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Onthedancefloor

Patty B On Black

Local artist speaks about creativity, mental health, the Black Lives Matter movement, and her upcoming exhibition at Abbeydale Picture House.

Patty B’s striking artwork encompasses a profoundly beautiful exploration of the history, the beauty and the power of the Black woman. I spoke to Patty to find out about her artistic journey, how she feels about the Black Lives Matter movement, and her brand new exhibition.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to start your creative practice.

I am an artist and I currently live in Sheffield. My background can be confusing because home to me belongs in many places. I was born in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia some 30 years ago to Ugandan parents, and we moved around quite a bit. I came to Sheffield in 2004 to study Psychology and Neuroscience at Sheffield University.

I still work in the field of Human Sciences. I do bits of research for the University and work as a Speech Therapist for young adults. I have always enjoyed partaking in the arts - drawing, creating, singing, dancing, storytelling. Art has been a way for me to carry my culture around with me and it has also been a tool for self-expression that has come in handy in my professional practice as a therapist.

When I found myself going through a difficult phase in life, I drew pictures when I couldn't find the words to express what I was going through, and that's where my drawings of black women began. I guess it was an unconscious exploration of my identity as a black woman.

In her Nature Trust

In Her Nature: Trust

Black and Love

The Transdimensional Social: Black and Love

Inhernature Timekeeper

In Her Nature: Time Keeper

Where do you take inspiration from when starting a new piece?

I come across so many beautiful black faces in the real world and frequently stop to take a mental snapshot. When I find myself picking up a sketchbook to wind down after a stressful day at work, an amalgamation of all that beauty appears on the page as the portrait subject.

Similarly, the collaged adornments and video edits are a representation of my moods for the season and are a reflection of the colour combinations and rhythmic patterns in everyday life that bring myself and the portrait subjects to life.

I am a self-taught artist so I don’t know the rules or regulations I am supposed to follow with regards to drawing and composition. I really just go with my mood. While drawing, I'm often listening to music, audiobooks, podcast interviews and debates, and that's where the discovery and crafting of the story behind the subject takes place, giving the final piece context and personality.

La Vie en Rose 1

Le Vie en Rose: Part 1

La Vie en Rose 2

Le Vie en Rose: Part 2

La Vie en Rose 3

Le Vie en Rose: Part 3

Featuring black women is central to your art. What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, and the state of race in the UK and the world?

My feelings about the rising awareness of systemic racism are two-fold.

On the one hand, I was relieved that the world was finally listening. Uncomfortable conversations were ready to be had about what racism is, how anti-blackness started and what anti-blackness really looks like in the workplace, in public spaces and in friendships and families. I didn’t think we'd ever reach this stage of openness in my lifetime and it’s encouraging to feel that all the efforts we as black people put into freeing and protecting ourselves have not been in vain.

I was cautious, however, and not quite ready to run onto that platform to openly pour out our collective grievances. There was a feeling that this was all for show as we were still addressing racism at quite a superficial level and the movement was spreading like the latest fad. I feared the fad would fade out as soon as people realised that standing up to racism means standing down from a system that elevates them.

As the Black Lives Matter movement got more momentum over the summer, the All Lives Matter voice became louder and the White Lives Matter fear grew stronger too. The non-committal black squares and hashtags have not done enough to combat this. Black people are back in unsafe spaces and having to tiresomely fight white supremacy alone. And daily. So yes we were given a platform, but that was not for us to speak and be heard, but to be put in the firing line and to openly suffer more grievances. In that respect, it’s quite sickening and trauma-inducing to witness the precious integrity of black people being recycled through society and used for social and commercial gains without any intent. The movement has mostly restored my doubt in western altruism.

The west has learned to function with racism at its core and we need to address the issue at that level. The system as a whole is failing us and killing us. The courts of law are justifying the killing of innocent black women in their sleep. They tell us to vote to make things better, but I find it hard to believe that black people’s voting rights are respected, when our options are the racism-heavy party or the racism-lite party. It’s the ultimate degradation to go to a ballot box knowing you are going to vote to perpetuate the hatred and fear directed towards yourself. More needs to be done.

I think to make actual progress we have to go deep into how anti-blackness began and why it is still a fundamental ill in our society. White people need to face white supremacy and get real. When we are ready to go this deep, then I think I will finally breathe. Until then, my art breathes for me.

Onthedancefloor1

Dancing Queen

Onthedancefloor2

Dancing Queen

Onthedancefloor3

Dancing Queen

The support of black women through the impact and trauma of racial assault is a cause that’s close to your heart. What are your plans for raising funds to help black women who need specialist psychological support?

Systemic racism puts black people at a higher risk of developing difficulties with mental health. Unfortunately, black women are also less likely to have access to support and treatment for their mental health difficulties. After the long wait on a waiting list, imagine being referred to a counsellor who does not believe that racial injustice is a real thing. This is unfortunately a very likely possibility in Britain today.

To avoid further damage to our souls and wellbeing, many black women are forced to incur huge costs to access a counselling or therapy service that is right for us. Having experienced this troubling path, I am committing a percentage of the sales from my art to Black Minds Matter UK, a charity that funds therapy for black people. ArtbyPattyB is about restoring truths and rebuilding hope.

Las Sirenas 1

Las Sirenas

Las Sirenas 2

Las Sirenas

Las Sirenas 3

Las Sirenas

Tell us about your exhibitions. You had one last year at Abbeydale Picture House and we hear you've got another coming up.

Her Story Remained Unfinished was my debut exhibition in October 2019 at the Abbeydale Picture House. It was a retelling of the hijacked histories of great black women, including Andromeda the Ethiopian Princess, Queen Califia the Mother of California, and Madeleine from The Portrait of a Negress, the only portrait hanging in Le Musée de Louvre that features a black woman as the centre subject.

The exhibition was supported by CADS, a local organisation that reaches out to the community to support artists and small businesses in their development. The event was well attended so we've decided to do it again this year, in November, because it’s important that the inclusion of Black stories is not limited to October. Black people need to have the freedom to celebrate themselves and discover their strengths every day and any day.

This year's exhibition is called on Black because all the portraits are drawn on black paper. Last year I explored Black history and now I am moving on to the story of Black futures. Through portraiture I take you into the world of my dreams. You will meet the time travelling secret service agent I always wanted to be, the Mary Beard-esque TV historian with a passion for translating ancient scripts, the theoretical physicist that re-configures our perceptions, and many more black women whose pivotal contributions we will not deny.

One sure thing I can say about my background is that I have been encouraged to dream big and set no limits on my potential. Recently I’ve had a lot more time and inclination to dream bigger than ever before and really push the boundaries of what I believed I could do, so I'm hoping that the on Black exhibition gives people that same freedom to believe in themselves.

The Red Series Good News

The Red Series: Good News

The Red Series King

The Red Series: King

The Red Series The Capitalist Dream

The Red Series: The Capitalist's Dream - When he wakes he will not remember

Where can people buy your work?

On my website you can order prints, watch videos and bid on original artwork. You can also read more about last year’s exhibition and keep updated with news about my upcoming exhibition. I will have limited prints available for purchase at the exhibition’s opening night and prints are also available in Sheffield at Gravel Pit, Cole’s Corner and Wickwire.

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