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Black Creativity Matters: An interview with Jasper Pedyo

Diversity enriches every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat, the way we speak, the music we listen to; celebrating and shining a light on our cultural differences through art deepens our understanding of each other and who we are as human beings. This forms the core of why we do what we do.

We are committed to championing Black artists and creativity here at The Civic and are really happy to announce African-born and Barnsley raised artist Jasper Pedyo will be hosting a solo exhibition in our Gallery from Jan-March 2021.

Jasper has already won the prestigious 2018 Free Range exhibition prize in London for his striking mixed media paintings which feature a bold use of binary colours on stretched and shaped canvases.

Jasper recently did an interview with our friends over at One Good Gift, where he also sells some of his work. We think it is so good we wanted to share it with you, with a question of our own thrown in! 

WHO ARE YOUR BLACK ART HEROES AND HEROINES?

“We can’t talk about black art heroes without speaking of Jean-Michel Basquiat — he was amazing — but there is also a black American female artist called Faith Ringgold, whose work I love and first came across at MoMA in New York. I was stunned when I first saw her painting American People (1967), which was considered controversial because she was painting black and white figures together at a time when black artists weren’t ‘supposed’ to paint white figures. It still has the power to shock today.”

IS A CAREER IN ART & DESIGN PERCEIVED AS A WHITE PRIVILEGE?

 “In traditional black Zimbabwean households, when it comes to choosing a job, the hierarchy of respectable career options goes something like this: doctor/lawyer/engineer, then criminal, then artist. [Laughs] I think it comes from growing up in a place like postcolonial Zimbabwe, where the people in respectable positions of power were doctors/lawyers/engineers, so our parents thought that for you to do well, you had to be one of those. Today, people are now making the connection between black creativity and commercial viability, but it’s slower when it comes to the visual arts, as opposed to, say, music.”

HAVE YOUR FAMILY PLAYED AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN SUPPORTING YOUR CREATIVE JOURNEY?

“I couldn’t have done this without my mum, who is a really amazing person. I was severely dyslexic as a child, so I didn’t have a great time at school. But I could draw, I could make things with my hands, and maybe she realised that this could be a great opportunity for me.”

WHY DO YOU MAKE WHAT YOU MAKE?

“To put it in the most ‘Jasper’ way: because I wanna make f***ing beautiful things. I don’t make things to be political, but at the same time, as a black artist working within the tradition of minimalism — a white-male-dominated art movement — my work becomes a political act even if it’s not explicitly about the black experience.”

DO YOU THINK YOUR PRACTICE WILL INFLUENCE FUTURE GENERATIONS OF BLACK CREATIVES?

“For every single artist of colour who has a blockbuster show, there will be young children of colour who go to see it and think, They’re the same colour as me and they’ve made this, so this must be something I could do. Growing up, it wasn’t obvious to me that art was a career path because I never saw black artists in blockbuster shows. Hopefully my work will give kids the permission to be creative.”

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A FINE ARTIST FROM BARNSLEY?

“It’s strange, to be honest. Barnsley is a town where there hasn’t been that big an investment in the arts, and I think there’s still a lot of people in Barnsley who are not aware of The Civic or what they do. For these people, art is perceived as something arty-farty and something which they don’t or can’t understand…which, of course, is not true.”

“Barnsley is where I grew up, so I want local people to come and see the show and I want people from outside of Barnsley to come and see that it is a multi-cultural place and much more than an old mining town.”

ONE GOOD GIFT is a new, online gallery that puts the fun, the spontaneity and the meaning back into gifting — whether it’s for a loved one or a treat for yourself — offering original and limited-edition work by some of the most exciting artists, designers and makers from across the north of England. To find out more about them, check out their website here, or social media (@One_Good_Gift).

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