Black portraits project
I've kicked off the year with my own solo exhibition, where i explore race, heritage and representation through my many creative influences. I'm extremely proud of this exhibition, created and curated by myself. I wanted to share the exhibition online to a wider audience, alongside each illustrated portrait is a short anecdote of what this person means to me.
Hi! My names Abbi Bayliss, i’m 18, welcome to my exhibition. I create digital portrait illustrations of women of colour that inspire me. I have creative influences ranging from poetry, literature, visual arts, music, film and so much more. I draw people whose work not only has a positive impact in the world, but whom I have an emotional connection with. Next to all portraits, I have anecdotes of memories that I have from childhood up to now that these creative influences have been a part of. I hope by reading some of my experiences, you will be drawn to reflect on positive times in your life or even find some of my moments relatable. As an art student, my awareness for the art world and its history is increasing, along with my perception of how marginalised it can be. I’m proud to challenge this, showing how black and mixed people are a work of art.
Growing up, I saw myself in Alicia Keys : just an overall BOSS. She’s always had this cool, focused and driven vibe that I connected with. Whenever I listen to her music i get transported back to a nostalgic time, the early 2000’s, full of fond memories of me and my Mum driving around listening to Mary J Blige, TLC, Whitney and Alicia on repeat. I once heard that the reason your favourite song is your favourite is because it has a beloved memory attached to it. For me, one of my favourite songs is “Where is the Love?” by the black eyed peas because of how many memories that song holds for me. I remember all of the hyper dance routines me and my brother would create and how me and my mum would always duet on the way back from school. Alicia not only provides me with this ticket but gave me courage before I even knew it. It’s so important that little mixed kids and little black kids believe they can achieve anything. If they can’t see anyone like themselves in their industry it discourages them. It was such a big impact for me to see Alicia Keys, a mixed woman like myself, writing, creating, making music, making art.
Music taste differs between each generation, however, something that links me, my Mum and my Nan is Aretha. Her soulful music first belongs to my grandparents generation, as I bet you’ve heard “Say a little prayer for you” at every black party, wedding, funeral, you name it. Similarly, whenever I hear Amazing Grace, I think of my Nan, how in my eyes it’s her song. The line “Bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun” just makes me feel optimistic and present. Aretha is a classic and everybody loves a classic. Next my Mum, who will play “Who’s zoomin who” and “Don’t play that song for me” on repeat for days, to the point I could sing it backwards. Her love of Gospel, Motown, and r&b defined my childhood. And finally, Aretha trickled down to me. Now, everyone of a certain age knows Ashley’s memorable moment of RESPECT in the Fresh Prince, which for many introduced them back to the soulful music their family loves. Music is a strong bond between people but an even stronger bond between family, which has the power to shape relationships and influence perceptions.
As an actress, Lupita is incredibly skilled in her craft from US, 12 Years a Slave to the one we all love: Black Panther. I remember a few years ago, when i was doing my art gcse, i loved collaging. I collected stacks of Vogue magazines and flicked through them, either tearing out pages or drawing the models advertised. Within the two years, i had a portfolio of sketches, supermodels, pop stars, actresses, i just had a fascination with facial features and capturing their likeness. I think the perfectionist in me loved the challenge, as I could always tell if something in the scaling or positioning was off.
However, after a while, the more portraits i drew, i kept on seeing the same faces. And the more faces i drew, i saw a pattern: White, Blonde, Thin, English, American. Lupita however broke this whole stereotype. I’d see her amongst the other models and just feel like shouting “You go girl!” Now i know she’s not the only one that it out here shining, but seeing her and drawing her just made me reflect on the art i was making. I didn’t want to draw people, i wanted to draw stories. I wanted to capture meaning, lives, emotions and experiences.
The first time I read Zora Neale Hurston's work was when i was 16 over my summer break. I remember sitting in Waterstones having a glance at the first paragraph to kill some time, then staying there, and staying there and staying there. Before i knew it i had been there for over an hour. You know when a book is so good you feel hungry, you can’t stop reading and you physically cover the bottom the page to stop your eyes from spoiling the tense moment. Reading “Their eyes were watching God” felt like that. Even though the book was autobiographical for Hurston, i felt like it was directly speaking to me, reflecting my life. It follows Janie, who is of mixed black and white heritage, through her emotional growth and maturity through three marriages. The book explores abuse, power, wealth, race, masculinity, vulnerability, true love, true loss and literally every other emotion known. Similar to Alice Walker, her work has a way of moving you, to the extent I gifted it to my mum and badgered her to read. Certain books have the power to stick with you, holding the ability for the pain and passion to be relived all over again like you first did. This is that book.
Zadie Smith has been on my “To read” list for years now. I was so keen to read something by a mixed heritage British author like myself. I’m still in the process of reading “Swing Time” at the moment so nobody spoil it for me. When I read the first few pages I felt a click, that intuitive feeling you get when you automatically know you’re going to love it. Like that feeling when you first meet someone and there’s no awkward stage but you’re on the same wavelength. Her balance between poetic metaphors and grounded realness is so effortless it makes me wish I wrote the book. This technique is something I try to emulate in my own writing, deliciously descriptive yet conversational so not to get lost amongst it all.
This is one of my best friends Nadine. We’ve been friends since I was around four. You know when you were a child and you and a bunch of little kids you didn’t even know would just play together care free? Yeah it was like that. For me, I don't have a lot of people i can say i’ve been close with since I was young, sure i have my family but that’s not something I've chosen, i have friends from school but we all know how long those last. I’m 18 now and i know i’m only in my official first year of “Adulthood” but there isn't many people i can say i’ve been close friends with for more than five years. However, Nadine makes this list. She’s someone I can be myself around with no judgement, I don't have to pretend, I can just be me: moody, giggly, quirky me.