'An auntie selling fabrics can be an artist, someone in the market can be an artist!' - An Interview with Blk Moody Boi

Sunday, August 22

By Bel de Gier

The clock reads 3:29pm, and Blk Moody Boi is a minute early. 

It is often accepted that true enigmatic status can only be achieved through the act of publicly ‘rising above’: floating like a siren over the ensnaring weave of politics, the woeful call of social issues, speeding on past varying levels of criticism or the viscousness of hatred - all to be topped off with a single, but vital, crown jewel: using a pseudonym (a gem that seems to reach out its hands and pull the veil of intrigue over you all on its own). But upon reaching the Instagram of Blk Moody Boi, the name that protects their identity the same way George Eliot protected Mary Ann Cross', you find something very different to the typical abstract mark of the anonymous. As I scroll through each of the images on the familiar grid of Blk Moody Boi’s Instagram – often featuring punchy shades woven into a sharp contrast – there is a cohesive theme: all of them are wonderfully political. There is absolutely no tip-toeing or untouchable veil in sight, none of the trademarks of the romanticised enigma and definitely no avoidance of important goings-on (in fact it is a key tenet of their work) - and it is nothing short of a relief to see. 

Beyond Boundaries, a project which involved inviting five young artists to work alongside five established mentors to create public art installations across Southwark, London, acts as more than something pretty to look at on the walk to work. A stellar addition to the Tate’s ever-growing list of prosperous opportunities for young creatives, the stimuli for the project surrounded the re-opening of our lives as COVID begins to slowly walk away from us, the works of art acting as lucky pennies for those searching for hope and community to find. Blk Moody Boi’s ‘What does it mean to be safe outside?’, illustrates the increasingly unsafe conditions as trans people emerge back into society in a post-COVID world, a period that saw a headline-worthy increase in domestic violence against those in LGTBQ+ circles. Acting as a ‘love letter to trans people of colour’, the piece is undeniably moving as I find myself staring up at such at it, a series of friendly faces standing stoically and clad in an armour of colour. 

The final counterpart in our trilogy of interviews with Beyond Boundaries participants, Blk Moody Boi seems to represent something that the anonymous creators of our world haven’t in the past – whether it be the fictious and very vicious example of ‘gossip girl’ or the ever-present looming of online trolls – it would seem we have found the new, vocal but kind, poignant but good intentioned, breed of anonymity, and I could not be more thrilled to usher it into our lives, a cup of tea and welcome card sitting on the world’s table. 

 

Tell me about your journey with art. What has led you to being an artist? 

Blk Moody Boi: ‘Well, I am a self-taught artist – I didn’t receive any formal artistic education in graphic design or digital illustration, which is what I primarily do, but I have always drawn. One of my cousins who I am very close to also draws and went on to become a graphic designer. Since I was very little, I have always loved cartoons, I have always loved anime actually [laughs]. I have also always loved comic books. I guess becoming an artist... well, it was always a hobby for me! It becoming more than that was all thanks to a friend that encouraged me to try drawing on a tablet, because they were going to chuck their old tablet – they were like ‘oh, I have this old one- do you want it?’. I was like... ‘ok!’ [laughs]. And then we set up my Instagram and came up with my name and everything, and that was another trans person of colour like myself, so I guess formalising my art was all thanks to friends and other trans, queer people of colour here in London, who all supported me with hosting my drawings at events or asking me to participate in various activities – to really grow my experience. It all just kind of happened really, there was no one truly pushing me to become a full-time artist, it all just happened, and it is so beautiful that it did. Now I am freelancing and doing some bits, I am starting my first residency and so I am very excited about that too!’ 

Tell me a little bit more about your residency! 

BMB: ‘It is an online residency with The Big Draw – I will be doing it with them. We will be creating a visual anthology of black and brown trans stories in the UK: it will be an illustrated archive, sort of like a comic book? So, I am very excited about that.’ 

Where do you, personally, draw the line between what is and is not art. Is film or fashion art – or is it everywhere? 

BMB: ‘I think it is everywhere. In my opinion, there is a lot of classist articulations of what art can be. If we look at it really, who have been calling themselves artists for the last however many years? The privileged, really. So, I think anything should be art, an auntie selling fabrics can be an artist, someone in the market can be an artist. I think we have to expand our ideas on what an artist is – it also doesn’t have to just be people who have tragically struggled for their art either. It can be different things and different sources. It also should not just be people who have received a formal education either. Art is a universal thing, and making it so exclusive feels like gatekeeping something that is meant to be for all, so I think everything like that should be considered art, in my opinion, no matter the artist.’ 

Talk to me about Beyond Boundaries. How did you come to be involved and tell me about your piece? 

