Interview with visual textile artist Anya Paintsil – we chat representation (or lack of), punch-needle and questioning “fine art”.

Today I’m interviewing another Insta artist find….this one really stopped me in my tracks! Anya Paintsil is a brilliant artist find – I stumbled across her work through The Social Distance Art Project (seriously folx – that is the gift that just keeps on digitally giving – check it out!) and instantly fell in love. It is like nothing that I’ve personally seen recently and the tied in themes of race, feminism and personal expression, just feel so timely.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – me and jack

Anya Painsil is a recent art graduate from Manchester Met, making her way into the arts work and I just know she’s going to have a bright future. Anya’s pieces use methods of rug hooking, embroidery and afro hairstyling to create textile pieces that seek to elevate art and craft practices that have been historically devalued because of their associations with marginalised groups. Anya’s work frequently focuses on the significance of race and identity outside of urban areas, feminism, autobiographical story-telling and fantasy.

I reached out to Anya this Summer for a Culture Vulture interview for many reasons; firstly, her art work is beaut, I love the style and it interested me! It is the type of work, that even though, I stumbled on her work during mindlessly scrolling, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and book marked it. Secondly, she is using a textile medium that arguably is not something that many artists use – it’s quite a traditional medium, but this feels like such a fresh way of using it. I like folx who are doing something quite different and Anya’s work, is just that, very Anya!

So it is my privilege to share our little interview and please check out Anya’s work and show her lots of her support, she is MEGA!

Artist Anya Paintsil leaning against a shop window.

Anya Paintsil

So hi Anya! Can you introduce yourself for my fellow Culture Vultures?

My name is Anya Paintsil; I’m a Welsh-Ghanaian artist living in Manchester.

How would describe your practice?

I’d describe myself as a textile or fibre artist; I work with various rug hooking methods to create wall-based textile pieces.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil Mair at Cylch Meithrin

Can you share with us, your journey into the arts?

I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life; from being a small child creative practice has always been something of a compulsion for me and I would spend hours every day drawing and painting. I didn’t enjoy studying art at school or school at all really, and dropped out of sixth form college and worked, travelled and moved around a lot.

When I was 23 I decided I wanted to work towards a career in graphic design or illustration so I went on a portfolio course in Glasgow, where I was living at the time – I got into MMU (Manchester Met) to study illustration and animation but similarly with my school experiences I didn’t really enjoy working to briefs or not being able to make work entirely in the way I envisioned so I swapped to study fine art after my first year. I just finished my BA and began working with my gallery earlier this year.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – Your Mum Eats Like a Camel

Can you tell us about some of the themes you explore in your work?

My work is largely autobiographical – I explore personal relationships, trauma, and memory, as well as exploring race and identity.

What would you like audiences to take away from your work?

I like to create objects that have a sort of presence.

My work does largely deal with race and identity from my own mixed race African/Welsh perspective – a perspective I have rarely seen represented. I like to explore complex elements of depicting black women and black bodies and hair.

My main aims in my practice are to make viewers consider what can and can’t be included in the category of fine art as well as which makers can be considered “artists”. I do this through my utilisation of craft practices that have historically been relegated to the decorative or dismissed from the high art canon due to associations with utility. I work with afro hairstyling techniques and materials as a way of honouring my heritage as a black woman, and a way to bring wider attention to the significance of hairstyling and hair in itself for women of the African diaspora.

As well as wanting to work with materials I am skilled at manipulating, I want to showcase these skills I learnt outside of an arts education context to in some way convey that literally anything that requires skill and creativity can be elevated to an object that can exist within a gallery setting; this is a way of challenging ideas that real art can only be made by certain people under certain circumstances.

Example of Anya’s work

Anya Paintsil – thirty six inch in six thirteen

Talk us through the process of making one of your textile pieces? How long does it take?

Usually between a week or a month.

I draw or paint nearly every day, in a semi-automatic fashion, I usually pick back through old drawings to come up with ideas for my textiles – I then usually do a more “resolved feeling” version of the initial drawing and then just try to translate into textile form, the design usually changes over the course of making the piece – I always work free hand on to the hessian.

You often use punch needle as a process in your work, why?

