Our identities are a complex system influenced by forces beyond our control. We spend our lives trying to carefully design them without actually acknowledging their proportions. It’s like sculpting the tip of the ice above water; below which lies a giant fraction of our social and cultural identities that have been taking shape for centuries before our time. Science has helped us trace our physical evolution back to the neanderthals but tracing the cultural evolution and heritage is particularly complicated, especially in a post-colonial country. The colonization of an entire people changes the chemistry of their perceptions which trickles down to generations. They start viewing themselves through the eyes of their colonizers and ever after the country gains independence, It takes decades of unlearning, conscious exploration and education to decolonize the minds.
On a similar quest of her own is the model and artist, Jade O’ Belle. Having worked with designers like Gareth Pugh, Michaela Stark and Di Petsa, along with photographers Nick Knight and Harvey Weir, her work often centres on the body and her mixed South Asian identity. The UK-based artist grew up with the influences of multiple cultures because of her mixed heritage. Her family comprises members of Indian, Tibetan, Nigerian and mixed European ancestry. The 31-year-old artist finds it fascinating to reconcile the various ways in which her mother, grandfather and great-grandparents have taught her how to remain connected to herself and her work through their diverse customs.
Her latest body of work uses sculpture, costume and the beauty of the female form to explore feminine identity expressed through rituals which are captured in a short film called ‘Birthright’. It is Jade O’ Belle’s directorial debut, executive produced by Becs Rainey and produced by Girls in Film, a multidisciplinary production company and community that represents, champions and connects the new generation of women, non-binary and trans creatives in the film industry. Birthright premiered at the Guts Gallery in East London on September 30 this year.
The trailer is a visceral and stimulating glimpse of the short film. The imagery of the body mixed with ritualistic elements like candles and montages of nature with the haunting background score creates an other-worldly dreamscape which is almost voyeuristic. The History and mythological world of Yoruba culture converge in this hypnotizing expression of gender and sexuality. A statement about the film says, “Birthright encapsulates the Black fem-identity through Yoruba iconography, a conceptual film that strives to reclaim conversations on selfhood, our bodies, and power.”
You won’t find the words ‘body-positivity’ anywhere on her socials or website. Jade O’ Belle has reclaimed her body and transformed it into her instrument of creative expression in a resounding courage that makes the term redundant. Her playful experiments with gender, identity and culture are powerful movements in the exploration of self. She brings a fresh socio-political voice to the art world; gracefully merging history and expressionism with fashion that causes a perception shift in her viewers' mind. Her work is bold, thought-provoking and a visual treat that becomes a direct invitation to radical acceptance and self-love.