Above the Amersham Arms, New Cross, is the Take Courage Gallery, an affordable exhibiting space for emerging artists. The current exhibition, “On the Cusp of”, is curated by Ella Devi Dabysing and Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark.
The art works themselves are not in-flux, but act as a kind of homage to uncertainty, movement and transitioning. Together the pieces create something which seems more-than-whole, they are a conversation, fluid and dynamic, questioning and challenging our current political and social climate.
In a corner of the busy room I speak to Rayvenn who tells me about the title, “On the Cusp of”, and what it means to her. This year and last year, she says, lots of change was happening. We had Brexit and the #MeToo campaign, there has been so much movement. This exhibition, she says, is a space to explore that change and new direction.
On the opposite wall is a painting which I am drawn to. It is a print. A young black woman, she is leaning back on a park-bench, her feet are up on the table, her soles are pointing towards the viewer. Exotic-looking leaves grow in the background, the painting is filled with colour and pattern like a pop-art piece; yet the women in the centre looks as real as a photograph. Her shape and poise push against the fictional backdrop. Her hair is like a fire spreading over her head, her patterned slacks have a rip at the knee and she is drinking from a tinny. Her eyes are cast down, but not in a way that signals a lack of confidence. She looks as if she if she is contemplating, she looks defiant, she seems at peace, she is everything at the same time: quiet but powerful, calm but ready. She commands our attention without asking for it. Her confidence spills out of the painting and fills into my chest, hands, fingers.
I meet Kei Maye later to discuss her piece. Over the bustle of the gallery space she tells me the piece was inspired by her ex.
He was always telling me how to dress. How to present myself, how to behave. I didn’t see what his words were doing to me at first, but over time I realised he had been grinding down my confidence. After we broke up I drew this picture. It was a way of taking control. I wanted something that was colourful, bright, exuding confidence. I wanted something that said, “I’m back”.
The conversation with Kei Maye and Raveynn fills me with energy. We talk about all the times people have commented upon our appearance or challenged what we’re wearing. We talk of the pressure that we load upon ourselves and the pressure that others load upon us; to look and behave a certain way.
And as we talk about these things, it feels as if a pressure is lifting. We speak of the silence and the silliness and the sadness of all that worry. A continual effort to please others.
The pressure continues to lift and roll. I feel like I’ve arrived somewhere, it feels as if we’ve reached some kind of understanding together. We have all been feeling the same silly pressures, the same real-unreal anxiety. This understanding swims between us, it connects us like a water, it rolls over our bodies in waves of laughter. We think about all the times we have chopped and changed our appearance, dressed-up or felt ashamed because of our bodies.
And we laugh about it, it is a mixture of joy and pain, and it feels like we really are on the cusp of something.
Kai Maye’s and Rayvenn’s art was also recently exhibited at “Empowerment” by Nasty Women. Nasty Women UK is part of a Global Art Movement founded in New York in January 2017 in reaction to the growing misogyny and rampant intolerance towards marginal social groups that has become ubiquitous in the media as well as in government. The name ‘Nasty Women’ comes from a comment Donald Trump made about Hillary Clinton, interrupting her during a televised debate to mutter the insult into his microphone. The term was instantly reclaimed by thousands of women across social media, and has since become a rallying call for those who stand for gender equality and equity.
You can follow their work on social media:
Kei Maye: @kei_maye
Rayvenn Sheleigha D’Clark: @ravendclark