My Lady with the Mekle Lippis

Josie Ko

In my work, I have responded to a poem by William Dunbar titled which records one of the first documentations of African women in Scotland. This project led me to learning very labour-intensive practises, engaging with wood carving, beading, sewing, and knitting. Each of these components meant hours of slow and back breaking work, performatively illustrating the labour of women and marginalised communities. By integrating craft practises into my work, I use its relegated status in the art world to address the identity politics of marginalised groups. In addition, by interacting with craft practises, my work celebrates the art from these communities that is often left out the canon of art history.

This rejection of the Western art canon and the white gallery space is a theme that perpetuates throughout my work. Inspired by Black artists before me such as Chris Ofili, Micklene Thomas and Tschabalala Self, in my work I incorporate mixed media techniques, reusing found materials I get from charity shops, Gumtree and Circular Arts Network, to present a new reimaged depiction of the Black body.

The collection of these materials and embellishments makes the work loud, seducing the viewer into looking at it. My figures consequently become unavoidably noticeable, counteracting the erasure of Black women in art history. Furthermore, the textual and tactile qualities of the work, encourages the figures to be touched, provoking audience engagement while also placing myself in the piece as we see the signs of the artist’s hands. Together, my construction of the women with irregular limbs and glittery bodies, glorifies the handmade and rebelliously drifts from the norms of Western painting traditions, re-evaluating conventional Western art ideals.

Significantly, this autonomy I have towards my work speaks through the figures as they are similarly raised to a high status and stand independently as I capture the Black figures on my own terms. I do this by reimaging racist caricatures and stereotypes placed on the Black female body and turn these ‘Mammy’-like figures into empowered, historically significant symbols. At the same time, with cheap blonde hair which is clearly a wig, make up and dresses that have western origins, I consider the physical and mental changes that Black bodies go through to be seen by a predominantly white audience. Symbolically, all my figures are depicted with their eyes closed, referring to Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eyes’ where Pecola similarly shuts her eyes wishing for blue eyes. This reflects on the social construct that we are living in where white supremacist beauty ideals remain dominant.

The contrasting ideas within the work, with juxtaposing materials brought together in one cohesive piece, attempts to mimic the same duality of being Black and European at once and illustrate a shared Black experience of living with that dichotomy.

Email or email
More on our Tumblr feed

Image: ‘My Ladye with the Mekle Lippis’