Acclaimed Barbadian-Scottish artist Alberta Whittle, whose multidisciplinary practice spans sculpture, performance, film, and installation has arrived in Nigeria for a month-long residency at G.A.S. Lagos. For Alberta, this opportunity offers a much-needed break, signifying more than a creative pause; it is a moment of profound rejuvenation and reset. After years of relentless artistic exploration, she seeks a tranquil space to experiment and play. The residency comes at a crucial juncture, offering Alberta uninterrupted studio time in new surroundings among fresh faces. It's an opportunity for her to delve into her practice, restoring her creative spirit and finding new inspiration.
During her stay, Alberta aims to connect deeply with the local artistic community, seeking inspiration from Lagos' cultural tapestry. Armed with her digital and video cameras, paints, pastels, and clay tools, she plans to explore local clay and soil, delving into ancestral historical links, local textiles, and sonic landscapes. Alberta's journey represents not just a personal rejuvenation but a genuine cultural exchange, as her art intertwines with the vibrant essence of Lagos, fostering inclusivity and understanding in the artistic sphere.
RESET, 2020 (film still) © Alberta Whittle. Courtesy the artist & The Modern Institute / Toby Webster Ltd
What is the current focus of your creative practice?
My creative practice is motivated by the desire to manifest self-compassion and collective care as key methods in battling anti-Blackness. My multi-media practice encompasses drawing, digital collage, film, sculpture, performance, and writing, through which I develop a visual, oral, and textual language that questions accepted Western constructs of history and society. My public presentations are often choreographed as interactive installations, that speak to the site in which they are being presented, and prioritize questions of self-care and compassion, while considering the historic legacies and contemporary expressions of anti-Blackness, colonialism, and migration.
Through expansive research and generous storytelling, my practice explores the historical legacies of the Transatlantic slave trade and the UK’s role in the Empire, as well as the violence of colonialism and racism that continue to permeate society today. Balancing urgent political and social issues with poetic narratives I invite audiences to come together to confront difficult truths from both the past and our present times, in order to find collective healing and begin to think outside of these damaging frameworks. Within my work, I connect ideas of Black oppression with meditations on survival; championing the idea of healing as self-liberation. Central to my work is an understanding of how care and self-compassion can be vital means by which to resist racism and anti-Blackness. My work often considers ideas around family, chosen and blood with belonging, connection, and dialogue and recurring themes include ancestral knowledge, language, and mythology offering routes towards resistance and renewal.
The Last Born – making room for ancestral transmissions, 2023, Alberta Whittle. Photographer Charlotte Cullen, © Alberta Whittle. Courtesy the artist, Edinburgh Arts Festival & The Modern Institute / Toby Webster Ltd
What drew you to apply for this residency and how do you think it will inform your wider practice?
The opportunity to spend some time in Lagos and Nigeria will be hugely beneficial to my practice of exploring the country's history and culture which I believe will feed into my practice and research. I have traveled to West and South Africa before (not Nigeria) and always found it hugely inspiring. The residency's focus on international cultural exchange and the development of creative and research practice is fundamental and I am at a point in my career where I really need to step back and take stock from a busy period and have some space to research, experiment, share, and develop ideas and I believe this residency will allow that. Along with the opportunity to meet with and get to know the practices of other artists and creative thinkers - this is a huge draw for me and I look forward to meeting everyone participating in the residency as well as the staff.
The Last Born – making room for ancestral transmissions, 2023, Alberta Whittle. Photographer Charlotte Cullen, © Alberta Whittle. Courtesy the artist, Edinburgh Arts Festival & The Modern Institute / Toby Webster Ltd.jpg
Can you give us an insight into how you hope to use the opportunity?
I really want the time to just play and explore with materials in the studio without an anticipated outcome. To have this uninterrupted time will be invaluable and is something I am really craving just now. It will be very much a playful, experimental, instinctual and responsive way of working for me informed by my surroundings, the people I meet and the places I may visit. I have a number of work commitments in 2024 from March onwards so I hope this time will really restore and rejuvenate me creatively and inform ideas I may like to progress.
The Last Born, 2022 (Installation Shot) © Alberta Whittle. Photographer Cristiano Corte. Co-commissioned by Scotland+Venice and Forma Arts, London; film produced by Forma Arts Courtesy of The Artist and The Modern Institute/ Toby Webster Ltd.
About Alberta Whittle
Alberta was born in 1980 in Bridgetown, Barbados. She lives and works in Glasgow. Her extensive range of solo and group shows includes amongst others a comprehensive solo show at the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; Holburne Museum, Bath and the Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju (all 2023). Tate Britain, London; Fotografiska, New York; Moderna Museet, Malmo and Kunsthall, Trondheim (all 2022). Alberta represented Scotland at the world’s largest international festival the 59th Venice Biennale. In 2020, she was awarded a Turner Bursary, the Frieze Artist Award and a Henry Moore Foundation Artist Award. She was the Margaret Tait Award winner for 2018-19.
In November 2022, our partner organisation Yinka Shonibare Foundation joined the Big Give Christmas Challenge; the UK’s biggest coordinated fundraising campaign. The purpose of the project was to crowdfund two six-week residencies at G.A.S. for a UK-based African Diaspora artist and/or a curator, with the intention of supporting the careers of practitioners of African descent. Alberta Whittle is the second recipient of the prize, the first was awarded to Seyi Adelekun in 2022.