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December 15,2020

by Grace Banks

On Read with Joy Labinjo

Joy Labinjo reflects on the 2020 that left us all on read.

Artists have been hit so hard by Covid-19 and I’d like to see that change in 2021. Most creative people, they invest so much time into learning their field, so I just thought it was really rude and insensitive for the government to launch a campaign to ask people to retrain. Most people have been juggling jobs out of their field and doing other things for the longest time to support themselves anyway! 

In May this year, I was working on an exhibition for Art Basel Miami that was due to travel in September and I wasn't too sure what my subject matter was going to be. And then the Black Lives Matter protests happened in June and it just felt right to make work about that. With Art Basel Miami cancelled, the work is now on show at Tiwani Contemporary in London. These new works are very different from the work I’ve been doing before and I was worried that people wouldn’t understand what I'm trying to do. But I realised that I was in quite a lucky position in the sense that I don't have a boss per se, so I decided I should be brave. Some people’s jobs might not allow them to take a stand in what they believe in, but I’m in the position where I can so I wanted to take it. 

For a long time, people have been calling my work political. For me, they are just figurative paintings of black people. I wasn't sure it was political. But it felt like a really good time for me to go fully political. They're still figurative and quite similar to my previous works with bright colours and borders, and pattern, but I’m really questioning racism in society. And for the first time, I’m including white figures. Because of the Black Live Matter movement, the less talked about parts of British history are being discussed. I came across the story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, who was Queen Victoria's unofficial goddaughter. She was supposed to be a slave but an upper class English gentleman bought her. I wanted to explore that, and look at the parts of British history we don’t talk about. So I had begun looking at archives of black figures in the 1800s and basically painted these figures and brought them to life, including furniture and colours that I thought would have been prominent at that time. 

I feel it’s important to make people uncomfortable with my work. Previously, I showed black figures in everyday situations, just enjoying life, relaxing in the living room, parties, and weddings. But then I thought: that’s just not enough. I realised that for me, it was quite an unacceptable way to challenge blackness. In the sense that it was quite easy on the eye, aesthetically pleasing. It allowed people to feel like they were helping to dissect racism in a way that was kind to them.

Being surrounded by my peers in London who are painters and artists has been really great and inspiring. We are all kind of doing different things but can learn from each other. It’s also really great to go to your friends exhibitions and kind of celebrate them when they get to showcase their work. I’m hoping 2021 is better for everybody! I hope that we continue to look out for each other and that we continue to collectively speak up. I don't think it can be underestimated, the collective voice. If enough people speak up about something, it can create real lasting change. I hope that energy continues.

Joy Labinjo is an artist based in London.

Watch the full IGTV interview here.

JoyLabinjo JournalPortraitJoyLabinjo Pull-Quotes

December 15,2020

by Grace Banks

On Read with Joy Labinjo

Joy Labinjo reflects on the 2020 that left us all on read.

Artists have been hit so hard by Covid-19 and I’d like to see that change in 2021. Most creative people, they invest so much time into learning their field, so I just thought it was really rude and insensitive for the government to launch a campaign to ask people to retrain. Most people have been juggling jobs out of their field and doing other things for the longest time to support themselves anyway! 

In May this year, I was working on an exhibition for Art Basel Miami that was due to travel in September and I wasn't too sure what my subject matter was going to be. And then the Black Lives Matter protests happened in June and it just felt right to make work about that. With Art Basel Miami cancelled, the work is now on show at Tiwani Contemporary in London. These new works are very different from the work I’ve been doing before and I was worried that people wouldn’t understand what I'm trying to do. But I realised that I was in quite a lucky position in the sense that I don't have a boss per se, so I decided I should be brave. Some people’s jobs might not allow them to take a stand in what they believe in, but I’m in the position where I can so I wanted to take it. 

For a long time, people have been calling my work political. For me, they are just figurative paintings of black people. I wasn't sure it was political. But it felt like a really good time for me to go fully political. They're still figurative and quite similar to my previous works with bright colours and borders, and pattern, but I’m really questioning racism in society. And for the first time, I’m including white figures. Because of the Black Live Matter movement, the less talked about parts of British history are being discussed. I came across the story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, who was Queen Victoria's unofficial goddaughter. She was supposed to be a slave but an upper class English gentleman bought her. I wanted to explore that, and look at the parts of British history we don’t talk about. So I had begun looking at archives of black figures in the 1800s and basically painted these figures and brought them to life, including furniture and colours that I thought would have been prominent at that time. 

I feel it’s important to make people uncomfortable with my work. Previously, I showed black figures in everyday situations, just enjoying life, relaxing in the living room, parties, and weddings. But then I thought: that’s just not enough. I realised that for me, it was quite an unacceptable way to challenge blackness. In the sense that it was quite easy on the eye, aesthetically pleasing. It allowed people to feel like they were helping to dissect racism in a way that was kind to them.

Being surrounded by my peers in London who are painters and artists has been really great and inspiring. We are all kind of doing different things but can learn from each other. It’s also really great to go to your friends exhibitions and kind of celebrate them when they get to showcase their work. I’m hoping 2021 is better for everybody! I hope that we continue to look out for each other and that we continue to collectively speak up. I don't think it can be underestimated, the collective voice. If enough people speak up about something, it can create real lasting change. I hope that energy continues.

Joy Labinjo is an artist based in London.

Watch the full IGTV interview here.

JoyLabinjo JournalPortraitJoyLabinjo Pull-Quotes