It is such a cathartic process.

Labour and the evidence of labour are quite central to my practice. I really appreciate and enjoy how easily I can manipulate my tools in punch needling; I find working by hand gives me far more freedom and allows me to make quick decisions while I work.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – Self Portrait

Can you share with us a highlight of your career so far?

I suppose, in itself, I’m still proper delighted and quite shocked that making work has actually become a career. Being discovered by my gallerist, Ed Cross, on Instagram was wild and unexpected but has been completely life changing. Ed Cross Fine Art is a gallery in London, that works with emerging and established artists across and beyond the African diaspora.

But I’d have to say my highlight so far was learning, that I had been selected to show work at the London instalment of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House in 8 – 10 October.

How have you been spending lock down?

Grieving with my family. In April my Grandma died from COVID. I come from a tight knit family, my Grandma was our matriarch and the centre of our world. Losing her and being unable to be with her or say goodbye due to the circumstances of the pandemic has been so painful and devastating to us all.

My mum was going through cancer treatment when the pandemic began, and I myself am clinically vulnerable so this whole situation has been a total nightmare and the hardest time of my life.

I’m so sorry to hear that and sending you so much virtual love! Do you sell any of your work? Take commissions?

My work is sold through my gallerist, Ed Cross Fine Art. I take selected commissions.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsl – ni yn unig

What are you working on right now? Any projects?

I’m finishing up a couple of new pieces to show at the 1-54 in October, and a couple of other things that are soon to be announced – keep an eye on my social media for more!

Can you share with us a few artists that are inspiring you right now or suggestions of artists I need to check out?

You should check out….

Cas Namoda – a painter and performance artist born in Mozambique, exploring the intricacies of social dynamics and mixed cultural and racial identity in her work. She captures scenes of everyday life, from mundane moments to life-changing events and paints a vibrant and nuanced portrait of post-colonial Mozambique within an increasingly globalised world.

Tiffanie Delune – a visual artist and painter, born in Paris, inspired by the cut outs of Matisse and African textiles; she works with acrylic, oil, pastels, charcoal, graphite, pencils, papers, fabrics, wool, nets, women’s tights, shells and leaves, on stretched large canvas, rolls of canvas and smaller pieces of paper. Her work combines a brilliant command of design and colour with a fearless commitment to exploring her personal history and celebrating sexuality, monogamy, femininity, motherhood, rebirth, agency and freedom. 

Adebunmi Gbadebo – a visual artist, from New Jersey, who creates sculptures, paintings, prints, and paper using human hair sourced from people of the African diaspora. Rejecting traditional art materials, Gbadebo sees hair as a means to centre her people and their histories as central to the narratives in her work.

You’re at the beginning of your creative career which is exciting – whilst the creative and cultural industries are thinking about reopening, evolving and rebuilding – what change would you personally like to see in our sector?

I would like to see

  1. more women,
  2. more people of colour,
  3. more “normal” people,
  4. more accessible language.

Well high five to that – I’d like to see less gatekeeping! This has been a wonderful interview – how can folx stay connected with you?

My Instagram is @anyapaintsil and you can find my work for sale on artsy right HERE.  

You can see my work IN PERSON on October the 10th at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House – you can get your tickets from HERE.

Example of Anya’s textile work

Anya Paintsil – feeling powerful with my red nails

What a great interview and thank you for introducing me to three new artists Anya – every artist, I interview, engage with or hang with, I ask them to suggest three-five artists on Insta or in general that I need to check out and let me tell you, it’s been SO bliddy amazing to jump outside of my comfort bubble – I’ve discovered SO many new artists. Brilliant for my curious brain, not so brilliant for my to-do list! (hehe!)

Please check out Anya’s work and please consider buying from artists and creatives this Autumn (going into festive season!) Artists need your support more than ever, so put yerrrr monies where you mouth is! Even if it’s just a card or small print!

Until next time Culture Vultures!

Interview with artist Raphael Dada – we chat talent, doodles, the importance of language & entering into the creative industry as a black artist….

