Taking Up Space is the first major solo presentation by British artist Emily Mulenga. The exhibition features a selection of dynamic moving image works alongside animated GIFs and personalised emojis, showcasing Mulenga’s use of digital language to investigate identity in the Internet age.
Using video, digital technology and online spaces, Mulenga explores how these platforms promote ideas of self through the body, race and sexuality. She questions the perceived democratic nature of these channels, particularly in relation to how the black feminine experience is presented online.
Mulenga uses her own image within her work. She asserts ownership over the different ways she is viewed by positioning her filmed self or animated avatar in virtual environments. 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 embodying confrontational stereotypes of how the black female body can be shown, she affirms her own independence and power to celebrate beauty without the influence of a 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. The piece touches on aspects of cyborg theory, as well as the assertion that whether she is a concert pianist or dressed in jewels and feathers for carnival, a woman is equally valuable, important and justified. Mulenga’s central theme is the desire for those who are marginalised not only to survive, but to find happiness and empowerment.
The ‘MulengaMoji’ series, appropriates the popular vocabulary of emojis and GIFs – small digital images that are used to express an idea or emotion. Mulenga embeds her own face into familiar icons such as a crying, winking or angry emojis alongside symbols drawn from her own work including afro, selfie, and twerking emojis. These playful representations are part of her search for new ways to construct and reclaim identities to exist online in the future.
Emily Mulenga< (b. 1991, Staffordshire) gained a BA Hons in Fine Art from Birmingham City University in 2013 and has since participated in shows across the UK, around the world and online. In 2016 she released a short film for Channel 4’s Random Acts programme which has toured the UK in the Playback Touring Exhibition.
Previous group shows include Short Circuit (Birmingham, Venice, Copenhagen), 2017; Abandoned Margins: Policing the Black Female Body, UICA, Grand Rapids and Woman Made Gallery, Chicago, 2016-2017; Futura Free: A Sensing, 198 Contemporary Arts & Learning, London, 2016; and Fierce Festival, Birmingham, 2014 and 2015 editions.
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