Neena Percy

MA Painting, Royal College of Art, London

Multi-media artist


What is your work about currently?

I intend to express my experiences and observations as a woman today.  “Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer”. Art historian James Elkin’s statement encapsulates my current artistic drive; to examine how visual culture and history alter our personal perception of our inner and outer ‘self’ or selves.

The idealised versions of women presented at different times is a reflection upon societal projections of how women should look and behave. I wish to tap into these portraits and distort or present them anew through my own gaze. I look at current and past representations of femininity in contemporary culture and art history; drawing upon them, negating the obvious and allowing openness for interpretation.

Through re-presenting and distorting elements of our current reality, paintings can create images that are at once removed from the every-day yet subtly allude to it. Representing stereotypes in artworks but with an absurd twist can be a way to highlight the absurdity that we in fact experience on a day-to-day basis.

While I have looked at stereotypical representations of women that create ideals around beauty and desire, I am also making pieces that attempt to emulate desire in and of themselves. For this, deeply dark receding colours are used to create a simple image from a distance that then transforms at closer viewing or changes from different angles. For me, this shifting of visibility and thus inability to grasp something fully at once encapsulates psychoanalytical readings into the unobtainable object of desire. Always moving away from the viewer the object shimmies in front of them.

What does womanhood mean to you?

For me womanhood is about feeling confident and comfortable with yourself. I strive to always push myself intellectually and personally, working on aspects of myself that I wish to be stronger and braver. This includes putting myself forward for things that I might not feel entirely comfortable doing but, having done it, gives me the satisfaction of pushing myself beyond my limits. I wish to continue in this vein my entire life.

What are your view on Feminisms?

I have grown up in London and, while women here are fortunate enough to have many more rights than women in other parts of the world, advertising and popular culture do have a significant and often damaging effect on how women view themselves. I believe that any personal fight that a woman feels is urgent and relates to her is worth speaking out for, while a wider inclusive Feminism is also necessary for women to unite across boundaries. Though I understand the need for specific movements within the Feminist cause for women in different parts of the world or from different backgrounds, I think it is vital that we do not pick fights with each other. There should be mutual understanding that while there are different nuances between the causes, the overall aim is equal political, economic, social and personal rights for all women. Though I cannot speak for the experiences of other women, I can make choices in this country that help women abroad. For example, buying Fairtrade products or products made by women’s cooperatives helps groups of women in developing countries striving for better pay.

How do your experiences as a woman influence your art?

For me art is at its best when it can combine a material fascination, as with qualities of paint or colour, with a personal experience that comes from beyond the confines of the studio. I strive to make work that people can relate to on two levels and so my experiences as a woman have fed into and inspired me to make work. Feelings of anger and frustration but also admiration and desire that stem from what I see or am driven by as a woman all fuel my artwork in different ways. Without always having a pre-determined answer to some of my questions or concerns, through making an artwork I discover more about how I feel or what position it puts me in. In this way the artwork is a test for the results that a particular inquisitive urge can give rise to. At the same time as questioning ideals, I also want my work to be bold and celebratory as I feel this is an element of femininity we should not forget to highlight.

What has been your experience as women / women of colour in university?

Though there are often more women accepted onto the Fine Art courses that I have studied on, the mostly male staff’s voices tend to dominate discussions. My personal experience has generally been a very positive one, where my voice and beliefs are encouraged and supported and professors have helped me to bring them out in the artwork. However, there is a lack of women of colour on my course which is a shame as more diversity would create a richer creative environment.

What piece of advice would you give to women planning on entering the creative industries?

Have confidence in your artistic drives and desires, and to greedily indulge in these creative fantasies.