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Black artists invite you into their living room for online exhibition ‘No Shoes on My Carpet’

Artists from across the African diaspora each share their personal take on black living room culture in a virtual exhibition for audiences to watch from their smartphones and devices.

No Shoes on My Carpet is a nostalgic exploration of black culture, inspired by our living rooms, and a phrase generations of black people are familiar with hearing wherever they live.

It is this common ground that binds the work of 20 black visual artists and filmmakers, whose work will be shown to an online audience via Zoom this Saturday 1 August. 

Black plus-sized model Jennifer Enujiugha sat on the settee looking at the camera with a magazine in her hand
The secret life of an undercover model – Jennifer Enujiugha. Source: Kanaiza.

The international artists, some of whom will be presenting their work for the first time, were all hand-picked by East London art curator, Vanessa Kanaiza Onalo, founder of Kanaiza, an art storytelling agency.

Former advertising creative director Vanessa began building a digital gallery on Instagram last Spring to showcase the work of black creatives.

Her #kanaizagallery quickly grew and is now home to nearly 55,000 multi-disciplinary diaspora artists and art lovers alike.

She said: “Being born in the buzzing city of Nairobi, East Africa, and moving to East London has heavily influenced my approach to work. I grew up in an environment where the concept of minority and fair racial representation were nonfactors and where community wasn’t a social media buzzword, it was lived experience, and families and neighbours looked out for each other.

A portrait photo of Vanessa Kanaiza Onalo, founder of Kanaiza storytelling art agency. She is wearing a pink blouse with her afro hair up in a loose bun and sat against a pink background. Her facial expression is serious.
Vanessa Kanaiza Onalo, founder of Kanaiza storytelling art agency. Source: Supplied photo.

“My next-door neighbour made jam and we grew guavas, so that meant we always had jam and they had guavas. We exchanged gifts regularly, socialised, celebrated life, mourned together and broke bread often. I created Kanaiza wanting that same atmosphere and purpose where an artist from Brazil can connect with an artist from Kenya and their creation can end up on your screen in Texas or on your living room wall in Singapore.

“Kanaiza is a talent and art discovery platform; a storytelling agency and a home in the truest sense where the community supports each other through collaboration, admiration of art and the artists and muses behind it. We share jam and guavas.”

A photo of two guava fruits
Guava fruit. Source: Unsplash/ Varun Gaba

This sentimental art experience, endorsed by the Mayor of London Saddique Khan, features 14 photo stories, eight short films and an animation piece from Nigerian animator Tayo Kalejaiye, scored by London sound engineer Mizzy Mauri. The pair were introduced to each other as the project developed.

Audiences will also hear from the artists themselves through interviews hosted by Vanessa and her “brand muse” Mobola Onabule.

A D/deaf-friendly screening of the exhibition will also go live on Saturday 15 August.

REVIEW: LOUDER IS NOT ALWAYS CLEARER – JONNY COTSEN GIVES INTERACTIVE INSIGHT INTO BEING DEAF

“I’m looking forward to working closely with Vicky and adapting the art experience to be suitable for deaf audiences over the next two weeks and welcome any support from the BSL community in making this a reality,” she added.

“Initially, the exhibition was set to be an intimate experience where guests step into a physical living room, curated with key decorative pieces and with art on the walls and in photo albums with short films playing. It was inspired by my own reflection after moving out of my mother’s place and how I sought out key pieces that made the space like home.

“My idea was focused a lot on the physical elements that make a black family’s living room. I wanted to celebrate the memory of that space as it was in my memory and the memory of many children of the black diaspora as we transition into more modern decorative styles. The idea naturally evolved to facilitate the narratives of those that lived and presently live in these spaces, allowing us to revisit our childhood living rooms.”

A photo of an older black woman, maybe in her 50s, wearing a floral patterned dress and drinking a cup of tea out of an ornate china cup
Photography included in the exhibition. Source: Kanaiza.

The coronavirus outbreak forced Vanessa to devise a plan B otherwise risk the event potentially not going ahead until 2021 as the world went into lockdown.

It took four weeks of planning to convert Vanessa’s physical plans – for what is her first art exhibition – to something which would work equally as well virtually, which meant coordinating artists from different time zones.

But the move has paid off and already tickets have been bought from as far as Kenya and New York for No Shoes on My Carpet. The first event took place on Thursday.

She said: “I was initially shocked and trying to process the news of the virus and tentatively postponed it to September. Then during lockdown I realised a lot of the artists would still be able to be part of the experience if it were online and also the Kanaiza community is spread across the world. I realised the blessing in hosting the experience online.

“Moving forward, I’d look to adapt all future art experiences to ensure inclusivity and so that access isn’t limited by physical location. I’ve also had some fantastic organisations reach out to partner and host future exhibitions once it’s safe to do so.

“I’m looking forward to taking a break from the chaos and uncertainty to look back and explore warmer, nostalgic home-based memories and narratives from this diverse range of spectacular artists.”

A fashion editorial shot of a young man with an African print top and a younger boy holding onto his back
Photographer – Cheyenne Boya. Source: Kanaiza

Elevating black art until it’s respected enough to adorn the walls of businesses and homes has always been this Nairobi girl’s intention.

A supplementary art book can be pre-ordered with your tickets, priced at £10 plus booking fee, which will work towards Vanessa’s goal of getting more black art into people’s homes.

Her mission within the art space is part of a wider fight to see black and diverse talent properly represented across the advertising and creative industries, especially having lived this problematic experience herself in the corporate workspace.

She said: “During an interview for one of my first creative roles in advertising, I was asked if I was the ‘only one’ or if there were other black creatives from my community. It seemed like a ludicrous question, but it was a very genuine one. It highlighted the divide of awareness between the industry and talent from minority communities.  I know and admire so many talented black artists and creatives, and this incident was the first time I was able to express and share that.

“I’ve spent the last six years expressing this and pushing for diverse creative production and muse talent, often with a lot of resistance. It’s meant I’ve worn many hats, not typically worn by a creative. Whenever I’ve transitioned into new companies, I’m asked to recommend a list of diverse talent. If I were to create a single list it would never end as I’m always seeking out black artistry and talent.

“I’m tired of begging for representation and contact with communities that work is inspired by and created for. I started Kanaiza to champion black creative talent and representation to communities that cares to see it. Kanaiza exists to facilitate authentic narratives from real communities through art.”

Buy your tickets from Eventbrite here. The show starts at 4pm on Saturday.

The full list of artists:

Aisha Seriki (Photographer), Alessandro Babalola (Actor), Benjamin Willis (Photographer), Braylen Dion (Filmmaker/ Photographer), Cheyenne Boya (Photographer), Chris Adu (Muse/ Art director), Chukwunonso Dureke (Scriptwriter/ Director), Fabio Setti (Journalist/ Photographer), Gracieux Baraka (Filmmaker), Ikram Albukadir (Photographer/ Poet), Jedidah M (Filmmaker/Photographer), Jennifer Enujiugha (Plus-size model/ Muse), Mizzy Mauri (Music producer), Rogers Ouma (Filmmaker/ Photographer), Romana Caban-Chaseas (Photographer), Salam Zaeid (Portrait photographer), Shahar Smith (Digital and oil painter), Stephanie Nnamani (Documentary/ editorial photographer), Tayo Kalejaiye (Animator)

With special thanks to Gideon Cudjoe (Creative designer/ Art director), Sahil Nathu (Filmmaker/ director), Dan Ogunsanwo (Content videographer) and Subomi Anidugbe (Writer)

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