BMB: ‘I was contacted directly by one of the Tate producers – I did not apply or anything, I was directly approached to participate as someone suggested me. It was someone that I know, someone from my community, and I was very surprised to be asked – I was not expecting it at all to be honest, I kind of went: ‘What? What is happening?!’ [laughs]. So I was very excited when I was approached with the idea of thinking about the ways in which we as a body of people can reconnect after COVID, after being apart for so long, how do we access art safely after a global pandemic, what is it to be outside and, in a community, together: questions like these inspired me deeply and were a major tenet of the project, and after being asked to create a piece in response to those questions, having meetings with the Tate and the team, I knew I had to do something about safety for trans people outside. It is a prompt that I truly understand and so many trans people are unsafe outside on a daily basis with or without COVID, often not having the ability to walk outside safely and be their whole selves regardless – hate crimes have really increased since the lockdown. Of course, violence was happening anyhow in the form of domestic violence during lockdown, but now that things are being to reopen there has been even more violence perpetrated towards trans people, and so I knew I had to do something about that. I envisioned the piece as a something like a cover for a magazine, or a poster. It really is just huge; I saw and just went like ‘what?!’’ 

As someone who hasn’t had a formal education in art, what is your relationship with craft?  

BMB: ‘Well... there are just so many prefaces, right? I think there are a lot of specific skills that are important and handed down from generation to generation, but I think it is also ok to teach these things to yourself, to learn through your own devices and trial and error, to sought out your own knowledge. I really believe in the power of lived experience as an educational tool. So, I think there is a case for both formal education and self-education, there is such a case for both. People can make beautiful things regardless, I think. Look, I come from Latin America – so many crafts are used all the time, like embroidery or the making of quilts and bags, and I think that is a form of art that is a mixture of both formal training, through the older generations teaching the young, and of self-discovery. So much of the discussion around training is so Eurocentric, and so formal training I think is viewed through one lens. So, I think, that is my relationship with craft is... quite complicated.’  

Looking at your work, it seems that you pay attention to the themes that are special to you. Is art (for you personally) more about exploring and understanding yourself or understanding the world around you – or both! 

BMB: ‘I think a bit of both, but it will always centre the experiences of trans and queer people of colour. Specifically, black trans people. It all comes from a need to archive, and archive with abundance, my and my peer’s history and current life situations with beautiful things – really showing that we are more than the violence that we are subjected to by gender and transphobia, homophobia. I think also, lately a lot of my drawings have been as a way of expressing and letting out a lot of indignation about different things happening in the world, injustices. So, it starts with my political views, but those political views also match those with the people in my territory – I am from Latin America, and I am also an indigenous person, and so I of course carry those legacies and that memory with me. It is a bit of both – I am always trying to understand the world around me, and of course myself, but also to show the world in different lights.’ 

I imagine you get some pretty beautiful messages from people. 

BMB: ‘Yes - it's very emotional really. I never have a goal in mind, I guess [laughs], in terms of my drawings, aside from bringing joy to people who are being and feel betrayed and therefore need to be portrayed in the pieces, and so I have had so many beautiful messages from people saying that my drawings can even be like medicine for them. It is so beautiful. When my drawings are particularly geared towards political unrest and violence in the media – I grew up in Columbia and when Columbia was going through a very intense situation with a lot of in state violence, in situations like that, I get a lot of messages with people. I get them from all sort of places from people with different struggles, some from Bolivia, Palestine, saying that my drawings have made their way all the way there to them – they have even been used in protests which was just shocking and beautiful to hear!’ 

Wow, that is amazing. 

BMB: ‘It was amazing – I saw my drawings on banners and stuff and I was like ‘what is happening?!”.  

You describe art as needing to be more accessible. What is some advice to someone in a similar situation as you or maybe contemplating not going into formal training? 

BMB: ‘I think I would have just loved someone to tell me that no one knows what on earth they are doing [laughs]. No one, no one, knows what they are doing and everyone is just trying their best! I also wish someone had told me that everyone has something to contribute. It is valid to make art as a community, to be a self-taught artist, because people do want to see that, people want to see different people doing different things, so be bold. And one final thing: a lot of people are faking it until they make it, and not everything has to be so serious!’ 

 

Spontaneous bursts of energy or consistent efforts? 

BMB: ‘Spontaneous bursts, I think. It depends if there is something going on or something that I want to say. When there are more people needing to be held in situations of despair, that is when I know I will produce worm regularly’ 

Fashion Photography or Fine Art Photography? 

BMB: ‘Both. But if I had to choose, maybe fashion photography.’ 

Tate Britain or Tate Modern? 

BMB: ‘Tate Modern.’ 

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