For the culture: How Sophia Tassew Is Unapologetically Making Art Cool Again
The next big influence is here.
March 09, 2017 at 5:06 pm
Black creatives have definitely been doing the most this past year. Across all platforms, countless works have gone viral. But back in 2016, one creative in particular had me intrigued. By turning treasured R&B albums into film posters, such as The Diary of Alicia Keys, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Rihanna’s Anti, the then 19 year-old Sophia Tassew celebrated everything about my black femininity as well as many a UK youth’s (including mine) love for Grime with posters of Skepta’s Konnichiwa and Dizzee Rascal’s classic Boy in Da Corner.
Later in 2016, at the Converse UK headquarters, Sophia curated 140BPM: an exhibition celebrating Grime through art.
Earlier this month for International Women’s Day, the curator was inspired by 90s punk-rock feminist movement Riot Girl to create #RIOTGAL – an exhibition that explores intersectional feminism through art.
For one evening only, at London’s coveted Hospital Club, Sophia and four other young female artists displayed their views and feelings of feminism through a video installation, fine art, and photography.
At just 20, this South London native is well and truly on her way to becoming one of this generation’s leading artists and curators. Not only has Sophia recently featured in Dazed Magazine – a desire she put out into the universe via Twitter just a few months before – she also made an appearance in Stomzy’s (#1 UK Grime artist) ‘Big for your Boots’ video.
Seeing Sophia’s amazing evolution takes me back to the many things we spoke about months ago in a Central London Pret…
On dropping out of university
I moved out of London to study media and communications but five months into my first year, I left.
I just knew that it wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. I liked the subject, but I realised that there’s no course you can take that will make you the best creative you can be. I needed to be out there working and physically doing something rather than just learning how. I had no plan B. I didn’t look for retail jobs. It was just whatever happens, happens. I was just happy to be home and get the ball rolling.
On the time she landed a role at a top creative ad agency
I spent every single day on my laptop looking for creative opportunities. I applied for multiple roles, and sent hundreds of emails and DM’s to everyone I admired asking if I could work for them or shadow them – even though I didn't have a portfolio. One day, I was on Eventbrite and stumbled across something called Girlhood – a five week intense bootcamp aimed at women from diverse backgrounds wanting to get into the creative industries. A placement at FCB Inferno was up for grabs. I knew it was my chance. It was very intense and a lot of hard work. I was so elated to get the placement.
I don't know what the directors saw in me but in the final interview, with tears in my eyes; I displayed raw passion and emotion because I sacrificed a lot for that position. I showed them a screenshot of my email confirming that I had left university and said: “This is how bad I want it”.
My role as a junior art director involved me conveying key messages through visuals.
On THOSE viral posters
The idea randomly came into my head and I knew I had to immediately jump on Photoshop and create them.
In my free time, I was sitting in the office until 7pm trying to get them done as soon as possible. When I put them out on social media, they blew like crazy. I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t expect such a response.
When I created the pieces, I wanted to give audiences the power to imagine and create in their minds. In the film industry, diversity is still an issue and the fact that I used all black artists highlighted that.
I'm in love with aesthetics and visuals. I like to turn things that other people don’t see as beautiful into works of art. All my life, I’ve grown up in London and I’m in love with our culture. I love Grime music so I was inspired to incorporate my love for my culture, my environment and our music into physical works of art.
I’m very inspired by Skepta because he's so unapologetic with where he comes from. He's proud of it and he's always his authentic self. I love Missy Elliot – she’s the queen of visuals. I love how she is able to experiment and always pull it off so well. She's very distinctive with all she does and you can easily tell it’s her.
Why black creatives should keep pushing boundaries
There are so many areas of the art and creative world that are off limits to us. It's important that we keep pushing boundaries and continue representing who we are and being unapologetic with our work. In art there shouldn’t be rules. Let’s stop “playing it safe” and start being braver. When we push our own work and it does get recognised, it does so much more than we imagine – not just for the artist, but for other young black creatives who aspire to be like the people who they're watching.
Let’s be strategic in knowing how to play our way to the top. When we get there, we pave the way for other creatives who are looking to us. If others are uncomfortable with that, then that's their problem.
On being the future of art
When you mention galleries and fine art, young people tend to think of period pieces or styles they can’t relate to. I sometimes go into galleries and exhibitions and don’t see art that represents me or my culture, so I have to pretend to be inspired and I don’t think that's right. I plan to do more exhibitions across the world to expose a lot more young people to art and really cool concepts that they can look forward to and connect with. I want to make art cool again.
In five years, I see myself doing bigger things for the people and the culture.
Words of advice
Always speak things into existence. Be vocal about what you want. I stopped using the word 'if' a very long time ago. You have to be consistent and really believe in yourself. Never doubt your intuition because that's a very powerful tool that we have.
To the young black art student, the young broke art student, and anyone else who feels like they won't make it to the top – you’ll probably be the most successful because that's where the passion starts. There’s a real hunger and passion that comes from not having any money in your pocket. It takes time to build something great but stay focused on it and you will get there.
Keep up with Sophia –