Rianna Jade Parker
Rianna was born in 1991 in South London, where she currently lives and works. Her writing has been published in ARTnews, frieze, Artforum, Artsy, BOMB, Art in America, Harper’s Bazaar and Aperture, including essays on Frank Bowling, Simone Leigh, Kara Walker, and Steve McQueen. She has produced texts for Stephen Friedman Gallery, Hayward Gallery, Thames and Hudson, Camden Art Centre, Documenta 15, Tate Liverpool and Phaidon Press. She has presented at the South London Gallery, Tate Modern, Royal College of Art, and Somerset House in London, among others. Her first book A Brief History of Black British Art was released by Tate Publishing in 2021. She is an advisory board member for Forensic Architecture and a contributing editor of frieze.
Meet the Residents Podcast: Rianna Jade Parker
00;00;03;08 - 00;00;47;13 Sarah Demeuse This is Meet the Residents, a series of interviews with Amant Studio & Research residents, in which we speak and digress about research, impact of context on artistic processes, serendipity, and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn. Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host four artists for three months. One cohort in fall, another one in spring. This is our Spring 2022 season. My name is Sarah Demeuse. I’m your host and Amant’s Head of Publications. Welcome.
00;00;47;13 - 00;01;00;18 Sarah Demeuse Today I’m with Rianna Jade Parker, our first curator and writer in residence. Rianna, thanks so much for making time. Let’s jump right in. Before coming to Amant, where were you spending your time?
00;01;01;29 - 00;01;10;08 Rianna Jade Parker I was residing in Jamaica, Kingston in particular. And then left from London, where I’m actually going to come here in the space of maybe a week.
00;01;12;03 - 00;01;37;21 Sarah Demeuse So, Rianna, as you’re here, we’re now nearing the end of your residency. It would be great to hear what you’re working on. I know you submitted a proposal, and I wonder how that has morphed, transformed into maybe different types of work as you are here, meeting people, finding other things, perhaps in archives.
00;01;39;18 - 00;03;48;03 Rianna Jade Parker Well, the Schomburg was really the main source for myself whilst I was here, and the public libraries at large. There was a significant amount on the Marcus Garvey personal papers, as well as the UNIA papers, which is good. There wasn’t as much work on Amy [Ashwood Garvey] as with Garvey, who was– who my research is pinned to, co-founder of these early race movements in the 1920s with Marcus Garvey as his first wife. But her papers are sitting in Duke University, which is, I found out, erm, maybe halfway through, which means there’s another level of access I need to consider and adjust, because what has been documented has been the men in that movement and their wives who [were] involved in their particular ways, but the individual women who spread off into their own movements and sectors around the world are a bit less– a whole lot more fragmented. And I’m choosing to look at Caribbean women in particular who moved in and throughout the region, that was the crux of it. What has changed is the angle towards the Caribbean, again, particularly the Anglophone. Looking at Jamaica itself and its own site of colonial, contemporous, kinds of actions that have been going on for over 100 years now. We are celebrating our 60th year of Independence in August. What that looks like, a true democracy, we don’t actually know. A conversation around every public which were the ideals that Marcus Garvey actually was speaking about in the 1920s are what we’re still discussing today but with a lot less vim and urgency because you know the woes of the world seem a bit grander than those things. I’m interested in individual improvement, self-assessment, self-regard–the essay I had to write was speaking from that position. What kind of self-regard and self-love can I show to myself as an individual but also within my community? Whoever, whoever that is.
00;03;48;24 - 00;04;09;14 Sarah Demeuse So how do you how do you connect your own positionality with the matter that you’re researching? Because it seems that it’s so close and some of the points of interest are particularly of relevance because it seems like you really want to apply them also. So it would be really great to hear about that back and forth between you and the subjects that your research.
00;04;09;18 - 00;06;15;07 Rianna Jade Parker The back and forth… is felt more like a natural progression. Let’s say of maybe 16 or so, I was very happy to assume the position of a Black feminist based on tidbits I had picked up off the internet by read in very particular Black literature and consuming what I could of moving images and media, but what was less apparent were visual arts, at that time anyway, as a 16 year old in London right before the financial crash and we were told that we’re not going to have lives that our parents all had. And I still chose to not do what was required of me and to figure out something by myself. I was independent, leaving much younger than what people would like to be. So I’ve allowed myself to be authored by all of these women and what they have already done. My life feels like it’s been authored by them already. So it does feel like a natural progression. I am first generation born Jamaican woman with my parents who are migrants who came at very different times, two very different experiences of England. We, of course, are meant to be the difference. We were supposed to be the British ones finally, but as I continued to push against that culture, Mum wasn’t too happy with my lack of willingness to assimilate as best as she thought was possible for us in the nineties. [Sighs] We authored our own versions of civil rights movements of my time, definitely concurrent to the wider Black Lives Matter movement that has required radical rethinking around the world, which typically is what happens. Again, a continuation of the work that they were doing. Still, I wish it wasn’t the case a hundred years later I’m talking about the same triumphs and trials, but we are here, so I’m trying not to avoid it. So my research is aiding my capacity to continue that work and it’s aiding my inspiration to continue this work, and it’s allowing me to think of, erm, a close but also distant future and that’s what I’m writing. I’m writing about that in-between space where I am now, and where I’d like to inject going forward.
00;06;16;23 - 00;06;42;26 Sarah Demeuse Your presentation with Jessica Lynne was called “Research as Practice”. What does that mean? (On June 2nd, Rianna invited New York based writer Jessica Lynne to have a public conversation as part of a man series called For Your Reference. This was also an occasion to present Rianna’s recent book A Brief History of Black British Art, published a few months earlier.)
00;06;42;26 - 00;07;08;21 Rianna Jade Parker Most basically… So, as a… OK, I could be considered a library scientist. I could be considered an archivist in a very traditional way. Definitely a humble title like Librarian, I love and appreciate. I’ve been around books since I was 15 in a professional way. So standard primary research, etc. is normal and fine. My intention to apply it to something or simplify it in a physical way.
00;07;09;03 - 00;07;44;10 Rianna Jade Parker It’s what makes it a practice for myself as I choose particular subject, let’s say Black Caribbean writers. And so I come across Sylvia Wynter, Una Marson, and the ones who work in England in particular. You know, I could’ve just sat with this, and done nothing of it. But choosing to have lectures and print media, maybe make a film, maybe source from anywhere and put together a public presentation is what switches it from my very didactic research compared to what I do with artists, with myself, and my collective for the past five years, so.
00;07;44;19 - 00;07;48;21 Sarah Demeuse Can you talk a bit more about the collectives, too?
00;07;49;14 - 00;08;16;01 Rianna Jade Parker Ooh, I have been through a couple, but two major ones the Lonely Londoners, I think we established ourselves in 2011 or 12. We shouldn’t […] actually, it might be our anniversary soon. These are two friends I met on Tumblr when we were 18. We were starting university… obviously, again there’s music and community online, because our England was a very different England at that time.
00;08;18;08 - 00;08;41;06 Rianna Jade Parker We were using the website to build virtual databanks based on our own personal interests. We were very particular about citations, who we were pulling from and why. It was easy to make connections based on content and not the person because we weren’t able to see profile pictures very large. You couldn’t see formal accounts and as many things. To follow each other meant: I’m invested in what you are presenting.
00;08;41;22 - 00;09;07;20 Rianna Jade Parker So it made some very organic relationships. And one day we met up when everyone was away, or back from the city–sorry– from university. We went to yoga. Pelin’s mum made us Turkish snacks. She’s Turkish. Kareem’s also Jamaican. After stretching for 2 hours, we just decided to start a collective. So we have some, you know, some artists […] who we are, yeah, 21, 20 and 21 between the two of us.
00;09;08;18 - 00;10;07;24 Rianna Jade Parker We had an exhibition in London, we had an exhibition in New York. And that was when, after getting a fair bit of press that people in the UK acknowledged my practice as something significant in that way. It’s my first time working the Tate. So as per usual, we had to do something outside of that space, outside of the space to come back to the space, which is typical. Think about minds also run the whole collective with three of my other colleagues, three my father and Loretta. We started really out of multiple conversations that we is without any real orientation. We just met up to share books and discuss. Try to go to art shows when they were very infrequent at that time. So when Simone Leigh was visiting London during the era of Black Lives– Black Woman Artists for Black Lives Matter, and she enstated the London chapter, it was then we were encouraged to consider what we were doing and implement it as artistic work.
