Taking Up Space, the debut solo exhibition by the emerging British artist Emily Mulenga at Firstsite, Colchester, features a series of Mulenga’s video works as well animated GIFS and personalised emojis – or in the artist’s terms – MulengaMojis.
Mulenga uses her own image within her work to assert ownership over the way it is viewed online. Through her works, Mulenga positions her filmed self or animated avatar in vivid virtual environments. The title of the exhibition, Taking Up Space, refers to the way in which the physical or digital body can be a productive and positive site of artistic investigation.
In Orange Bikini (2015) Mulenga’s avatar is shown performing in a sequence of fantasy scenes, including taking a selfie, singing, pole dancing, twerking and swimming with a dolphin. By acting out confrontational stereotypes of the black female body, Mulenga affirms her own independence and power to celebrate beauty without the male gaze.
A brand-new work entitled 4 Survival 4 Pleasure (2017), a sequel to Orange Bikini, follows the avatar on a journey through a succession of luxurious digital landscapes, claiming for herself a sense of absolute agency.
Mulenga says: ‘4 Survival 4 Pleasure is a direct sequel to Orange Bikini and they are part of a narrative that encompasses ideas of reclaiming the marginalised body as a site of positivity, celebration, and agency. With the flowing nature of these works and the fact that they are quite open-ended means they have the potential to allow for further exploration and development.’
The MulengaMoji series appropriates the popular vocabulary of emojis and GIFs. These playful representations are part of the artist’s search for new ways to construct and reclaim identities to exist online in the future. Whilst Mulenga isn’t personally an avid user of social media, her art works reflect her strong awareness of how digital platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are influencing our social interactions and identity.
Mulenga has previously participated in group exhibitions both online and in the UK, but this is her first solo exhibition in a public institution. As she says, “With this show I feel I have had a lot of control over the show regarding the content and aesthetics, in comparison to the group shows I’ve done where this aspect has been more limited.” How Mulenga has moved her works and avatar image from the digital realm into the physical space of the gallery will be a very interesting component of the show.
Based in Sheffield, Mulenga graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Birmingham School of Art in 2013. As a champion of emerging artists, ArtAttack believes Mulenga’s star is in the ascendant – and we can’t wait to see the exhibition!
Taking Up Space is at Firstsite until 5 November 2017. See more on: http://www.firstsite.uk/whats-on/emily-mulenga-taking-up-space/