Spotlight: Private views & hidden beauty in Xuan Ma’s jewellery

Jewellery touches the body in curiously outward facing but intimate encounters. Xuan Ma offers new perspectives on the ways in which the human body interacts with design and craft. By using mirrored metal surfaces and straight lines that run alongside the curves of the body, abstract parts of the human body are reflected and made visible. The inside of elbows, the upside down refracted gum line shown in the inside of the mouth, the underside of the chin – these ‘private views’ all illuminate the ‘hidden beauty of the body’.

“Private View”- Head
“Private View”- Inside the mouth

For me, jewellery is a creative language to communicate my personal understandings and design ideology to others. After numerous trials and failures in the workshop, I was able to transform all the ideas that seem impossible at first into reality. Thus, I was fascinated by the incredibly enjoyable working process. Another motivation for me is to explore more possibilities in jewellery by applying the newly discovered materials or new effects to my work.

Xuan Ma
“Private View”-Elbow
“Private View” – Armpit

My collection of jewellery uses reflective surfaces to see and rediscover our bodies emphasising a new, meaningful way to appreciate and understand ourselves. I realise in our everyday life, reflective, shiny surfaces are everywhere and the notion of reflection and positive self-reflection is complex and is too often experienced in a comparative, judgemental way – a selfie is not in fact for oneself even if taking one is a private act. Our obsession with self-image and comparisons with others is everywhere. I realised the strongest reason why we take photos is not just about memories, it is about getting familiar to ourselves—to record and see different views of ourselves.

Xuan Ma
“Private View”-Teeth

To create a more meaningful way of looking, I started to develop serendipitous ways to appreciate the uniqueness of our bodies, especially by highlighting the parts that we can’t directly observe ourselves which in my opinion can be found a true sense of self-beauty. Using my metalwork skills, I have made wearable personal mirrors, which help capture these hidden beauty spots, momentarily or just long enough to instil in us a positive act of self-appreciation rather than of judging oneself.

Xuan Ma

“Private View”-Private View

Each piece of my collection reveals a part of the body you can’t see yourself such as the inside of the mouth, the teeth, the armpit, bottom, top of the head, elbow, chin and the private parts. I have designed the pieces so that when they are not being worn or used, they can be placed on a table or hung on a wall, as you would with an ordinary mirror. This collection allowed me to rediscover how beautiful the unseen body can be and how a mirrored jewellery object can be empowering. 

Xuan Ma
“Private View” -Chin

All images by Xuan Ma.

‘Private View’ was nominated for The MullenLowe NOVA Awards and has won the prize of Autor Magazine 2019.

Follow: @x.mahin_jewellery

Spotlight: Xenobia Bailey’s Aesthetic of Funk

Portrait of Xenobia Bailey by Daisy Chen

Xenobia Bailey’s career is as eclectic and colourful as the spiral crochet patterns that form a key part of her aesthetic. Having studied ethnomusicology at the University of Washington and Industrial Design at the Pratt Institute, she went on to work as a costume designer for Black Arts West and learnt to crochet at the Greenpoint Cultural society in Brooklyn. Her crochet hats infiltrated pop culture in the 1980s, appearing everywhere from United Colors of Beneton advertisements, and Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, to Elle magazine. 

“Crochet works well for practicing my craft and developing the aesthetic. It is labor-intensive, but it becomes a meditation, like counting prayer beads”

Bailey’s first influence, however, was her mother – “She created a beautiful ambience with nothing. She’d get these afghans and quilts from the Salvation Army to adorn the house in a way that was like an art installation.” Bailey’s refers to her art practice as an ‘aesthetic of funk’, which celebrates the idiosyncratic, the improvised, and folk art traditions that were built on thrift and any scraps of material at hand.  

