put on it, they carved themselves a space at the centre of this otherwise very white space and they do that on the space of the tennis court. For me, again theirs is a very spatial practice.
WA: What was your performance?
Rosa: It was a story interweaving my experience of growing up and entering white institutions and trying to find myself a space in them… with the career of the Williams sisters. How for me the Williams sisters was this perfect narrative handed down to us by the media, ‘Look it’s the American dream, you can do it, this is your representation, these are your tokens.’ Even though now I’m cynical about how the media constructs these black figures of excellence and how they always have to be the best in the field. The fact is it worked, I found it inspirational as a child… Now I’m trying to understand perhaps it’s not such a simple story of great success of tennis players, of black women winning.
WA: Do you have any projects for the future, things you’d like to do?
Rosa: I really want to make a whole dinner set from my body and have a dinner party where I invite people who I trust because it’s quite an intimate thing to give people these casts of your body to use. I am interested in how letting people use them as oppose to them just being in a gallery, you get to explore certain power relations, certain things about care and intimacy.
I also have this house which I would like to finish. It started with a story how in colonial Cuba, it was the role of black female slaves to make roof tiles. They would put clay on their thighs and that’s how you get the long shape with the curve in the middle. Now I’m running these workshops inviting black and brown women and non-binary people to come together where we learn to make roof tiles on our thighs and form a social community in the process. We meet each other and as the clay dries you chat, have some food, have some wine. At the end of the session it also makes a physical structure. I can take the tiles from the thighs, fit them all together and make a roof out of them. This is just a model of my dream but it’s about again, making a space or a shelter for us to use.
WA: What has your experience of art school been?
Rosa: I really enjoyed it. I met some really great artists working on some interesting themes around race, isolation, queerness, and mental health issues. It’s postgrad and because we’re quite a small group everyone is very caring of each other.
WA: Who’s your favourite artist at the moment?
Rosa: Paul Maheke, I really love their work. It deals with similar things I’m interested in, the black or brown body in relation to the physical space around them. They are really good at challenging a certain conventional way of showing work. They were doing a dance performance and did the rehearsals publicly. That’s so brave to let people see something before it’s finished. Sometimes that’s good to let control go a little bit, I think that’s inspirational. I also love Georgia-Lucas Going’s work, they touch on personal grief and other types of grief, like mental health issues to do with mixed race people.
To find out more about Rosa’s work:
Mene Mene Tekel Parsin :
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