Shades of Noir caught up with artist Othello De’Souza Hartley outside Central Saint Martins for a catch up and to see what he has been up to recently. We want to hear about his recent experiences speaking at the New Orleans Conference ‘The Black Arts Conference’ 2016 & his participation on the panel at ‘Look, A Negro’ at Photographers Gallery back in September.
Othello will be one of our panellists at Shades of Noir ‘Decoding Masculinity: A conversation on Race, Religion & Masculinity’ at Ravensbourne University, this Friday 18th of November and he will also be chairing our Decoding Masculinity event at Camberwell College UAL on the 24th of November.
So, what has he been up to?
We asked Othello about his experience in New Orleans, his journey into the Deep South seems to have left a lasting and ongoing impression on him as he speaks in detail about the events as if they happened yesterday.
- ‘It’s good to step outside your comfort zone’. –
SON: Describe your experience in New Orleans and presenting on the panel for the conference
OH: ‘I still can’t get over it, It was my first time giving a presentation at a conference like this. I have done talks before but never to an African American audience. They aren’t an audience that will just accept an answer, they are very direct, so you can say something and they will come right back at you with a question on that point. I gained that extra bit of confidence from that event. Here in the UK, it must be a British thing, we are reserved and don’t really speak up, but over there they are unapologetic about addressing issues relating to the African American History. Although I admit I was at an Arts conference so I cannot say this is a true reflection on the wider community.’
‘They are also really well read, that’s why when I don’t know something, I’m just honest and don’t try to answer it. You can’t know everything, it’s impossible.
‘When you’re an artist, your work is part of you.’
SON: How did you find your experience on the panel of ‘Look, A Negro’?
OH: ‘It’s really hard to say, because when you’re doing it it’s hard to see how it went from the outside. It was honestly a feeling of: What should I say, what should I not say? You know? Because when you’re an artist, your work is part of you.’
‘But also you want to keep a sense of yourself back, I don’t want to be like a celebrity talking about my whole life..but it got to a point where I just felt like, you know what, just talk.’ Once I relaxed, I just let it flow.’
‘It’s really like you’re putting yourself out there and no-one wants to be judged, but I think going to New Orleans before this event put that more into perspective, I’m glad I had the experience to go to New Orleans because coming from New Orleans my whole way of working and talking has changed.’
I’m also currently working on this other project called ‘Fathers & Sons’
SON: What are you working on currently within your practice?
OH: ‘Right now I’m continuing on the Topic of Masculinity, I did the Traid Floor recently touching on the male insecurities. I’m also doing another piece with hair called ‘I AM’ so I’ve put myself on a bed of hair, I’m planning on also positioning a women on there, I’m looking for three black women representing shades of black from lighter skin tones to darker skin tones with different hair types, a women with locs, a women who’s bald, a women with mixed hair type. Each person will lay on the hair, all shot in the same location.’
‘I’m going to do one of the pieces on masculinity on the Estate, I wanted to speak and interview some of the young boys in the Estate and talk about their perspective on Masculinity and their experiences.’
‘I’m also currently working on this other project called ‘Fathers & Sons’ which I’m trying to get off the ground. It’s dealing with the Father & Son relationship but dealing in a conceptual way, almost like mirrored images of each other incorporating film & photography.’
‘Finally, I had a written a project before I went to New Orleans. I would like to work on it over the next couple of years, looking at the cultural links between the African diaspora and Africa, rather than looking at our slavery past. I would like to explore through photography and performance our cultural links that link us back to our ancestry that has remained with us through some cultural practices. Slavery is a negative place to start from and it’s still having effects on us today.’
‘ I think these conversations need to be opened up and to be had outside of the academic environments ‘
SON: How do you define Masculinity currently? Has your perspective changed on the topic?
OH: ‘I don’t think it’s changed. I was talking to my cousin and we were talking about if you’re a black male and you’re constantly being told what you are and how you and I think it’s even more prevalent nowadays. We see what’s happening in America. I think there are more positive role models now, the narrative is still there, we haven’t changed that much, we have examples, yes and there are changes but I don’t think much has changed. Which is why I think these conversations need to be opened up and to be had outside of the academic environments ‘
We need to have an intergenerational dialogue
SON: ‘You’ve spoken on how the performativity of the black male masculinity, the scripted role and you’ve spoken on how race plays an important role on how masculinity is performed and shaped. How much does it shape our current climate.?’
OH: ‘Honestly, I think this should be asked to our youth, an 18 yr old maybe, and their current experiences. I witnessed a young man who was a gang member who had counselling but broke down behind closed doors because of their ‘street cred’ and not being able to cope with acting a certain way, performing roles that they don’t want to or feel fits them. We need to start having these conversations openly.’
‘Men have the highest rate of suicide levels, why is this? The statistics are there and can be sourced at The Samaritans. I found through research that a lot of the men (not all) but elderly men, can’t cope with living alone after divorces or economic reasons what not. I held a Photographic workshop focus group for men at Photofusion, exploring masculinity over four Sundays and there were cases of young men suffering from anxiety and panic attacks because of pressures and living up to expectations of the role of their fathers.’
‘This is why the ‘Fathers & Sons’ project is so important because it’s unspoken words and that’s what we need to have. We need to have intergenerational dialogue speaking about this.’
Mirrored Image & Unspoken Words.
Check out Othello De’Souza Hartley speaking at both:
Decoding Masculinity: A conversation on Race Religion & Masculinity events:
Words by Tiffany Webster