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AccessAbility Arts interview (Art By Kerdisha)

Welcome to another AccessAbility Arts interview! I'm delighted to be able to shine a light on the fantastic work being done by inspiring women, multicultural groups, LGBTQIA+ community members and disabilities in the sphere of art and accessibility. This time, I interviewed Art By Kerdisha. She is a 25-year-old Zimbabwean who currently resides in England. She developed a passion for feminist art at the age of 15-16 and created a collection of works focused on the "free the nipple" movement for her A-levels. While attending Anglia Ruskin University as the woman's representative, she quickly realised that her title was merely symbolic and could not make much of a difference.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she began digitally drawing using Procreate. She also enrolled in a short course at NTU to learn Adobe Illustrator. She started drawing portraits, which she loved doing due to the varied emotions they conveyed with such simple features.

After the tragic incident in the UK where a young woman was raped and murdered while walking home, she was incensed by the insensitive comments from people who placed the blame on the victim. She responded by creating a piece of a woman's face adorned with the derogatory remarks. That was how she began her artistic journey. She now has an Etsy shop and participates in fairs and other events.

If you're on social media, give her a follow. Instagram:

Here is the interview

Daniel: Can you tell us more about your background and how it influenced your interest in creating feminist artwork?

ABK: my background? I was born and identify as a female. “I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.” - Maya Angelou. That basically sums it up!

Daniel: What inspired you to create artwork based on the social and political movement of “freeing the nipple”?

ABK: if I’m completely honest! I just wanted to draw naked ladies, I love the female form I think it’s beautiful and elegant and just a work of art in it’s self. When I started drawing as a child I loved drawing women (not good drawings obviously).

So the exam had multiple topics to choose from; one of which was “whatever you want” and I was like sick I wanna draw women! So I proposed it to my male art teacher who shut it down. He said “no that’s pornography” and I was devastated, why is my body so sexualised? To be clear I wanted to draw them very modestly. For example: from the back or covering, live model drawing kinda thing.

So I complained to the head of sixth form she was also my sociology and my psychology teacher. She had a look at the exam and found the beautiful loop hole which put me on my path to feminist art “social or political movement” and I said to her I don’t care about politics? And she replied “have you not paid attention in sociology class at all? Do the free the nipple movement” and I was like yessss queen! And then to my art teachers dismay I drew titties for a year!

Daniel: How has your experience as a woman’s representative influenced your work and perspective on feminism?

ABK: For me it was a wake up, it was my first realisation that we can make some differences but really at it’s core there’s always a higher power stopping the changes we want to me. A lot of things I wanted to implement were turned down. It was eye opening for me as it’s what I think stopped me from being a completely third waved radicalised feminist. At it’s core feminism is the equality of the sexes. This doesn’t mean: women Vs men. It means we help each other and fight together. This is important to me as lot of the time feminists will shut down discussions about mens rights and vice versa a lot of feminists get told “well men have it worse have you seen the suicide rates?” And I think the way we are as a society isn’t helpful. This well I’m oppressed more mentality isn’t good for any movement. Men has issues and women have issues and non-binary people have issues… but it’s not a contest of who’s got it worse. The end goal is we all are respected and treated equally.

So for me mens suicide rates and mental health is something I want to help and fight for.

It was one of the things I tried to implement at the university but I was told it wasn’t a woman’s rep issue so I couldn’t implement my access plan to the student wellbeing services to make it more discrete for men. But I could talk forever on that. I asked them well there isn’t a mens rep? so can fight for their mental health needs? And the end result was nothing was going to be put in place. This was extremely frustrating for me and I realised there wasn’t anything more I could do from the position I had to further the equality I desperately wanted. The experience definitely changed my perspective on feminism for the better. I think it’s when I truly understood that the fight was against the patriarchy and the way society treats men and women.

Daniel: Could you elaborate on the incident that led you to create the artwork with the victim-blaming rhetoric? How do you hope your artwork can contribute to combatting this issue?

ABK: incident “On the evening of 3 March 2021, 33-year-old Sarah Everard was kidnapped in South london, England, as she was walking home to the Brixton Hill area from a friend's house near Clapham Common. She was stopped by off-duty Metropolitan Police constable Wayne Couzens who identified himself as a police officer, handcuffed her, and placed her in his car before driving her to near Dover where he raped and strangled her, before burning her body and disposing of her remains in a nearby pond.”

News articles flooded my timeline, and I was appalled by the comment sections. So many questions about her and what she was doing? And it reminded me of when a Teenage girl's underwear considered as evidence against her in rape trial, and how it’s always victim blaming. Even this incident where she was dressed “normally” and walking around at a “reasonable” time and she was still attacked!

Following this incident news articles and posts started popping up “what women can do to be safe” “hold your keys as a weapon” “don’t be alone” all sorts of crap where the responsibility lied heavily on women. It was all these things we have to do and remember. Oh I can’t wear that outfit what if I’m attacked. I can’t walk home after work because I could be attacked. But it wasn’t like “hey maybe don’t attack women?”

So I made the art work to express my anger at all the things we need to do and not do I order to stop people from attacking us. I believe I posted the piece on the 19th of March.

Daniel: What made you decide to start exploring digital drawing during the pandemic?

