Updated: Oct 7, 2020
I could’ve chatted with Sophie for hours; we jumped from theories on intersectionality, to Erykah Badu’s new vagina scented perfume (a segment that has been cut as it solely consisted of us making various cringing screams as we imagined the perfume’s ingredients).
I originally came across her Instagram account through a friend who had been wearing some of her designs. Her work is raw, and her representations of women refreshingly varied and inclusive. I was intrigued by what inspired her work, especially her use of scenes from Nollywood (a nickname for the Nigerian film industry). What follows is a deeply personal and honest conversation that gives credit to Sophie’s deep relationship to her work, and her ability to talk about it so openly. To check out her work yourself – click here for her Instagram and here for her website.
So, I guess since I know absolutely nothing about you, let’s start from the start! Where about's did you grow up and who were your early influences?
I grew up in Brighton and went to an all-girls school there so from a young age, so I was always surrounded by women. I also have three sisters so I’ve had strong women influencing me my whole life, which is where I first found my feminist voice. Brighton is also a very diverse city - you can be whoever, wear whatever and nobody even bats an eyelid. It’s amazing. My school was also incredibly diverse and being surrounded by people of different nationalities and cultures had a huge impact on my way of thinking and influence on my likes and dislikes.
After school, I went to Middlesex University to study illustration. Pretty quickly, I realised that the course wasn’t for me because we would have set briefs and I wanted to share my own creative perspective rather than be confined to a certain scope. So, I dropped out and went to Wimbledon College of Art to study painting and graduated from there a few years ago. That experience heavily impacted my work now, as it was where I explored female intersectionality through my dissertation.
I actually got to hear Kimberlé Crenshaw speak whilst I was in the US so I’m a big fan too!
Oh amazing! When I began doing research for my dissertation I was shocked that we don’t discuss it more in society – discovering her work truly blew me away.
So tell me more on your dissertation; how did it incorporate intersectionality?
I decided to do my dissertation as a zine, because I love digital collaging; I find it incredibly therapeutic in moments when I’m a bit stressed. So I looked at Kimberlé Crenshaw, Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to name a few. What I find most inspiring about their work, is you can hear their genuine passion and frustration with a system that has neglected and ignored their issues for so long. They aren’t trying to please the mainstream movement but unapologetically championing their own ideas of feminism. Intersectionality was an idea that I was already passionate about, but prior to reading these theories I didn’t know it had a name, and I didn’t have the vocabulary to formulate my ideas into words. These theorists gifted me the language to explain my understanding and enabled me to communicate how and why this was my form of feminism. It was encouraging to read that so many other women believed in the same principles as me.
What other female icons both within and without of your work do you get inspired by?
That’s such a hard question. Music has become more important to me recently; previously I would listen predominately to male artists, but now, female artists like SZA, Raveena, Celeste, Kari Faux and Erykah Badu, (let’s not discuss the vagina perfume) are what I play. I find music is an expression of my experiences through words and melodies which heightens those feelings and encourages it to come across through what I’m creating at the same time. I have to say, my biggest female icon is probably my mum. Being an artist herself, and not being able to chase that as a career, she has always been understanding of my drive and pushed me to continue towards that. She also has a very strong female presence and has taught me to challenge the female “role” from a young age.
Tell me about your work with the Girls About Peckham Team?
Natalie (gIRLS aBOUT pECKHAM Founder) and I were following each other for a while prior to working together. We would talk about collaborating, so we decided to meet up and discussed doing a zine. We had this instantaneous synergy of ideas and viewpoints when we met; sometimes working with people creatively can be really difficult as often you have different aesthetics or a clash of ideas, but working with Natalie was easy and so much fun! We are so aesthetically aligned. I also had so much fun working with the team when they shut down the Tate Modern - the best moment was being involved in the dancehall session that erupted in the Turbine Hall, it was full of amazing energy and vibes. For the gIRLS aBOUT pECKHAM Zine 2, I’ll be involved as Art Editor as well as co-creating the graphic layout and collages again. Natalie and I are also planning a few photoshoots that will be featured, with some clothing surprises in store. Hopefully the zine will be out at the end of the year.
Tell me about when you started working with clothes and bags; what was the inspiration?
