Framing Our Future: Meet the Curators

Wilma Woolf is a Visual Artist working in London. In 2020 she completed a Masters in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, graduating with a Distinction.  In the last two years she has exhibited her work at The Tate Modern, Lethaby Gallery and had a solo show at Richard Saltoun Gallery showcasing her installation, Domestic. Wilma’s core concern is the extrapolation of political injustices told through data, collected testimonials and the communication of this through artistic means. Utilising a successful career as a policy professional in similar fields, her work manifests information in physical form. 

​Yeside Linney was born in Nigeria but has spent over 65 years living in the UK, and is now retired from having been a successful Secondary School English teacher. She holds a passion for literature, particularly myths and legends. Yeside is mostly a self-taught artist whose practice is eclectic. Despite breaking onto the art scene only two years ago she’s had considerable success and was recently awarded runner up in the Surrey Artist of the Year competition. She is currently exhibiting at the notable Watts Gallery near Guildford, Surrey. She proves that being a late starter isn’t a barrier to success. Her love of the countryside informs most of her work. She focuses primarily on semi-representational landscapes and vibrant abstracts, and is using these to develop an ongoing project examining her sense of identity and referencing her heritage

YL: What do you see as the importance of our curatorial pairing for this exhibition?

WW: I knew that I wanted to do something special for International Women’s Day, but I also knew I needed a co- curator / partner to achieve this. I was aware of your work since you joined Art Can and what I loved was the quality and painterly aspects of the work; the colours just sing! And I really loved how you spoke about your work. I had a sense that we could work well together; I loved how direct you were and how you spoke about your work and what you were trying to achieve. It’s funny because, although we didn’t know each other at all, I think we’re quite similar. 

YL: Yes, definitely. I think the way we approach things is quite similar. 

WW: As soon as we started talking, I was thinking, please say “yes” to joining me! 

YL: For me, I was thinking this is exciting but, also, I was a little intimidated by your track record. However, in terms of curation, I thought it’s good to have someone who’s got credibility and that everybody will see that you’ve had major achievements in highlighting women’s vulnerabilities. I also, think that it’s good that we are different ages because that brings with it different perspectives and insights.

WW:  I knew very little about you as a person.  I looked at your art and how you spoke about your work with a directness.  After our first phone call, you were so clear and definite in what you wanted to achieve and I’m like that too. We both had that immediate spark. You’ve carried us both through this process.

YL: I feel the same because I am inspired by what you do. You typify women these days, because we have to juggle so many things. You use the word privilege; we were also very lucky that there’s been this almost intuitive relationship between us. There was nothing we had to negotiate – I was surprised by that!

WW: In selecting the works, we had such a clear vision – how did you feel when we first saw all the chosen works laid out?

YL: There was a voice in all of them and the voice was coming from different areas of life. The artists are all so determined in their own way. It’s still the case that if women’s voices need to be heard they need to be strong. The phrase ‘in honour of international women’s day’ is so important, because the fight for women’s rights never stops. But this fight is colourful. The exhibition is colourful and varied: drapes, mirrors, paint, sculpture, drive, energy and lived experiences. The whole exhibition feels as though it’s moving forwards.

YL: What’s been the biggest driver compelling you to create new works over the last year, because also you’ve been on a retreat recently?

WW: The biggest drivers for me are issues to do with inequality and information that represents those stories.  I’m always thinking about some data element and how it can be represented.  In the background of my mind, that research is always whirring. I don’t rest very well. I definitely think that’s part of who I am.  

When I collect testimonies especially, and speak to someone who is giving me their time and who has had direct experience of a human rights injustice and / or has experienced the catastrophic failure of our systems and institutions that are meant to protect us – That compels me to work. I want there to be a place for that story. I don’t want it to just evaporate. 

YL: Well, I think for me, it’s because I’m very conscious that I’m playing catch-up. Compared to a lot of artists that I follow, I came to the art scene very late. Someone I respect tremendously recently said to me, “you’ve really moved up a level”. Now I’m creating pressures upon myself because of that. With everything I’ve done, I’ve almost expected myself mentally to get there overnight, which of course is impossible.

I’m currently creating works that I now call “reclaiming my identity”. What I have to say may not be cool amongst Black people, but I have to sort out some demons from my past.  I’ve previously perceived my roots through my father’s attitude to Britain and colonisation: for example, being conditioned by colonisation into thinking that British education is the best. He didn’t want me to reflect my culture but that of Britain; and as a child, you accept these things because you’re very impressionable.

My work now is to having to unravel all that. Through the artists and writers I’m following, I’m almost rediscovering myself; discovering who I am. At the same time, the works that I want to produce must be for me: a partnership of what I’ve become. I’ve lived most of my life in England and only four years in my native country. This not to say that I’ve abandoned it and hence I want my art to have some kind of engagement with my heritage. For me, it will take a long time because much research is needed. I mustn’t try and accelerate the process: I’ve got to research, consolidate, and create. It’s a process of discovery of how one can reflect the fullness of oneself through one’s work. Because I’m still trying to establish my style, I don’t at present really welcome commissions because I need to be in control of my output.

WW: Shall we touch on Instagram as a tool for success and publicity for artists?

WW: I think it makes most people and therefore most artists insecure. The amount of talent that’s out there is intimidating!

YL:  While that’s very true, there’s also a concern that I have about the amount of material that is copied from social media platforms with little regard for Intellectual Property and Copyright.

YL: What advice would you give artists on navigating the business side of the art world?

WW: I think one of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve been given is about knowing what you’re about as an artist and what it is you’re trying to achieve. There will come a point where you will be asked and you need an answer! 

  • Tell me about this piece of work? 
  • What would you like to happen with it?
  • Ideally where would you like it displayed? 

And in assessing galleries:

  • Do you know why that gallery? 
  • Who else do they exhibit? 
  • Have you seen their list of represented artists?

People respond to you when your work is good, but also when you’ve done your homework.

YL: It’s also important not to leap at every single opportunity because not every opportunity is right for you or your work. 

WW: Right, every venue won’t suit your work, working with certain people might not help you, and working in a certain environment may not suit you. What’s important to you needs to be protected as far as you can and that means knowing your work and what you’re trying to achieve with it. 

YL: There will be people that do try and take advantage of emerging artists and there are many charlatans out there. Remember to try and not get flattered into vanity projects that will take a lot of your time and/or money for not very much publicity. 

WW: Which artists are you watching right now? 

YL: Thinking about this I realised that, although I follow them for different reasons, they are all women. Three of the artists which I’m following are:

Sharon Walter, a London-based artist and project curator, whose work empowers black women to ‘take up space’, be seen, and create their own spaces.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, who had a deeply moving, intellectual and inspiring exhibition at the Barbican last year – “Stories for Our Time: A Countervailing Theory”. She had hand drawn a fictional pre-historical civilisation dominated by female rulers and served by male labourers. She’s interested in how power dynamics play out. Through drawing, she can cope with the racism, the sexism, the cultural friction. Her visual storytelling is really very powerful.

Dawn Beckles, whom I discovered through a recent diaspora exhibition at which I exhibited, has her own interpretation of classic still life using her Barbados background. She is inspired by the exotic flora of Barbados and her colours are very, very vibrant.