Elsa James is a visual artist, activist and producer based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, who grew up in west London during the 1970s and '80s.
Her solo practice encompasses lens-based performance, language and text-based art, digital media and recently the use of aural and the archive to explore regionality of race; black subjectivity; and the historical, temporal and spatial dimensions of what it means to be black in Britain.
Forgotten Black Essex (2018) embodies two historical place-specific narratives from our national archives of two overlooked, under-researched and simply not recognised as significant black women who spent time in Essex. Circle of Blackness (2019) commissioned by Furtherfield for Time Portals exhibition, celebrates the 150th anniversary of Finsbury Park by travelling through its past and future. Broadcast as a holographic image in the gallery in two parts (part 1 opened in May 2019), Circle of Blackness embodies the story of a black woman from the locality 150 years ago and 150 years in the future.
Between June and October 2019 she will be developing Black Girl Essex - new work for the exhibition Super Black alongside a selection of Art Council Collection (ACC) works through a research lab and residency at Firstsite. She will be exploring themes of ‘alienation’ and ‘outsiderness’ experienced as a black woman living in Essex and selecting works from the ACC that resonate with these ideas. To inform the new work for Super Black she will host discussions with local and regional British African and Caribbean communities in an attempt to form new narratives and ‘understandings of blackness' seen through the Essex lens.
Her social practice includes advocating for the inclusion of marginalised communities in the arts sector. New Ways of Seeing, Telling and Making (2018), a visual provocation and participatory lab at theSocial Art Summit, asked questions about how we can 'genuinely' address barriers to participation and involvement in the arts for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. In 2015 she was commissioned by CAST, to research the asylum and refugee community in Southend. This culminated in a 38-page report exposing the council's lack of addressing the provision and needs of asylum seekers, failed asylum seekers and refugees living in the borough.
Elsa is a member of Girl Gang (2014 - present) - a UK wide group of female artists utilising performative actions to challenge expectations in public spaces. She is also an associate member of the feminist activist collective the Essex Girls Liberation Front(2017 - present) - a small group of women based in Southend campaigning to challenge and change the perception of the county’s much-maligned female stereotype.