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Wednesday 19 January 2022

In Conversation with Sophie Gresswell

Saint roots and Tungi fruits is an exhibition of paintings by Sophie Gresswell, inspired by her recent research into her maternal ancestry. The show is currently on display at Orleans House Gallery as part of the Emerging Artist Programme and runs until Sunday 30 January. To learn more about the inspiration behind the exhibition, we sat down with Sophie to discuss her artistic process, what creating this exhibition has been like and what she plans on exploring next.

Artis Sophie Gresswell

How would you describe your artistic practice?

My practice is an exploration into identity and belonging, and focuses on interconnections through generations, ancestry and how we bridge rootlessness. Really through my work I want to empower neglected narratives and create a space for people to ask questions, reflect and share experiences.

Has your practice been inspired by anyone/anything in particular?

My practice is heavily inspired by women of colour, recently I have fallen for works by artists Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Faith Ringold and Selena Thompson. I also find inspiration reading authors such as Zadie Smith and the legend Toni Morrison. Their rich depictions of people and experiences, and uncompromising vision always inspires me to create.

Through exploring your heritage, is there anything you found which you were surprised by?

Exploring my heritage has led to constant surprises, I have come to realise the small relatively obscure island in the Atlantic that my grandpa hails from (St Helena) which growing up friends would say didn’t really exist, actually has such important ties to our global history. From the British empire’s exile of Zulu Prince Dinizulu and of course Napoleon to a neglected unmarked mass burial site of approx. 8,000 ‘liberated’ Africans from the transatlantic slave trade to name but a few. The whole process has helped me reclaim my own identity, I have discovered that I am not from nowhere, I am from everywhere.

Where do you create your artwork?

I create my work wherever I can! I have a small shed in the garden which acts as my make-shift studio, but I have been known to create things all-round the house and am often told off for making a mess while doing so. I also do create some work digitally now as it means that I can create any place as long as I can plug in my laptop!

Has the current pandemic impacted your practice?

The pandemic definitely brought a halt to the community arts practice I do, but I was actually very glad of the time out and used it to start researching into my heritage and making discoveries which have ultimately guided my current arts practice. As difficult as the pandemic has been I’ve been fortunate to get grants to continue working and doing this on my own terms has, in a sense, been very liberating for me.

Where/when are you exhibiting next?

That is a good question, and at the moment all I can say is watch this space! I am currently planning a project which would mean actually travelling to St Helena to do some work with the Saint community, and then bringing that back for diaspora in the UK to add to but it is early days so I can’t say for sure when and where, just that I hope to eventually take the work on tour in the South East of England where many Saints and descendants have settled.

Saint roots and Tungi fruits is part of the Emerging Artist Programme. Click here to find out more about the exhibition and click here to find out more about the Emerging Artist programme and the other artists involved.