Meet Soho House artist Joy Labinjo
The London-based painter talks about the process behind her canvases celebrating Blackness, as her work is displayed in the Soho House art collection
Thursday 17 November 2022 By Anastasiia Fedorova Photography courtesy of the artist and Tiwani Contemporary
Soho House’s global art collection is one of the biggest privately owned assemblages in the world. The Soho House Artists series spotlights people behind the works – their practice, life and aspirations. In this instalment, we talk to London-based artist Joy Labinjo.
Joy Labinjo’s canvases radiate power and a drive for change. Since graduating from Newcastle University in 2017, the London-based artist has worked on creating a new representation of Blackness in the context of community, family and history. A lot of her works are inspired by her British-Nigerian heritage, emphasised through family albums and childhood recollections, while some of her art pays homage to historical figures.
She often chooses large-scale canvases as her preferred medium – some taller than the artist herself. One of her commissions was displayed at Brixton tube station in south London for an entire year, praised for its clever depiction of a barbershop scene floating above the passing crowd. In her most recent show at Tiwani Contemporary in Lagos, Labinjo presented a series of nude self-portraits – a radical move in a conservative society where the bodies of Black women have historically been politicised.
Here, she gives Soho House an insight into her creative process, her studio and her favourite art memory.
Photo by Alexander Coggin
Where did you grow up and where are you based?
‘I grew up in Dagenham, Essex and then Stevenage in Hertfordshire. I’m based in London now.’
What does art mean to you?
‘Ultimately, art to me just means a form of expression. Technically, most things we make as humans can be described as art. Painting and occasionally drawing is how I express myself, but I think what can be described as art is limitless.’
Name three things you explore in your work?
‘Histories, the figure and race.’
What is your studio like?
‘Most of time very, very messy. It works for me, but I would definitely call it untidy and have to allocate cleaning time before a studio visit. I normally have multiple canvases on the go, and they’ll be raised and leant on various empty walls. The floor, however, will be covered in paint, pallets, brushes and coffee cups. After a painting session I’ll clean to make sure it’s only messy and not dirty. After paintings get collected for an exhibition, I’ll do a deep clean and put everything away, which is a bit of a ritual. But when I start working, the chaos unfolds.’
What’s your favourite art-related memory?
‘It would have to be the opening of my solo show earlier this year in Lagos. It was an exhibition of nudes using my own body, so I was really nervous to have them on show. It was so nice to be surrounded by friends and family, and have them see the work for the first time. It was also the first show in Tiwani’s [Tiwani Contemporary] new gallery space, so there was a live band, canapes and flowing drinks. It just felt like a really magical evening. My face was aching by the end of it, because I couldn’t stop smiling.’
What is the craziest thing you ever made?
‘Maybe a paper mache mask inspired by the cockroach/ insect/ beetle described in Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I think I made Gregor Samsa as he was transforming, and the outcome was a very ugly and weird mask. It was for a summer project I had to do before starting my BA.’
What do you do when you’re not making art?
‘I’m normally making up for lost time. I enjoy a solo trip to recharge, abroad or have a few days at Soho Farmhouse. I then spend time catching up with friends and family, seeing exhibitions, reading, trying new recipes, working out, and catching up on films and Netflix shows. I’m also a big fan of doing absolutely nothing, so I like to have a couple of days a week without plans or tasks.’
Where can we see your works?
‘At the moment everything is winding down. I have a small work in Brixton Studio, a still life in the Life Is Still Life exhibition at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge and a mural in Becontree, commissioned by Create London.’