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Story

Chelsea graduate's new exhibition explores what it means to be black in Essex

Woman in a gold top standing underneath a bridge.
  • Written byEleanor Harvey
  • Published date 05 July 2022
Woman in a gold top standing underneath a bridge.
Elsa James ‘Othered in a region that has been historically Othered’, 4K Video with Stereo Sound, Chapter Three, An Afrofuture Narrative for Essex, Under the M25, Thurrock, 2022. Film still by Andy Delaney

Elsa James is currently showing her first solo exhibition at Focal Point Gallery, Southend.

In ‘Othered in a region that has been historically Othered', the British African-Caribbean artist explores what it means to be black in Essex. She completed her BA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Arts in 2010.

On show is a new 3-part film installation and original sound works, alongside text and a new series of prints.

A woman is stood directly behind young girl in a church with their eyes' closed. The woman has afro hair, whilst the girls hair is in braids. Above them it says ''Emmanuel God is with us' on the wall
Forgotten Black Essex: Hester and Hester Woodley, (2018) St Mary's Little Parndon Church, Harlow, Essex. Image: Amaal Said
Woman walking across a bridge carrying a large black flag
Black Girl Essex: Here We Come, Look We Here (2019) Film still, Tilbury Docks, Essex, HD video with sound, duration 13:40 mins. Image: Andy Delaney
Woman standing in a field looking to the left. Her face is covered by her hair
Elsa James ‘Othered in a region that has been historically Othered’, 4K Video with Stereo Sound, Chapter Two, A Jab Jab Awakening Towards a New Essex, Constable Country, Dedham Vale, 2022. Film still by Andy Delaney

About the work

Elsa’s research revealed that historical oppression fit with her own experiences. This provided the basis of her new 3-part film which spans vast timelines. From the persecution of women as witches in the mid-17th century to a radical future vision of Essex via a transformative Caribbean Island ritual.

The exhibition includes a new sound work that echoes the experience of enslaved African people boarding the ships. As visitors pass from one gallery to the next, a soundtrack of crashing waves reminds them of the forced displacement of black people and their identity under the transatlantic slave trade.

A new screen-print series that focuses on the black male experience is also on show. There's also a large-scale neon work quoting David Lammy MP; 'I AM HERE BECAUSE YOU WERE THERE' when he addressed the House of Commons on the Windrush Scandal in 2018.

Woman in a gold top standing underneath a bridge. She's got her head down
Elsa James ‘Othered in a region that has been historically Othered’, 4K Video with Stereo Sound, Chapter Three, An Afrofuture Narrative for Essex, Under the M25, Thurrock, 2022. Film still by Andy Delaney
Black background with black text which reads: 'POLICY NO. 1 DISRUPT THE EXISTING NARRATIVE'
Work No. 7: Policy note to Essex, (2021) Silkscreen on Plike black 330g paper 70 x 70 cm, Edition of 3 + 1 AP. Image: Anna Lukala

‘Othered in a region that has been historically Othered’ is on at the Focal Point Gallery until 18 September 2022.