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Artist Spotlight: Aisha Seriki

Meet Aisha Seriki, @occupiedbythelense, a Nigerian multimedia artist currently residing in London, specialising in fine art, photography and sculpture. Her work delves into the intricate relationship between historical narratives and contemporary realities, utilising the past to comprehend and communicate present-day existence.  Aisha draws inspiration from a combination of imagination and personal experiences. Through carefully staged photographs, she endeavours to visualise a holistic conception of being, that challenges rigid imaginations of self. ⁠


We sat down with Aisha to discuss her career as a multidisciplinary artist, her thoughts on accessibility to the arts and more…





Where did your interest in Photography start? 


My interest started because my dad used to take loads of photos in my house - there’s just so many photos he’s taken. We don’t live with him so he’ll just randomly send us some here and there and it’s just so nice. So I think because of that, like I've always loved photos and stuff, but it kind of just really kicked off when I was doing my art GCSE. I wasn’t really a great drawer, like I was never a good drawer, but I love photos and I think that at that point what really interested me was the fact that you could just create a whole new reality. I was always quite interested from the very start with very staged work, almost like you're creating your own painting, but just in photos. So yeah, it just started on from then.

 

At the time, I was taking pictures with my sisters, then I did A Level Photography and failed the first time because I did A Level Photography and A Level Art which was horrible, like no. And then I did photography again and I was more interested in gentrification. I was really interested from the very start in social causes, at first I was really interested in feminism so my GCSE work was all about that. When I got into A Levels it was more about social housing and gentrification, but then I didn’t do it in uni and I just shot on the side. And I met a lot of cool people at the Photographer's Gallery. They had a thing called Devlope for 16 to 24 year olds, and they had loads of sessions about the photography industry. And I’ve met loads of people and yeah, that’s basically how I got started! 


Could you take us through what it means for your work to be founded in the spirit of Sankofa?


Sankofa is the Adinkra - I can’t say it properly because it’s Ghanaian and I’m not Ghanaian, I’m Yoruba. It is this Adinkra symbol of this bird that basically looks behind but its feet face forward. So like, it's rooted in the past, but it's moving forward. So the whole idea is that you have to acknowledge the past in the present because the past governs the present. And I think that's something that really just encapsulates my whole practice because I'm really just interested in history as a symptom of the present and like, why we do things. Obviously working in this space that we’re in, in contemporary contexts, I feel like everything we do is governed by the past. I feel like my work especially is interested in the history of photography, but with my own context. 





How did your photography series Ori Inu come about and what does the project mean for you? 


With Ori Inu, it all started off on my dissertation and in undergrad. I did my dissertation about Yoruba spirituality and how colonialism really affected that practice of robust spirituality and from then I just learnt a lot. I didn’t know anything about the practice before my research but the idea of the Ori was something that I was really interested in because Ori basically translates to your head but it means that it’s your personal destiny. Yoruba believe that your Ori is your personal… it’s not a god but for the purpose of this interview I’ll say it’s your personal god if that makes sense and you choose it before you’re born. Depending on what Ori you pick, that affects your life, but based on the ups and downs of life, you can become really out of shape with your real personal density. 


I guess I was really interested in that idea, especially through the pandemic, as I just felt like very all over the place. I felt so all over the place from the pandemic, and at that point, I was going to graduate and I was going to go straight into the photography industry, but then everything kind of shut down. The I had a job, which was a 9-5 and I never imagined myself being in a 9-5 job. It was actually cool, I learned a lot and to be fair it still informs my practice now. But I just remember feeling so lost so I came back to the idea of the ori because I was thinking about putting myself more in my work and my own personal struggles. I guess in the past I was thinking about things in a wider scale, for example the work I was doing on gentrification. I was talking about it in a general sense but I wasn’t sharing my story of gentrification. 


So me doing this project is a bit about sharing a bit of what I’m going through as well but mixing in Yoruba spirituality. As well, to bring some advocacy for Yoruba spirituality and especially thinking about the ideas of the mind, body and spirit and how that challenges Cartisian’s vision of the mind and body split.


What role does metaphor play in your work? 


I think I’m really interested in symbolism as a way of sending messages through art. Art is storytelling - I think that’s a really important thing. I also think that in terms of creating work, I want to create work that is really simplistic when you look at it. But to create that, sometimes it takes a lot because you have so many ideas. I think that using metaphor is a way of creating that balance between work that looks very simplistic and easy, but then has a lot of information that if you know, you know and if you don't know, like you don't know if that makes sense. 