$ Bopped – flow Mandela cosmic tapestry of energy flow of charged currency (a minor event), 1999,  Hand crotchet, cotton, acrylic yarns, 5’8in. Image courtesy Stux Gallery

“There isn’t a commercialised or industrialised African-American aesthetic, it’s more of a craft, and it goes through the music, the poetry, the food and everything. There is a mysticism that surrounds our aesthetic. It’s important for African Americans especially to have a place of being and sense of presence’

Xenobia Bailey, Sistah Paradise’s Great Wall of Fire Tent (installation view, John Michael Kohler Arts Center), 1993; acrylic and cotton yarn and mixed media. Courtesy of the artist.

Central to Bailey’s ‘aesthetic of funk’ is the mission to make something joyful from ‘the legacy of trauma’ central to the African-American experience: ‘we can make a joyful noise in that funk…From that garbage comes fertilizer, and that’s where fresh seeds sprout.”  Mothership 1: Sistah Paradise’s Great Wall of Fire Revival Tent, which draws inspiration from Obeah healing rituals, is a striking example of the ways Bailey combines vibrant crochet, folk inspired patterns and ceremonial fabrics to create afrofuturist work that celebrates the cultural legacy of African American women. Her tent offers a space of sanctuary and solace, whilst evoking the dual nature of funk as both based in trauma but signifying joy: Bailey describes its title as referring to “Sistah Paradise, a fictional African medicine woman, or ‘Obeah,’ who was brought to the US as a slave… It’s a message of resistance, renewal, and racial pride through the process of crochet.”

Sistah Paradise: The Lead Mystical African (Haitian Aesthetic) American Folk Character, for rural, urban and suburban bedtime medicinal folktales and contemporary bedtime medicinal lullabies. Photography by Xenobia Bailey

Bailey has also created large scale artworks that translate her ‘aesthetic of funk’ into public spaces. Funktional Vibrations is a large scale mosaic that decorates the roof of 34thStreet – Hudson Yards station on the New York subway. A mystical, cosmic scene made of her signature mandalas, as well as light rays and shooting stars, Bailey wants this work to function as an ‘activator; it’s not only to be pretty, but to inspire’. 

Xenobia Bailey’s blog is available to view here. See below for a video of Bailey discussing her project “Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk”

Spotlight: Black Power Tarot Deck

When graphic designer Michael Eaton contacted musician King Khan he was gifted a very special commission: “I had been a huge fan of his music for years and it just so happened he was thinking of making this Tarot deck so it was appropriate timing”.

King Khan is well-versed in tarot and had studied it for a long time. As Eaton recalls: “The deck was all King Khan’s vision so I would offer up designs until they were correct. They are closely matched to the positioning/colours of the real deck to allow them to be fully functional but also has its own style”.

The aim of the deck was to add a ‘surrealistic mythos to American history’, to add in powerful people who could imbue the deck with spiritual inspiration. Each person is attached to a figure of the major acana, Tina Turner is depicted as ‘Strength’ and TuPac, poignantly, as ‘Hanged Man’. King Khan chose each person with specific intent, which he had been working on for many years before the designs were commissioned. They’re “just very happy and amazed that the cards are out there and people are using them”.

You can buy the cards here.

King Khan is a Canadian musician/producer/artist/writer. He is best known as the frontman of King Khan and the Shrines and for being one half of The King Khan & BBQ Show.

Michael Eaton is a Belfast-based graphic designer for film and TV.

Spotlight: Blandine Martin, ‘Objets sans importance’

Our spotlight this month is the mixed-media artist Blandine Martin. Martin works with materials including sand, recycled paper and timber to combine the organic with the abstract. Looking at objects and their place within the domestic sphere, Martin questions and transforms everyday objects, their assumed function and associated rituals, particularly rituals involving women. Objets sans importance explores the weight and lasting legacy of female history, and how society has objectified women.

Passengers Installation at the ugly duck gallery, 2019. Textiles and suitcase.
Bud, 2019. Metal fork with orange felt.

“Blandine plays with conceptual ideas and the art of dismantling objects and their purpose along with their narrative”

Artist’s Statement
Spilled dreams, 2018. Metal bowl with plastic.
Reserved, 2019. Cut up chair and textiles.