00;10;08;07 - 00;10;40;27 Rianna Jade Parker We chose to exemplify these networks we had built by a map referencing the same map from 2011, and we used design and print in a particular way. We got a residency at Tate Modern after that, stage of the show was known as very quick and hasting. You know this is like a very natural flow of a river and all of a sudden we had these crashing waves to address that we were this artist collective now, known that’s what we were doing all of this time. It really threw Simone the encouragement to get in on the show as an actual form.
00;10;41;21 - 00;10;52;06 Sarah Demeuse During Simone Leigh’s Psychic Friends Network Workshop at Tate Modern in November 2016, the London chapter of Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter was formed.
00;10;53;09 - 00;11;11;16 Rianna Jade Parker So we are still… the three of us are alive and healthy, thankfully, and we are not a– all of our practices […], I’d imagine. I’m not as concrete to the idea of a collective lasting forever in the same way. It may have served its purpose already. We will know that soon enough.
00;11;13;10 - 00;11;42;20 Sarah Demeuse Right. So it seems that research is intimately tied to working together with people, reacting to what someone does. It’s not, you go into the Schomburg in Harlem and finding some documents and writing up a report, it seems to be very much and connected to conversation. And then also establishing maybe more connections through visualizing it in space.
00;11;43;17 - 00;12;19;16 Rianna Jade Parker Exactly. It made a big difference. You know, we could have made this graphic map and uploaded it, people reacted very well. Online, we might have get in and zoom… it was very different to be printed out, large scale at a wall in Tate Modern that people could literally touch and then print it and give it away actual printed maps– That’s a very different experience. To do that for six weeks and have that space for us to convene, people did all kinds of events just because we were in residence, we were happy to provide that space, and it was an intentional one. So we all played different roles and did what we could. We didn’t think we would be able to exhibit it somewhere, but now we did, so that was the truth.
00;12;19;26 - 00;12;51;24 Sarah Demeuse Rianna is talking specifically about “We Apologize For the Delay In Your Journey,” a project by the interdisciplinary research collective Thick/er Black Lines, of which Rianna is a founding member. The project centers on a map that identifies connections and networks between Black British women and femme cultural workers. It was presented at Tate between August and September 2017, together with an open co-working space, and it prompted exchanges in print and conversation.
00;12;51;24 - 00;13;34;21 Sarah Demeuse It’s also a very significant move from the digital to the spatial, which in our more traditional environments of museums and whatnot, it’s the other way around. But you’re really native to a different format of discursivity. So that’s that’s really, I think, very, very calling as well. Now, given that we’re talking about also being in residence, the Tate residence was crucial to you. Over here you are as an individual resident. And I wonder what that means for you and to what degree is it important to be working outside of your, say, normal context, whatever that may mean? How do you how do you understand those dynamics?
00;13;35;27 - 00;14;14;26 Rianna Jade Parker Well, this my first residency or really any appointment I’ve gotten in my now 30 years, at least ten years of thinking in and around culture, and mostly for lack of not trying or thinking that it was necessary, since this is a nice residency for it to be a first application to make. What I haven’t been able to do it before, which I’m doing explicitly now, is firstly center myself, as wild as that sounds, everything I do is fairly communal, or at least to a duo which becomes the much bigger and the collective automatically and then we get to think about what I solely want to do, and enjoy everything I do.
00;14;15;07 - 00;15;25;14 Rianna Jade Parker What would I choose to do if I was given that time? And yes, and sitting and thinking and being around some of these people, going to the places they would they would be walking to and in are important. And there were some factors and steps I could never justify in another residency. I just need to sit and think, need to be a bit of a flâneur right now and destroy the window. But with the deepest intention, because it’s something I want to do. So I’m taking it to a different level of seriousness, this is quite a […] in that way. It’s basically super personal and then I go, I’m actually doing this inside of a new but still formal institution. It is deeply personal work. So I’ve been traveling back and forth about my transparency, how much I can share when. So even though I know I’ve formally had nothing to hand over to prove what I’ve done, I know it will be coming out in a long text-form way, but still it continues to change, which I’m okay with. I know I’m going to leave here doing as much as I could, but I could always be more to be done. I’ve removed the pressure from myself. I don’t have anyone to account to apart from myself.
00;15;25;14 - 00;15;31;08 Sarah Demeuse No, you don’t, because also our residency is really not product oriented–
00;15;31;08 - 00;15;31;14 Rianna Jade Parker Exactly.
