ADVERTISERS in the media mainstream use billboards, buses and even bathroom stalls to define beauty to the masses, and suggest how their products will help us mere mortals on the way to God-like perfection.
But Mission Gallery’s new exhibition, Ain’t I Beautiful?, gives people of colour (POC) artists the opportunity to redefine the term and ‘take it back’ to the people.
“If we’re going to define beauty, it is whatever makes you feel sensations of love and awe and interest, and shouldn’t be defined by characteristics,” said San Francisco-born Mattie Loyce, curator and founder of Mission Gallery.
“There’s been a movement in creating new media from underground and that’s what I want to see – where people come from all colours, shapes, sizes, and sexualities – that’s what matters to me.”
The exhibition first took place in Deptford’s Job Centre, with the second iteration opening today in Brixton 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning.
The restatement features artwork from a new pool of artists, whose work is represented in unconventional spaces to engage the community.
Ms Loyce’s background in teaching and social care means social interaction and community is at the core of her exhibitions.
“These less conventional spaces change the dynamic and it’s great to be able to break down the barriers of traditionalism and hierarchy in the way art is presented and by whom it’s presented,” she said.
“Where I grew up in San Francisco, which is one of the most colourful cities ever, every auto-body shop and garage near me had murals on them.
“You can go to a restaurant, a café, even a makeshift space to see art, so who says these spaces aren’t ‘art spaces’?”
For contributing artist Joy Miessi, exhibitions such as these give the opportunity for artists who are less spotlighted in mainstream galleries to have their voices heard.
She said: “Projects like Mission Gallery are important as they create an opportunity for exposure without being used as token artist.
“Often our artistic identity as POC artists is visualised in conjunction and reaction to whiteness, but projects like these allow us to establish our art in our own right.”
Ms Loyce believes that equal representation for women and POC artists in mainstream galleries has a way to go yet, with history still playing a part today.
She said: “Now in 2016, a lot of the struggles have not changed since the 1960s, but we try to argue that because there are certain structural benefits in place to make things equal, that we are equal.
“But if you ask any person of colour or anyone who wants to go into a deeper social analysis of representation in art they will tell you very immediately that things aren’t that different.”
In terms of beauty, Ms Loyce hopes this exhibition will see people who are not as well represented in advertising campaigns to start a conversation about what it means to be beautiful in their context.
“Within POC, we’re dealing with re-envisioning what it means to be beautiful within our own context, away from someone else’s standard,” she said.
“Beauty can be a really wonderful concept but also a really hard concept, so I want people to come and feel something.”
The exhibition will also hold a Self Care Skills Share to give people the chance to take part in workshops about how to love themselves as a gateway to beauty.
Ain’t I Beautiful runs from January 20-February 5 at 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning, Railton Road, with the Self Care Skills Share taking place on January 28.