I began experimenting with clothing two years ago. As an artist I love to represent my work when I walk around. I love print and I found painting on my old clothes to upcycle them wasn’t just a great way to create new pieces instead of buying them, but I also just really enjoyed doing it and creating freely. I remember getting some lovely comments on one of the first t-shirts that I painted which had a blue and orange nude on it, and so I just kept creating and it kept growing from there. I especially love making the clothes because it makes the work so much more accessible – it means people who may not be able to buy a print or a painting can still have my work. Also because they’re all handmade it means the person is wearing something truly unique.
Yeah the piece I loved was worn by my a friend from school, Seun (below) – what was the inspiration behind that?
Yeah this was inspired by Instagram accounts @yung.nollywood and @nolly.babes which post screenshots of Nollywood films, with satirical and real captions. I love the style aesthetic and the situations being represented are hilarious. Seun was going to Lagos over the Christmas break and wanted some painted clothes to wear, so I wanted to do something unique to Nigerian culture.
Is Nigerian culture something you’re particularly interested in?
My best friends since childhood are Nigerian so I’ve definitely been influenced by them growing up. I’ve been desperate to go to Lagos for almost 10 years now and hopefully I’ll be going within the next year to see my friends who have moved back there. I’ve also looked into residencies out there so that could be a possibility… I’ve applied to so many opportunities and been rejected (she says whilst laughing) but I’m not going to let it stop me!!
What have been the moments where you have grown the most as an artist and person?
I have experienced so much rejection from things in the past so when something great does come, I know that in a way, all the failure that came before lead to this point, and this is the next step for me. There have been a lot of times where I’ve wanted to give up and feel as if nothing is working, but the moment that I feel like that, there always comes a turning point where things begin to go right. Being an artist, those ups and downs can be really intense; there will be moments when you’re getting a ton of work and everything is going great, contrasted with moments with a lack of inspiration and no work. In a way, I enjoy that fluctuation because it makes me push myself and explore or learn and change as a person. I used to be so sensitive with critiques about my work. This came out a lot at university when we would have group critiques. My work depicts a lot of nudity and people would find it really difficult to talk about and react awkwardly. Others would heavily critique me saying my work was objectification, using statements like ‘if we look at the history of art’ to undermine the way that I was trying to represent the female nude. That line of critique would make me so frustrated because I felt as if they weren’t understanding what I was trying to do. That would also lead me doubt my own reasoning behind my work, but these were resolved by moments during my final degree show where women would come up to me and thank me for using a female form that they felt represented them. That for me is what makes my work truly rewarding; I am searching to connect to women through my work. Artwork can always get lost in translation, but the majority of women I talk with have been empowered through my work, which makes me confident of my style and form.
Lets go into some pieces that I loved, like ‘The Slip’.
So this was a form that I drew at home inspired by an artist called F.N. Souza. I picked up a book that was a collection of his drawings, called Religion & Erotica, at a Tate exhibition on Lucian Freud. My work oscillates between being very nude and totally covered, but this painting was at a point where I wanted to explore the nude form more. My paintings are at the core an exploration of women in space, so I wanted to go back to something that felt really comfortable for me, a piece that was for me and no one else. I ended up selling it but it was really hard parting with it. In a way, I think everything I make is a self-portrait and incredibly personal – it can be an incredibly powerful feeling or moment that I depict that makes me not want to explain it or part with it. Deconstructing that moment of inspiration verbally for someone else rarely does justice to the original feeling. I began to process these feelings and thoughts that I had about my work in a journal. It is in those pages that I would reflect on what had inspired the piece and my feelings around it. Everyone should journal!!! It’s been such a good force in my life.
Do you feel any pressure to be commercial or cater your art towards trends or shows in galleries?
There’s such a balance for me; I have to stay afloat financially through my work. I’ve found that catering anything towards the populous or commercial trends really stifles my creativity. Interestingly, I constantly felt as if I was battling against my art teachers and their critique of my work. Having to defend my pieces to them really ingrained a personal belief to stay true to my style without feeling the pressure to follow trends or commercial styles. Instead when I am making something, I try to not think about the end result, who it’s for, or whether it would sell; my main prerogative is to think; would I like this, would I want this, and that typically guides me to create an authentic piece.
God letting go of your pieces of artwork must be seriously painful then?! It reminds me of how I felt when my mum made me cull my teddy bear collection at age 14…
Yeah it’s something similar. I had to train myself to let go of some pieces… it can be so hard. There is some stuff I just couldn’t sell because it is so deeply personal. With ‘The Slip’, it was really difficult selling it, so I ended up putting it into an etching that I did so in a way it will always be with me.
