Sulger-Buel Lovell is proud to announce the opening of our next solo exhibition featuring Othello De’Souza-Hartley titled I AM, curated by Rodrigo Orrantia. The exhibition will be opened on Thursday 06 September 2018 at 18:30. The exhibition runs until Friday 28 September 2018.
About the Artist:
Born 1977 in the United Kingdom
Lives and works in London, United Kingdom
Othello De'Souza-Hartley is a London based visual artist working in mixed mediums. He received an MA in Fine Art from Camberwell College of Art and previously studied photography at Central St Martins.
De’Souza-Hartley’s work is inspired by the local, narratives of the body in relation to the history of place and coded space, and the complexities of identity formation. His work challenges notions of social and cultural normativity. He presents his subjects as components of an enigma, or indeed as enigmas themselves, suspended in a moment of timelessness, where the confines of age, race and gender have the potential to dissipate and be redefined. His work has anthropological sensibility, by revealing the psychological and social conditions of his subjects, he seeks to strip away the veneer between a person and their world. De’Souza-Hartley’s works illuminate the forgotten narratives of the ordinary stranger; from the working-class man to the community protagonist.
Influenced by moody, classical painting aesthetics; the subtleties of tonal colours and composition, ‘De’Souza-Hartley’s imagery is often an intoxicating paradox within a silent world; dark, but resolutely beautiful’.
De'Souza-Hartley is the recipient of numerous commissions including the National Portrait Gallery, The Photographers' Gallery, Victoria Albert Museum, Camden Arts Centre and Platform for Art. He has had solo exhibitions at The Museum of Liverpool, The Camden Arts Centre and The Underground Gallery, and has been included in group shows at the Sulger-Buell Lovel Gallery, Gasworks Gallery and the APT Gallery in London.
About the Exhibition:
Othello De Souza-Hartley I AM
Othello De’ Souza-Hartley's work is driven by a desire to strip out conventions of gender and race, exposing the vulnerable essence of human existence. On occasion of his first solo show entitled 'I AM' at Sulger-Buel Lovell, the artist speaks about the inspiration behind his work.
The first three portraits in the show belong to the Masculinity project (2010-2017). The starting point of this long body of work is the concept of masculinity, and how to address its different stereotypes through the confrontation of the naked body. For De’ Souza-Hartley, the original vision behind this work changed with time: "The idea was to get men to go naked. But it took me over a year to get 14 men to go semi naked. The reasons I kept getting were ‘I’m too old’, or guys were shy - one guy called it therapy because he was uncomfortable with his body. I noticed there was this insecurity in the men showing their bodies. They were very self-conscious about their appearance. We always talk about the female gaze and how females have always been sexualised. But the same is happening to men now, whether that is through media or magazines."
The experience of shooting 'Masculinity Portraits' evidenced the vulnerability behind mainstream ideals of masculinity. The findings from these early portraits evolved into subsequent phases of the project, where De’Souza-Hartley started staging his own naked body in spaces associated with masculinity to explore ideas of male vulnerability. The images in the next phases of the project would bring in a very conscious work with performance informed by his background in contemporary dance and theatre.
The first image in this phase is 'Barbershop', a key work to understand De’ Souza-Hartley's interests and the evolution of his work: "I started to think about my own self and my own challenges as a male. I started to think about how I find barbershops daunting. They are like a social club, particularly black barbershops. Within that social club there is a lot of bragging and bravado. I thought about these places and how you feel in them. So this was me stripping away all the bravado. Letting it all go and going back to a purer kind of person that you don’t reveal to anyone else."
The leap from these initial images to the next phase of the project was quite bold, leaving the comfort of London to explore a completely different setting, one unequivocally associated with masculinity in the UK. For Phase 4 of his Masculinity Project, De’ Souza-Hartley travelled to the north of the country. The spark for this phase of the project was a very touching confession which triggered a strong connection: "I was watching a documentary and this Northern guy was sitting in his kitchen and he said by losing his job he felt emasculated, and that stayed in my head. I was doing a lot of the [masculinity] project in London and I felt that it was quite a safe place for me.
But what if I was to go somewhere else outside of my comfort zone? I needed to explore this influence, this inspiration: what life was like for men in the North of England. I started in Middlesbrough, then Wakefield, then Redcar and finally Teesside. It started with me going up there by myself -no camera- just talking to people and looking at locations, to get an understanding about the North. I made about three journeys up there before I shot these images."
