Celebrating the Work of Black Women Artists With Bee Tajudeen
Bee Tajudeen is a busy lady. Developing her platform Black Blossoms while working and studying an MA in Academic Practice in Art Design and Communication, she still finds time to keep in touch with the artists she supports through her platform, while remaining a familiar friendly face and passionate presence at exhibitions around London, particularly those centred around art by black women.
And did we mention she’s about to launch a course at the Tate? We sat down with Bee to find our more about her plans for art-world domination.
We also asked Bee to curate a selection of her favourite Ayok'a artwork. Discover her selection at the end of the article.
Your work on Black Blossoms shows how invested you are in in your artists’ futures. What do you want to provide for them in a practical sense?
Access. There aren’t many galleries in the UK with black artists on their rosters. Do you know the art market is worth something like £68 billion worldwide? When you think about how many artists of different colours, races and classes die without money, I feel like there’s no need. I started Black Blossoms with other subjects in mind, and when art became the focus I wasn’t thinking about selling it – I just wanted to give my friends some exposure. But now, looking at the potential of where this platform can go and making it sustainable for future generations, selling the work is a new and important part of what I’m doing.
So what was Black Blossoms about when you first started out? And was the switch to art a natural progression, or did anything sway you towards it in particular?
At first I was highlighting black women in the creative industries across media, art and journalism – over the past year and half I’ve zoomed into the art side. Not to say I won’t expand again, but right now this is what I want to focus on; if I feel like another platform is doing something well, I’d rather collaborate with them than reinvent the wheel. Besides that I just love looking at art! Especially where there are layers and layers of detail to get lost in.
So is Black Blossoms mostly events-based? What are your goals for the platform?
I do as many events as I have the power and time to do! When Black Blossoms began in 2015 we ran a creative industries and self-care conference as a safe space for black women. And at the time, men and white people were asking ‘Bee, how can we get involved in Black Blossoms?’ I was like: ‘Erm, you can’t. It’s for black women? It’s a bit weird you’re even asking!’ When UAL put out an open call for a fully-funded exhibition at their showroom High Holborn, I pitched to do an exhibition and thought ‘well, white people have been asking how they can help black women, so I’ve put on a show where you can come and see our experiences. The best thing you can do to help is open your mind and accept what you see without needing to judge or dismiss it. I feel it’s the best way to educate society about us, and the most beautiful way.
We did a show in Sheffield that featured a photo-series by Heather Agyepong called Habitus – it was a social commentary on living in London as a millennial black woman and included a written reflection on misogynoir. We hosted the exhibition in a coworking space and this white business guy working there came to see the show; he approached me afterwards and was like ‘I’ve never thought about that term before. I totally get it. I’m going to train my whole team on how racism and sexism collide.’ I remember calling my friends to tell them what he said! THIS is what I want Black Blossoms shows to do. Educating in a way whereby, even if you want to fight back, you’ve got no one to fight back with. And if you agree with the points you can take what you’ve learnt and teach people who look like you about those who don’t.
You’ve said you wish resources like Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic were around when you were younger – what were you feeding yourself in the absence of this kind of thing?
My core group from secondary school didn’t stay in contact – we literally finished our GCSEs, went in for our results, and never saw each other again. And this wasn’t because we weren’t real friends – there was just nothing for us to do; we couldn’t meet up and go for dinners and lunches like other people we knew whose parents gave them money to socialise. And the school system wasn’t supportive. I remember our head teacher wrote a letter home to all our parents complaining that we ‘all looked like gang members’ in our parka jackets. When I think about those microaggressions even back then, it’s crazy to think how the policing of black bodies and the stereotyping all starts so early. Going to UAL helped. And Black Lives Matter played an integral part in my politics. Seeing the events unfold in the US really hurt me – I was depressed by the police brutality. The institutional racism that allows it leads you to start making connections to life in Britain as a black person. So Black Blossoms was a way to heal those feelings for me.
Thinking forward to the next generation, I also encourage my daughter to interact with art. If you let children know their opinions matter, as adults they’ll feel confident adding their voices to the debate. Cultural capital is something white middle-class people pass down to their kids, and art is a big example of this. I’ve been thinking about cultural, financial and social capital lately, as well as the two phrases ‘for the culture’ and ‘shifting culture’. We have to ask ourselves if we’re creating a shift or just adding more of what’s already in place? How are we converting aspects of culture we don’t like into a more favourable experience for ourselves and for our kids to exist in? I do NOT want to hear my child having the same conversations that we’re having now when she’s grown up; we have to move forward.
How did your access to Tate Britain come about for your Art in The Age of Black Girl Magic course?
A classic case of black women turning lemons into lemonade (laughs) I went for a job interview for Public Programme Assistant Curator – they didn’t give it to me and I was gutted because I smashed that interview. A member of the panel called me back to say they couldn’t give me the job because I don’t have gallery experience, but invited me to freelance with the Tate and asked me to send in proposals. I mentioned Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic*, as originally it was a blog idea I had been thinking about – when he heard the name he fell in love with the idea. The huge response to my Tweet about it was a big surprise. So the initial idea ended up growing into a four-week course that covers both current and historical artistic practices by black women, exploring social and political issues including: The Genesis of Black Feminism in Art, Women in the Black British Art Movement, Curation, Criticism and Intervention. The course is already sold out and I can’t wait to get started.
And how do you feel these types of institutions benefit from hosting events like this?
My tweet about the course has over 78,000 impressions on Twitter. That’s pure PR, marketing and audience development. These institutions are seen as hella exclusive and say they want that to change, so if I have an opportunity to have a real impact, I’m taking it.
What do you want your participants to take from the course?
I hope by the end of the course I convince people that they all have the power to go back into their respective industries and make a change. The programme is likely to attract a lot of curators looking to inform their practise. As they are the gatekeepers, I hope the content encourages them to bring more people into the industry who look like the art they are so drawn to learn more about.
You’ve spoken about wanting black women to leave your events with their ‘heads held a little higher’. What’s the source of your confidence?
When black women tweet about feeling empowered at our shows it makes me feel empowered. It’s so important that we as people of colour put on shows that reflect our stories. It’s about connecting with ourselves through this art, finding a deeper meaning to our lives and the stories we’re trying to tell.
I also feel entitled. I think all black women should. I would get really upset if I did something and nobody wrote an article about it – I’d be like ‘why??’ (laughs) Because I feel like I deserve space. I deserve recognition. Even if what I did was rubbish I’m like still! Hello?? Acknowledge it! I’m very humble but I feel like I’ve seen my white counterparts can get financial opportunities, press, and attention for a pretty basic standard. So I’m like ok, if people want to glorify them, why not me too? Why not us? We should feel entitled, in all spaces, at all times.
| Art in the Age of Black Girl Magic
A 4-week course by Bee Tajudeen analysing historical art practices by black women
At Tate Britain - Every Friday from 26 October to 16 November
CURATOR'S CORNER: BEE TAJUDEEN PICKS HER FAVOURITE ART PRINTS FROM OUR COLLECTION
"What is not to love about a green-haired baddie? Before I read the description I immediately thought, this is the carefree black girl inside me yearning to get out."
"This print puts me in the mood to bruk out! "
"I really like looking at patterns and calligraphy – and I love being a Nigerian! So artwork that combines this and boldly references my country, language and ancestral traditions is always going to catch my attention. Tunde Omotoye's other works on the site are incredibly detailed – his passion for love and unity really stands out."
"TEDA captures serenity in art though his trademark use of line and shape. The naked woman's body becomes a guitar, which symbolises so many different things to me, including how music can bare one's soul."