198 Contemporary Arts: I Want Me Some Brown Sugar (until 5th November 2013)

'I Want Me Some Brown Sugar' is a very modern project by London-based artist, Ope Lori, currently being exhibited at 198 Contemporary Arts & Learning, SE24. Addressing the salient messages of feminism and racism and combining them to show related issues, Lori embraces the gallery's ethos of exploring 'emerging cultural identities' to show how (predominantly black) women are viewed as sexual beings.

The first fragment of the exhibit, Beauty and Privilege, sees Lori explore the objectification of black women. She has used black and white photography in order to remove any hint of colour and, thus, individuality from her women. Cynically they are depicted as possessions of men, posing in front of expensive cars. Symbolically, men have been placed in the driving seat of each car, in a darkened section of every photo, showing the way in which women are viewed is often controlled by men and their desires. This is a running motif of the exhibition, one that is unavoidable. Even after leaving the gallery, it is difficult to shake the imagery and its relevance from your mind.

However it is the display of Room 2 which is the more compelling, at an almost interactive level. The room is curated so that six panels are streaming video footage. Each panel involves a central figure, passing comment on women and/or men walking past. Individually and collectively, the six panels, with the namesake of the exhibition, are an uncomfortable watch. The use of modern slang and only too commonplace misogynistic language will be recognisable and relatable to most of Lori's audience, especially in the gallery's South London location.

The artist's choices of central figures in the panels are certainly not inconsequential or random. They represent a large majority of society, with views that perhaps are common. But written as a sort of subtitle as opposed to orally spoken, it is implied that these are thoughts as opposed to speech one would have. There is no doubt that Ope Lori has employed the power of shock to draw her audience into the message she has to convey. As previously mentioned, she has not only used a wide demographic of people for her central figures, but given them all a varied degree of surprising dialogue. One of the most shocking cases of this was the video stream of a white woman, who is seen dressed rather conservatively, who uses the word "n***er" when commenting on a passing black man. While she is not using the word in the traditionally abusive way, you cannot help but feel that Lori is showing us how misogyny, shallow judging and racism has become so standardised that we are not identifying and tackling it effectively.

As part of the second room, there is an additional video stream with a very similar message. Red lighting has been used for this, which for me signifies the lack of genuine passion in modern pornography, how women have been objectified to the extent where we have been blanketed by the illusion that we have only one purpose. According to the citations, the artist has used red to eradicate any racial bias that comes with the footage of two girls 'intimately playfighting'. This is the phrasing of the citation but personally I couldn't help but feel extremely uncomfortable watching it, as although it is nothing explicit, it is mechanical and un-'playful', almost clumsy. Cleverly, with this the artist has expressed her disdain without having to show real pornographic footage to her audience.

Although small, 'I Want Me Some Brown Sugar' is an extremely well executed collection, which is a must for any art lovers with particular interests in significant issues and sex and gender-based art. I believe that during a time where women are finally being credited with making their mark on the art world, it is vital that artists such as Lori who are tackling the big topics are applauded and given platforms to let their artistic voice be heard.

Warning: Room 2 is an 18+ area, so be aware before bringing any younger visitors.



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