TAKE A SECOND TO BREATHE
Meet Divine Southgate-Smith, the artist best known for her dreamlike architectural renderings; imagined spaces which draw your eye into their creamy depths, creating a sense of limitless utopia. In her latest work for Browns East, titled TAKE A SECOND TO BREATHE, Southgate-Smith combines these forms with her video practice, using sound and archival snippets to tell a wider story about community, possibility, and the power of Black Joy. Read on to watch the film and learn more about her work.
Whisper I (2019)
Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how your art practice began?
I was born in West Africa, Togo. I moved to London aged 8 and spent half of the time in France as my second language is French - the first is Minan. I used to daydream and sketch and write a lot. I was, however, more focused on learning English and understanding a new culture so I never really took art seriously until my A-Levels. I used to design graffiti tags for my friends and forge handwriting - honest beginnings really! (laughs). I eventually ended up in Central St Martins, where everything I thought I knew about art shattered and reassembled again before my eyes!
What were your earliest influences? Were there any artists or people around you who inspired you growing up?
My earliest influences were people who I thought were going against the grain. I was taught to question and not take things at face value. I was always researching, although I didn’t know that was what I was doing at the time. My first influences came from the music I was listening to at home… I was really into Jimi Hendrix, Betty Davis, LOVE, Nina Simone, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Grace Jones, and David Bowie. I also loved to read absurdist literature and got a bit obsessed with stories like Le Nez, Rhinoceros, and of course The Bald Soprano - they just made me laugh. Eventually I got into the philosophical ideas behind them. Albert Camus, Oscar Wilde, and Murakami were also obsessions.
WAKANDA FOREVER (2020)
Tell us more about your work – what kind of materials and mediums do you use and why?
I usually split my work into two aspects: architectural and sculptural studies and conceptual and text studies. This translates as 3D-rendered print works and spoken-word texts that I adapt into video or sound. I also work with archive footage for my video works. Being able to have a toolbox of different mediums allows me to find the best way to translate my thoughts and feelings.
Can you talk a bit more about the installation you created for Browns East, TAKE A SECOND TO BREATHE?
TAKE A SECOND TO BREATHE started with a series of simple ideas. I wanted to see my architectural prints in moving images, I wanted to create a piece that celebrated Black Joy and I wanted to create a bridge between my films and 3D renders. The brief was themed “SEDUCTION”, so I wanted to express ideas that personally seduced me, as well as exploring seduction through ideology and architecture.
The film was made during very uncertain times, and my community was once again under the spotlight for a fight that seems consistently silenced - a moment of rupture was overdue. These were stressful times and I wanted to create something that didn’t trigger me but provided release and comfort. Black Joy as a political ideology. I wanted to obliterate the idea that we as individuals cannot have a social impact. I find that we are moving towards a future where the representation of diversity and social change is as valuable - if not more so - than the actual agency and actions that are necessary to enact such changes. This scares me.
Speaking with one of my collaborators, BAD WITH PHONES, I came across an interview with Abbey Lincoln [heard in the soundscape of the above video] - it shook me! We immediately knew she was going to be one of the leading voices in the film. When I heard her words: “We are the African Gods, you and me”, I knew how I could conceptualise all my concerns and feelings. Feeling the cultural and historical weight of these words, they had such a resonance with my 3D prints.
I could go on forever, so I’ll stop there!
TAKE A SECOND TO BREATHE, 2021.
What do you hope visitors will take from the work?
Empowerment, community, allyship and change.
You created this work in collaboration with several fellow creatives. Who are they and what did each of them bring to the work?
For this project I decided to pull in my wonderfully talented friends: Jawara Alleyne (Fashion Designer) Brandon Saunders (CGI & Render Artist) and BAD WITH PHONES (Musician). Collaboration in my intersectional community is very important, as opportunities are far and few between, so sharing and showing respect for each others’ practices is vital.
Brandon is based in Newcastle so I was always on a Zoom call with them, sharing screens and render files - I swear our Zoom calls are like podcasts! Jawara is a regular at my place and a neighbour so over dinner would be where our discussions really kicked off. BAD WITH PHONES is also a regular, so I would always be in his music studio testing and badly editing sound together (laughs). He and Finn (producer) were so good at translating my weird requests - pure talents!
All in all, I just loved working with them. I feel truly blessed.
For you, what makes a creative collaboration a success?
Communication, respect, and constructive criticism. You have to love the work of your collaborators and understand how best to work with them to create something you are all proud of. Sometimes you are asking someone to help you create your vision and other times you are asking them to create a vision with you. This distinction is important, as there are a lot of egos out there!
What would be your dream project for the future and why?
The next challenge would probably be to design some furniture, make more moving images of my prints and start getting some funds together to make my sculptural installations. I have a lot more to say and show, so let’s see!
Sculptural Relief (2019)
Black Iris I (2019)
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