I’ve been super excited about this Culture Vulture artist interview for ages – another Instagram find through The Social Distance Art Project – artist Raphael Dada- @artbyadrafa on Instagram. I discovered Raphael’s work before George Floyd’s murder and the social justice and civil rights movement that followed and continues to the present (keep it going!). Raphael’s work explores the ‘black experience’, racial identity and his experience as a Nigerian-British diaspora artist growing up in the UK……

I loved Raphael’s work before, but now…well it’s like looking at it with a whole new lense and important reflective provocations exist in each piece of work. So please go and check it out.

This is a beaut interview – one of my faves for a while.

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Raphael Dada

Hiyer, Raphael – for my fellow Culture Vultures and readers – can you tell me who you are and how would you describe your varied practice?

My name is Raphael Dada and I am a 20-year-old Nigerian- British, multidisciplinary artist. Over the years my practice has taken many forms, ranging from videography, screen print, spoken word, installations and many more. But the one consistent motif about my practice is that through my various means of expression, what I try to do is tell stories about the black cultural experience that mainstream media or the education system will not tell you.

Most of my work is based around my own personal experiences growing up as a young black British artist in the UK. Even though a lot of my work is very personal, there are numerous entrance points, so the viewer can relate and empathise, as I do appropriate and reference aspects of black popular culture frequently in my work.

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Artist Raphael Dada

I really love you work – beautiful, interesting and very important. Tell me about your journey into the creative industries?

My journey into the creative industry was a weird one because when I was growing up, I never expected to enter the creative industry or make money off my art and collaborations with other artists. When I was young, I just knew I liked drawing and I liked colours, and when GCSEs came I was like: “Yeah, why not? It will be funny and it is one of the only subjects I actually like,” and I basically had the same reasoning when it came to A-Levels.

Then it came to applying to university and I almost didn’t choose art because there were so many different variations of the course, depending on where you wanted to go. I eventually decided on Fine Art at Leeds Arts, and even at Uni I wanted to get into the fashion industry, so I started my own clothing line in first year. As I started creating art work on subjects that I felt more passionate about, as well as working and networking with more artists, I decided the creative industry is where I belong. My clothing line is still active, and we have some new clothes dropping soon, but the creative industry will always have my heART.

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Raphael Dada

You’ve just finished Leeds University  – How was your experience studying at Leeds?

I can’t even lie and say my experience in Leeds was amazing, because if I’m being honest, it was tough most of the time. Having to adjust from living in such a diverse and multicultural town, then becoming the only black boy on the largest course at the university; it was very difficult. I experienced microaggressions on the daily and was racially abused a few times. Even got stopped by the receptionists a couple times because they didn’t believe I attended the Uni. It was tough.

But I didn’t let any of that get me down, I was able to channel all that anger and put it into my art, making art that was charged with emotion and passion. It worked for me almost like a coping mechanism, and it is because of this that my art is so important and personal to me. However, it wasn’t all bad; the Uni has really good facilities, allowing me to push my practice and continually experiment with new mediums. In my time at Leeds, I was able to meet some amazing people and like-minded creatives, and form relationships I can see myself having for life.

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Raphael Dada

Thinking about the positives, do you have a favourite moment during your study you’d like to share?

My favourite moment in Leeds without a doubt would have to be our ACS ‘2020’ Exhibition in February of this year. As president of our university’s African Caribbean Society, I was given the opportunity to oversee the running of an exhibition which included the work over 30 different artists- all from various different cultural backgrounds. This was a big deal, as our Uni is a white dominated institution, so to be able to see the work of so many different ethnic artists on display was a beautiful occasion. We also got the chance to collaborate with the Student Union, and the event was even sponsored by a local brewery. While the show was on we had over 1000 members of the general public come view it, and it was just such a great experience that gave so many artists the coverage they deserve, something that they wouldn’t normally get in the conventional gallery setting.

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Raphael Dada

That is truly brilliant – well done. How did it feel passing your course during lock down and not having a final year exhibition?

It was weird completing my degree during lockdown, because just like the rest of the world I never expected it. It took me and most third years nationwide by shock because our final module was a curation module, and you can’t really curate a show when the whole country is on lockdown.