I think that for me, it's a way to convey a message, but also a way to spark conversation that kind of goes beyond the photograph. For example, the calabash, I use it as a metaphor of that split between mind, body and spirit. But depending on your cultural context, or like how you've encountered the calabash, or the cowrie shell, you will have had your own experience with that and I think that's really cool because then it creates engagement with the viewer that goes past me and yeah, then they’re also part of the dialogue as well because to someone else that might mean a different thing than it means to me. 


You describe yourself also as a multidisciplinary artist as well as a photographer, what does being a multidisciplinary artist look like for you?


I feel like honestly right now, I’ve been like, Oh my god, I’m not actually taking that many pictures, which is kind of a bit sad. I am taking photos - I help my friends on the side and I try to keep on those skills, but I'm not shooting as often as before because now I'm doing different things like writing and making sculptures. I want to get into filmmaking and it's really good because it's expanding my practice but sometimes I'm like, Wow, I'm not shooting that much anymore. I'm so excited because I'm doing some more work so I'm excited that I'm going to be shooting some more. 


I think it's just about having different outputs because each medium speaks to photography in a different way. And I feel like every medium that I’m using is all from photography first. My approach to those mediums are based on photography, and seeing how they can expand photography, or create a really interesting conversation.


So for example with film, I'm interested in film in terms of the fact that it's a time and space medium. For my series about Ori Inu, it’s talking about sort of spiritual progression but transgression and to me, that's interesting because you can show that in a medium that is time focused. It's just about moving forward, it's about frames per second and things happen, if that makes sense, in a way that you can't have in a photograph.


In sculpture and just creating objects, I think I'm interested in the relationship of the photograph as an object, because I feel like it's kinda understated. I'm just interested in the relationship that humans have with objects and how that's facilitated through the photograph. I hope that explains it! 


It definitely does, each different medium that you're introducing into your life, lets out a different side of your creativity. And it all lends itself back to photography, it seems.


It's basically that, yeah. And even writing is just about photography again - just talking about photography. 





Do you have a favourite project that you've worked on?


I feel like with photography, I don’t actually work that fast. Like, my process is very, very slow so I haven't made that much work. I think all of them are quite cute for different reasons. My first project was called Heaven’s Not Closed and it was looking at the representations of black women in the arts. And now looking back at that, I feel like that was a conversation to have then, like I don't feel the same way now about that. I feel like I've learned so much about like black artists and the movements and whilst they've been neglected, they've been there, people just catching up now. So I don't feel that same way anymore but I still think it's cute because I guess it was my first project that I'd done and I completed and for me, that's quite a hard thing to do because there's loads of ideas, and I never actually finish them. 


I think that [project] will always have a special place for my heart because I had an idea and I was actually able to showcase it through images. I think I was like Wow, I can actually do that. I feel like I loved that period of time and I think people still love those images - for me that’s in the past, but people still love that. 


I like all of them [the projects] for different reasons. For Undergrads, I like it because I was able to see my friends and stuff and actually have discussions about education, what it means to graduate as a migrant. I think one thing that was really cool from that was that one of my friends, because it was during COVID we weren't able to do our graduation, but because of the project she was able to show her grandma. She told me that like her grandma either didn't go to uni or she had to fight to go to uni. So for her to give that picture to her grandma really meant a lot so that was really cool. 


And then I guess my Ori Inu,l I think I'm just enjoying it because I feel like I'm still exploring and it just allows me to look at different things. 




That's a really nice way to look back on past projects - just because you don't necessarily relate now doesn't mean they're ‘bad’, it was a thought at the time and that's still valid, which I think is a really nice way to look at past work. And I think people will find that really valuable.  


I’d love to know what your process is like, from conceptualisation of a piece to the final product with photography in mind? 


My process is very, very research heavy. I'm just trying to think because I'm starting this process again, because I need to make some new pictures soon. But I guess it kind of starts off with reading sometimes. I kind of start off with keywords like things I'm interested in at that time and then I go to art history, like I do a lot of research in terms of photography first. And then I might look at other things outside that, maybe through painting. 


I am really interested in what's done in the past and how I can extend those conversations that's happened and do something different? Because I guess everything's been done before. And then yeah, I love the library and the VNA libraries - that’s my favourite library, actually. And whenever I look at pictures as well, it's not like, Oh, I want to recreate that. It's just like, I like something in that picture, or that's just cool and I just then collate things. I have loads of moodboards that go through different themes and I just add them [the references] and where I found them.


