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. Her work intervenes in the overlapping discourses of race, gender, diaspora and belonging. Her black British identity ignites her interdisciplinary and research-based practice, located within the fields of contemporary performance, text-based art, socio-political and socially engaged art; occasionally dabbling with drawing and painting.
Solo works employ 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; BBC Essex radio; BBC Look East news; BBC London news; Black Ballard online 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; 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.
Other recent works include Work No. 13: The Gatekeepers’ Reminder (2020), part of The Blackness Series (2016 ongoing) published in In Other Words (2020) commissioned by Metal Culture in partnership with the Live Art Development Agency; and a contributed self-portrait drawing for the 30th-Anniversary Commemorative Tea Towel (2020) for Focal Point Gallery.
She has presented, screened and exhibited projects nationally, and online internationally, including Autograph (ABP), London; Axisweb, Wakefield; Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend; Big Screen Southend at Focal Point Gallery, Southend; Create London, London; Cubitt, London; Firstsite Gallery, Colchester; Furtherfield, London; Magic Me, London; Metal Culture, Southend; RadicalxChange Conference, New York; Site Gallery, Sheffield and Tate Exchange at Tate Modern, London.
Elsa is a selected artist for Syllabus VI (2020/21), a national, collaboratively-produced alternative learning programme delivered by Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge; Eastside Projects, Birmingham; Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts), London; Spike Island, Bristol and Studio Voltaire, London; and has been selected co-curator for the Opening Weekend Programme for Estuary Festival (2021) led by Metal Culture and Cement Fields.