See more of Martin's work over on her website. You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Spotlight: Designer Hala Kaiksow

Hala Kaiksow is a designer, an artist and a sculptor. Her intricate craft, design and construction of garments and pieces allows for profound and striking engagements between the natural world and human labour (hand-woven, naturally dyed fabrics, woven raw linen, silk and hemp are often embellished with fragments of latex and metal, as well as natural wood and mother of pearl). Her contemporary practice is infused with a sense of rich Islamic tradition and the past; Kaiksow’s inspiration draws from nomadic antique Bergers clothing to traditional Barhani uniforms. Last year, she was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize 5, an international prize for contemporary artists and designers inspired by Islamic tradition held by the Jameel Art Foundation.

Wandress Collection

“Hala Kaiksow’s journey as a designer begins with the human hand and its ability to imbue garments with a sense of soul.”

Hala Kaiksow, Artist’s Statement
Kaiksow’s practice, weaving on her loom
Nomas Collection
Turba Collection
Al-Qursan Collection

“It is a reflection of Hala’s artisanal approach to thoughtful luxury, one informed by her passion for transforming unexpected materials through age-old craft traditions.”

Hala Kaiksow, Artist’s Statement
Al-Kīmīya Collection
Al-Qursan Collection

Spotlight: The Gee’s Bend Quilts

Gee’s Bend is a small piece of land, surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River. In this location, a community have crafted quilts for decades. In 1966, 150 quilt-makers in the rural area formed the Freedom Quilting Bee co-operative. In light of the Civil Rights Movement, this co-op represented a chance to earn a living from the creative output being generated. This collective approach was led by makers Callie Young and Estelle Witherspoon. However, as Linda Hunt Beckham suggests in her article Quilt Story: Black Rural Women, White Urban Entrepreneurs, And The American Dream there is a tension between the maker’s output and the power dynamics of the contemporary art world. Something the quilters are currently seeking to rectify. Although there has been some financial reimbursement and a larger audience for their work they have also impacted by the shady dealings of art-world gate keeper Bill Arnett. Arnett has historically decided which of the Gee’s Bend quilts have ‘artistic merit’ (unsurprisingly the one’s his family owns make the cut and which spoke reductively to ‘modernist’ sensibilities) and has simplistically painted the community as an ‘unchanging’ backwater. But there has been innovation and engagement with the political nature of their work. The Gee’s Bend tradition has been carried on by women like Loretta P. Bennett, whose mother introduced her to quilt-making. Her contemporary take on the quilt uses bold, sparse geometric shapes, hot pinks and cobalt blues, and materials like corduroy and velveteen, as in the piece ‘Two Sided Geometric Quilt‘. The Gee’s Bend quilts are emblems of a tradition of women’s craft, community creativity and Civil Rights.

I came to realize that my mother, her mother, my aunts, and all the others from Gee’s Bend had sewn the foundation, and all I had to do now was thread my own needle and piece a quilt together.

– Loretta P. Bennett
Housetop and Bricklayer with Bars quilt , ca. 1955 by Lucy T. Pettway, Gee’s Bend, Alabama 
Photo credit: Regan Vercruysse
Blocks and Strips, 2002 by Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee’s Bend, Alabama
Photo Credit: Collection of Tinwood Alliance © 2007

‘I never thought that a quilt would be in the art world. People would think that was beautiful, that something we’d done could be shown all over the world and people get joy out of it’

– Essie Pettway
Housetop Variation with Half-square Blocks, 2003, Gee’s Bend, Alabama
Credit: Collection of Tinwood Alliance © 2007
Pieced Quilt, c. 1979 by Lucy Mingo, Gee’s Bend, Alabama
Denim and Corduroy blocks quilt, n.d. by Flora Moore, Gee’s Bend, Alabama
Photo Credit: Gina Pina
Roman Stripes Variation, 1975, by Willie “Ma Willie” Abrams, Gee’s Bend, Alabama
Photo Credit: Rocor

Interview: Memes & (Im)materiality with Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark


Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark is a multimedia digital sculptor, writer and curator based in London. She explores hybridity, form, and the reframing of black anatomy and autonomy in her work. The lifelikeness of her sculptures belies the handmade and crafted elements at play; the attention to detail in the Nylon plaster, the machine-grooves, the application of hair and make-up. Underpinning her work is a commitment to exploring the commodification of race and gender, with her most recent exhibition at the Aylesham Centre in Peckham unpacking the contemporary ‘meme’. Interested in textuality and temporality, her sculptures pack a political punch and are accompanied by impactful pieces of writing on her website.