The final degree show is what we were working towards for three years, and to have it all scrapped and turned into a digital submission was really strange and hard to get my head around. In protest I almost wasn’t going to submit, because I thought the whole idea was stupid, but looking back I am glad I did, and that the degree is over. Ideally, I would have wanted a degree show, but there are just some things you just do not have any control over, and hopefully we will have the opportunity to exhibit again soon.

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Raphael Dada

Absolutely and I hope I get to see it! (Invite me!) You work across a lot of mediums – do you think you’ll hone in and settle into one or two – or (like me) do you refuse to be pinned down?

I don’t actually know because sometimes I go through phases when I will only use pen, or only use pencil, or only screen print. I think the medium that I use always depends on my mood, or which the one I believe will best get the job done and convey my message the most effectively. I like having options.

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Raphael Dada

I’m a huge fan of your Dada Doodles –how do you select your subjects?

Ahh thank you! Dada Doodles is just a little thing I have had going for a while, they are just quick sketches I do in between major projects, or when I have taken a break from art for a bit, something light to get me back into drawing. They’re called Dada Doodles because when I was at Uni my friends used to say I was paying “9 grand to go doodle,” so I actually started doodling. But more times my subjects are kind of random and just things I like, ranging from music, TV shows and cartoons, or sometimes I can just see something and be like, “that looks like it would be fun to draw”, so I just draw it.

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Raphael Dada

Africa and African culture features in some of your work – can you talk about the personal link and why it’s important to you?

African culture, more specifically Nigerian culture is something that will always feature in my work. I was born in Nigeria and moved here when I was 5, so to me I always have to pay homage to my roots; it’s the country that made me, and it plays such a big role in my identity. And I feel like this is something that every black person should do, they should make a conscious effort to get in touch with their cultural heritage and roots. In the words of Burna Boy’s mum “Every black person should please remember that you were Africans before you were anything else”.

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Raphael Dada

Your practice and work is hooked into black cultural experience and identity…..what has your experience as a black artist been so far?

As mentioned earlier, entering into the creative industry as a black artist at first, was not easy at all. I was faced with numerous obstacles, and it was just hard getting started, because as a black artist, as much as we try and deny it, due to institutional bias, we will always be two steps behind our white counterparts, so we have to continuously prove ourselves by working twice as hard just to get noticed.

And I think I got to understand this quite early as my sixth form was quite white dominated in comparison to my secondary school, so once I understood how the game worked, I was able to use that to my advantage. In a way I kind of like the challenge as well; it is what keeps me going, because I know if I do eventually make it big, it would be a well-earned W for the culture.

Raphael Dada

In your about me section on your website you say “I also explore how language has been used both historically and in contemporary society in relation to the black experience and culturally the impact this has not just on me as a black British artist, but on my generation as a whole.” – can you talk me a little bit through that and what you mean?

As well as art, English Literature has always been one of my passions growing up, and till this day. I have always been fascinated by words and the use of language, and the power we give words when used in certain context. On their own words hold no weight nor power, but it is how we use them that determine their effect. For example when we see the word “blacks” it is not a racist word, the New Zealand rugby team are referred to as the All Blacks, simply due to the fact their kit is all black, but if we are to flip it and change the situation, let say a white lady says something like “all blacks are murderers”, then the word becomes racist, because it has been charged with animosity towards a racial group and its being used derogatorily to generalise and stereotype black people .

And this is something I find so interesting, especially when exploring racial matters, and how language has evolved over the year due to factors such as education, colloquialism and migration. No word is inherently offensive, it all depends on context. Even the word nigger (or nigga, however you want to spell it), it comes from the Amharic word Negus, which refers to Ethiopian royalty or emperor. But when colonialists come to Africa they didn’t like the idea of black royalty and excellence, so they took a word which was used to glorify black people to dehumanise a whole race, and due to centuries of subjugation and racism, the true meaning of the word has been lost. And I just find it crazy how a word that was twisted to subjugate a whole race, still holds so much weight and power over us today.

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Raphael Dada

Can you tell me about one of your recent projects?

Since I finished Uni I have not really taken on any large projects, I have just been chilling to be honest- it just been a lot of small commissions here and there, nothing big. But as mentioned earlier, I have been working on some new items for my clothing line, which are set to drop middle of July, fingers crossed.

