”My work is my healing…!” Oriana Jemide in I Am A Creative series
Oriana is a freelance fine artist and performance poet. She is currently studying a BA in Fine Art at London Metropolitan University. She is also the Founder of Jewels of Jael, a social enterprise that promotes mental and emotional prosperity through fine art workshops/exercises, whilst creating a safe space for transparent conversation with the aim of building healthy connections and community amongst young women.
What does it mean to you to be a creative/creator?
I think ‘creative’ has become a buzzword in the art world, and has lost its meaning, now everyone is basically a ‘creative’ because it’s trendy. I prefer to call myself a ‘creator’ because it leans more towards being innovative rather just following trends. A creator brings things into existence that the world is yet to experience, a creative feels more technical like a job description. Being creator means I get to break existing boundaries within society, I get to come up with concepts and ideas that are unique to me. It means I get to stay true to my narrative, as a Christian, Black British Nigerian young woman with multiple artistic abilities.
When and how did you first discover your creative side?
I am super fortunate to have been raised in a creative household. With a cake decorating father and script writing mother, I had the right dose of exposure and experience that has made me the creator I am today. From the age of seven, I spent a lot of my free time in my dad’s cake factory at the back of our house at the time. There I learnt the art of cake decorating which included molding things (people, objects, flowers) out of fondant (icing sugar), piping on cakes, even drawing and painting on cakes. I believe my passion for fine art was birthed there. In terms of the poetry, I also spent time shadowing my mum who is also an amazing poet, but mainly focuses on writing for film. I would sit with her on weekends reading her scripts and sometimes got the opportunity to follow her to film sets, that helped open my mind to the art of story-telling and enhanced my love for visual arts.
What impact have your background and life experiences had on your work?
My work is mostly focused on things rooted in my background and experiences. I was raised in Nigeria and love to pay homage to my culture, because there is so much depth to it, and it gets the creative juices flowing. I was born and have also spent a long time in the UK, so I have two homes. Both cultures have shaped my worldview and so, my art. There is the obvious conflict of interest with Nigeria having been a British colony; I tend to use this as the base of most of my work to present an elephant in the room in the hopes to further bridge the gap between the two countries. I aim to be as transparent as possible in my work, sharing my struggles with things like pornography, self-worth, heartbreak and rediscovering my identity in order to encourage and empower other young women.
What inspires your paintings and poetry?
Something that is part of my creative process is collating the experiences of women around me. It’s important that our stories are told in full and who better to tell those stories than us. I believe in authenticity when it comes to art, so my narrative be it poetry or paintings are always something real, something that has been or is being encountered in real life. I am also inspired by myself; by my faith, my womanhood, my ethnicity, my race, and my creative gift. I speak a lot about what it’s like to be a black, Christian woman because I know that experience inside and out. I live in my Bible, and work by women writers/artists and black writers/artists.
There are definitely overlaps in my art and poetry, both in my creative process and content. Sometimes I actually go as far as creating a piece of art work and a poem simultaneously to have both a visual and written representation of a message I am trying to convey.
You have recently started Jewels of Jael, tell us more about it
The name came from Judges, one of my favourite books in the Bible. Jael was the woman who delivered Israel from the troops of King Jabin by killing the leader of the army, Sisera, using just a hammer and tent peg. This story for me is about using what you know and have to bring about a solution. Jael was not at the forefront of things, but she understood her identity and her ability and because of that Israel won that battle. As women we will face many battles in life, but knowing who we are and what we are capable of, is a win even in the face of failure. Describing women as ‘jewels’ is also about identity, sometimes we are so fixated on our current reality, which can be messy, that we neglect who we truly are which is the image of God. The name matches the goal, which is to equip women with their hammers and tent pegs for life’s many battles with art and mentorship as mediums.
I am very interested in art as medicine and I would like to open up centers, which I call wholeness galleries. The idea is for people to have a space, where they can navigate through emotional, mental and perhaps even physical struggles using art. I want art to have a very direct impact on people’s wellbeing, not in this mystical, whimsical way but practically. This is where Jewels Of Jael stems from; now JOJ is specifically for women. Being a woman, who has used art as healing in my own life, when I felt helpless, I want to do that for other women.
