Joy Yamusangie on race, identity and the art-world

"In the past I had doubted my ability to be an artist simply because I didn’t see my reality reflected in art organizations, galleries and institutions."

- Joy Yamusangie

Meet Joy Yamusangie, a London-based artist who explores themes such as race, gender, culture and self-identity. We asked her a few questions about her work...

How did art come to you? And what was it about art that lured you? I didn’t speak much at school and I was very shy as a child, drawing was something I did as an expression and I communicated through comics and illustrations. It became a frequent activity, I would practice drawing and draw up new comics to take to school. Art appealed to me because it wasn’t restrictive, I could use colour, line and write stories with no boundary. It remained my favourite subject all throughout my school years.​​

Was there a moment you decided you want to become an artist? I was in primary school and getting recognition for a painting I had made had boosted my confidence and that made me want to paint more. It was from there that I wanted to become an artist. Do you have a routine creative process when starting a painting? I usually like to improvise and go with the flow, but I have started to establish a routine for myself pre-making. I collect colours and paper, plan out composition and refer to my phone notes for text and thoughts which I write as I go about my day. With all these elements together I draw as if I’m writing into a diary.

Your works consistently touch upon the social themes of race, gender and sexuality. Do you see your art as a vehicle for change in the way these themes are viewed by some people? Or is it more of a natural self-expression without a guided aim? I make work to document myself and as a person of intersecting identities, my work naturally touches upon many social themes. I saved a quote on my phone from my university days which reads ‘If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill and say you enjoyed it’ (Zora Neale Hurston) and this is something that has stuck with me. My work not only tells a story of culture and love, it tells my reality, racism, sexism etc. These things effect my every day life, so I am honest about that through my art. Honest artwork has the capacity to encourage discussion and this discussion can be the start of change.​

Who are the biggest influences in your work? I love the text work by Jenny Holzer and Henry Matisse’s cut outs, but I’ve found my biggest influence comes from artists like Dayo Adesina and Jacob V Joyce who are going above and beyond limitations in making fine art, text, performance pieces. I aspire to be this versatile and flexible in art and artists like them inspire me to start now. As an artist, how has your experience of the art-world been so far? I’ve exhibited and navigated through art spaces and felt invisible or used as token. But recently I’ve found smaller art spaces that have been different, accepting, supportive and these spaces such as BBZ have positively changed my experience of the art world.

What do you wish could be changed about the world of art? In the past I had doubted my ability to be an artist simply because I didn’t see my reality reflected in art organizations, galleries and institutions. Our work exists, I’ve seen so many amazing artists from self-funded art shows and inclusive spaces like 198 Gallery and Shape Arts. So, if I could change the mainstream art world I would make it diverse, accessible and inclusive.

The last thing you were inspired by? I had just taken part in an exhibition called Afro-Portraitism, which was curated by Hamed Maiye. In this exhibition there was a reel of videos all touching upon black identity and every video really caught me. Each frame in every video made a perfect photograph, in particular a video called ‘This Hair Of Mine’ by Crack Stevens. I left feeling inspired and ready to experiment with new mediums and a new field different from the last and overall progress as an artist.

Do you have any unrealised projects? I have one that is a collaboration project with artist Olivia Twist, a series of drawings from 2016 for Typical Girls mag on the theme of Generations. I’m planning on experimenting a bit with mediums before starting another project of my own. Your aspirations as an artist/human? I want to experiment with a whole range of materials and mediums, building confidence in various fields. I want to create more and have more time to make, to collaborate, exhibit and build a presence as an artist. Finally, any words of wisdom for the people reading this? Collaborate, experiment within art fields and support upcoming artists.

You can enjoy more of Joy's work on her website: