Whatever her intentions, it’s near impossible to talk about the Black body without getting political, and Critchlow knows it. As a Black woman in Britain (her mother is of mixed Jamaican and British heritage, and her father is Nigerian), it’s something she’s had to contend with her entire life. However, growing up surrounded by her mother’s white family, it was rare that she had anyone to relate to on issues of race. While studying painting at the University of Brighton, she noticed Black figures were absent from the textbooks, lessons, faculty, and student body.
“I’ve never had a Black art teacher ever, and never a Black woman art teacher,” Critchlow said. “When I did my degree, I was always taught to paint white figures, and it got really stressful, so I stopped painting the figure. I don’t think I was mature enough to realize there were so many complicated things going on.”
By the time Critchlow started her post-graduate degree at London’s Royal Drawing School, she’d had enough. “I suddenly realized I was being taught art history in a way in which I never saw or identified with myself, and was projecting that [bias] onto myself, in that I didn’t ever sit and draw myself,” she said.