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  • Untitled, Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark. Photo Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

The Real & The Imaginary

by Sara Khan

Last year we saw women from around the world coming together to respond to decades of sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault. From the Women’s March, #MeToo campaign, and Weinstein effect in 2017 to the Time’s Up movement at the Golden Globes and the Baftas. 2018 shows no signs of stopping and will be the year of women.

As we mark a 100 years’ anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the UK, we will be celebrating the works of progressive female artists and makers pushing boundaries within their work to create dialogue.

Each week we will profile an artist as a run up to International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018. This week’s artist is Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark who will be exhibiting at Empowerment at Creative Debuts, London till 10 March.

London-based artist Rayvenn playfully uses sculpture to explore the space between objects modelling the real and imaginary. Rayvenn’s work often aims to expose the black body laid bare – in traction, unencumbered, and is motivated by issues of blackness fuelling a discussion on the position of the black-artist in the art world.  

We met with Rayvenn to discuss her passions, work, and feminism.

Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark. Photo Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

What led you to become an artist and maker?

I truly love art. I think I can confidently say it was my first true love. It was the first thing I was curious about, wanted to learn, become proficient at, and it is probably the only thing I consider myself to have a talent in.

As an artist your mind is constantly working overtime. From the moment your eyes open in the morning, to the moment you close them to sleep at night. I find that inspiration comes to me at the most unexpected moments and there is far too little time in the day to realise all these thoughts into a cohesive body of work.

I have always been passionate and curious about making art and the forms of expression that I can communicate through my artwork. I suppose if you were to ask my parents, they would describe me as an introverted child who would endlessly scribble on reams upon reams of paper - it was there that an artist was born! My practice has since allowed me to satisfy my emotional and material desires, curiosities, and maybe even reveal to others the intimacies of life from another perspective. I am an artist because I am an individual who practices art, but there’s much more to me than that. 

What are the main themes in your work and why are these important to you?

I am currently studying a MA Fine Art at Chelsea UAL.  As my body of work progresses I am becoming more concerned with the kinds of conversations that arise as a result of critical questioning. I now attempt to make art that actually speaks of the unusual position of the socio-political climate in which we mature as both artists and individuals.

The major themes within my work that I will be exhibiting at Empowerment surround an exploration of the playful theatricality of sculpture. This work examines the space between objects modelling the real and the imaginary. The works are inspired by issues of blackness including invisibility vs. hyper- visibility and an elevation of the black form. I hope to open up dialogue about the irregular position of the black-artist who is abstracted and marginalised in the art-world.

Do you feel the issues you raise in your work are relevant today?

Absolutely. In the wake of such political extremism, racial injustice, gender equality, and historical cases of abuse, I feel that it is vitally important for art to comment upon such issues.  As an individual, I am often placed into many categories such as being young, female, and black. All of these categories have their own delimiters and clichéd stereotypes. So it is useful for me to reflect upon these restrictions within my work and communicate that unique perspective.

Untitled, Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark. Photo Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

Can you tell us a bit more about your latest work?

I feel that Untitled was my first artistic success. For the first time, I significantly moving away from my painting and drawing roots, and actively took steps towards more sculptural methods of portraiture that differed from more traditional busts and carvings. Untitled was primarily a backlash against institutional restrictions that were placed upon my practice during the final years of my degree. Here I was suffering an internal struggle and split in my educational demands verses my motivations and interests as an artist. I felt that it was important for me to speak my own truth. I wanted to scrutinise the fragile balance of power that exists between galleries and artists who seek to modify long- standing institutional narratives. I also wanted to reference the ideological positioning of the black- artist as an outsider.

I have grown up in a culture where art is increasingly being pushed to its outer limits due to digital technologies. I consider myself to be a sculptor from a new generation of artists who increasingly use such technology as a sculptural tool. I used prosthetic and VFX materials and 3D printing to create the replicas that are symbolic of reality but reminiscent of the virtual world. These pieces demonstrate the flux between the original handmade and the artificial copy.

By multiplying human body parts such as faces, hands, and feet, I wanted to create a sort of hybrid realism where normative bodily functions are seen as almost grotesque. The resulting look evokes a morbid curiosity that surrounds the sculpture that questions traditional self-representational practices.

Untitled, Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark. Photo Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

What are you hoping to evoke in the viewer through your work?

More than anything I want to evoke a feeling of curiosity. I want to draw in the viewer by immersing them as part of the work where they able to interact and touch the object. I guess this borrows from a sense of morbid curiosity surrounding the idea of a death-mask. But I also think it arises from the technical nature of the piece. The sense of knowing it’s not real but appears to be and at any moment the cast may open its eyes and look out at you. I also want the viewer to understand the level of sameness between individuals. From model to model, race to race, and gender to gender. I want the viewer to process the familiarity of the human form removing any racial, religious, and cultural barriers to physically grapple with the idea that we are all the same.

How much does gender influence your work?

There can never be a discussion about my work without an equally important and vital discussion of both gender and race. As a female who was born in the West but raised by parents and grandparents from non-western societies, I have a slightly different perspective and opinions on suitable and expected behaviours of women. From more traditional domestic expectations to contemporary liberated Western ideals.

Being female informs all of the artistic decisions that I make and I feel that it’s an important part of my practice. My father is a feminist and I was born into a family of predominantly women. Surrounded by strong female influences has impacted on my work so I feel gender, alongside race, is an overriding theme within my work.  

As a black female creative, I have faced a number of barriers in my early career because of both gender and race. So participating in a show like Empowerment for myself was vital in taking the first steps towards creating an inclusive artistic space for up-coming artists like myself. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to not only highlight and elevate female empowerment, but also female achievement and gender diversity from a female perspective.

Untitled, Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark. Photo Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

Do you think now is an important time for women in the arts?

Trying to define my work and place it within a narrative in an institutional context that has no experiences of or displays little interest in the concerns communicated within my work is something I have come to accept.

I think there is still a wave of intense misogyny within all industries, with continued economic restrictions imposed upon female artists or female counterparts, as well as long-standing and ingrained views. I have personally experienced being constantly questioned to how my work is ‘feminist’, what feminist stance does my work take, and why does it not look more girly. We need to move forward from such outdated modes of thinking to allow female artists to communicate freely within the arts.

In the wake of #Vote11 and #MeToo, people’s eyes are being opened to the continued inequality and injustices of women in every sector. There really is no time like the present and I believe that 2018 will be a critical moment where women will come together and empower one another.

Untitled, Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark. Photo Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

Untitled, Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark. Photo Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

Untitled, Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark. Photo Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

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