While studying abroad in London, I sat down with acclaimed artist Delaine Le Bas in the middle of an exhibition called “Blake’s Outsiders”at Worthing Museum. The exhibit is based off of the work of poet William Blake, and celebrates his outsider status towards the end of his life. Delaine’s work was fittingly displayed in the exhibit, because her background as a Gypsy gives her an outsider view on many aspects of society. She has exhibited her work extensively both in the UK and internationally, including at art festivals in France, and museums in the United States, Prague, and Italy. Le Bas creates paintings, embroidery, sculptures, and interactive exhibits in order to interrogate themes including nationhood, defying stereotypes, and gender identity.
Delaine and I conversed about xenophobia, privilege, if everyone can truly reach their full potential when they have certain circumstances conspiring against them, and how the need for money has narrowed society’s definition of success. We also discussed the inspiration for her work, and the importance of the artist’s hand in making work. Continue below to listen in on specific excerpts from our conversation, or watch the interview in full at the end of this article.
Delaine was the first of her five siblings to finish secondary school, and she describes how her path to studying textiles at Central St. Martins University of Arts London was nontraditional for someone of her background. She comments on the cultural appropriation of the fashion industry, and using everyday objects in her art. She also explains how her “outsider” view on the art world has caused her to redefine success. She commented on the importance of separating monetary success from true, personal success, and how the two have become irreparably intertwined in today’s society.
“Unless you’re comfortable with yourself, and that’s quite a difficult thing to quantify, but I think unless you’re comfortable with yourself, you can be very successful in financial terms and with everything else that might go with that in terms of fame and all that sort of thing, but actually you can still be pretty lonely and pretty miserable.”
As Delaine’s art centers on political and social tensions, her insight on the refugee crisis and European Union Referendum (Brexit) was incredibly fascinating. We conducted this interview before Britain left the EU and before the 2016 United States Presidential Election, yet her remarks are still relevant in the wake of these events. She comments on the prevalence of dehumanization, misconceptions surrounding immigrants, and society’s cyclical inability to address the mistakes of the past.
“I really struggle with this idea that it is possible for everybody to reach their full potential, particularly when so many people have such difficult circumstances conspiring against them.”
Delaine explains how minority groups gaining more rights or recognition have the responsibility to continue working to ensure that others whose voices go unnoticed gain the same treatment.
“You can get through the door but you can close the door behind you and not allow the other people to come through, or not give them a key to be able to get through and follow you.”
We conversed about how difficult it can be to find truthful information, especially in the political realm. With the wide accessibility of social media and the internet, Delaine and I questioned how finding true information can appear so daunting that apathy is often the easiest response. Delaine offered the solution that when the reports and information that we are bombarded with appear too conflicting or overwhelming, the solution is to just talk to those who are affected or impacted in that particular situation.
“I think it’s quite hard, because people genuinely want to help someone else…but I think sometimes you have to look beyond what’s going on and actually, maybe just talk to the people who it’s about. What are their actual, real needs at this moment in time? As opposed to this bigger picture that may be masking a lot of things.”
I asked Delaine about her art in greater depth, and how active a role she has to play in its development. Delaine’s 2005 Exhibition entitled “Room” was incredibly immersive, as she transported the space in which she worked into the gallery itself. She interacted with the space during its display, and her hand in the art was undeniable. I asked her what she thought of conceptual art, in which the idea is often more important the construction of the physical art itself, and if she feels a need to have a direct hand in her work.
I think art is such a broad field to be working in, and artists choose different ways to make work. For me personally, having my own hand in the work is important, because sometimes something just happens in the process of making that leads on to something else or develops into something else…I can only talk for my own viewpoint, because I work in a very particular way.”
My conversation with Delaine has stuck with me, even though I conducted it eight months ago. She inspired me with her ability to recognize the historical cycles of oppression and discrimination that crippled many groups. Her discussion of the Gypsy population was an asset of that discrimination that I had never considered. Following the political events of the last six months, I wish that I could jet back to Worthing, England and pick her brain again on how she might respond to the EU Referendum and US Election. However, for now, this meaningful conversation has certainly provoked me to reconsider many of the ways in which I approach social activism in the digital age.
Watch my full conversation with Delaine Le Bas:
Speak to you soon,