Take a moment to think about social justice. It’s a troubled conversation, despite our efforts to keep it afloat amidst a system that seems not to care about progress. In fact, it’s been extremely comfortable—and heavily dependent—of exploitative ideals.
Both historically and in contemporary society, the debates of multiculturalism have benefited those who notoriously weaponise their status within a context of supremacist power, rather than those who are victimised. You’d think that this—coupled with the restless activism that has swept across the world in its wake—would bring an end to injustice. But no. Instead of being eradicated, it’s constantly encouraged by the inhumanity of white privilege. Some would argue that one of the major stumbling blocks of today’s generation are the lack of resources, however the key disadvantage stems from the practice of exclusion systematically performed by centuries of neglect towards Black history. So, when will Black people earn full entitlement?
The creative industry has long needed a whirl, a revolution to map out a reckoning that offers more prospects to people of colour living in a modern world, both in the arts and far beyond. Villa Lena Foundation, the Tuscan residency built across 500 hectares of the region’s woodland, has brought forth a pioneering program to champion international artists. The cross-pollination between the institution and the digital project MQBMBQ (My Queer Blackness, My Black Queerness) has blazed a trail for the celebration of Black Queer craft, gathering some of the industry’s strongest Black creators. The partnership, with the support of luxury stakeholder Bulgari, will invite artists to contribute to an eclectic schedule of performances, talks and workshops throughout their four-week residency.
Here, Vogue spotlights three trailblazing Black creatives partaking in this year’s edition.
Mallory Lowe Mpoka @lowemallory
“My practice is rooted in cultural observation gained from a childhood spent growing up in an African-European household in Quebec, which I often see as an Americanised francophone insular region different from the rest of anglophone Canada. The result is work which incorporates various artistic, cultural and musical references, often drawing on images from archival photographs, distilled history, imagination and memories. Through my work, I am alternatively concealing, disguising, and revealing myself to the viewer while exploring my physical appearance through makeup, clothing, and hairstyles, creating 200 to 500+ personalities. This long-term self-portrait project aims to be a testimony that personal identities are intangible and fluid, and that my experimentations/explorations of different personas are extensions of myself.
During my residency at Villa Lena this summer, I will be creating a large-scale Black and white screen-printed photographic series on recycled textile – which will have been previously realised in Cameroon – by interweaving and incorporating various textile and embroidery techniques. This residency will allow me to do textile research in the region of Florence and experiment with local fibres to build a comprehensive body of work that will act as a research foundation in the production of my first docufiction in summer 2022 in Cameroon.
This new body of work will negotiate the textile cultures and visual codes that both define and camouflage identity through the intersection of photography, screen printing and image transferring. I’ve recently been reflecting on the ways cultural heritage and early photographic material have been loathed and destroyed throughout African history, and how Black contemporary artists (from the diaspora and the continent) have to come to a point to work on creating without having clear visual references from the past. Which leads me to meditate on the various ways fiction, poetics, symbolism and storied explorations intertwine with history, and how this ‘absence’ can sometimes create space for us to fictionalize, dream and speculate.”
Banji Chona @banjichona
“Art or any of the other external expressions of the self are almost always a reflection of the space-time continuums in which they’re conceived, birthed and nurtured. My art over the last couple of years and more presently has been influenced by the moments of discovery and rediscovery at the crux of the different intersections of the days I live- and of course these moments I experience don’t exist in a vacuum but rather in a highly intertwined field of events influenced by the world around me. So as a Black, Queer, African woman socio-cultural stimuli often comes in almost unquantifiable doses. Experience transmutes into a spectrum of emotions and thus material to mull over and turn into meaningful projects. Most, if not all of my work is a reflection of the times and fibres of stories which narrate the different states of being that Black bodies, like my own move through. Cultural revolutions, questions of identity and belonging, a radical reimagining of spaces.
There have been streams of noticeable shifts in the ways in which Black culture and crafts in their different manifestations are being received and treated within global cultural industries. Though I truly believe this should always be looked at through a critical lens and taken with a pinch of salt- engaging in the process of creation as a Black body will come with a sort of complexity in that there are less gaps in the industries for us to fill and often time those gaps can have tightly strapped parameters or stereotypical structures. Therefore, a skew in representation and I mean truly authentic representation of our stories. There’s a necessity for Black creatives, regardless of their industries, to look towards creating systems, industries and spaces of our own, where the radical reimagining of the appreciation or the eulogising of our culture doesn’t come at the cost of appropriation or exploitation.
Having been selected as one of three artists participating in the MQBMQB/Villa Lena residency is certainly a massive personal milestone. My work and thus the general fibres of my being having been recognised and appreciated by organisations nurturing the process of creating and promoting the creation of meaningful work can only be fuel for furthering my craft and growing both as a person and as an artist. I’m looking forward to a visceral opening up of myself and my work through the space the residency is carving out for me, interacting with similarly minded teams and individuals and finding inspiration through difference alike.”
Leasho Johnson @leasho_johnson
“The current works I’m producing are inspired by the constant scarcity of Black queer presence in history. Very few instances, if any, document Black queer love. The demonisation of BIPOC cultures and their acknowledgement of the non-binary or same sex affection has been erased. The space I create in my work is an alternative field where I live and love amongst forgotten ancestors. A Space for self-acceptance, a space for love, a space for not having to comply with social expectations or having to be mindful of my differences. The works that I make are an attempt to bring awareness to the barriers that have been inflicted on us. The deconstructed elements in my work meld painting and drawing as a way to challenge the gaze and reclaim agency for the Black body.
In terms of the change happening in society, things are getting more diverse and inclusive than they were just two decades ago. But that’s not separate and apart from our ancestors who were pivotal in these changes. It is our job to maintain this momentum by paving paths for others and continue to build with our craft.
On the side of Villa Lena Residency, I am looking for greener pasture, networking, and for art history and culture. I also want to share my work with other people who wouldn’t get the chance otherwise, and to satisfy my curiosity around the Villa Lena Residency and the culture of Italy. I’d like to thank all those who are involved in making this happen especially to MQBMBQ and all associated partners for making this opportunity come to fruition.”