What impact does your identity in Christ have on your craft?
Who I am in Christ completely shapes my craft. My craft wouldn’t exist without knowing who I am in Christ. I have come a long way though, there was a time my craft was merely a hobby in my eyes, and I believed that God had something ‘bigger’ for me. Through a combination of loving to talk or preach a lot and people jokingly calling me “Pastor Ri”, I believed my purpose was in church ministry. I had also been spending an excessive amount of time on Twitter, noticing this wave of young Christian ministries and nagging God for my own. All this was happening, while I painted for ‘fun’. To shorten the story, I was restarting my university journey, in my gap year before that, I had my first paid painting job, of about seven large scale paintings. In the simplest words, doing that job brought me a joy I had never experienced before. After many Holy Spirit tugs, I knew that was where God needed me to be, that was the beginning of my true identity journey. Now all I know is that He has blessed me with the gift of art, writing, performing or creating artwork, that is my portion to give back to Him and share with the world.
What is your proudest moment this year?
It’s been such a brilliant year and so many moments have been exciting for me, but if I had to choose it would be getting baptised on Easter Sunday, this year.
What have you struggled with the most?
My self-worth, at times, I haven’t felt worthy of my purpose and even the people in my life because of some of the mistakes I made in the past.
Take us through the process involved in creating your paintings from start to finish
Most art in general starts with some sort of research, whether deliberate or subconscious, something inspires me to create. I usually have a running theme in my head anyway, so I look for images that fit that and I recreate them. I paint quite quickly and when I know what I am doing, I can get through a large-scale painting in about three hours. I always paint with music; it helps me work quicker. I like to finish a piece in one go, so I absolutely hate doing half a painting and coming back to it, I just feel like I lose the flow of things. So I usually pick a few days when I am free and churn out work one after the other. I’m yet to beat my record of finishing three 100 × 150 cm paintings (pretty large) in two days.
Quite a bit of your work centres around the female and female form, what is the inspiration behind this?
From the time of slavery till date, the female body is still seen as something to be consumed and paid for rather than just admired. I want to see that changed. By presenting the female form, and including objects like coins in my paintings, I want to open up a discussion about women not being objects for male consumption.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
My favourite question, here goes the long list: renowned fine artist, published poet, owner of a wholeness and wellness gallery, and a pioneer for emotional prosperity. Hopefully newly married as well.
There is often a lot of conversation around creatives struggling to monetise their craft or people unwilling to pay their goods or services, have you had any experience with this?
This is absolutely true and very sad. I believe it still has to do with people not truly seeing the value of the arts especially when it isn’t being mass produced. Being an artist is expensive, a good quality pot of paint can cost up to £10, and you might need ten different colours, that’s already £100, a paintbrush can cost like £6, again you need multiple. All in all, for a good art supply shop, you’re looking to spend between £200 – £500 but people want to price your work at £30. Let’s not forget the time and brain power that goes into creating. I think people should become aware of what goes into people’s creative processes before asking them to sell at cheaper prices or dish out work/services for free or exposure.
How have you overcome the challenges?
I have been able to manage not getting paid adequately by just being in love with my craft. I was churning out paintings and poems before I started getting paid for them, and I will still be churning them out, if I never get paid because I love it. Coming to this level of contentment has been useful. I have also done things that I don’t like doing to overcome, but a girl has got to eat. One of those things is mass producing my work, on postcards for instance. I really don’t like the mass production of artwork because I feel it ruins the purity but sometimes that is the only way you can sell art. Fortunately or unfortunately, people would rather buy a picture of your work, or your work on a mug than your actual work. To me that is neither here nor there, it is just something I have done in this time of my life to both get by and make my art more accessible.
Finally, what do you enjoy most about being a creator?
This is easy. I enjoy that I get to use my gift as a creator on myself before anyone else. I get to be healed up by my work. Whether it’s writing poetry or painting or sculpting, that process both the technical and the content are therapy for me. My work is my healing and I love that!