Was that in the Matisse etching that I love?
No but the Matisse inspired piece was the first etching that I did. My mum is a printmaker and does etching, linocut and woodcut, so we went to this etching weekend and at the time I was really inspired by interiors and pattern, as well as this Matisse book she had bought. I love his cut outs and I’ve always got to throw a nude lady in there, so positioned her on a lounger!
I also love ‘Faceless, Nameless, Shameless’.
So at this time I was struggling with my style because I wanted to do more illustrative, quick pieces using shapes and colour. I saw this image from the fashion designer Charlotte Knowles of these three girls and loved its use of texture and patterns. Sometimes faces detract and are often seen as a portrait. By omitting the faces, you have to look into the soul of these women. Sometimes in public, I find that people become faceless; sometimes I won’t recognise people I know because their faces blend into the crowd. I think it’s a mechanism of my anxiety - in a way my mind blends their faces as I walk past, perhaps like a safety net to protect me against the anxiousness I often feel with social interaction. This is why I resonated with the piece so much!
I also love ‘Into the Night’
So the image in the background of the two connected women is from a Carlota Guerrero photograph, she is a photographer I often seek inspiration from, the way she portrays female interaction and the nude form is sensitive, beautiful and empowering. This painting, again, was something that I wanted to make for myself. At the time I’d made a lot of paintings for other people, so I wanted to take the time to express something more personal. Sometimes I get into a trance of sorts doing my work; often I’m not consciously trying to show something, but when I reflect afterwards in my journal, I can track my thought process. This piece is all about standing alone, although there is the acknowledgment of ‘ties’ to other women/people in the background, the forefront is being true to yourself and confident in that. I used this image of Princess Nokia because she perfectly evokes those feelings of strength and harnessing your own identity. The title of the piece was named after her song, ‘For the Night’, where she talks about heartbreak, losing love and friends and how she’s all alone but working on her success. ‘Lone girl, nowhere to go, studio will be my home’ which is something I really relate to as an artist. I must confess I had a little bit of a fangirl moment when she commented and liked the post on Instagram.
Looking at all these pieces, I realised that you express yourself in a lot of different forms, etching, fashion, painting; collaging; are there different moments when a certain medium connects with you at different times?
Painting has been the main form that I have strived to work on since a young age; growing up I was obsessed with Lucian Freud so I began responding to his pieces through painting a lot as I was growing up. I then began working with collage as it pushed me to think outside of the boundaries that I had; at my foundation course, we had a project in up cycling and reworking old photographs, which I loved. I found the act of slicing images from different time periods and imprinting them with my own work really enjoyable. I then did a series based on Memento Mori from the Victorian era; this is where they would take pictures of the dead fully dressed, as if they were living, to commemorate their lives. I’ve always played with this idea of beauty in life and the reality of the death, but also the Victorian period influenced me a lot growing up, one of the first moments where I really remember loving art was at school drawing William Morris designs. Discovering collage as a new medium at this time expanded my creativity and my love of drawing from the old and creating something new. Collage was also a way to merge images and create my own source imagery that I couldn’t find; I believe nothing is original anymore and everything’s already been done, but collage is a way of going against that grain by synthesising images that haven’t already been put together.
Your main motif is the female nude; have you been interested in how this has been explored by other artists throughout history?
Yes definitely; the female form was always inspiring and as I said before, that began with Lucian Freud. I found his depictions of people so real and rich; the colours, textures and blended lines of the skin were so beautiful. I did educate myself though on how historically, the female nude was mostly depicted by men through the lens of the male gaze… but knowing this didn’t scare me away. If anything it encouraged me to explore it as a form even more, as I wanted to reclaim our bodies from these males artists and represent women* how we actually see ourselves. Until recently, I only portrayed nudes, but now I have learnt how other forms of female power can be displayed through clothing, shapes and other motifs. Mickalene Thomas (seen below) is an American artist who does huge paintings and collages of women in an array of textures and prints emboldened that thought, as it made me recognise female power can be depicted in such a huge array of ways other than through sexuality and nudity. Empowerment is so multifaceted and I’m excited to explore it more through other mediums and depictions in the future.
A huge thank you to Sophie for taking the time to chat with me for so long. I’ve now re-committed myself to journaling AND will hopefully be sporting some of her designs in the future.
If you know of any women’ in any sector whose work relating to female empowerment inspires you and you would like them featured, send them our way through Instagram or email phoebe@empowerhervoice