Check out the exhibition Black + White = Grey, in collaboration with Picnic Gallery & @TheWrytr, occupying the long window at the Aylesham Centre in Peckham (31st March – 25th May 2019) .


1.   Could you give us some insight into who you are and what you do?

My body of work is an act of elevation; exploring ‘positioning(s)’ where the fictions surrounding black bodies can very easily been seen either in heavy contrast / parallel to the everyday ‘collective’ experience of black people(s); a nuance which is seldom discussed. Under this I consider myself a digital sculptor – as an image maker / artist – but also a writer, with a focus on figuration. To me, within my oeuvre it feels necessary to defend manifestations and the interests of blackness against its ‘systematic misuse, assimilation and containment by the culture as a whole […] to define its own autonomy as art in the face of these constraints’. This becomes fundamental to what I hope to achieve in my work; a reconvening of history. To explore at the way characterisations of PoC has been (traditional) curated with aggression/censorship towards black bodies and then to repurpose that narrative into a contemporary, modern – highly digitally technical – aesthetic. It them emerges in a cross- disciplinary practice embedded in everyday collective experience, as ‘the singular- discrete artistic object is dissolved into the functional demands of material transformation’ (Kattenbelt, 2008, p.91).

My admiration of discourses related to simulacra through the ‘hyperreal’, grounded within the illusion of depth and they very real impact it has on black bodies is a constant tension in which we can examine the space between objects modelling the real, and its ability to usurp/question the original – or historical narratives – as a self-sustaining fictions. These features of our surrounding culture inexorably and involuntarily alter our sense of what does and what does not count as reality, and of the various categories to which things can be assigned (Benson, 2013).

2.    What does ‘craft’ or the ‘decorative’ mean to you?

Craft – when defining the ‘act’ of making is centred within my practice. However, it is not so easy as task to identify due to the fact that primarily I am digitally based and technologically driven.

However, within my practice, the meaning of ‘craft’ can be applied in to different ways: On the one hand, as an activity involving skill in making things by hand: By this definition aesthetically, my artwork(s) borrows from the decorative traditions of Renaissance sculpture that typifies classically ’white’ busts, figures and ‘decorative traditions’ that contemplate key figure throughout the period of antiquity. Thus, working on this (sculptural) format, it can be related to craft in physical manifestation of these aesthetic ideals, as embodied by I Don’t See in Colour (2018). On the other, craft a type of ‘skill’ used in deceiving others: By this definition, I believe that such objects – my artwork to some extent –despite their very absolute materiality are simulacra; its connection to the real thing ‘severed and replaced by its connection with a string of 0s and 1s stored in a computer file” (Benson, 2013), both “an utter transparency, yet the presence of a ‘thing’ in its absence” (Lechte, 2012).


3.    Why were you drawn to the process of digital sculpture?

When having to specially contemplate the hybridisation within my work – where science meets technology (digital) meets aesthetics – there’s a duality in my critique of the online real in its manifestation of black bodies, yet a certain amount of utilisation of the same material process that is used to create – and spread – the artwork. In my opinion, the way that the internet continues to be a ‘white’ space – carved out on the spirit of the white imagination – (online) ‘autonomy’ against the proliferation of images of black bodies online – similarly, it is a discussion of the presumed ‘factual’ nature of digital artefacts despite the ‘non-status’ of its creator as they emerge upload artefacts into the digital realm. I employ digital technologies, processes and platforms to attempt to reframe the way people interact and perpetuate images of black peoples (memes for example which contain a specific dimensionality around the black bodies (blackness) they depict, often for comical effect) in a more positive way, especially in its relationship to whiteness and the way that white viewers (non-black peoples) perceive that very particular nuance of that body IRL, to explore at the way characterisations of PoC has been (traditional) curated with aggression/censorship towards black bodies and then to repurpose that narrative into a contemporary, modern – highly digitally technical – aesthetic.

