Where's the frame
June 30, 2021 12:31 PM
Cambridge born Selena works to redefine the portrayal of the black male identity. Drawing inspiration from her own family and friends, Selena captures the essence of how complex it is for identity to be related with racism and acculturation. The bias and racial prejudice drives Selena to explore the themes of hyper-masculinity especially through the lens of empathy in depicting her subjects. In this conversation with the Slade student, we discuss how she feels about online classes (that surprisingly feel liberating to Selena), her fashion related upbringing, and her activism to support the BLM movement.
What is the most memorable moment during your time at Slade before COVID strikes?
Unfortunately, my time actually at the Slade was cut even shorter as prior to covid I was having health issues which meant I missed the last term of my first year. So, from the limited time I was physically there, my most memorable moment would be going to a lecture by Marikiscrycry. I watched them in awe because it was the first time I could actually relate to someone’s references and sentiments in an academic environment. Malik Nashad Sharpe is so beautiful and eloquent, and their performance work was incredibly powerful.
Can you please describe your work/style in less than 15 words?
Narrative driven portraits, using iconography and chiaroscuro to represent the black identity.
How do you feel about attending online classes and does it affect your process in creating new works?
I really enjoy the privacy of working from home and online classes have definitely allowed me to relax a bit when it comes to making work. However, I really do miss being in an environment where I’m surrounded by creative individuals. I feel like we have all missed out on that sense of community. There’s so much to learn from others and I really benefited from informal studio conversations with my peers.
On the bright side, I feel like I am able to focus more on my process. I can wear my cosy clothes, blast my music and really be in my element. I enjoy creating much more that way as I don’t like the pressure of others watching. I have always preferred working from home in that sense, my process is very private and personal to me.
Online classes are definitely not the same as in person teaching, however considering the circumstances it has still been enjoyable. It was the only sense of normality and structure to my days during lockdown, so I am thankful it kept me sane!
You mostly used men as your main subject. Can you tell us, why and how you wish to portray them?
I have been focusing on male subjects for a while, as I use my work to explore themes of hyper-masculinity and prejudice specifically within the black community. I aim for empathy when it comes to how I depict my subjects.
From the personal experience of my brother and boyfriend, I have noticed a bias against the black male as I believe they are the most feared in our society. Even in conversations with my white peers I noticed how any encounter with a black male that wasn’t positive, the fact that it was a black male would be used to emphasise how bad or scary it was. It is this demonisation that I wish to counter by showing black men in their vulnerability with as much care as possible, especially as my subjects are friends and loved ones.
As a young artist, what themes and contexts do you want to explore next?
My culture will always be my main focus for my work, but I want to experiment much more as this is still the beginning for me. I have been oil painting for two years and during that time I have been focussing a lot on refining my skill, but I am at a point now where I feel secure in my style. I now want to explore adding more elements to my work to create more of a scene and narrative on a larger scale. Film also has a huge influence on my work and photography plays a large role in my painting process, so I am planning to venture more into camera work in the near future.
Does fashion play a role in your works?
Certainly! My mum is a textile artist so I’ve been sewing and making clothes since before I could paint, so fashion was really my first love. How I dress on a daily basis is really important to me and I apply the same mentality to the figures in my paintings. Clothing holds a lot of power, and as a minority that’s a fact you become aware of very young. Clothing is also a way of expressing character and culture, so I utilize it as a tool to help viewers understand the people I paint.
Do you have any favorite practicing artists you follow instagram? Name a few and spill their instagram handles!
@poorteffy is a current favourite, his style is so unique and I respect what he does for the black community. He uses his platform to speak about issues within the art world (and the world in general) that many choose to ignore for the sake of being liked and I’m sure that has come at a personal cost. He’s political, unfiltered and incredibly talented which I find inspiring.
@bluboy__ is another young black creative that has changed the game. We have been mutuals for a few years and I was fortunate to see how he’s developed into a global success. His drive and creativity have made him a pioneer that I look up to.
Can you tell us something that people would be surprised to know about you?
I was born and raised in Cambridge! People often assume I’m from London but I am a village girl at heart. I love undisturbed nature and being able to go on long walks with my dog. Moving to London for University has definitely made me appreciate that even more.
I also have a bit of an obsession with bats and foxes which people find odd, but I think they’re so cute!
What kind of secret society would you like to start?
I consider myself quite a political person, but I find I have become tired of humanity and my inability to create change. If I could, I would want my secret society to be justice serving. I recently found this disgusting website where they are selling stress relief toys in George Floyd’s image and using their website to incite hatred and share videos of black people being murdered. I made a TikTok to spread awareness and get people to help report it and a lot of people are equally as disgusted as I am. Despite having thousands of people supporting the cause, I couldn’t get their website taken down let alone their social media accounts. That really affected me to be honest, so I would want to use my secret society to get the justice we have been fighting for!
What do you think is missing in our contemporary culture?
Empathy. I believe the only way we can develop as a human race is if we cared more about others. The root of all the problems in our society is because people value their lives over others – be it wildlife, people, or our earth. I think it’s really hard for my generation and those following to be genuinely happy because we are so much more aware of what is wrong with our world.
“I use my work to illustrate the complexities in identity caused by acculturation and racism. I explore themes such as hyper-masculinity and prejudice, referencing their direct connection to colonisation, and the various ways these problems can manifest within modern society. Taking inspiration from the theories of Frantz Fanon in his books ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ and ‘Black Skin, White Masks’, I primarily focus on the socially normalized preconception to associate 'black' with 'wrong'. I aim to redefine the portrayal of black men through the use of oil painting, a medium traditionally reserved to perpetuate western ideals.” - Selena Scott
All photos courtesy of the artist.
where's the frame - ‘in conversation with’ is a weekly series featuring emerging vanguard artists. Stay tuned for more interviews, published every Friday.