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Untitled Talks: Rochelle White

A text by guest blogger Tiffany Webster

Rochelle White, Untitled, 2016.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to take up space.” – Rochelle White 

 On September 14th, within the heart of the Stuart Hall Library, a momentous two-part ‘in conversation’ event with artist Rochelle White, writer Abondance Matanda and creative duo BBZ took place.

Consisting in a discussion around White’s practice, told through visuals of her photographs, alongside writings by Abondance, references from both of their essays,1 and a conversation in relation to BBZ practice, the discourse served as an exploration of the nuanced themes of identity, heritage and tradition; that question the meaning and the intersections of being a creative in today’s socio-political landscape from the Black-British Caribbean and/or African lens. The event covered a range of topics which included curatorial practices, POC queer spaces, the importance of taking up space, the resistance to assimilate, and most importantly, on the value of celebrating, supporting and championing ourselves and each other.

Melanie Keen, Director of Iniva, opened up the space by warmly welcoming everyone with an introduction to Iniva, the Institute of International Visual Arts as an evolving radical visual arts organization, that expands horizons in visual arts. Highlighting the crucial role of The Stuart Hall Library, as a critical and creative hub, that held and opened space for these discourses about our practices, beliefs, and research on issues surrounding the politics of race, class, gender, and on challenging conventional notions of diversity and difference.

The existence of the library was well known by many in attendance to the event, yet shockingly, in equal measures, was also unknown. For some, this was their first time visiting the library.

Rochelle White is London-based artist who works primarily within photographic mediums. Her work weaves through the complexities of identity, exploring conversations of personal and cultural politics resulting in a union of contemporary and traditional references often loaded with symbolism rooted in and informed by her lived experience. White studies of the nuances of today’s Caribbean experience in Britain, whilst questioning ideas of spirituality and consumption. After graduating from Camberwell College of The Arts in 2016, White continues to work on personal projects along with collaborations with fellow artists.

White spoke of her practice and her experiences navigating white institutional spaces, whilst exploring the nuances of her Black-British Caribbean heritage.

A comforting and relatable exchange of shared narratives on growing up in London, and discussing the nuances of today’s Black-British experience in Britain, resonated with the audience. They told my story, our story and had conversations that we all have often outside of the library’s walls on a day to day basis. Here these conversations were being contextualized and explored in relation to the space and the library; by questioning ideas of spirituality, consumption, tradition, memory, and comfort. Ultimately, asking us, where and what do we call ‘home’, is it a geographical location or just a feeling of belonging combined with comfort? The symbolism and semiotics of Caribbean food used in White’s photography were rooted in and informed by our lived experiences of growing up in black homes, the first galleries we knew…

Rochelle White, Untitled, 2016.

“The First Galleries I Knew Were Black Homes” – Abondance Matanda

Abondance Matanda is an arts and culture writer and poet. Being based in London proper informs her subject matters and subversive, colloquial voice. Language, girlhood, class, and blackness are the themes she notices and dissects more time, as well as other ideas about identity. Her influences range from Ms Dynamite to Toni Cade Bambara to Congolese music videos from the 90s.

Matanda responded to each of White’s photographic pieces, commenting on the gestures and performativity behind each visual, they both spoke of their friendship, on her interpretation of interconnections of each other’s work and how and how their practice informed and related to one another. Taking us all on a joyous journey reminiscent of the 3-4 hour conversations over the phone with our besties, not forgetting the hours of debate and layered conversations on our existence and the moments of just pure bantz. Such as the ongoing historical feud between those of Caribbean and African descent on the pronunciation of plantain.

FYI, It’s pronounced ‘PlanTIN’.

As the conversation transpired, I could recognise a certain diasporic intervisuality,2 cross-referenced through White’s images alongside the poetry and writing that was read out by both White and Matanda. The warmth and the collective familiarity that was felt within the space as they spoke and shared their experiences of home, of family and of comfort flowed into conversations on inherited culture, traditions and memories passed down to us from the generations before us. Discussing thoughts on how we archive ourselves and our new memories within this culture of disposability, and on evolving traditions.

