This Somali-British artist is writing a Black future

Aisha Mohamed, a.k.a. artsyblackheaux, is a London-based digital artist of Somali ancestry. The twenty-four-year-old started making art as a teenager as a form of escapism from the abuse she faced at home. 

Mohamed sets portraits of Black women in environments beaming with magical realism. Through her work, she aims to create images that evoke a sense of upliftment and positivity for Black women. 

Most Black mainstream narratives are about Black trauma, like slavery, colonization and segregation, she says. “I don’t want to carry that into Black women’s future. I want to see ourselves like we haven’t seen before.” 

Her image series “Reinterpreting Van Gogh’s floral paintings with Black women” and “Not of this world” transmit efficacious energy of harmonizing high fashioned Black and African women in scenes of white pop culture and science fiction. Confident and rich in colours and patterns, Mohamed’s art invites the viewer to absorb its complexity and beauty. 

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“I feel like for Black women, to see themselves in art, is quite powerful because we don’t see ourselves in art in that way,” she says.

“Because art is so overwhelmingly white,” she adds, she didn’t see herself succeeding in the field, and therefore deciding not to pursue it in her academic career.

In her art, backdrops and imagery of galaxies and nature capture the feeling of belonging, while elements from fairytales and classical art surrounding Black women surface a missing history and lack of representation.

In our conversation, we note how many national art museums and galleries in the UK only hold paintings of white artists and subjects. Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) art, if any, is scarce, orientalist, or a depiction of labourers.

Coming out of awards season, the lack of representation of women and minorities garnered much attention on social media. The Bafta awards in the UK featured only men nominated in the best director category for the seventh year in a row.

Diversity was also a big issue when it came to Oscar nominees. Though reports showed several 2019’s top movies feature minority or female lead characters, 19 out of the 20 acting nominees were white.

Mohamed says the representation of Black women is improving slowly in British and international media but the appropriate “kind” of representation is still lacking.

“Our shine and our accomplishments are always dismissed. Even if we know our power inside, the world doesn’t see it.”

“[Black women] need to be shown in a way we deserve to be seen — not as victims or unbelievably strong women or mammies. Just let us exist.”

Though Mohamed’s art began as a route to escape her reality, it soon became a means to help herself and others escape the stereotypes that have been long placed on Black women.

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