'Policy No.1 Disrupt The Existing Narratives', installation view, Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend-on-Sea. Image Anna Lukala 2020



Vinyl wall text installation and appliqué flag responding to The Agency of Visible Womxn call out - If Southend-on-Sea had a policy for the arts, what would you want it to include?

The concept for this wall text installation originates from my four-month residency Black Girl Essex at Firstsite gallery over the summer of 2019. By naming the residency Black Girl Essex, I wanted to play with the stereotype of the ‘Essex Girl’, which as we know characterises women from Essex as unintelligent, promiscuous, and materialistic. However, as this is a historically white stereotype, the idea of prefixing Essex with 'black' seemed like a radical declaration that I felt compelled to analyse and explore, especially as I had been living in the county for two decades. Moreover, I felt it was also necessary to consider this proposition with other black folks in Essex, which the residency allowed me to do.

From my conversations with an intergenerational group of black folks, which culminated with a new film, Black Girl Essex: Here We Come, Look We Here (2019) and a new appliqué flag, The Black Essex Flag (2019), included as part of this exhibition policy, came the realisation that not only was this an act of 'taking up space' for black voices in Essex to be heard but also these black voices had never been part of the Essex narrative both from inside or outside of the county.

The format for the wall text, black font on black, is a continued theme from an ongoing digital text project The Blackness Series (2016 to date), documenting personal and social commentary, and is a reminder about who is visible and who is invisible in our racist society, and so is deliberately visually arduous to read.

The flag design is a replica of the Flag of Essex. Described as a fearsome flag, which is ancient in origin (the earliest references of the flag being used to represent the county dates back to the 17th century) it features three white seaxes (short Saxon swords) with gold pommels on a red field. The new appliqué flag measures 121 x 182 cm and is formed using black leather, satin and metallic materials on a black field.​

The Agency of Visible Womxn is a collective of Southend womxn, femme and non-binary artists. Founded in 2017 by Ruth Jones, the Agency has moved from an exhibition that mimicked a fictional institution to a growing group of womxn who act under, alongside or with the Agency to host reading groups, workshops, consultations, exhibitions and more.

The Black Essex Flag is an artwork made possible with funding through an Arts Council National Lottery Projects Grants and generously supported by Firstsite gallery.

All photos courtesy of The Agency of Visible Womxn, Southend and Anna Lukala Photography.

© Copyright Elsa James 2020. All Rights Reserved.