Carleen De Sözer
It’s been more than half a century since the Chicago Black Panther Party luminary Fred Hampton spoke in support of his incarcerated comrade Bobby Seale: ‘You can jail the revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution.’ Are we now beginning to see structural and systemic social injustice radically, fundamentally challenged instead of tepidly ‘reformed’?
The latest artist to collaborate on the Your Space Or Mine street poster collaboration with the BUILDHOLLYWOOD family is Carleen de Sözer. Birmingham born but living and working in London for many years De Sözer’s practice spans tattoo design to street murals, works on canvas to CD covers, clothing to delivering numerous workshops for black women artists and young people. She’s both widely recognised and greatly admired for her figurative aerosol portraits often rendered in a classic black and golden yellow palette.
For the Your Space Or Mine street poster De Sözer has set aside her signature style and opted for a stark clenched fist design in primal colours: black, red and white. Gesture of anti-authoritarian collective resistance, the BPP focussed the symbolism of a clenched fist as a demand for black civil rights, an end to police brutality as well as the public policies and institutional practices that perpetuate injustice. She explains “I first designed this image after the London riots in 2011 it was initially meant to be a t-shirt print, the design was intentionally basic and bold and slightly miss quoted, changing the (a) to (the) to fit in the allocated space on the wrist. I wanted the image to look like it came from the 60’s, from the Black Panther Party. I took the quote from Black Panther leader Fred Hampton “you can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail a revolution” I changed the quote to “you can jail the revolutionary, but you can’t jail the revolution.”
She goes on to say “My work isn’t often political, but every now and again the system triggers me to create something artistic to reflect the oppressive system we have all been born into. I believe in an uprising, I believe in unity, I believe that we are now in a time where a larger number of people (non black) see what we BLACKS have always known. The system has always had it’s foot on our necks, marketing us to the world as the lowest of the human race. Systemic racism is so deep at some point we have to address how racist the English language is, and maybe we will do away with calling ourselves WHITE people and BLACK people. In the meantime I’ll just create art that reflects the times right now…it’s BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
In 2018 the agency family supported The Greater London Authority and Tate Collective LDN WMN public art project, in which De Sözer painted three six metre high murals on Alexandra Palace commemorating trailblazing broadcaster Una Marson and musicians Evelyn Dove and Winifred Atwell. I was there too. The artist wowed passers-by with her freehand artistry. I moved the scaffolding but mention this to vouch for the delight people showed on chatting with De Sözer and seeing the artist in action producing such ambitious, skilful works.
In recent years, in addition to pursuing her own projects, De Sözer has worked tirelessly to encourage, teach and provide opportunities for black female artists and adolescents. When asked what she does for a living the reply is “I supply art for a living”. Whether it be her Afrofuturist paintings or the pared down and compelling street poster, De Sözer’s creations not only supply impressive visual art but also a powerful messages of hope and action. She says “I’m a street artist, when I create art on the streets it can only be seen in one location and it is mostly about promoting myself as an artist, this collaboration with The BUILDHOLLYWOOD family isn’t about me or even my art, it’s about the message in the art. I love poster art, I love the idea that it will be seen in more than one location. I believe that someone somewhere will look at this poster and be inspired, that’s the power of art”