Sedrick Chisom is showing in “In The Black Fantastic”, a show of works that use science fiction, myth and Afrofuturism to question our knowledge of the world.
Reader’s Digest: How would you describe your art?
Sedrick Chisom: My larger practice is world building—developing an atmosphere, and a particular world, and that takes the form of paintings most of the time.
My paintings are very dreamy, and there’s a very labour-intensive material process of layering colour. They’re figurative paintings that hover between legibility and illegibility, but they all suggest a kind of post-apocalyptic vision.
RD: Who or what have been your main influences?
SC: There’s kind of a lot! They go from the art of someone like Frank Bowling or Edmund Dulac to Francisco Goya. But there's also Mobius, there’s Octavia Butler. And even someone like David Lynch in terms of developing an eerie atmosphere and mood.
Then there’s the TV show Atlanta, written by Donald Glover. He’s amazingly talented and he pitched it as Twin Peaks, but featuring black protagonists. I think it really resonates because for a very long time, people positioned narratives of black people and black subjectivity and experience within realism and social reality.
But now, there's a lot of interest in unreality—we’ve got Sorry to Bother You, the Jordan Peele film Us… these movies dip their toes into the weird and the eerie and supernatural in various ways.
I watched the X-Men movies as a child, which makes you realise that there are people who are afflicted with something that changes their DNA, and they're alienated in society, ostracised for things that are beyond their control. As a kid, you think, "This is completely unjust".
The “mutants” are led by Professor X, who's kind of an assimilationist, trying to lead the mutant people into society and have them live normative lives. And then there's Magneto who's separatist and trying to create a world for mutants alone, because he has the position that mutants can never assimilate into society.
"For a very long time, people positioned narratives of black people and black subjectivity and experience within realism"
I watched this as a kid, and then became an adult, and thought, "Wow, absolutely". There's a lot of intense messaging and metaphor in that.
I think that's an important aspect of imagination and fiction—it allows you to step outside of your own material reality, and into another one. It opens your mind up to biases around you.
Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. The Aftermath of the Night Air in the Valley of the Rocks, Sedrick Chisom, 2019
RD: Why are elements of the fantastical important to your work?
SC: I’m inspired by the idea of pushing against the deterministic desire for black people to only exist in very contemporary social narratives.
"Our past has been obliterated and suppressed cinematically"
I have a really good friend who was telling me that Asianness in cinema is always positioned in the distant past—there's very few contemporary narratives. So a film like Crazy Rich Asians is actually kind of radical in that regard, because it depicts contemporary Asian characters.
I think black people have the opposite problem, where our past has been obliterated and suppressed cinematically. And then we're denied the future, but we're perpetually represented in a kind of contemporary now.
RD: What was it about the figure of Medusa that inspired you for your painting Medusa Wandered the Wetlands?
SC: I see the figures in my work in general as not being able to be separated from the places they are in—these kinds of characters come out of the landscape, out of these apocalyptic sights and places.
One of the larger themes in the work is the re-mystification of the world, coming out of a world that's been put through a technological apocalypse where much of the built environment doesn't exist anymore.
And then there’s the return to the supernatural, or the mystically-imbued, or just the demonic or angelic, different kinds of mythical creatures and figures. A character like Medusa breathes through that and makes sense to me in that space.
But Medusa is also a character that people para-socially align with. Her main conflict isn't even society—she's against the gods, you know? Struggling against really powerful metaphysical and supernatural forces—I feel like I have affinities or alignments with a character like that.
Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Medusa Wandered the Wetlands of the Capital Citadel Undisturbed by Two Confederate Drifters Preoccupied by Poisonous Vapors that Stirred in the Night Air, Sedrick Chisom, 2021
RD: The work you've brought to this show is created from oils, spray paints, watercolour pencil… what is the appeal of working in mixed media?
SC: I'm kind of restless when it comes to material exploration. I'm always looking to see what the material can do, really observe and investigate and take note of all the properties of every aspect of the painting process. How do you prime the surface? Do you prime the surface? How do you sand it? If you choose to do that. What kinds of ways can you apply a mark to the surface? How do you adjust the quality of the paints to be more aqueous or drier or to be fattier or to be thicker?
"I like to feel like a child when I'm using different materials"
I don't have one particular method of painting. I think it really varies from painting to painting.
I like to have a sense of mystification. I like to feel like a child when I'm using different materials. It's the ritualistic aspect of the practice, and it’s important for developing a relationship with your practice. You have to find ways to refresh and rejuvenate it and to not make it stale.
Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. The arrival of the Last Confederate Failson amidst the glacial shores of Monument Valley several hours before the Wrath of Medusa, Sedrick Chisom, 2018
RD: You're showing in the exhibition "In The Black Fantastic". What does the show mean to you?
SC: We can’t help but ground ourselves in myth, to explain where we come from, even in history. There’s a proliferation of conspiracy theories around right now, I think because people are kind of lost. They might not have spiritual alliances, so they need a larger story that explains where the world is headed. The fantastic is the aesthetic face of mythology.
RD: What do you hope visitors take away from the exhibition?
SC: I don’t think somebody’s going to go to an art exhibition and it’s going to revolutionise human consciousness, and people are going to protest and revolt and then completely recapture the State and reform society. But what I can do is put you in the mood, and indirectly shift your perspective.
I hope the exhibition transports people from their material lives into another world and forms some interesting questions that they carry after the exhibition is concluded—after they’ve left the physical exhibition space, and they’re on with their lives.
I hope that the questions that they leave with remain with them and shift the dialogue they have with themselves.
In the Black Fantastic is at the Hayward Gallery in London from 29 June - 18 September. Visit southbankcentre.co.uk for tickets and further information on the Southbank Centre's summer season, taking inspiration from the exhibition.
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