Artists Make a Better World: Christian Noelle Charles
SCAN’s summer 2023 campaign Artists Make a Better World aims to highlight the important role that artists play in Scotland today. The work of New York born, Glasgow-based artist Christian Noelle Charles spans performance, video, photography and filmmaking. Often made in collaboration with, and/or about, her fellow Black creatives, it is a vital exploration of Black feminine representation and self-love in our contemporary world.
In this Q&A, Christian speaks to SCAN Communications Lead Claire Biddles about her current exhibition WHAT A FEELING! | ACT I at Edinburgh Printmakers, her printmaking practice, and the importance of friendship and conversations to her work.
Your exhibition for Edinburgh Art Festival features prints of your fellow Black female creatives in the Scottish art scene. What conversations led to this work being made?
It is honestly conversations I had at social gatherings. Scotland is a small community. Especially in the Black artistic community. So all the friends I developed in Scotland were from exhibitions, performances, club nights that had strong Black representation. What I find so unique in Scotland is the diversity of Blackness within the African Diaspora. In the last seven years since I moved here the community has grown and I noticed how all my friendships have become Black artists from all parts of the world: African, Caribbean, Black Scottish, Black British, Black American.
The conversations of our experiences in Scotland have pulled us together and helped us support each other in such a predominantly white country and introduced actions like creating spaces for the POC community. I wanted to remove myself in my work this time, as when I first started presenting in Scotland I was a performance artist and I personally wanted to prove I was more than that. I love portraiture and I wanted to challenge that in my printmaking practice. As the production for the exhibition progressed I realised that I was expressing the love of my friends and sharing why they are so amazing and made a huge impact for me here. I wanted to then push that representation for other artists of the same community who were gonna embark on the same path as me.
The prints are presented in such a rich environment in the exhibition, in the form of a ‘salon’. How do you want this presentation to add to the way the audience receives the work?
The first thing I say when someone is about to attend my show is to ‘have a seat’. I brought in salon chairs for people to sit to look at prints. To introduce a ‘“New Way of Seeing” – Nina Simone in Printmaking. When you’re in a salon or barbershop you are sitting in front of a mirror, looking at yourself. Analysing yourself as you are being groomed. I wanted that kind of feeling of time when someone looks at my prints, investing the time in looking at each layer printed and painted. I wanted to challenge the white gallery context especially in prints and develop a new entry point in a way to understand how to look at prints.
There’s connotations of care with the salon imagery of course, but the act of turning images of your friends into prints feels in itself like an act of care. Do you find printmaking to be a caring process?
I feel printmaking is one of the most delicate mediums. Within every artistic process there are certain rules, processes to successfully produce a print. I find the printmaking methods are a healthy source of understanding control and discipline. Once understanding that discipline you can really have a sense of control over what you’re making. For me painting on a mesh screen in screenprinting gives me the breathing space to develop something unique and personal. Then once you have that understanding I love the thrill of breaking the rules within the system.
You are also having a block party alongside the exhibition on 25 August. This feels very apt for your practice, which has such a fun, communal spirit. What should we expect from the party?
Good fun. Endless dancing. I want my friends and the community that defined me and new faces to come and celebrate. I love family reunions and summer gatherings as I feel they are more relaxed than gallery openings. Every party and event you remember the food, so we joined forces with Uwagboe’s Kitchen & Grill which has some of the best Nigerian food, Afro Caribbean food in Edinburgh and I really wanted to bring the vibe of the home cooked meal forward. Also the music, my mate Matthew Arthur Williams aka Junglehussi is one of my closest, and actually first friends in Scotland. When I first heard him play he really made me feel at home as he played a lot of the music I grew up with in my childhood. Watching his music grow and evolve over the years, it’s better than ever and I know he is going to bring the vibe I love to this special event. Also Mojxmma, the iconic queer BPOC DJ collective who I feel bring a fresh and strong vibe to the club scene,. They have created so many safe spaces for the POC queer community that they make moments and I want them to make a moment for this party.
I note the ‘ACT I’ in the title – what’s next for the project?
WHAT A FEELING | ACT I symbolised the act of getting ready and for me, I am getting ready to go to audition. ACT II will be a performance piece that will be presented at the Take Me Somewhere Festival on October 14 in Glasgow. More details revealed on August 31 where Take Me Somewhere will officially launch their programme. It will be a reflection of my experiences of going through the audition and application process as a Black woman, inspired by my experiences growing up in the dance world and my recent residency in Johannesburg, South Africa.
WHAT A FEELING! | ACT I at Edinburgh Printmakers is part of the 2023 Edinburgh Art Festival and runs until 17 September. The summer block party takes place on Friday 25 August. Christian performs at Take Me Somewhere in Glasgow on 14 October.
See the project page for more information and resources related to Artists Make a Better World.
Photography by Alexander Hoyles.