Interested in eliminating a literal depiction of herself within her work to instead focus on a sense of self in relation to the representation of blackness within the contemporary canon of painting and portraiture, Jones produces corporeal objects that inform an expansive inquiry into the set of power structures and systems that have, in turn, provided a breeding ground for histories that are inextricably linked to contemporary attitudes regarding the roles of black individuals and communities. Her work aims to foreground the complexities at the centre of society’s reading of the black body - how it is understood, and how it is culturally reproduced.
In The Black In Their Face, Jones’ sculptures trace her relationship to colour, the human figure, and sexuality - all thematic tropes that stretch back through the history of the art object. In Jones’ care, however, a space is carved out that calls attention to a larger bracket of history, wherein the positionality and context of the object have particular implications. The problematic history of the treatment of African sculpture in Europe in the early 20th Century, and its subsequent embedding into the art history curriculum under the questionable rubric ‘Primitivism’, is one of many threads of discourse that come to mind.
Integral to the process of making her sculptures is a text that Jones wrote as a way for her to navigate the variant devices deployed in her current practice. The writing allows her to bravely articulate her own experience of making art: a necessity that is intimately connected to her relationship with her own, and other black bodies. Taking an epistolary form Jones often writes rhetorically to her chosen ‘muse’, a boy called Ezra, who emerges as a lens through which she rejoices in the beauty of black bodies. She writes about desire, about an urgent need to make the black body visible through colour. An exegesis of colour.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his text on the reality of the black body in the US today, Between The World And Me, reminds us that we must 'always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.’ At a time when the black body is as under threat as ever, Jones’ exhibition pulls the black face, black features, black skin into sharp focus, and roots her work within a new discussion: one that urban theorist Paul Goodwin has recently noted as being about ‘blackness as a material as transformative resistance.’
Rachel Jones (London, 1991), received a BA in Painting & Printmaking at Glasgow School of Art and is currently enrolled on the MA Painting at Royal Academy Schools. Her work has been exhibited in the UK at various institutions including the Royal Scottish Academy and The Fleming Collection. She was artist in residence at the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art in 2016.