Florine Demosthene on Femininity and Sensuality
Florine Demosthene was born in the United States and raised between Port-au-Prince, Haiti and New York. She has spent the past four years living and working across Africa. Demosthene explores themes surrounding race and gender and uses her own identity to re-evaluate the socio-political structures and conditions that surround Black female sexuality and physicality today.
Using a combination of figurative and abstract mark making, Florine Demosthene constructs alternative landscapes to present the heroines of her practice, and to re-examine her own sense of self. In this interview with Omenka, she discusses her move to Africa, femininity, and her upcoming exhibition at Gallery 1957.
You were born in the United States and raised between Port-au-Prince, Haiti and New York. Why did you decide to move to Africa and what effect did this new environment have on your work?
I decided to move to West Africa because I wanted to have a new kind of existence. My experiences within Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Benin have been more self-reflective, a sort of spiritual dissection.
You once said, “For me, my art has been a peeling away of layers of preconceived ideas; much in the way a snake sheds its skin, this slow shedding process can be viewed as a continual rebirth of my identity.” Please tell us more about this statement, as well as your creative process.
My creative process is about growth and expansion. It’s not just about making one work and moving onto the next piece. It is important that there is continuity not just in the technical aspect of the work but also in the spiritual aspects.
I do quite a bit of writing and that is where my work usually begins. From this, I will extract a series of quirky phrases that serve as the starting point for new pieces, and eventually turn into their titles. These titles are the emotional content that I want to convey. Once they have been decided upon, I set-up a photo shoot and use those images to create a digital collage. The collage works as a foundation of sorts, allowing me to layout the painting very quickly.
All the works are created flat by pouring inks onto a sheet of drafting film. As the inks intermix and dry, I blot out certain areas, in order to create depth and layers. Certain types of inks create a chemical reaction on the paper and I allow that to just be part of the work. I use the oil stick on top of the inks as a way to delineate the space a bit more.
Your frequently talk about race and gender in your work, using your identity to re-evaluate the socio-political structures and conditions that surround Black female sexuality and physicality today. What do you think are some of the challenges and misconceptions that Black women face in today’s society?
Actually, I don’t “frequently talk about race and gender” in my work. The overarching theme in my work is to construct a feminine heroine or persona. Owing to the fact that I am a Black woman making work using Black nudes, I cannot dismiss race and gender as being inherent in the artworks I create.
These issues are not necessarily on my mind when I am creating, but I do understand the content of my work can be interpreted along these lines. I feel my work is more about femininity and sensuality and what it means to be a woman, within the body you reside (which is heavily coded with race, size, skin colour, etc.).
Kindly tell us more about your forthcoming exhibition at Gallery 1957 including your reasons for showing in Accra and the reception you hope to have.
Exhibiting in Accra is a culmination of the work and process that I have been involved in for the past four years. With this exhibition, I have created pieces using non-traditional materials like glitter. I have also reconstructed my process and incorporated collage as the primary medium.
The work is conceptual in that it does not illustrate one particular idea, moment or narrative. It is an open-ended story where the viewer is able to impart his or her own ideas to the work. What I mean by this is, that the viewer’s own participation (and personal narrative) is equally as important as the story I am conveying.
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