Thoughts on inherited rituals passed down to us, such as our everyday haircare, sprung to mind. A specific memory, which involved sitting between legs, the use of black combs, hands, the untangling of hair, and the sweet smell of pink cream on fingertips that would pull at the roots, oil the scalp and seal coiled ends.

White’s visuals in combination with the sounds from Matanda’s writings offered a hidden knowledge that operates outside the white frame. An understanding that is not necessarily, nor at times, even possible to translate.

 

Rochelle White, Untitled, 2016.

“We must continue to create our own spaces and resist assimilation” – BBZ

BBZ is a creative duo that consists of filmmaker Nadine Davis and photographer Tia Simon-Campbell, who draw on the creative output of south London. They run a club night self-described as “a monthly exhibition/turn up for the fam, exploring the worlds of queer, non-binary women of colour”, which brings together artists of colour who identify as female to exhibit and sell their work. 

The second part of ‘Untitled Talks’ was a conversation between White, Matanda and BBZ. Tia Simon-Campbell and Nadine Davis spoke on their curatorial practices, in terms of creating BBZ spaces and how they started. They both noticed that there were no spaces for them to celebrate both their blackness and their queerness. During that time, they decided to create it for themselves and for the others. After being invited to curate and host a variety of nights that range from ‘Takeovers’ at prestigious arts institutions, to other more local and grassroots DIY locations; BBZ spoke of their strong belief in reclaiming space, in agency and in the resistance to assimilation, whilst simultaneously creating and working within our own spaces. Highlighting the importance of accessibility, inaccessibility and above all on creating spaces of collective joy and celebration.

‘Intergenerational conversations also serve as means to break cycles’ – Melanie Keen

Towards the end of this talk and in-between questions, the space filled with praise and support from each creative and their unanimous emphasis on the need to champion and celebrate each other’s successes. Not just with recognition towards our big achievements, but also in the small things we do and achieve in our everyday. Taking from the phrase mentioned by Matanda:

‘Bring me flowers when I am living. Don’t bring me them when I am dead.’ Highlighting the importance of empowering, celebrating, and praising each other where we all find ourselves now. In the present.

Rochelle White, Untitled, 2016.

Melanie Keen brought the event to a close by thanking the panel for such a generous and thought-provoking discourse. Reminding us that we all played a significant role in this space, whether it be behind the scenes, facilitating, chairing, presenting, to being an audience member. Keen, left us with some final thoughts, in regards to one of the many purposes of intergenerational conversations, which were to serve as means to break cycles; Keen also ended with a final thought on the role of The Stuart Hall Library, on the importance of these cultural heritage sites and the role they play within our current socio-political framework and during these urgent times. On the role we all play, whether working within them, outside of them or supporting them as intrinsic parts of our collective awareness, memory, and history.

Untitled Talk’ served as a catalyst for Iniva’s upcoming programme of exciting events due to take place at The Stuart Hall Library in the coming year. The Stuart Hall Library is now open on Saturdays from 12 – 6 pm.

1 Rochelle White’s (mis)representation of people of colour in visual culture and Abondance Matanda’s essa The First Galleries I Knew Were Black Homes. 

2 Intervisuality: (or visual intertextuality), which was first introduced by Nicholas Mirzoeff, the theory refers to the visual cross-referencing between various media while attempting to explain how viewers interpret images in light of their visual texts (Nicholas Mirzoeff in Simone Browne, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance Of Blackness (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2015), p.3).
Tiffany Webster is a graduate of Camberwell College University of The Arts London and Artquest Widening Participation Intern at Iniva, based in North West London. Tiffany’s current practice focuses on the exploration and representation of different forms of Radical Visibility, alongside the strategic navigation and survival of black artists URL, on the Web 2.0, and IRL (In Real Life). This has since lead to her recent writings on Diasporic Intervisuality, on agency, surveillance and in the study of ‘third spaces’ in relation to the everyday.