Installation view of What Does The Water Taste Like?, 2020, ebony and Jet posters, salon chair, basin, hair, dimensions variable

Juliana Kasumu

with Wells Fray-Smith

‘My one wish as an artist is that the water is clear. And that people come into the work. And that they also begin to have those questions.’

Listen to the full interview here:

I am Juliana Oluwatosin Kasumu. I’m an artist from Mika, who uses different mediums, predominantly in the form of photography, film and text. Text is a big part of my practice, as well as sound and sculpture. I’m particularly interested in themes of a transcultural nature. The ways in which things like Africa and Europe and the Americas interchange and reinvent one another through things such as colonisation, migration, displacement. I’m also interested in the ways in which the West African diaspora are greatly connected, and how I, as someone who’s part of that diaspora, attempts to connect and reconnect with West Africa, Nigeria specifically, myself being a Yoruba woman. I am curious about the ways in which those migrations exist and almost don’t cease to exist. They’re almost at a constant play. I always find myself finding new words or new languages or new ways to see things. I’m very excited that I get to use my practice as a way to explore all of those different things and different relationships.

What are you showing in The London Open 2022?

I will be showing a mixed media installation called What Does the Water Taste Like? (2020). It is a mix of collage, moving image, synthetic hair, mirrors and a sink. It recreates feelings and sentimentalities around home, love, comfort and familiarity, as it pertains to a gathering of people, especially that of prominent women, important women within my life on a personal level. The work uses universally influential iconography, and it also looks at what a hair salon is, and particularly what an African, West African, Black American, Black British hair salon looks like. There are so many differences and similarities in how they all look and feel. Wherever I go around the world, I’m in Lagos, Nigeria and it’s Yoruba speaking or pidgin speaking versus when I’m here in English-speaking London… The feeling of being in this space, the comfort or even the relaxation of having someone run their fingers through your hair, it’s the same feeling. There are so many differences to this work. That is also essential.

We’ve talked about looking at the hair salon really as a space of gathering, connection, community, and how that might be mapped on religious spaces or experience and then how water might feature in both. I wondered if you could talk a bit about the title?

What Does the Water Taste Like? is from a question my friend asked, which is in the video portion of the installation. What she actually asks is, how does the water taste? It’s interesting, in my memory bank of that question, I almost trans-lifted it out of pidgin and into English. That speaks to the ways in which that language works within my head. Her question was based on my being away from what I recognised at the time to be home. Does the water taste different or is that environment similar or different to what I recognise or what I’m used to? When I think about water, I always remember one of my favourite Fela Kuti tracks, ‘Water No Get Enemy.’ There’s a poignant part in the song where he says even if the water kills your child, you’ll still use water because water is an essential part of life that we can’t run away from. And so, I think about water as it pertains to the seas, the Caribbean Seas, the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. I think about a movement of water and travelling across waters, across bodies of water and migrations. I think about water in the nurturing aspect. I mentioned the act or the notion of washing one’s hair or using water to cleanse, to heal. But I also think about the damaging effects too. And the pain that one feels, of being disconnected, due to the separations that water can cause. I also think about who has access to water, clean water and why one has to buy water. Water, for me, is related and connected to so many different things, and so many feelings as well, that are rooted in the work. My one wish as an artist is that the water is clear. And that people come into the work amd that they also begin to have those questions.

Work in the exhibition:
What Does The Water Taste Like?, 2020
Ebony and Jet posters, salon chair, basin, hair
Dimensions variable

Juliana Kasumu
2020 MFA Tulane University, New Orleans
2015 BA Birmingham City University

Selected exhibitions and screenings: San Francisco International Film Festival (2022); Palm Springs International Film Festival, Palm Springs (2022); BlackStar Film Festival, Phillidaphia (2022); BFI Film Festival, London; AFI Film Fest, Los Angeles (2021); Chicago International Film Festival (2021); Aesthetica Short Film Festival, York (2021, 2020); New Orleans Film Festival (2021, 2020); Images Film Festival, Toronto (2020); Rencontres de Bamako Biennale Africaine de la Photographie (2020)

What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?

This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.

Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.

The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.

The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.

The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.

Gallery 1, Downstairs

The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.

Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.

Gallery 9, Upstairs

This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free  2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.

Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.

Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?

Gallery 8, Upstairs

The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.

Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.

On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.

The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.

Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.

See the full list of works here.

An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.

Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.