Same for me…I keep reminding myself that it’s ok to not start a new project right now as….well…there’s a global pandemic and all! I know you take commissions – what type of commissions do you tend to take? How do people engage you for a commission?

All my commissions are all different if I am being honest, I have never received any two similar commissions; they are all personal and catered to the individual. And the thing is about being disciplined in most mediums, I don’t limit myself in the type of commissions I take in, if you can describe it, more times I will be able to draw it. I take most of my commissions through Instagram, if someone wants anything they can just drop me a DM (@artbyadrafa on Instagram), or through my phone number, which is on my website.

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Raphael Dada

You often collaborate with other creatives and artists – how do you choose who you collaborate with or how do you connect with collaborators? Can you tell me about some of your recent collaborations?

I can’t give you a straight-forward answer to that because all my collaborations have all come around so differently; sometimes people approach me, or I could be scrolling through Instagram and see someone’s work I like and be like “Yeahhhh I wanna work with you, your work is dope.” Or I could have an idea or project in mind that I want to execute, but the work load is just too much, or  physically don’t have the ability to do it, so I create a meticulous plan for the project, and what I want to do, then message people who I believe could be best fitted in helping me actualise this idea.

For example, before lockdown, a project I was working on was a photography series called ‘Black Baroque’, where I was recreating Baroque paintings but replacing the white aristocrats in the paintings with black models. But even before I started I knew this was going to be a big task at hand, because I would need help with photography, set design, costume and much more, all which are alien to me, so I pitched the idea with a couple of my friends who studied fashion photography and they were all aboard and agreed to work with me.

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Raphael Dada

Can you share with me three black artists that I MUST check out immediately and why?

If we are talking black artists, I am going to have to plug the work of some of my friends because these guys talented for real. They are all black creatives I met in Leeds and have had the honour of working with at some point.

Instagram: @artizham

Zhama Jumbo is all round talented guy- name it he can do it. Animation, illustration, graphics; anything, that’s my guy. He has such a distinct art style that no matter what he does or what medium he takes on, you will always be able to tell it was him, and I have had the pleasure of working with him a couple times. We have a collab we are working on soon, so make sure you follow his page so you don’t miss the drop.

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Instagram: @artizham

Instagram: @KapturedbyBennyK

Benny is a freelance photographer and stylist based in Leeds and Derby. She has worked and collaborated with clothing brands, make-up artists and social media influencers, she has a lot of experience under her belt with a rapidly growing following on Instagram. She has also just started a styling page as well @Stylehauss, so please follow that as well.

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Instagram: @KapturedbyBennyK

Instagram: @Gullygolden

A Leeds and Bristol based documentarian. Out of everyone I would say I have worked with Gully the most- she has such a distinct way of capturing life and moments, nothing like I have ever seen before, and what makes her so different in comparison to other documentarians I know, I have only ever seen her shoot in 35mm, and she has an aesthetic I don’t think anyone else could imitate if they tried.

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Instagram: @Gullygolden

Three amazing creatives right there to follow and each very different. Back to your work…can you tell about something you’ve got planned for 2020? A future project?

I had a few events and exhibitions that I was meant to be debuting some prints at, but because of corona, I don’t know when these will be happening. For the mean time, I am just chilling with no major projects on its way, mainly focusing on my clothing for a bit (make sure you give us a follow, Instagram @rddesigns99

Anything else you’d like to tell me about?

I think I have gone on for ages, so I don’t really have anything left to say but I will leave on this note: Black Lives STILL Matter. This is a movement not a moment, and we will keep going until we put an end to centuries of institutional bias and racism, not just in the UK but globally.

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Absolutely agreed and thank you Raphael Dada and for being so honest!

You can catch Raphael over on his website, his art/personal Insta and his clothing Insta.

Please check out his work. He’s going to be massive – I just know it!

And as Raphael reminds us – we (and I say that in relation to white people as a whole – myself included) need to keep doing the anti-racist work needed, challenging and questioning everything especially as the world begins to reopen and spin again – it must not go back to “normal”.

All my love The Culture Vulture. xxx