Following from 'Barbershop', 'Wakefield' was staged and shot in the northern coalmines, another heavily loaded space. On this instance, the experience of image confronted De’ Souza with his own particular issues: "This is all my own insecurity, as I was thinking they would see me as a black guy and some pretentious artist from the South. I particularly wanted to go to places that are not as multicultural as London. When I met the guys there, they were very supportive. I said 'you know I’m going to go naked and they were like ‘mate, you know we used to work with 500 guys, and at the end of a shift we all showered together. So this is nothing’. They came and actually watched me making the project and asked questions, they stood there watching, the miners. I had conversations with them after doing the photographs; they said the project expressed how they felt inside. For me it was crossing boundaries between race, which is probably my own insecurities, it was just men talking about what it’s like to be a man and the challenges they faced."
'Redcar' sums up the phase of the project shot in the north. It was shot in the Tata Redcar Steel Plant, which stopped production after 100 years, leaving more than 1000 people jobless. One can trace connections with D’Souza-Hartley's earlier staged works, but it is clear this time he is thinking of masculinity on a wider scale: "I was thinking about how men up there must feel if they lose everything, that horizon looking out to nothing. And the interesting thing is this is the Tata Steel factory that closed down last year. When this image was shot there was only one remaining furnace working that was just about to close. It is now gone."
Following up from his experience in Wakefield and Redcar, De’Souza-Hartley turned his interest back to his immediate surroundings in London. 'Before for the last moment' is his personal take on the connections between masculinity and gang culture: "I’ve been thinking about what’s been happening in London with the whole gang culture, particularly with black youths. I live in East London and I was reading a story about a 17-year-old boy that was killed in Hoxton about two years ago and it really hit me, this could be my nephew, or one of my students. I think it said something like he was trying to crawl back home. And you hear numerous stories about these boys in gangs who are quite masculine, quite macho but at that point when you’re on the streets and you’re dying, I was thinking about that point, do they revert back to being as vulnerable as a child. So I created this image as a response. And I think he died near here, I don’t know the exact location, but it was here in Hoxton. This is my response to this gang culture, this loneliness and this emptiness of victim after being stabbed."
'Before for the last moment' closes more than five years of work around masculinity. Two subsequent series, I AM and WITHIN, show the most recent developments in his work, examining issues beyond masculinity. These series allow De’Souza-Hartley to bring together a wide array of personal interests, from architecture, to choreography and installation. I am evolved out of a fashion collaboration and provided the opportunity for De’Souza-Hartley to connect to that same vulnerability from his self portraits, this time focusing on the materiality of afro hair and questioning its role and importance in black women's identity: "My Grandmother is of mixed heritage Portuguese and black Caribbean. I remember growing up, going to the Caribbean to visit her, and there is this saying in the Caribbean about good hair. For my Grandmother’s generation there's a link between good hair if mixed.
The idea for this work came when I was working on a fashion project with a dress made out of Afro hair and story that I read about black girls in South Africa being told in a school to straighten their hair. In another incident my friend’s daughter was told at school to put her hair back into one like the rest of the teenagers in her class, but she tried to explain to the teachers that her hair was a short Afro and it would be impossible to tie back into one. My friend had end up going to school to also explain to the teachers. I wanted to make a project about women and their relationship to their hair. I thought, I’ve done a masculinity project I want to do a project about black women being who they are, and being really proud of who they are. Strip away everything, similar to the masculinity project. And this was the result. I did a small series, around six different portraits, where I also interviewed the women. One of them told me when she went home with her hair cut off, her mum cried. The relationship with hair is still of huge interest for me."
The final project in the show is 'WITHIN', for this exhibition shown as a projection in the downstairs screening room. It is De’ Souza's most recent project, staged and shot in Uganda as part of a residency at 32° East Ugandan Arts Trust. For De’ Souza-Hartley this was his greatest challenge, to produce work in an environment completely removed from his usual surroundings:
"I didn’t know anything about Uganda, apart from the red soil that I’d heard about.
So I went there with no preconceptions. There's this idea of Africa, going back to the motherland if you’re from the African Diaspora. But Africa is vast and each country has lots of different ethnic groups. Countries like Uganda were made up by Europe when they were dividing Africa amongst themselves. And I heard that some artists from the African Diaspora have failed when they go to Africa, because they were expecting a homecoming. So I just went there and started from scratch without any preconcieved ideas of Uganda or Africa. The first thing I did was to get hold of the red soil I had heard of, to create an installation. I covered the studio in it. I started from there. I started going to talks, meeting people, and interviewing people. I had an open studio so people could come and talk to me. I realised that the younger generation - who have grown up after the independence are fed up with the narrative ‘poor me’, aids ridden Africa.
