Pass Us Our Oyster Knives

We are delighted to announce a new artwork Pass Us Our Oyster Knives by Jessica Ilatoda. Curated and commissioned by mandla for HOME’s Black History Month programme and exhibited on HOME’s front windows for Black History Month 2023.

Jessica’s new work, a portrait depiction of the fearlessness of black women in the face of life’s opposition is exhibited from Sat 29 Sep – Tue 31 Oct

“But I am not tragically colored.

There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes.

No, I do not weep at the world. I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

I do not always feel colored.

I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

 – How It Feels To Be Colored Me, Zora Neale Hurston (1928)

Jessica Ilatoda’s visual response to this year’s Black History Month theme Saluting Our Sisters is a beautiful, striking image symbolising the interlinked power of Black Women’s sisterhood and community. One figure looks to the side, or the past, refusing to look at the eyes that may be gazing at her, while the other figure looks directly at her beholder. The beginning and end of their bodies are intertwined.  It made me think of several things:

The figures as not two different women’s faces, but instead, a two headed deity, a fierce warrior able to face her enemies from any side they might try and attack from.

The multifaceted experience of womanhood, the different roles played by one woman

The figure’s connected halves as the one on the left being the one on the right’s ancestor. There’s something about how they have the same eye colour that makes them feel like a part of the same lineage.

The concept of Ubuntu: I am because you are.

In a salute to a sister who came before, the artist artist drew inspiration for the painting from Zora Neale Hurston’s (1891-1960) words from her 1928 essay How It Feels To Be Colored Me so we have a snippet of the quote that speaks to the creation of this work alongside the image.  Jessica’s generation stands today in the wake of Zora’s generation walking before us. In her essay, Hurston speaks of how she saw herself as ‘Zora’ until she moved to Jacksonville at the age of thirteen where she ‘became colored’.

This essay feels vital when we’re thinking about why Black History Month exists in the first place. Where does the concept of Blackness come from? Why is it so important to uplift the voices of the marginalised? Why is marginalisation of others a functioning part of society?

In her essay, Zora Neale Hurston reflects on how she discovered the concept of race, where she sat within it and her refusal to think of her race as something that’s wrong with her.

‘I do not always feel coloured…

 Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, but through it all, I remain myself.’

There are many different words attributed to those of us with more melanin than others, words we are given by the world around us – not necessarily claimed by our own selves. This piece by Jessica Ilatoda created in September 2023, paired with Zora Neale Hurston’s words all the way from 1928 make a powerful statement about how much beauty, love and power exists in our communities, how it uplifts us when we might find ourselves in places we might be made to feel less than or othered.

Read the full essay How It Feels To Be Colored Me, Zora Neale Hurston (1928)

To see more of Jessica’s past and current projects you can find her on Instagram @ILATODA


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