This month artist Nilupa Yasmin has been in residence in Brixton market as part of a GRAIN and PhotoFusion collaboration. Spending time with the market traders, residents and customers, she will then make a new piece in the PhotoFusion gallery, with visitors able to meet her and engage in her process. At the same time, the gallery will be exhibiting her work inspired by the markets in West Bromwich, commissioned by Multistory, as part of Blast Photo Festival 2019.
Annabel Clarke talks to her about her Brixton residency.
I love a market! In fact, when I visit a new place, I always try to seek them out. I feel you can get a good feel of the place from them. What attracts you to them?
I have to admit, I do this too! The surrounding colour and vibrancy are what excite me the most about markets; it’s also something that I try my best to convey through the work I’m creating. Markets have a life of their own, each stall running with their own story and selling their own craft. I’ve learnt the most from markets, be it about the trade or just the many stories the residents have. I always suffer the risk of spending hours (both time and money) in a market just talking to the stall holders. I’m from Birmingham and we have a great market here, so I’ve always been exposed to the market life galore.
Brixton Market is a fascinating one. A real melting pot of cultures, but sadly with the looming threat of gentrification. What sort of things have you discovered and focused on during the creation of your new work? How have residents engaged with the making of the piece?
Brixton is an incredibly multicultural area! but you’re right in that gentrification has already made its way into the stalls. You can see it when you’re walking down the row of shops, in the way they have adapted to the current state of development. Many shops have become a lot more accustomed to accommodating to the current day, age and market they’re selling for. This is in no way a bad thing, as businesses have to thrive, and tapping into their current market is a must for survival; you can almost see the businesses that are being left behind.
Many of the residents speak about all the new shops opening a few doors down, be it the décor of the store or the most obscure things they’re selling. I’ve found that a lot businesses aren’t much aware of the change that’s slowly occurring throughout. Many have been there for years and are seeing it as just one more change in the many years of changes they’ve had. Having had these discussions with them, I fear they’re not aware of how this gentrification is going to affect them and their livelihood.
I’m interested in marrying the visual space of the markets with the products sold, the old with the new and the traditional with the modern. Residents have a lot of opinions about the ambiguous products sold by their neighbours, but are very interested in how different and far the market has come from when they started. They have all been very welcoming and very eager in answering questions I have; the hardest part has been trying not buy everything I see. I think they see me as someone who’s come to take photos of their shops and interview them, so I’m quite excited to show them what I’m actually doing with their images.
I’ve noticed that there is a very evident wave of energy I receive from the space and I can see it being implemented into the images I’m taking and later weaving. Weaving has become a sense of performance for me in this space, something I’ve never quite honed down so much of when I’m creating work. It may just be the structure and nature of the fact that this is a residency and not a long-term project, but the performative act of weaving in the direction of the images has been rewarding. I’ve woven before but this work is different, there’s character in each piece along with my excitement and surprise in what I’m making.
When will the work be revealed?
The residency runs a little different to what I’ve don’t before and is currently coinciding with my exhibition in Photofusion. ‘Where can I find this?’ is currently on exhibit at Photofusion till mid October.
This work was created through for the Blast! Festival, commissioned by Multistory. I am visiting Brixton throughout September and it has been a different experience in almost restricting myself to stick to just the days I’m there (so far failing!). I’m hoping for the work to be unveiled in October so that it coincides with the last weeks of my exhibition. There is also a hope to give back the work I’m creating to the market in some way, so there is a little pressure in making work they can be both proud and pleased with.
You were commissioned to make new work for Blast! Festival. How has the Forge mentorship programme benefitted your practice? What did you find inspiring about the marketing in West Bromwich. Was there a particular part that you found inspiring?
The Forge mentorship has been highly beneficial for me. Working on such a big project for the Blast! Festival has not only helped boost my confidence but has tremendously improved both my skill and confidence in working with various community spaces. The support I received from the Mulistory team (and even still do) has allowed me to expand my own outreach and keep creating work that is both accessible and for the people it’s about. It’s become an integral part of my practise to both understand and implement accessibility in the work I am producing. A lot of the skills I’ve learnt through the mentorship and commission, I’m still applying now and most specifically in Brixton.
I did not initially intend to focus on market spaces for my commission but almost just fell into it. The Forge artists were working in the six boroughs of Sandwell and I found it quite interesting how each borough had its own markets space. Going around to each one, spending time and listening to their stories is where it all began. Funnily enough, many of the traders had been a part of or had worked in at least one other market in Sandwell, many moving due to markets closing down or management changing. The gentrification isn’t as prominent as it is in Brixton, but there is that underlining issue of market spaces being sold out or of changing over time, which many traders couldn’t work their business into.
The next few months are very busy in regard to a various number of projects. I’m exhibiting my ‘Grow me a Waterlily’ installation at The Weavers House in Coventry as part of Coventry’s Biennial of Contemporary Art. The piece explores the context of identity, home and belonging. I am also on the Advisory board for the Biennial, as well as running a number of artist workshops throughout.
In November I’m exhibiting some new work at The New Art Gallery Walsall, a collaboration with GRAIN. It’s unseen work that explores gender identity, womanhood and femininity. A lot of my personal work explore many of these ideals as well as self-exploration into my own identity. It’s been great to step a little away from my commissions/community-based work to dabble back into many themes closer to home. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed delving into a lot of theory around female identity and the implications surrounding the male gaze.
Back to starting up a residency in December/ January on a project with Ort Gallery x Birmingham Hippodrome, as well as being part of their exhibition around social class in February 2020. The residency will look at ideas surrounding identity through craft and photography whilst working with a primary school based in Birmingham. I’ve never worked on a project with a primary school before, so this going to be a very interesting experience.
I think that’s about me for a while. I’m quite excited with the mixture of projects/exhibitions lined up but I know I’m not done with market spaces just yet (I hope).