ABK: I had been uploading my art to Instagram as a kinda dumping ground for a while. Never really taking it seriously, it was my hobby my calm in the storm. During the pandemic I was furloughed immediately! I used to work in the events industry, so when bars and clubs shut down I was furloughed. I thankfully lived in a house with my friends whom I also worked with so we’re were isolating together. Lots of drinking, playing games and hanging out but it got boring fast. And I felt lost without a purpose and lots of house debt. Sadly I was made redundant in august the club couldn’t afford to pay us without having their own income and the place I loved was shut down, I had to move back home with my mum. I felt sad and angry, my life wasn’t going forward I felt like I was regressing. Moving backwards. The world began to slowly open and I only had work experience in the events industry so I couldn’t find any jobs. Which was so depressing constant rejection from jobs everyday. I felt hopeless and stupid you know? How come no where wants to hire me am I this unskilled? I started working at the Amazon warehouse and I’d made some money. I still felt low though. I needed something, my passion wasn’t Amazon! And my Instagram feed was filled with these artists creating so much beautiful digital art, I love anime and I was seeing that with every scroll. I remember thinking I could do that, as I scrolled lying in bed. So I bit the bullet and bought my first ever iPad and I pencil and I was ready! I started using a free app, my lines were shaking and the colours weren’t right but I felt so happy. I was creating. I was drawing my friends and just having fun. I started posting them again as an art dump on Instagram. I think I had 50 followers? All my friends mainly and some random people/ bots trying to get me to be an “ambassador” scams.

Daniel: Poetry and art can be a great tool for society and looking back at history. What do you think is the power of poetry - or any art - and what role do you believe artists have in modern society?

ABK: I think the most important role they service is the joy and passion they give to the poet/ artist. You know you don’t create because you’re forced to, you create because you need to…

I think it’s affects on society are important as well, art is a form of story telling at its core. You can look at paintings or poems from years ago, it like capturing a moment in time. The feelings felt from every creator just by listening to their words or seeing their brush strokes.

As humans we’ve been doing this since the cave men, it’s our nature our instinct it’s who we are. It’s important to know where we’ve come from to see where we’re going. There’s a quote about how all art is stolen. Everything new has come from some where before. That’s a major role it has on modern society. Alamo everything is inspired from something that’s come before. It’s beautiful really.

Daniel: How has your process changed since transitioning from traditional to digital drawing?

ABK: haha it’s ruined me! I’ve been trying to get back into traditional art, I was sat painting and I was trying to draw a straight line with my brush. I swear I’m so embarrassed to admit this is a true, but I was drawing the line and it was shakey. I don’t have a steady hand could never be a surgeon. And as I got to the end of the line. I pressed my paintbrush down into the canvas and waited. Then I remembered this is real life haha it wasn’t going to straighten my line for me. I’ve relied a lot on those auto correction tools and I’m finding it really hard to get back into tradition art, there’s no undo button. If I make a mess I’ve made a mess I need to figure out how to a) fix b) work it into the piece like it was meant to be there or my personal favourite c) throw the canvas across the room and never finish the painting.

Daniel: We all know how important it is to look after our mental health, so tell us, do you have any strategies you use to maintain positive mental health in your daily life?

ABK: I wish I had real strategies. I have low days and high days. Doing my art helps me a lot as I can remember that when I come home I can draw. It’s just how I make it through the work week. But when things aren’t going right with my art I rely friends and my amazing support network.

Daniel: What is the significance behind the types of products you sell in your Etsy store, such as magnets and key rings?

ABK: well I love a good keyring and magnet. I only tend to make products I like and use on a daily basis. It’s nice to display prints but getting to utilise the art work brings me (and I hope my friends) more joy. I’ve recently made badges and it’s just so much fun to wear them and show them off.

Daniel: What events do you do?

ABK: I do mainly stalls. So if there’s a festival or event where a stall is appropriate. As long as the event aligns with my values I’m game! I’ve done pride festival and my own exhibition on womens day at bar surrounded by talented women. I’ve also done a bottomless brunch event where I had stall, the company were part of an anti spike campaign and it was amazing to be asked to be there. I hope to do more exhibitions.

Daniel: What challenges have you faced as an artist, particularly in the context of being a woman and a person of colour?

ABK: The biggest challenge has been my own self doubt. I’ve turned down opportunities because I didn’t feel ready or I thought I wasn’t a big enough creator. I a lot of times I feel our place surrounded by talented people. And I talk myself out of things like opening my Etsy shop in the beginning.

Another big challenge is due to the nature of my work I am turned down for a lot of events due to “sexual content”. It’s very disheartening to receive rejections on a Daily base because you don’t fit a certain mould but at the end of the day you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

I think because I’m very much surrounded my a small inclusive community I haven’t really found any challenges that have to do with my race or gender. I’m making art for people who are like and they support me.

Daniel: What message do you hope your work conveys, and what impact do you hope it has on your audience?

ABK: I hope it sparks a fire in them, I hope it gives a voice to those who need it.

Daniel: What future projects do you have planned, and how do you see your artwork evolving in the future?

ABK: I have a few projects in the works, but I don’t like to speak them out loud till they’re finalised. As I’m very indecisive and I don’t want people to get they’re hopes up and then I don’t fulfil them.

Daniel: What has been the most rewarding part of your journey?

ABK: When I meet everyone in person and they tell they’re stories and how my art has touched them personally. When they tell me to keep going.

Daniel: And lastly. We all need to relax, chill, and switch off sometimes. So how do you relax?

ABK: I stick Netflix on and cuddle up with my cats and my fiancé. Though I never truly switch off. I always get intrusive thoughts about how I could be doing something more productive instead. Or an idea for a drawing etc.

If you have liked this interview and would like to see more interviews, please feel free to contact and share your thoughts. Also, if you know anyone who fits the category, and you think they'd be interested, let me know 🏳️‍🌈

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