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Honey Williams Commission + Interview 10 November 2020


Snakey Friends II (Banned From Britain), 2020.

For our Formations programme, led in partnership with the Postcolonial Studies Centre at Nottingham Trent University, we are delighted to launch a newly commissioned art work by Honey Williams, made in response to the programmatic themes related to Black History Month, Black Lives Matter, and the Decolonisation agenda.

The resultant work Snakey Friends II (Banned From Britain), 2020 (pictured above), will operate as an emblem for the Formations programme and will be displayed outside the entrance of Bonington Gallery for the entirety of the Formations programme, ending in September 2021.

To launch the commission, we asked Honey a few questions…

Hi Honey, it’d be great if you could begin by offering an overview of your practice. What you physically do, but also some of your ideas and influences.

My practice is illustration, painting, songwriting and singing, I am a multi-dimensional artist. When it comes to visual art I like to play with a mash-up of techniques such as collage, inks, graphite, acrylics and also digital wizardry. All of this amalgamates into a cacophony of mind meanderings, collected imagery over time. The nucleus of many of my ideas is conjured up from my diary. I like to vandalise my own work in a way because I am attracted to imperfection as it is a way to signify the truth. Riffing, sampling and including discarded things within a final piece.

Could you please talk to us about the work you have made, and how it progressed from the invitation that Jenni Ramone (Co-Director NTU Postcolonial Studies Centre) made to you. What was it about some of the thinking behind the Formations programme that informed this response?

It has been interesting to observe the reaction of various organisations that are remembering that black lives matter. I am as heartened by the response as I am sceptical, my work is in part a response to all of that. This sense of distrust reverberates throughout this current piece that I have created, I have intertwined this with my interpretation of the temptation of Eve. Eve is usually interpreted as an ethereal very pale pre-raphaelite, long-haired, white woman in a European country garden with a big red apple despite Ethiopia being the first Christian country on earth. This piece acts to flip social hierarchy upside down by decentering whiteness and maleness, redefining beauty and humanity as a highly intersectional black woman with jet black locs, full lips and shea buttered dark skin takes centre stage, commanding the piece as an act of womanism. Her eyes are deep, sceptical, cynical, distrusting of white power structures represented by union jack coloured snakes that dance across the piece. She is wearing a mask with the coat of arms usually found on British Passports that have now become a precious commodity due to the Windrush Scandal, she is literally being silenced by systemic oppression but at the same time experiencing privilege that a British passport gives to you. Interwoven throughout the piece are historical British figures both Black and White, colonial oppressive figures who have been lauded as heroes such as a young Churchill, Lord Nelson who wanted to keep slavery going and Fredrick Lugard who purposely de-industrialised Nigeria.

The Formations programme attracted me because it is a year long, I want to be a part of decolonising British history and making it generally much more reality-based, so Nottingham is as good a place as any to start.


BIG BLACK TRUTH, 2017

You appear to collaborate a lot, and a strong element of your practice seems based on exchange and reaction to situations you find yourself within and invitations you receive. The impact of this can make a practice very alive, urgent and relevant. Can you talk about the role of dialogue and exchange with others in your work?

Collaboration is important to me, it excites me, exchanging ideas and locations, perceptions and ideals only further expands my creative landscape in ways that formal education in its current form cannot. The invitations I receive are often a result of an opportunity for permanent jobs that didn’t work out or temporary opportunities. This can be marginalizing but by being forced to work on the periphery of the creative world I have become a multi-dexterous, flexible artist. I have honed new skills, found alternative solutions in order to try to further progress in an industry that does not want to let big black British women in due to misogynoir and sizeism. My practice is ‘alive, urgent and relevant’ because every creative thing I do is an act of survival. If you threw someone in the middle of an ocean would they sink or swim?