They belong to no one, and yet the culture that they often depict remains very necessary and relevant to someone from that particular culture. How then does ‘fictionalisation’ relate to how blackness as seen in a digital world? To what degree are we given simulcra and fictions of black bodies – and what does that do to a black person’s experience of life?

4.    You’ve theorised the idea of ‘Objecthood’ – something that sits between the digital and the handmade – as being abstract from the tradition of figurative art. Could you explain a little more how this comes across in your work?

My arts statement contemplates a ‘practice exploring digital hybridity of sculpture following the affirmation of media, chronicling black anatomy through the mediation between three- dimensional processes alongside the handmade aesthetic within an extended analysis of ‘Objecthood’’. The resulting objects emerge contextually abstracted from traditional representational aesthetics and figurative traditions. Such an ideological positioning shifts the normative function of figurative practices within this mode of self-referential questioning, which engenders a self-sustaining (non-) fiction rooted in authenticity and criticality that allows audiences to break free from reference once and for all in a new form of hybrid realism.

The truth is that for the past 20 years we all have been adapting to a new set of rules that we are barely conscious of – something natural and therefore unnoticed – and it has fundamentally changed us. We are increasingly participating in society that is entirely mediated by digital images, and my body of work is taking part in this tradition. The ‘Internet’ has however endowed us with one important additional factor: technological selection means, which means that we only deal with the ‘mediated image’. With all this in mind, the genre must now make a very difficult and important decision; Where next? What can this look like? Who will it favour?

Whilst the tide seems to be turning towards a more equitable future, similarly, media co- relations have resulted in new forms of representation; new principles of structuring and staging words, people, stereotypes, gender and class boundaries etc. and within that developing new modes of aesthetic perception within the everyday, generating new cultural, social and psychological meanings – irrevocably subverting aesthetic and this how is what I try to emphasise within my work.


5. What do you hope an ideal viewer (if there is such a thing!) would take away from your work?

I’m of the opinion that once you make the work it no longer belongs to you. So, whilst I hope that audiences are going to find something tangible and relevant within my sculptures, I also recognise that same relevance may not resonate with me, and I’m OK with that. I believe that there’s more than one truth. And everybody has their own perspective and rationale.

More recently ‘naming’ my artwork has become very important when creating new work as it offers so many vantage points in which to begin the discussion. So, take for example the title of my recent solo show BLACK + WHITE = GREY which describes the intersect between they in which whiteness engages with blackness and how the resulting outcome(s) leave us in the uncomfortable grey-area; where 3D / digital technologies have birthed a world without references – what is imagined can be made possible, thrust into a world of tones of grey, each illuminating the world in new and unexpected ways – hence, I was very particular in naming the show in a very considered way.

When deciding to make new work I am in many ways trying to ‘fact find’ (theoretically and aesthetically) for myself more so than the viewer, because in many ways I cannot account for what the viewer feels or how they will react to the work; a large part of my thesis surrounded the notion of the body politić ([black] bodies considered collectively) which remains a key research interest within my body of work. The way images and cultural nuances related to black bodies survive – thrive almost – in the online digital realm, I want to shift the expectations of the formal arrangement – visualisation / manifestation / transmission of black figures – using figuration as a tool.


6.  How do you play with technology and temporality as both an artist and writer? Is this ‘play’ political?

The intersect which bind these two factors together is always political; if you choose to view them through the perspective of figuration – and ‘centre’ black bodies into this narrative the image of black bodies, it is undoubtedly political. The praxis between the past and the present, where intersecting identities (individual versus collective) come together within my oeuvre in my self-exploring the inherited legacy of trauma and history, ultimately reconstructing the narrative of race within narrative history that departs from cultural traditions where misconceptions and distortions of the truth are omnipresent.