I started meeting people who were talking about traditions and getting the younger generation engage with them. I met people from Kenya, and also people from the Caribbean who had moved there, people from all over the world. So I started thinking about a spider’s web and the African diaspora. One day I was walking around and I saw this goat rope. I started playing around with it and hanging it like spider webs in the studio. I wanted to experiment. And it came out like Afro hair after dying it, like braids.
The studio became an installation; People said it was very spiritual and remind them of being back home in their village. They would spend hours in there. So then I started photographing people in the space, I used film lighting, and it gave it another feeling. There was still something missing so I started to research traditional clothes. The difficulty I found from the women I spoke to from different ethnic groups, they would not wear the Gomesi if it were not from their tribe. From my research I read about the Kanzu that was brought into Uganda by the Arabs in the 1800’s. Kings and the wealthy originally wore it. On speaking to a group of women after I mentioned the Kanzu one of them said why couldn’t a woman wear it and she would prefer to wear the Kanzu to a Gomesi (a traditional dress worn in Uganda) not from her ethnic group. I found a local tailor to make a Kanzu but in black, in keeping with my theme using traditional things in a contemporary way. And said 'I need it to be able to be worn by men and women'."
De Souza-Hartley describes the experience in Uganda as a big change for his work: "We are owning ourselves now. We’re not looking out, we’re looking in to give out rather than looking out and giving out but not getting anything back. That’s why this work is called 'WITHIN' because it’s all inside. It’s about people telling their own stories now. I imagine a room full of all these huge portraits looking at you. I got them all to think about changing the narrative while I was photographing them.
One can see a really exciting evolution from the early portraits to the work in Uganda, over almost a decade of constant work. There is a constant search for a personal style, not only thematically but also in his craft. For me, De’ Souza-Hartley is guided by intuition and an urgency to translate his interests into images. Photography allows him to bring together his background in dance, with a clear talent for staging and choreographing scenes. It also allows him to use the body - his sitters' or his own- as material for expression, to question and explore different issues around gender, race and the preconceptions of different generations. This show is an introduction to his world and interests but also the preface of ambitious projects to come.
The Opening Reception will be attended by both the artist and the curator. Refreshments will be served.
Thank you to the following collaborators and sponsors for their generous support:
Ian Dean MBE
Ian Dean is a sound artist, composer and music producer who constantly seeks new expression through collaboration with musicians, artists and scientists. Collaborations include sound installations with CERN particle physicists in Geneva, with visual artist Othello De’Souza Hartley in London, with artist Adam Marelli on an oceanic installation in Italy.
In June 2017 Dean was awarded an MBE for services to music, in the birthday honours – an award given by HM Queen Elizabeth II to an individual for outstanding service in their field of expertise and for making a difference in their community.
Bee Smith is a multidisciplinary artist with a reverence for film and a curiosity for storytelling. Exploring themes of identity, race and seeing the surrealism in everything, she continues to create when she can and love when she should.
Leeto Thale is a spoken word artist, a musician and writer. He has performed his work at prime venues such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the British Museum and appeared on stage at Womad and Essaouira music festivals. Thale is also a poetry workshop facilitator and enjoys helping others find their own artistic voice. He curates and loves conceptualizing art projects and being involved in multimedia productions, escpecially collaborations.
National Coal Mine Museum for England
Shades of Noir
About the Curator:
Rodrigo Orrantia is an art historian and curator, specialised in photography and moving image. After graduating from the MA Contemporary and Historical Photography at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in 2011, he has worked on projects for galleries and photography festivals in the UK and abroad. To complement his work as curator, he is a regular speaker at Universities in the UK and France, and a reviewer at international photography festivals. He is the editor of Champion Photobooks, a collection focused on dialogues between contemporary photography and archive images. He has been shortlisted for the Curate Award by Fondazione Prada and QMA in 2014, and won the Format Habitat Award in 2017.
Details of Venue:
Address: 51 Surrey Row, Unit 2 La Gare, London SE1 0BZ
Telephone: +44 203 268 2101
Opening Reception: Thursday 06 September 2018 at 18:30
Gallery hours during exhibitions: Monday - Friday: 12:00 - 18:00. Weekends or other times by appointment only.
About Sulger-Buel Lovell:
Sulger-Buel Lovell is positioned as part of a new approach in understanding the trajectories of contemporary art from Africa and the diaspora. In the process of social and cultural change in Africa, Sulger-Buel Lovell is determined to highlight the increasing interconnection of artists through the process of globalisation, and to exhibit significant established and emerging talents.
Our belief is that the socio-cultural and economic transformations of Africa can be better understood through the analysis and interpretation of cutting-edge art. Furthermore, contemporary art in Africa is relevant in understanding the broader socio-political context of the continent.
Director (based in London)
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