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How This London Artist Explores and Reclaims Power Through Her Art

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Nov 13 2020

Experiencing Sharon Walters’s work is like being given a comforting, personal gift. I first saw Sharon during a workshop she delivered for Black Minds Matter. Sharon discussed the creative process as essential to mental health and considered the white dominance of the mainstream art world, all while making an original, delicate art piece with a scalpel and fine magazine paper. (I know—“multi-talented” doesn’t even cover it, right?)

In a session she later ran for IDEO, she created such a warm space while inviting us into the intimacy of her signature collaging process. She inspired us to see what it is when someone dictates the rules of their own art, career journey, how they define and are defined.

The pieces evolving from her “Seeing Ourselves” collection explore identity, representation, portraiture—when the ‘we’ and the ‘our’ are represented in art, education, media. Who is omitted from that narrative and how can art reclaim it?

Sharon is currently exhibiting at the Black Art Matters exhibition. She took a few minutes out of her day to answer some questions I had for her.

In one sentence, who are you?

I am an artist, currently creating work using handmade collage, and an educator who is passionate about changing predominant narratives of underrepresented, marginalized people.

What does a typical work session look like?

I work from a new home studio which I set up a couple of days before lockdown in March 2020. I recently resigned from my part-time job of 4.5 years in a London museum to work as a full-time artist. I am working on several different projects and I find joy in the varied nature of my work.

My work varies greatly from one day to the next: I am currently working on a project with a national museum; I have been commissioned to create a few bespoke collages; I curate creative programs for organizations; and I deliver workshops and create hand-assembled collages. Creating the collages helps me to relax, and in parallel, explore identity and representation of Black womxn.

Does sharing your process while creating such personal work ever feel too intrusive or voyeuristic?

I absolutely love sharing the process of creating my very personal art. My background includes the delivery of teaching sessions in political literacy, also known as citizenship education. I have also taught art workshops and have delivered self-esteem, getting back into work and personal development workshops to women who have lost confidence after a period of unemployment. I have worked with people of all ages from children to the elderly. Sharing my process is a further extension of this highly invigorating work.

How has your work and career evolved?

My career has evolved organically; there hasn’t been a linear route towards my current working life.

My work has been varied, but today, I can now see how so many of these seemingly disparate strands connect to inform my present practice. Early on after my first degree, I worked in recruitment sales and was a headhunter. The skills I gained there have made me feel less awkward when selling my work; I am not afraid to speak to new people.

Training teachers and people of all ages has given me the confidence and skills to deliver creative workshops both online and in person; it is something I absolutely love doing! I am passionate about connecting and communicating with others.

For much of my life I worked with marginalized groups in a variety of settings, ranging from boys in young offender institutions and the elderly living in sheltered housing to underrepresented museum audiences. This work all feeds into my current series entitled “Seeing Ourselves” which focuses on the underrepresentation of Black women. My projects all encourage others to “take up space” in environments where they may be unseen and to use our voices to create positive change and impact.

What does it mean to you to do what you love at this stage?

It feels so wonderful to be doing what I love at this stage! I have wanted to be an artist since I was a child. For many years it felt like I would not make it, but deep down, I did not give up hope.

Money wasn’t available for me to pursue my dreams in my teens, but as a mature student, I got a second degree in Fine Art. I took “the scenic route” and with hindsight I am glad I did. Things are happening exactly when they are supposed to.

What was the last item on your to-do list?

To contact a collector who has commissioned a bespoke, hand-cut collage.

How do you see the world in 2078?

Wow! This is a huge question, which immediately saddens me; in reality it’s unlikely I’ll still be around. It immediately makes me think about the world I would like my children to be living in. I would hope there would be less disparity of wealth and greater visibility and distribution of power across diverse groups.

What’s your number one bucket list item?

To return to Barbados for a holiday someday soon; it is my mother’s country of birth and I have not visited it for 11 years. Despite being born in London, Barbados also feels like "home."

Who are you creative crushin’ on lately?

I am creative crushin’ on Sheena Rose who is a phenomenal, multidisciplinary, Barbadian artist. Her work spans drawings, hand-drawn animations, performance art, paintings, and new media. I am particularly inspired by Sheena’s vast creative works with powerful overarching themes.

When I first came across Sheena’s work on Instagram, she was creating amazing pieces from her bedroom which inspired me to return to creating after a long time. Through seeing Sheena working in this way, I began to believe it was possible for me to do the same without the luxury of a studio at the time.

  • Rebecca Wint

    Associate General Counsel, Europe
    Rebecca is senior legal counsel at IDEO, supporting the global consultancy and IDEO products business with a focus on the European practice and data privacy.
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