I wrote an article recently that opened with the following statement: ‘Information, from afar possessed knowledge which gives it authority even without verification…’ In its relationship to questions of power, hierarchy and undoubtedly race, this includes imagery directly related to or depicting black-brown bodies and the presumed (digital) dimensionality of ‘blackness’ in its direct relationship to ‘whiteness, I ask, when will the black body truly escape [from] the guise of the white imagination?

The vey temporal nature of black bodies and the way that they manifest and spread online is a perfect dimension in which centre my practice as a millennial. It is in this duality that a strict contextual change occurs – where the human anatomy is reinterpreted and transformed, redefining the black aesthetic towards a more positive – heroic even – portrayals of black people(s). I attempt presented to black bodies abstracted from bias everyday externalisations and race-based gendered stereotypes. Hence, each artwork informs each other, maintained within its own unique narrative history and theoretical underpinning, that I similarly explore within my writing..

7.    The piece ‘I Don’t See Colour’ is powerful. How does this / your work more broadly explore the dynamics of race, gender and commodification?

I Don’t See in Colour’ (2018) was a response to discourse surrounding the commodification of women; imposed upon them through consumerist trends and unrealistic capitalist idealisations and visualisation, this work was an exercise of turning the system inwards, on itself. The inherited legacy of trauma and history, ultimately, I wanted to reconstruct the narrative of race that departs from cultural traditions as seen in ‘I Don’t See in Colour’ which reconditions stereotypes and mediated reflections of the black body (politić) within the duality of invisibility versus hyper-visibility where it resides.

In making such work, I felt to be engaged within the process of keeping the black figures at the forefront of our consciousness; the image of black bodies becoming lasting and impermeable by being sculptured into objects, through extending the practice of manifesting black bodies into less traditional mediums. It begs the question what the body politić is moving towards in the present. The work itself presents the duality between objects modelling the real and its ability to usurp the ‘original’ as self-sustaining fictions; of past and present. The print stands smaller than life size, a proportional mirroring of the sitter – on ode to… Concurrently, colour is removed from the object; somewhat a more objective attempt to discuss issues of blackness, race, hyper-visibility vs invisibility, absent the visual cues of black bodies which remains a loaded symbolism is the present: ‘What is Black in Visual Culture…?’

In taking black figures and reconfiguring the narrative, I wanted to explore what does it mean to repurpose the lens of whiteness on black figures, no longer subjugating them to positions of inadequacy. It becomes fundamentally ideological position of framing. The piece exemplifies the outer limits of the virtual platform afforded by the internet and digital technologies – and several kinds of digital manipulations – as a sculptural tool, shifting expectations of the formal arrangement of figuration by questioning traditional self- representational practices.

8.    Finally, could you tell us a little more about your exhibition at Picnic Gallery, Black + White = Grey (on until 25th May)?

Black + White = Grey – in collaboration with Picnic Gallery & @TheWrytr– is a brand new installation of 3D lenticular prints exploring the shifting viewpoints of race online. When it comes to how the lives of black people are portrayed online, these fictions end up spreading at rapid pace through the online world, having real life effects on the people they depict.

My work seeks to breaks down these biased and un-thoughtful visualisations to reveal the fractured nature of ‘truth’ in the web-space. Created by using a body scan which is digitally rendered, the digital file is layered into a lenticular object which allows for multiple viewing points to be present within a single image. As the world of internet memes and viral images continues to grow exponentially and without accountability, the figure in the lenticular is a ‘non- object’ or more simply a ‘copy, of a copy, of a copy. However, through centring the black figure as a constant from every viewpoint, I seek to positively reframe the way people interact with and perpetuate images of black peoples.

The inclusion of the short poem by @TheWrytr titled ‘hooked.’ – written in the style of the ‘Imagist’ which is intended to capture a moment in time to draw the reader’s attention introspectively – really helped to reinforce the narrative of the show. The undertone of the poem – much like my own practice – explores shifting viewpoints and as such well placed within the thematic investigation of the show.

Words: Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark and Jade French