And then I start to think like, Okay, what type of image am I trying to specifically create? Then before the shoot, I will sort of write a plan of what exactly I'm trying to shoot but I'm not a drawer, so if someone's done something that looks a bit similar to what I'm doing, I'll put it there. On the shoot, I kind of like to chill, I don't want to stress myself out, I don't like shoots that are stressful. That's why I don't like shooting more than one person, because I get really overwhelmed and overstimulated and I just want to sit and chat. And then I'll forget something, I'll waste a role of film, or like I forget lighting, and it's a disaster. So I like to have a list of what exactly I'm gonna try and shoot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but it's just so that there's like a rough guideline of what I'm trying to create. And then also, I give it to the person I'm shooting with so that they kind of know, and they can then put their own spin into it. Because it's not like we have to go through this dot to dot but it's just a rough guideline so you know what we're trying to do. 


Casting is a big thing as well - I used to like to start finding people online but so often that will take forever because you're trying to find the perfect person and people have agencies, you have to try and explain to them look, it's an art project, so it can be difficult and tricky. So right now I'm using people that I know of and extended people, but that’s still an extended process, because I need to ask because I need to ask them and need to find out if I can do it. If they're interested, I have to let them know that if it's cool, it might be more than once that we're shooting. 


I need to actually get more into printing. I don't normally print my work, I just actually scan them and then I edit them on Photoshop because I used to do a bit of retouching so it's a bit more comfortable. But this time I'm trying to print so yeah, hopefully that gets added to my process. 




What changes would you like to see in the art industry in 2024? 


I mean, I feel like there's so many things, literally. But I was thinking about this question and I think now I'm just kind of trying to get on with it because I feel like if I start deeping things, I'm gonna get so sad. So I just try to not think too much. But I think the main thing I would say is that, now I'm 25 and I feel like - I was having a conversation about this - I feel like a lot of programmes cut off at 25. It's like, by 25, you should know. But some people are starting by age 27 and there's like, not as many resources available now. You know those specific art [programmes] to encourage people into the industry cut off. So I'd like to see those age ranges to extend because I feel like in 2024, it's actually hard with cost of living, like everything is so so tricky now. And most people I know do not have things sorted out at 25 - I feel like I'm just starting really. 


And then something that is a pet peeve sometimes - it's gonna sound bad, but have things for proper emerging, emerging, emerging, emerging people, if that makes sense. Because sometimes at… I don't know if this gonna sound so bad. Like their work is amazing, but this person is not emerging. This person is literally mid career, like this person is not an emerging artist. So I don't know, maybe I’d like more support or stuff like for people that are just actually just starting out? Or maybe there needs to be more stuff for mid career people. I don't know that’s so shady, but sometimes I'm like, this person’s had like 5/10 exhibitions, they’re not an emerging artist. So maybe more stuff for them because I just get put off because I look at past people that have won certain prizes and and I'm like, they literally have 10 bodies of work like behind them.


Exactly, more support at all levels so emerging artists can actually be supported. 


Exactly! Sometimes it's like the same people again, and it's just like, how do you expect me to actually apply for this, the same people are winning so they will just clear out. Like, I don't know, it's just sometimes a bit discouraging. So it's just like, what's the point of actually applying? I've been a bit lucky in terms of things and getting things but just in general, like, I'm just like, looking at things away from Uni, like in the actual world and I’m just like, Wow, it’s the same people getting the same things.


People will relate to that, especially once you maybe leave the uni environment. In a previous Artist Spotlight, an artist was saying that they didn't go to university and couldn't get any funding because it was all for postgrads. So we were talking about other ways to enter the industry that isn’t through necessarily traditional means.


I will say about that post grad thing, I think honestly it's just sad and that's why I'm saying that I really try not to deep it too much, but it's about money. Again, I'll say that I'm lucky. Like right now I'm getting to experiment with these materials and stuff but that's just because I'm here in uni and because I was able to get funding. I think about when I talk to my friends I'm like, oh, like I feel like I've done well this year but honestly, if I was just trying to do this without uni and stuff, or like without meeting the people that I’ve met now than. Without uni it would take me years, it would probably take me like 10 years to get to this point just because I'd have to work so much. Even right now, like, I'm broke as hell because of material costs and stuff - it’s sometimes frustrating. 


If you enjoyed this conversation with Aisha, make sure to check out our other Artist Spotlight interviews over on https://www.brushwrk.co.uk/blog and whilst you’re there, why not have a look through all of the fantastic art we have for sale from emerging artists? Pop into the website to see what catches your eye…


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