Stacey Gillian Abe
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Stacey Gillian Abe

Born in 1990, Stacey Gillian Abe graduated with a BA in Art and Industrial Design from Kyambogo University in 2014. Her surrealist work challenges stereotypical representations of the black body. Through her artworks, she reflects on her past and her memories, highlighting her personal experiences and circumstances. Abe spoke with us about her artistic practise, her visual language and her participation in Unit London’s current group exhibition, IRL.  

UL: Could you explain your creative process, from the initial beginnings of a piece to the finished artwork?

SGA: It is hard to outline the clear steps towards a finished work of art, but it usually begins with how I feel about something at that particular moment. It’s like an emotional trigger that may or may not be related to a memory. It is from this that I start developing visual representations of the feeling and the vision that I had in my head into an artwork. Because I am the active participant in these thoughts in my head, I use, for the most part, my own body as a muse in my paintings. These begin from still images that are, in most cases, altered when transferred onto the canvas.

UL: Your works address ‘real-world’ issues through a strikingly surrealist visual language. What is your thinking behind this blending of the real and the surreal?

SGA: I have this saying: ‘we are spiritual beings assuming humanity.’ I have always been fascinated by a surreal approach because it stresses the subconscious, allowing a more imaginative process through opening up my mind to more visual possibilities. In this way, I am able to exploit unexpected chambers of emotions and thought processes. I imagine this works for the viewer as well as the artist.

I also must admit, it is the 21st century and we are exposed to so much. Nothing is surprising anymore so what better way is there to get your message out than strangely.

UL: The colours in your works are immediately arresting. Can you talk us through your choice of colour palette for the works presented in IRL?

SGA: I am drawn to tertiary colours and, for IRL, I focussed on hues that I thought might ground my subjects in their spaces but were also not too dull so as to disappear into the background.

For over 3 years, I have done extensive research on indigo, a hue that, throughout history, has been seen as very rich and valuable, but also one that has shaped narratives around the black body. Indigo is a dominant colour in my work and is used as a skin tone for my subjects. In a way, this allows us to view the black body in a different light.  

Dear Letaru..., 2020, acrylic on canvas, 124 x 96 cm

UL: You have said that you project yourself and your experiences into your artworks. For you, what is important about the personal and autobiographical dimensions of your pieces?

SGA: What is important to me right now is to project objectively my own experiences and circumstances through my work. At the same time, these experiences are very real, very important and very relatable to anyone else outside of my own memories because understanding begins with the self.

The need to immortalise and savour these moments is vital because, now more than ever, the world has been flipped into a position of no return. Like babies, we are learning once again how to live with each other and how to cope with our memories. I think there is solace in knowing we can share experiences. I also anticipate an unspoken three-way connection between the viewer, the work and the artist. There is strength in remaining vulnerable and open to scrutiny. 

UL: After IRL, what is next for you? Do you see your artistic style changing or developing in any way? 

SGA: After IRL, I see myself spending more hours in studio. My artistic style will definitely develop but it won’t change.

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