We’re going to be launching the work at the end of October, which traditionally would mark the end of Black History Month. I really like this idea that your work represents the remaining 11 months of the year, and demonstrates that Black History is of 365 importance, which informs the year-long structure of Formations. This approach appears to be matching a growing attitude towards this thinking, somewhat expedited by the Black Lives Matter protests in June – prompted by the death of George Floyd and others. The Formations sub-theme for October is ‘Critical responses to Black History Month’, can you offer some thoughts regarding this change of attitude regarding Black History Month?

Black people were arguably the first people on earth, and an indelible part of Britain since Cheddar Man if not before, so it’s made even more nonsensical and preposterous for western history to have attempted to whitewash itself for so long in order to preserve a false narrative that keeps the system of racism white supremacist capitalist imperialist patriarchy firmly in place. Producing a climate of injustice and an infinite number of murderous human atrocities like the Facebook live murder of George Floyd and other Black people like Breonna Taylor, Sarah Reed, Stephen Lawrence and all of the other injustices Black people face throughout the world. As well as overt racism, age-old #karenism has been highlighted of late and microaggressions aka the slow poison that is death by 1000 paper cuts. If this piece acts to encourage a positive change however incremental that would be a good thing.

In the turbulent climate of 2020, the growing enthusiasm to make a change in terms of #BLACKLIVESMATTER may fade due to apathy but hopefully not for now.


HAIR POLITICS, 2004

Your work confronts a number of social and political issues, who would be your ideal audience for your work, and what effect would you like to have on the viewer?

I don’t have an ideal audience for my art, I hope that it connects with people who are treated like they are the unseen, the underestimated, the un-chosen, the unworthy and the un-catered for. And basically, people who cannot play the game because they have been intentionally shut out. As well as people who are unfamiliar with the topics raised in the piece.

The most prominent message of the image is the call to end structural racism in Britain. Do you see your work and your audience as UK-focused, or global? Do you see the problems your work addresses as UK-based, or global?

I think that the most prominent message taken from the piece would be viewed differently according to who the viewer may be e.g. if the viewer of the work is a dark skinned black woman the misogynoir or colourism or natural hair may be the topics that speak to you most, perception is intersectional too. The issues raised are global as well as local. There’s a really important article by Trudy Law (Black British Writer) called ‘How Anti-Blackness Shapes Heterosexual Black Men’s Dating “Preferences”’. She discusses how many black men internalise racism and often do not have the tools to unpack this. This often results in many black men wanting to imitate white patriarchal hegemony rather than to dismantle it to create gender and racial equality. This often leaves Black women the furthest away from the women who are seen as being of value in western society to face intersectional oppression alone.

After WW1 and WW2, I think that it is little known that the death toll for young white British ex-servicemen from Nottingham was high. Many black ex service men and black male British citizens from Jamaica went to Nottingham after being invited to Britain. This meant that Nottingham had a large black Caribbean male community. After surviving the trauma of British colonisation and enslavement Black Caribbeans brought with them a rich, globally influential culture but at the same time they also exported damaging pathologies. Colourism and sexism are two of said pathologies, which resulted in misogynoir. So this history of misogynoir is particularly pronounced in Nottingham and in part this history is a contributing factor that explains the existence of a high population of interracial couples (black Caribbean male/ white English woman) and mixed race people in Nottingham. This is why I chose to centre Black women in this piece.


Gyal Daughter Murals 1 & 2
, 2019

If you were commissioned to make a piece on a similar theme in a year, or in 5 years, how different do you think it would look? Can you envisage progress? What are your priorities for change and for achieving an end to structural racism?

My priority is radical self-love, empowerment, freedom and confidence in my artistic expression and I want to use what privilege I have to help others. I imagine that others and I will reap the fruits of this in the future.

The people who created and continue to benefit the most from the white privilege that the system of racism white supremacy gives them have the most power to eradicate it. So the real question beyond this is: do the powers that be want to eradicate structural racism and patriarchy? And I would ask white people: what are your priorities for change and for achieving an end to structural racism?


Windrush Scandal, 2018.

thehoneyeffect.wordpress.com
@thehoneyeffect
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All images courtesy of the Artist.

 

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