00;15;31;14 - 00;16;07;05 Sarah Demeuse –say, so whatever happens, happens. Now, there is kind of study line running in parallel at Amant, this theme of “Hearing Voices”. And it’s it’s something that informs the public programs and exhibitions. It has to do with maybe inspiration, some kind of like more supernatural element that might be guiding someone, voices from the archive… I wonder if there are certain voices that you are hearing as you work? There’s clearly inspiration.
00;16;09;09 - 00;16;33;17 Rianna Jade Parker Am I hearing voices? No, not immediately. I mean, I don’t work in a quiet environment. I always have music playing very loudly, and again, being very particular about playing a lot of dub and roots reggae in particular. So that takes over the sonic space for me. I’m hearing a lot of bass. It’s bass, and that’s what I’m feeling in my chest.
00;16;34;16 - 00;16;51;06 Rianna Jade Parker Otherwise, do I read? No. I think I do most things with a lot of noise in the background. When I read, I guess I can hear some of these voices, and they speak to me. But when I’m in the archives, it’s most like I’m standing in an empty room, and I speak to myself, if anything, but with a very heavy soundtrack behind me.
00;16;51;14 - 00;16;56;26 Sarah Demeuse Yeah. Do you? So you actually put on music as well as you’re in the archive.
00;16;57;13 - 00;16;59;05 Rianna Jade Parker Yeah, happily. I don’t think that I’d be able to do it without it.
00;16;59;11 - 00;17;01;01 Sarah Demeuse Are you sometimes dancing in the archive?
00;17;01;06 - 00;17;13;08 Rianna Jade Parker In the archi-(Laughs) Of my home, yes. Maybe there are no other archives I feel that comfortable in. Maybe we’ll see if I start dancing at the National Gallery of Jamaica when I go back this summer, maybe I’ll get that comfortable.
00;17;13;15 - 00;17;40;07 Sarah Demeuse You’ll have to let us know. But lastly, I have a more open-ended invitation, and that is, do you have any questions for Amant? We are, we are a young program learning a lot from our residents. And I just wonder if there’s anything that you feel like you want to ask us. We may not have an answer, but…
00;17;40;08 - 00;18;22;01 Rianna Jade Parker Yeah, there are questions. The answers are fine, not having them, I guess, yeah. It’s nice to hear some of the questions in the meantime. Hmm. I think I’m still– I mostly understand what the […] orientation was to make a very particular institution like this work in a very particular way, but with flexibility. There is only so much you can gauge going forward. And I think transparency is nice going forward, about exactly what this is doing and developing these needs that are quite thorough. And if people do want to know a lot, they can. I feel like the people are far more receptive than a much bigger place could or would be. And that level of openness, I would like to say, shouldn’t change, and that freeness.
00;18;22;09 - 00;18;23;24 Sarah Demeuse Okay.
00;18;23;24 - 00;18;41;24 Rianna Jade Parker This is down to communications, but communications are important. As for the literal aspirations of the places, artists, institutions, I don’t know. I think you’re going to have to– well not have to, but hopefully–but know to adapt as you go along. I don’t know what submissions are going to be in a year or two, but what they should then start to look like.
00;18;42;05 - 00;18;48;05 Rianna Jade Parker So as long as there’s always room for adaption and starting again and starting again.
00;18;48;05 - 00;18;49;03 Sarah Demeuse Yeah, okay.
00;18;49;03 - 00;18;52;13 Rianna Jade Parker There’s nothing wrong with having a burp, but being adaptable.
00;18;52;13 - 00;19;05;09 Sarah Demeuse Being nimble. Don’t forget to stretch! (Rianna laughs) I love that image of you and your two colleagues or friends stretching and then coming up with the idea of a collective.
00;19;05;09 - 00;19;05;21 Rianna Jade Parker Yes.
00;19;06;02 - 00;19;16;27 Rianna Jade Parker At least you went to yoga and had– you really made such learning for us. We were all just chatting. We were like let’s just stretch ourselves and take a walk now around Soho. We just decided in that time.
00;19;18;07 - 00;19;24;04 Sarah Demeuse Great. Keep our bodies present. Something that’s easily forgotten.
00;19;24;04 - 00;19;25;22 Sarah Demeuse Yeah.
00;19;25;22 - 00;19;48;21 Sarah Demeuse Our theme music is composed by Silas, who also recorded the conversations. Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Finally, we’re thankful to our artists for letting us into their studios and thought processes and for finding time in your busy schedules. In our next episode, I talk with Isshaq Albarbary. Thanks for listening.