Alberta Whittle is an artist, curator, and researcher motivated by collective care and the desire to manifest self-compassion as key aspects in battling anti-Blackness.
Creating across film, sculpture, performance and interactive installations within both public and private spaces, Alberta’s work has been acquired for the UK National Collections, The Scottish National Gallery Collections, Glasgow Museums Collections and The Contemporary Art Research Collection at Edinburgh College of Art, amongst other private collections.
She speaks to us about her new performance, Alberta Whittle: The Last Born – making room for ancestral transmissions.
To understand the context behind your work, and personal journey as an artist, can you talk a little bit about how your artistic style developed? How have your backgrounds in both Barbados and Scotland moulded your view of the world, and the output of the art you create?
Growing up in Barbados, my interest in the natural world and how I engaged with the soil, the water, plants…but also how I felt whilst playing or swimming has become the extension of and means of expression in my work.
As I’ve grown older and now spend more time in between worlds – Barbados and Scotland – I realised that this sense of curiosity about the world and what I embody as a Black womxn, but also the way I move through the world, is about freedom and exploring what freedom feels like; who is identified as free and how this relates to power, exclusion, race, gender, ability and surveillance.
In terms of the mediums and methods I use, I’ve always been interested in the practice of making or ‘messing’ with materials and have never felt the demand to make a choice in one direction or another, which has led to the multimedia way I work. In that same vein, the collages, drawings and paintings I made as a child are still important and I feel like they are key to an ongoing conversation between myself and the world.
You’re due to showcase a new performance, Alberta Whittle: The Last Born – making room for ancestral transmissions, at this year’s upcoming Edinburgh Art Festival. How did your existing moving image project Lagareh – The Last Born shape it, and why?
What was arresting to me after finishing the edit for Lagareh was how the conversation around abolition, community, grief and Black death felt even more pressing.
The names of Black people and people of colour that had lost their lives at the hands of the police which I read out at the close of Lagareh were out of date within a few months of its Venice presentation. I wasn’t surprised, but it was still distressing.
This new work, The Last Born – making room for ancestral transmissions, becomes a way to imprint the key themes of the film work but also to address the fact that white supremacy continues to fester whilst community and love need to be nurtured as part of a dialogue with history.
Your current show at the National Gallery of Scotland’s Modern One, create dangerously, is a dream-like, immersive exhibition. What was the central pull of this work; what would you like audiences to feel throughout?
The exhibition create dangerously is an experiment in working through grief as a collective experience. Whilst many of the works in the exhibition grapple with difficult issues of violence and limiting or loss of civil liberties, there are works which also speak of love, of tenderness and encourage us to slow down and take a breath for active compassion.
I’m very aware of how the body can shut down in numbness when trauma surfaces, and I have worked through different experiments to bring audiences to a space for slowness and to stay in their body, with their sense open for both self-compassion and active compassion.
As an artist, you focus strongly on the deep harm caused by colonialism. Why is art such a good vehicle to proliferate and share this conversation; to break down damaging, entrenched systems?
I consider my work to become a sequence of conversations with audiences. I’ve always felt like conversations are the best way to learn about the worlds we all inhabit from our different subject positions.
An important aspect of conversation is about listening, thinking and responding in some way. With this in mind, I hope that my work can be open enough for audiences to situate themselves within the different conversations I invite them into and reflect about how they move through the world, hold power, privilege and what actions and other conversations they choose to have with that knowledge.
Alberta Whittle: The Last Born – making room for ancestral transmissions will be performed at Edinburgh Art Festival, 13th Aug, Parliament Hall
Main image: Alberta Whittle (Credit: Matthew A Williams)