Blackness: an exhibition on identity

Daysury (left) and Siobhan, pictured underneath their self-portraits in Café de Estraperlo.
Daysury (left) and Siobhan, pictured underneath their self-portraits in Café de Estraperlo. / B. CLARKE
  • Artists Siobhan Riordan and Daysury Valencia celebrate black cultural heritage in their exhibition

Café de Estraperlo, in the trendy district of Soho, has been open for three years, and is co-owned by Mark Holness, from the UK, and José Luis Gallardo Olmos, of Malaga. The name means “contraband”, and is a reference to the area's importance as a hub of imported products after the shortages created by the Spanish Civil War. Since the middle of February, the cafe has been home to a more recent import: talent. A series of paintings aims to promote a positive image of black people throughout history and underline the cultural contribution of black residents to Malaga society. International artists Siobhan Riordan and Daysury Valencia spoke to SUR in English about their work.

Can you tell me a bit about your backgrounds and how you got into art?

Siobhan: I've been an artist since I was in primary school in Birmingham. I've always been drawing and had talent. My Jamaican dad was a painter and my Irish mum was creative. In secondary school I focused on art and the creativities. At university I did a bachelor's degree in illustration and printmaking, so I'm basically creative all the way through. I love jazz singing, but it can take a long time to realise that process; the way society is, it can take a while for you to get your foot in the door. I've lived in the UK, Ireland and Malaga so until you actually settle down it's hard to spread your roots.

Daysury: I was born in Colombia but I grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden. I've always been creative, sitting in my room creating things with my hands, writing and drawing. I was encouraged to draw in secondary school. My teachers thought that I had a talent for it. I'm also into storytelling through music and film. At high school I studied theatre and TV production, and then at university media production. I'm multi-disciplined, I sing in choirs and dance. I also draw a lot in black and white with charcoal and paint with oil. I came to Spain a little over a year ago and I've felt very encouraged to exhibit my paintings here.

How did this exhibition come about?

Siobhan: I've been in touch with Mark for the last three years here. I did a painting for a friend of Nina Simone, who's a big fan. Mark saw the painting and came up with the idea of doing an exhibition centred around blackness, getting some artists together from that culture to create a sense of community. I knew that Daysury was talented and wanted to work with her.

Is this your first exhibition on black identity?

Siobhan: Yes. I think it's something we will both develop. There are a lot of Spanish people who haven't heard of Juan Latino [the 16th century black scholar at the University of Granada].

What influences your art?

Siobhan: At the moment I'm very influenced by Jean-Michel Basquiat. I loved his expressiveness and the quickness with which he painted. I've recently become a lot more expressive, abstract and fluid and strong with my lines. I've always been influenced by music, jazz, hip hop and R 'n' B. I really like Herbie Hancock, his songs are fifteen minutes and that's how quick that the paintings have to be.

Daysury: I'm still so new to it. I think that my work has a strong Latin American influence, it's very colourful and vibrant. I love the intense work of Diego Ribero and his Amazonian lushness. I think that right now I'm developing my own expression. I've start to look at black artists and how they use colours, but with this project I'd like to investigate more. I like music without vocals; I prefer to be influenced by the mood of the music. I often talk to my paintings as I have a very strong connection with my canvas.

The two artists have been close friends since they met at an exhibition in the city.

The two artists have been close friends since they met at an exhibition in the city. / B. CLARKE

When did you move to Malaga?

Siobhan: I came fifteen years ago, straight out of university, to study Spanish in Seville. I ended up staying in Andalucía; I love the people more than anything. There was a pull of Caribbeanness, the warmth and the coast, and it's very easy to go back home when you want to.

Daysury: A year ago, some of my family came down to southern Spain and needed help looking after their girls. My job in Sweden had just ended and I saw coming to Malaga as an opportunity.

Does your work often contain political or feminist elements?

Siobhan: There are more women than men in the gallery here. I used to be very political; I weaned off it a bit but it's very relevant for this kind of exhibition. Artists should express something that's relevant today. I think that there's a difference between the English and Spanish method of communication. I've been here fifteen years, but the cultural influence can suffer. I don't think that I've changed my style. I'd like to be accepted in Spain, but I get my influence from Jamaican-Irish culture. I can't try and create work for the Spanish market, there's no point.

Daysury: I want to do an exhibition to question cultural norms. I feel that being in Spain, I have to think about how far can I go. Here people might feel that things are taken too far; in Sweden I can generally do what I want.

Have you been influenced by Malaga's arts scene?

Siobhan: Malaga is very accepting of who you are. It doesn't mean it influences the ideology behind your art work, but it does allow you to express yourself.

Daysury: I come from a different world from here, and that's what I bring with me. I'm even more excited to produce my own type of art, because the subjects I cover are more of a big thing here. We need to question things, and I want people to open their minds to new subjects.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

Siobhan: I've been working on art a lot recently, so I'd like to get back to being a jazz singer. I'd like to work on myself as a person, that's the whole process of life. I see myself and my art as very much works in progress. I'd like to create a new range of work around the phrase “Work in Progress” and the contrast between what we believe and what we think. That's what the #WIP on my self portrait refers to.

Daysury: I'd like to do a feminist exhibition.