Elsa James ‘Othered in a region that has been historically Othered’

Elsa James ‘Othered in a region that has been historically Othered’

26th June to 18th September 2022
Launch Saturday 25th June

Focal Point Gallery hosts the first major solo exhibition by British African- Caribbean artist, producer and activist Elsa James this summer. The exhibition titled ‘Othered in a region that has been historically Othered’ celebrates James unique artistic practice and her continuing investigation into what it means to be black in Essex.

Elsa James has been gathering a significant body of work over the last few years and she is establishing a  reputation  for  thought-provoking, challenging ideas. Her first solo exhibition is also her most ambitious work to date. ‘Othered in a region that has been  historically  Othered’  opens, most fittingly, in her home city of Southend. It is from here, that James has fought a campaign with fellow Southend women against the stereotype on the ‘Essex Girl.’ Essex has been ‘othered’ nationally as a county with little class and less culture, brash and brazen; presented in the media as the awkward relative of the more refined Home Counties. To be black in Essex is to an outsider in a place already outside the norm.

The new exhibition features a major three-part film installation and original sound works, alongside text and new series of prints. These focus on James’ own experience, combined with the untold stories of past and current residents of Essex. James has undertaken extensive historical research to ensure the accuracy of her work and to reveal the hidden history of black men and women in a county that has always been stereotyped and dismissed.

‘We are delighted that Focal Point Gallery, south Essex’s only dedicated contemporary art gallery, will host the premiere of Elsa James’ first major solo exhibition in recognition of the prescient and powerful work of this important artist.’
Focal Point Gallery Director, Katharine Stout

James’ previous films: Forgotten Black Essex (2018) and Black Girl Essex: Here We Come, Look  We  Here  (2019)  helped  foster  new  understandings of blackness as seen through a contemporary Essex  lens.  They  explored little known histories and current accounts of real people, resident in England’s most misunderstood county. The historical oppression revealed in the research has an echo in James’ own experience and was  the inspiration for the ambitious film work in the new exhibition, that spans vast timelines, eventually propelling viewers to a radical future vision of Essex.

With evocative use of sound and the moving image, the film fiction installation signals a significant change in James’ practice. She is working with specialist collaborators, including sound composer and editor Trevor Mathison (Black Audio Film Collective), music composer Paul  Gladstone- Reid MBE, Southend-based award-winning film director Andy Delaney, movement director and choreographer Lea Orož,  carnival  costume specialist Symone Williams and professional drummers Ken Lawrence and Niles Hailstones.

A new sound work will accompany visitors as they pass from one gallery to the next: a powerful soundtrack of crashing waves and sound that evokes the forced displacement of black people and identity under the transatlantic slave trade.

New screen-prints from The Blackness Series, and a new large-scale neon work, I AM HERE BECAUSE YOU WERE THERE quoting words spoken in 2018 about the Windrush Scandal, accompany the films.

As an activist, James’ work seeks to encourage  audiences  to  reconsider long held and misdirected perceptions  and  widespread  stories  about Essex, by reflecting upon their own identity within the county and as individuals. This new body of work  recognises  and  supports  black residents, breaking down a collective mindset and attitude held about Essex and its people. Whilst her work deliberately starts with the individual, place-based experience, the themes, and experiences James is dealing with provoke wider collective, understanding across the UK, and indeed globally.

About the Artist

Elsa James (b. 1968, London, England) is a British African-Caribbean, conceptual artist and activist living in Essex since 1999. She studied as a mature student at Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London (2006–10) and Goldsmiths College, University of London (2013–15).  Her work intervenes in the overlapping discourses  of  race,  gender,  diaspora and belonging. Her black British identity ignites her interdisciplinary, collaborative and research-based practice, located within the fields of contemporary performance, text-based art, socio-political and socially engaged art.

She has presented, screened and exhibited projects nationally, and online internationally, including Autograph (ABP), London; Axisweb, Wakefield; Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend; Big Screen Southend at Focal Point Gallery, Southend; The White House, Create London, London; Cubitt, London; Firstsite, Colchester; Furtherfield, London; Magic Me, London; Metal Culture, Southend; RadicalxChange Conference, New York; Site Gallery, Sheffield and Tate Exchange at Tate Modern, London. She was selected as one of four co-curators for the live digital opening weekend for Estuary 2021, a Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2021 artist, was shortlisted for the 2021 Freelands Award and her work recently acquired as part of Art XUK for the Government Art Collection.

About Focal Point Gallery

Focal Point Gallery supports the production and presentation of new and recent contemporary art that challenges us to think and feel differently about locality, our sense of self and the importance of communities. Our wide-ranging and pioneering artistic programme is relevant to local and national audiences alike, through exploring current concerns that also resonate internationally. Based in Southend-on-Sea on the Thames Estuary, FPG’s activities take place in locations across the region with our reach extended by working collaboratively with like-minded partners.

FPG is located on the ground floor of The Forum in Elmer  Square, 100 metres from Southend Central Station. As south Essex’s only public funded gallery for contemporary art, FPG receives regular funding from  Arts Council England and is part of Southend-on-Sea City Council.

Opening hours: Wed to Sat 11.00am to 5.00pm, Sun 11.00am to 4.00pm

For further information, please contact 01702 534108 or email focalpointgallery@southend.gov.uk

Jamie Langstone