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Meet the Brit-Nigerian artist making her solo exhibit debut

PICTURED: Joy Labinjo

Q: When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?

Joy Labinjo: Honestly, this is a thought that probably occurred to me when I was around 16 years old, but I pushed it away because I didn’t think it would be possible and I wasn’t sure if I liked art enough to do it everyday.

I wanted to be everything but an artist. I knew that I always wanted to paint because I feel happiest when doing so, but the word ‘artist’ seemed loaded at the time. People say you’re not your career, but with an artist you very much are. It’s one of those things you need to be able to say with your chest. I’ve only just become comfortable with calling myself an artist but I think that’s just because I’m not a student anymore.

Q: How would you describe your art?

JL: I’d say it’s like figurative oil paintings that use colour and pattern to explore issues such as race and identity.

Q: What are the earliest memories you have of visiting art galleries and museums?

JL: I can distinctly remember my dad taking my brother and I to the National History Museum and Science Museum a lot and I remember thoroughly enjoying those days out.

Q: Your father is a scientist and your mother is an english teacher - did they ever encourage you to follow in their professions?

JL: They’ve never said they’d like to me follow in their footsteps - they’ve always hoped that my siblings and I would do better. I would say I’ve had a fairly middle-class upbringing, but seeing how hard my parent’s worked wasn’t particularly appealing and I think they knew that too. I think they felt overworked and under-rewarded and wanted us to not feel like that.

Q: What was their reaction when you told them you wished to pursue art?

JL: They weren’t happy. They thought my teachers were putting silly ideas into my head and above all I think they were scared for my future. I was scared too but thought if I’m paying £9000 a year I should study something I enjoy.

Q: What is your painting process?

JL: I’m still trying to figure this out - It’s quite impulsive. I’ll sift through a photo album and an idea will jump out to me. I then scan the photographs that I find interesting onto my computer and play around with the composition. The ideas come a lot quicker than I am able to paint.

Q: What does the title of your new show 'Belonging' represent?

JL: I wanted to have a title that was only one word. I had to be quite careful because a lot of the words I was thinking of had quite vague meanings. Belonging came about from the term ‘a sense of belonging’. It summarised how I felt about myself when I began the body of works, but also how I’d like black viewers to feel when they see the work.

Q: How do you think your work explores black British identity?

JL: In some ways being a black British woman and having a show that depicts black women, men and children is really all there is to it. I felt compelled to make this body of work after reading in depth about the black British artists of the 1980s and realised that representation in galleries and the art world in general was still an issue. I wanted to create a body of work that allowed black people to see themselves and their families in the artwork.

Q: Who is your favourite artist?

JL: I think it would be Lynette Yiadom Boakye. I had never heard of her then saw her work at the Venice Biennale during my first year of university. I looked into her work a lot because that was the first black British female artist I discovered and it was an eye opener for me.

Q: What else do you have in store for this year?

JL: I’ve got three shows in the pipeline until September. Also, there will be another solo show late September as the Woon Fellowship comes to an end. So from now until then, I plan to be in my studio experimenting and continuing to make work.

Joy Labinjo’s Belonging opens on 11 Jan through to 10 Feb 2018 at Morley Gallery, 61 Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7HT

Joy Labinjo is an emerging British-Nigerian painter who was the 2017 recipient of the Woon Foundation Prize, one of the most prestigious graduate art prizes in the UK, jointly hosted by the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Northumbria University. Her paintings draw on her heritage to examine the complex relationships between identity, race, and culture.

Belonging is Joy’s first solo exhibition, and she invites the viewer to step into large-scale canvases saturated with colours, patterns and people, reconfigured from her family photograph albums. She scrutinises and dissects these junctures of belonging from photographs of special occasions to informal no-filter snapshots.

In doing this, Labinjo simultaneously connects with personal histories and uproots them, freeing and displacing individuals from a collective narrative, to create a new space of multiple histories and representations. The exhibition also features a reading room supported by Iniva’s Stuart Hall Library, where visitors can explore the themes of the exhibition further.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Morley College London is one of the UK’s largest and oldest specialist providers of adult education.

Founded by Emma Cons in 1889 to address the learning needs of the working class people of Waterloo and Lambeth, Morley was the first institution of its kind to admit both men and women on an equal footing, and aimed to make education accessible to people who were less fortunate socially and financially.

This sense of mission and spirit of inclusion towards the most disadvantaged in society has been a guiding principle in everything Morley has done throughout its history, and its original philanthropic, charitable foundation continues to be a distinguishing feature of the College to present day.

Today the College offers thousands of courses at all levels, from part-time leisure courses to Access diplomas and HNDs, and its student body is highly diverse, with 52% being from BAME backgrounds, 74% female, and 59% over the age of 40. The College recently took over the management of the Stockwell Community Centre to extend its educational reach in Lambeth even further, and its main centre at Westminster Bridge Road near Waterloo is currently undergoing extensive refurbishment to improve its accessibility for people with disabilities.

Belonging marks the start of a new direction for the Gallery, and in 2018 it will commission and curate a public programme that aims to challenge the status quo, encouraging reflection and debate on our increasingly complex times.

Three showcases of diverse female artists are already planned for this year – following Belonging in January, in July there will be a new commission by Turner Prize-winning artist Elizabeth Price, and in October the Gallery will exhibit the first solo show of acclaimed writer Sara Baume, whose most recent novel A Line Made By Walking was shortlisted for the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize for Fiction.

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