Sharon Adebisi: 'I reflected on the loss of identity in my paintings by not painting any faces'

·5 min read
Sharon Adebisi uses art to assert her confidence in the Black community. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
Sharon Adebisi uses art to assert her confidence in the Black community. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Sharon Adebisi is a self-taught artist, whose art is a reflection of her mind. As she travels through her twenties, she aims to communicate the journey of her emotions, experiences and self-discovery through colour-rich, semi-abstract paintings focused on portraiture. Whilst her pieces are created more for self-reflection and release, a welcomed by-product is others being able to relate to their subject, or be positively influenced by her thought processes.

Sharon discusses how her identity is intrinsically linked to her artwork and how she is navigating the art world with Bolanle Tajudeen, the founder of the educational platform, Black Blossoms School of Art and Culture.

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Bolanle: Tell us about your educational background?

Sharon: I studied GCSE and A-level art, but I didn't enjoy it as I found the lessons and assessment quite restrictive, and it didn't allow me to think creatively. A lot of the time, your creative ideas would be criticised by teachers. At university, I studied physiology and pharmacology; during this time, I started to use my art as a journal to communicate my thoughts and a way of life. I am now doing another degree in medicine, and I love working between two areas I am passionate about, the sciences and the arts.

Sharon first started using her art as a journal to communicate my thoughts and a way of life. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
Sharon first started using her art as a journal to communicate my thoughts and a way of life. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Bolanle: I am laughing because it is so Nigerian of you to study medicine.

Sharon: I know, right! I don't think my parents would have supported me to study art at university anyway. My parents are highly traditional. When I was younger and they saw me doing art things, they would encourage me to focus on my sciences. However, now they are starting to see my art practice take me to places that the sciences cannot. I have been shortlisted for prestigious art awards and my art makes me money too. My mum even bought me an easel, so they are becoming supportive now.

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Sharon doesn't put features on her subjects and the background is always black. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
Sharon doesn't put features on her subjects and the background is always black. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
During a visit to Ghana, Sharon took pictures of the streets and turned them into paintings. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
During a visit to Ghana, Sharon took pictures of the streets and turned them into paintings. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Bolanle: In many of the scenes in your painting, you have created bustling street markets in West Africa. What has inspired this?

Sharon: Those scenes are based in Kumasi's open-air market in Ghana. I was able to stay there for a month before the COVID-19 pandemic. When I was in Kumasi, I took loads of photos, and then I came back, developing them into paintings. The jewellery and the textiles that appear in the paintings are a mixture of Ghanian and Nigerian clothing. It was my first time visiting anywhere in Africa, and I felt such a spiritual connection to the place. I'm looking forward to going back.

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Bolanle: Another thing I notice in your paintings is how the subjects have no features. Why is this?

Sharon: When I graduated with my first degree, I wanted to study medicine and become a doctor. To get into medicine, you need to apply for medical school and get rejected for about three or four years in a row. Medicine was something I also wanted to do, and the rejection impacted me quite hard. I started to lose my identity as studying medicine was something I always wanted to do.

I started to reflect on the loss of identity in my paintings by not painting any faces, as I didn't know who to paint because I didn't know who I was. At the same time, I started to read more books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and other Black authors. Reading those books made me deepen and understand the importance of my Black identity in more depth. That is why I don't put the features on my subjects and the background is black; it is to assert my confidence in my Black identity.

Reading books from Black authors helped deepen Sharon's understanding of Black identity. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
Reading books from Black authors helped deepen Sharon's understanding of Black identity. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
Sharon says she's still learning a lot about the art world but is enjoying the process. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)
Sharon says she's still learning a lot about the art world but is enjoying the process. (Picture: Elusade Elufowoju)

Bolanle: How have you found navigating the arts?

Sharon: I think I am doing quite well; being a member of Disrupt Space, having the agency manage the business side of my art has been very helpful. However, outside of the agency, being an artist is extremely expensive. It costs so much money to do things, exhibitions are not free and sometimes in certain galleries, you need to pay £300 to £800 for wall spaces to exhibit. It also takes a lot of time to apply for opportunities and art competitions. I am just still learning about the art world, but I am enjoying the process. The more people that like my work, the more confident I get to continue.

Bolanle: You mentioned that being part of Disrupt Space has been beneficial; what is it like being part of a Black visual arts agency?

Sharon: It is beneficial; the agency connects me to collectors. Even with this opportunity to create an NFT with Yahoo, as an emerging artist, there's no way I could have been able to navigate those relationships.

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Bolanle: Have you started your NFT?

Sharon: Yes, it is my signature market scene, and I am adding movement. I have been getting a lot of help from the mentors provided by Yahoo, it has honestly been such a great learning experience, and I am looking forward to sharing my new creations with a different public.

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