Photo: Tessa Hallmann 2019
"By racializing Essex, she exhumes the collective suppressed memory that the United Kingdom’s very existence is built on the foundations of enslaved and indentured black and brown bodies"
Harold Offeh, Artist
"It's very difficult to find an artist who can devise and lead a project dealing with these issues [racism, gender violence, youth crime and negative perceptions] and guide a group of young people through this"
Ali Eisa, Public Programme Manager, Autograph
"James’ focus on African Caribbean heritage in the UK at this conflicted time and her identity also as an Essex woman challenges stereotypes along intersectional lines and pulls into focus received and hidden narratives of the past that has brought us to this present: but with James’ intervention, we are now propelled to a different future"
Dr Cara Courage, Head of Tate Exchange, Tate
Elsa James (b.1968 in London, England) is a British African-Caribbean conceptual artist and activist living in Essex since 1999. In 2021, she was a finalist for the prestigious Freelands Award with Focal Point Gallery; a selected artist for Bloomberg New Contemporaries; her work was acquired by the Government Art Collection, forming part of Art X-UK and Intersections in the Art of Elsa James, an extended essay on her practice written by Jon Blackwood, was co-published by Firstsite and Metal Southend.
Her practice intervenes in the overlapping discourses of race, gender, diaspora, and belonging. Her black British identity ignites her interdisciplinary, collaborative and research-based practice, located within the fields of performance, film (in which she also performs), text-based art, and socio-political and socially engaged art.
Solo works employ modes of recovery, recollection, and the archives to examine ideas surrounding regionality of race and black subjectivity. Recent works Forgotten Black Essex (2018) and Black Girl Essex (2019), both featured and cited across a range of media, including Art Monthly; Art Quarterly: BBC Essex (radio); BBC London and Look East evening news; Black Ballard magazine; Condé Nast Traveller; Essex Life magazine; Radical Essex (book); The Guardian Review and The Great Women Artists Podcast, explore the historical, temporal and spatial dimensions of what it means to be black in Essex, arguably England's most misunderstood, and, homogeneously white county. Her social practice includes advocating for the inclusion of marginalised voices and communities in the arts sector; New Ways of Seeing, Telling and Making (2018), a visual provocation and live debate, challenged how the art sector can genuinely address barriers to participation and involvement in the arts for Black, Brown and other minority communities living in Britain.
Her work has been presented, screened, and exhibited nationally and online internationally, including Autograph (ABP), London; Axisweb, Wakefield; Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend; Big Screen Southend at Focal Point Gallery, Southend; The White House for Create, London; Cubitt, London; Firstsite Gallery, Colchester; Furtherfield, London; Magic Me, London; Metal Culture, Southend; RadicalxChange Conference, New York; Site Gallery, Sheffield; South London Gallery, London and Tate Exchange at Tate Modern, London.
Elsa is a member of Girl Gang (since 2014) – a UK-wide group of women artists utilising performative actions to challenge expectations in public spaces. She is also a member of the feminist activist collective the Essex Girls Liberation Front (since 2017) based in Southend.