December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Sikelela Owen

As we approach the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The third interview is of Sikelela Owen, one of our Abbey Fellows.

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Do you consider your work experimental, and if so, how?

I have a consistent practice, but occasionally the subject requires a change of material or handling. Also, I just work differently across different surfaces. While I’m here I’ve been trying to unpick and consolidate these ideas through experimentation. Experimenting with taking up more space, changing how people interact with the work, how it is seen and displayed. I suppose at the moment I’m asking myself how it’s most effective, whether it’s honest if there is enough room for the viewer to participate and mainly if it makes me feel like I do when I’m in front of work I admire. I came to Rome to see how art is experienced and displayed outside of the gallery. In churches, in tombs, in homes and on walls.

Now I’m working on the wall and with news media images around loss that have really stayed with me and trying to bring the same level of intimacy inherent in the practice with varying degrees of success. Coming here gave me the opportunity to see what works best.

However, Rome has also given me too much to consider, this has slowed down my practice which I think has been good. For instance, I knew I would love San Luigi de Francesi but I didn’t know how much the columbarium at Scipious tomb would affect me. It’s also made me sit with these threads a lot longer than I would at home. And even tried a few things to see how they evolve and function together. But even in their experimentation, they are all rooted in storytelling, art history and the domestic.

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Viv on the green, 2018, 120×120 cm, Oil on canvas

Does the question of belonging come into your work, and if so, in what ways?

Yes, just by virtue of the fact that often the people I represent are members of my communities, women, Londoners and the African diaspora. The idea of belonging has become more central to my work together with ideas of authenticity. Especially now that there are large world events and debates that seem to ask the same questions and have a central position in our society.

My mum is from Zimbabwe and my dad is from Jamaica, so thinking of my relationship with these two different cultures is part of my identity. The notion of belonging as something concrete is challenging, I am more comfortable with the idea of belonging to many communities and narratives.

The idea of loss, memory and memorial are difficult to unpick from belonging because when you lose someone you love you lose a part of the stories and memories you share. The idea of what’s left behind and how many stories go unheard and untold is the reason for this re-examination of old images and photos including those whose stories I don’t know.

For example, pictures of my great-grandma, or images of family that I’ve never met but who were so connected to Jamaica. For me, the idea of belonging and community is an every-day consideration almost as pressing as the idea of intimacy, humanity and empathy today.

Sikelela’s work will be exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 6 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Fine Arts).

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Photo courtesy of S. Owen