Arit Emmanuela Etukudo interview: Left Bank Leeds Art Prize 2019

The Left Bank Leeds Art Prize exhibition opening event, showing the work of 38 artists in a Grade II* listed former church building, is on 17th July at 6pm, and the exhibition is open every day from 10am-5pm from the 17th to 20th July.

Five of the exhibiting artists have been shortlisted for the £500 Left Bank Leeds Art Prize, awarded by a public vote taken during the exhibition. The shortlisted artists (and their Instagram profiles) are:

Katy Bentham / @katy_bentham 

Arit Emmanuela Etukudo / @arit_emmanuela 

Sarah Louise Hawkins / @sarahlouise_hawkins 

David Sowerby / @davidsworldtoday 

Leon G Varga / @varga_leon 

Left Bank’s mission statement includes its aims ‘to promote creativity, connection and well-being … to inspire and empower our community’, and this year’s exhibition invited works on the theme of ‘connection’. At The State of The Arts, we’ve asked each of the shortlisted artists a few questions, inviting them to tell us more about their work by using the themes of creativity, connection, well-being, inspiration, empowerment and community.

Below are the thoughts of Arit Emmanuela Etukudo, whose work can be found online here.

Our other artist interviews are here.

What were the first artworks or artists that connected you to art, and inspired you to become an artist?

Saturn Devouring his son by Goya is one of the first artworks that connected me to art. I first came across the painting when I was 13 and immediately felt an understanding between myself and the piece, in other words, I felt like I was witnessing a truth being told. Specifically looking into the eyes of the subject I saw the ability to tell a story and convey emotions in a still image and desired to be able to do the same. 

Another work that connected me to art was the Spice Girls Movie (which I shamelessly view as a work of art). The fact that the film had no boundaries and was autonomous against what was expected by the mainstream taste palette was what began the line between myself and the direction my practice would go in. The surrealism and humour of the film was also a plus.

What influences or inspires the work you’re making now?

My practice in general deals with the self, the identity and the life experience. Currently I am being inspired by the spiritual aspects of these ideas. That is, the existence of myself in both my interior and exterior worlds; while discovering, unraveling and unveiling these parts of myself that exist in the spiritual plane, and how these effect the way I connect back to the world. 

Can you share any examples of people telling you about a connection or response they’ve experienced to your work? What connections are you seeking?

With the work that I am showing at Left Bank Leeds I was told by an old professor that they felt a simultaneous connection and severance to an otherworldly space where I was in a way the gatekeeper. With my practice I seek any form of connection between my creations and the person viewing it. So I don’t seek anything specific; I just want the viewer to connect themselves to some sort of narrative whether mental, emotional, physical or spiritual. I want my work to connect with viewers beyond the physical. 

Life in Britain at the moment is being subjected to Brexit, austerity, inequality, and increasing political and social extremism. Is this affecting your work as an artist on a practical level, in terms of being able to make work and exhibit, and do you have any advice or examples to help or inspire other aspiring or working artists?

Being a triple minority, these are things that I have faced on a daily basis for most of my life but these are the things that also helped to shape my practice. When I first started out as an artist the only times I saw black women in art was when their bodies were being sexualized and their identities were erased. This at first stopped me from believing that there was space for my work in exhibitions or the mainstream art space, but it was for this reason that self-portraits became an integral part of my practice. These adversities effected my work in the way that I keep them in mind when I take my portraits and create the art around what I’m feeling as a means of letting these feelings pass through me. I guess in the end my advice is to not let the heaviness of the world obstruct you but to instead let it pass through you and leave you through your art. 

If you could nominate any other currently working artists you know or like for a prize, who would they be?

An artist I would nominate for a prize would be Jade Foster who is a Nottingham based sound and performance artist. Their practice deals with the ways in which the black body exists/is forced to exist. This is a topic that I think more young black artists need to have visibility on in order to understand how they are able to exist in not only the art space but in the outside world.