Cydne Jasmin Coleby is a digital and mixed media collage artist based in Nassau, Bahamas. Self-reflection is intrinsic to her art practice. She intergoates the unfavourable aspects of her personality, questioning their origins, influences, and usefulness. Through her graphic collages she examines personal and collective/ancestral relationships to trauma and the ways in which these relationships shape our identity. There’s a fine, and somewhat blurred, line between “informing” and “defining” identity when considering the ordeals we undergo. Coleby’s work aims to explore this grey area, while questioning our ability to healing our wounds and cultivate our individual and collective narratives through these instances.
UL Could you tell us a little bit about what it was like to grow up in Nassau and how it has changed since your childhood? What is it like for an artist to live in today?
CJC Personally I enjoyed my childhood here in Nassau. I had a lot of stability and love and I was well supported by my family to pursue my dreams. However, I cannot say that this was the same experience for everyone growing up here. Being a monoculture people here can hold narrow minded views on what is “normal”. But as more Bahamians gain more exposure to different cultures of personal levels I see our definition of normal starting to expand. There is still much more room for improvement, but based on the people I’ve met and things I’ve seen in recent years, I feel that positive change is possible.
As an artist I feel that living in Nassau has been a fruitful experience. This small community has been extremely supportive, and our talents have stretched far beyond the archipelago. Even with the community there has been a shift. This once male dominated-space, is now seeing young female Bahamian artists and curators standing at the forefront of our modern art movement. Artists and curators such as April Bey, Jodi Minnis, Angelika Wallace-Whitfield, Melissa Alcena, Tessa Whitehead, Gio Swaby, Leanna Russell, Khia Poitier, Gabriel Banks, Natalie Willis, Kachelle Knowles, Samantha Treco…. I can really go on forever.
UL What do you make of the recent developments in regards to racial injustice in the United States? Do you tend to lean towards supporting more active or passive modes of protest?
CJC I honestly find it heartbreaking that these protests were even necessary. The fact that people are still fighting for equality based on their race, in 2020, is nothing short of appalling. Nonetheless, I am glad to see that people are publicly and unapologetically taking a stand for racial justice and equality, and that there have been positive responses to these protests on judicial levels.
Ultimately I’m in support of anything that leads to positive change. If you look throughout history you’ll often see a pattern of passive/non-violent objections to injustice preceding the more forceful objections. Today is no different.
UL Can you talk a little about the power of art as a mode of protest? What role do you see art and artists of colour playing in the current and future battle against racial injustice?
CJC In my opinion, any artwork from an artist of colour can act as protest. Artists are storytellers, each with their own unique voice and perspective on the world in which we live. When we allow more artists of colour to tell their own stories, we gain a more expansive view on who they are as a people. When we have a more holistic view of a group of people it humanises them, and when it’s difficult to question a people’s humanity is hard to justify their mistreatment. Unlike other forms of communication, art has the power to articulate messages despite language barriers. This arguably gives it the greatest reaching power so long as its audience has the ability to see.
UL Do you think that the art world as an institution is the same as many others in terms of the presence of systemic racism?
CJC Sadly yes. If we continue the theme of representation we’ll see some obvious disparities within the art world. White artists, more specifically, white male artists have held a monopoly on the art industry up until recently. It’s only within the past few decades that we’ve seen female artists and artists of colour being held to the same esteem. Maybe it’s because the Art world is genuinely trying to be more diverse, maybe it’s just because it’s looking for something “fresh” and “new”, maybe a combination of the two, or neither. Either way I’m glad to see more artists of colour making waves in the art world, and I hope that this shift will be sustained globally.
UL How do you think your visual style reflects any of the ideas you have just touched upon?
CJC My collages aim to personify relationships to trauma – to give a face to internal turmoil. Due to the personal nature of my artwork, the pieces primarily focus on the black, female and/or Caribbean experiences. However, it would be remiss to say that all of the themes I explore are singular to those particular groups. These are human experiences. I’m not saying that to discredit the traumas specific to those groups I’ve mentioned, but to say that there is a conduit to understanding here. If we can begin to empathise and understand each other on a human level, it becomes easier for us to exercise compassion.
UL Finally could you talk a little bit about the piece you have submitted for our upcoming online charity exhibition Drawn Together?
CJC Sure! The work I submitted is a mixed media self portrait created using collage, acrylic paint, and ink. I use different images of myself as well as graphic depictions of my physical features to create an unsettling portrait. This work is a part of a series I’m developing, in which I examine the intersection of real life experience and crafted identity.
Untitled (Self Portrait I), 2020, Acrylic, block print and collage on paper, 35.5 x 28 cm