Joy Yamusangie: On jazz clubs, gender euphoria and Feeling Good

Courtesy of NOW Gallery

Words by:

For this year’s NOW Gallery Young Artist Commission, multidisciplinary British artist Joy Yamusangie has transformed the exhibition space into a vibrant fictional jazz club.

Working across a wide range of creative disciplines – including poetry, ceramics, film and illustration – Yamusangie’s art is both a bold expression and exploration of their identity. Drawing from their Congolese heritage and community, Yamusangie centres vivid self-portraiture in their work, using bright primary colours and illustrative line work to paint their images.

Feeling Good, Yamusangie’s latest exhibition, distills their personal experiences of finding gender euphoria in the club into a rich and lively series of paintings on fabric and paper. The jazz club is joyful, inviting, and through the use of a music venue Yamusangie captures the fleeting encounters and conversations that would take place inside – the social elements of a club that, well, make you feel good.

We catch up with Yamusangie to talk Feeling Good, the continuous evolution of their work and the role music plays in their paintings.

© Charles Emerson

Your work is very autobiographical and centres around a deeply personal expression of identity. What propelled you to use art to express yourself?

It’s something I’ve always done, especially when I was a child and didn’t have the language to express myself. As an adult it’s been my own way of processing thoughts and feelings and helped me to have a better understanding of myself.

Bright colours play a large role in your pieces. Where does this stem from?

Over the last ten years my love for colour has really grown and it’s reflected in all areas of my life, from clothes to my taste in furniture. And so it’s only natural that this would bleed into my artwork. I love that so much emotion can be shown with colour; it adds life and energy to every piece.

Look Both Ways by Joy Yamusangie

Smoking Area 1 by Joy Yamusangie

How did you come to find your own style?

Continuously drawing, experimenting with new processes, making mistakes and putting together all the things I’ve learnt and seeing what happens. It’s something that is ongoing for me. My work now will look different to in years to come, and I hope to continue to improve and develop my skills.

You work with a lot of different creative media. How do you choose what medium feels right for a particular project?

I try to envision what my idea would look like in different outcomes but it usually comes down to whatever medium I am curious about at that moment. I often find myself coming back to print making quite a bit, I enjoy the process so much.

© Charles Emerson

What influence does music have on your creative practice?

It’s always there in the background. Music gives me the motivation to create art, it directs the movement of my drawings and sometimes helps tell the story of a painting. I create playlists for every series of work I have, and it’s a collection of songs that I listened to in the studio while making those artworks.

Talking more specifically about Feeling Good, how did the idea of this fictional jazz club come about?

I was getting into jazz music and had just read about Billy Tipton (a trans jazz musician) which got me imagining and daydreaming of this imaginary club. The rest came from conversations with friends, my own experiences with acknowledging my gender identity and music.

You’ve mentioned that this imagined club symbolises finding space to explore and express your own gender euphoria. Can you elaborate on this?

The club is a space that can mean so much more than it is. For me the club is the first place I came to see and know other Black trans and LGBTQ+ people. This is how I imagined this club to be, but speaking specifically to a Black trans masculine experience. I imagined characters like Joss Moody – from the book Trumpet by Jackie Kay – and for this space to feel like I felt like walking into a club and surrounded by others just like me for the first time, feeling welcome and able to be all parts of myself at once.

What’s next for you?

I’ve curated a group show alongside my friend and collaborator Ronan Mckenzie which opens at HOME by RM next week. Aside from that I’ll really be taking the time to rest and feel good.

Feeling Good is on at NOW Gallery in Greenwich Peninsula and runs until 5 June 2022

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