Glory Samjolly is a feminist, figurative painter who addresses British and feminine identity through portraiture. The artist’s recent series, ‘Dear Archives’, presents “Black/ Asian women in colonial settings, seeking to provide “a new perspective of women of colour in historical portraiture, a bold reproach to ethnic figures in historical portraiture whom have often been presented in a derogatory light.”

Based in London, Samjolly graduated this year with first class honours from her BA in Fine Art at Wimbledon College of Arts.

The Net Gallery: How did you find the experience of studying at Wimbledon and do you feel like your practice has developed significantly during your time there?

Glory Samjolly: I think studying at Wimbledon has been a learning experience. Although I felt marginalised throughout the whole course, I found one or two friends I could relate with, and we would always support each other. Also, I do feel like the course could have had more diversity. When it came to giving me references and ideas, my second and final year tutors were the most supportive, propelling me to take leaps of faith in my work, such as painting larger. Through the experience, my practice has definitely developed.

TNG: How disruptive was lockdown to the last few months of your degree?

GS: For all university students and business, I’m sure it was extremely disruptive. I had ideas for paintings that I could not complete, prints and canvases I could not make, that I planned to make before I left. I planned to enter a competition that involved showing my paintings in China. Our degree show and graduation was cancelled, two of the most significant events a final year artist can look forward to. Up until today, no one has been able to physically see my work. I feel like without the degree show, many artists of 2020 have really lost momentum in their practice and potential clientele. As great as the organisation has been to compensate for these situations, such as making an online degree show, and marketing our work online, I don’t think that experience can ever be matched to a physical exhibition and socially gathering.

The Honerable Women of Slayage in their Study 2020

‘The Honorable Women of Slayage in their Study’ (2020), Oil and Wallpaper on Linen, 80 x 100cm, by Glory Samjolly

TNG: When did you first start to engage with art historical contexts in your work? 

GS: In my second year. After visiting many art-history galleries on trips and in my personal time, I grew very cautious of the lack of diversity within British galleries, where for centuries Black people have played a significant role in shaping British history, and are practically unheard of in traditional galleries. I asked myself an integral question, ‘what if I were in these ornate paintings? What would that look like for a change?’ And that’s how the project ‘Dear Archives’ began.

TNG: Your paintings present your subjects in a very uplifting and inspiring manner, but also address underrepresentation and marginalisation in the existing canon. Is it important to you that the portraits both celebrate the individual subject and challenge people to recognise these big, overarching issues?

GS: The foundational aim of my project ‘Dear Archives’, is to decimate the pitiful concept that Black people did not shape history in Britain or Europe as artists, musicians, actors, writers and nobles. Underrepresentation and marginalisation are vague subjects if not put into proper context. Many artists challenge the underrepresentation of agendas they feel strongly about, but Black-British women are more misrepresented in European art-history than underrepresented. What is portrayed in the art history curriculum, is predominantly the idea that Black people in colonial Europe were only servants, abolitionists, or exotic beings with lack of intellectual discretion. And the problem is not that British galleries or institutions don’t recognise this; it’s that they do and choose to do nothing about it. The women I paint are artists and young intellectuals who become the genre of art that misrepresents their identity the most; the paintings celebrate the individual for this reason. My paintings are not attempting to re-write history or create my own version; their purpose is merely to draw attention to the existing history of Black nobles in Europe untaught.

Lady Mia and the Politics of Hair 2020 1

‘Lady Mia and the Politics of Hair’ (2020), Oil on Board, 100 x 120cm, by Glory Samjolly

TNG: What’s your perspective on the recent Black Lives Matter protests – both internally as a grassroots movement, but also in terms of the way it’s been covered in the media and the way society or the establishment has reacted? 

GS: I agree with ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a slogan and understand the motive of protesters. I was part of the protest in June. Many Black people have been the victims of systemic racism in the western world for centuries and have even been oppressed in their African home countries. However, I disagree with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ organization because of its diluted core values, such as they ‘disrupt the Western prescribed nuclear family’ and ‘foster a queer affirming network’, as well as ‘dismantle the patriarchal practice’ of single mothers. All of these values seem to filter out the serious and specific issue of Black oppression, because not all Black people are outside of a nuclear family, queer or believe in gender equality. For centuries, Black people have been unjustly attacked because of the colour of their skin, their identity.

Secondly, I don’t believe protesting is the most effective way of bringing about change. If a hundred years of protesting didn’t end racism, we should learn that racist people will always be with us. The government and ruling officials are not afraid of angry Black citizens coming together to protest; they are afraid of a generation of educated Black men and women who understand the societal systems of systemic racism enough to finally dismantle it. While I was protesting, it was peaceful the whole way through, but I heard from my tutor, who heard from the media, that it had become violent”: I think we all know that the media is known for telling lies or ‘distorted truths’ for attention.

TNG: Now that you’ve completed your degree at Wimbledon, have you got access to studio space in London and how are you planning to further develop your practice?

GS: I currently don’t have access to a studio space, but I definitely will continue searching for something I can afford. Being furloughed from my only job due to the pandemic, I am not in the financial position to start looking for a studio space, and loans or emergency funds have been virtually impossible for me to access. After applying for so many funds, not one institution has gotten back to me. Before March, I did apply to do an MA at the RCA but was rejected. I may apply for the RCA again, and a few more MA’s this time. If there are any scholarships available that would be amazing.

The Honourable Young Lady Inspecting Her new Crown 2020

‘The Honourable Young Lady Inspecting Her new Crown’ (2020), Oil on Board, 80 x 100cm, by Glory Samjolly

Interview by Richard Unwin

Glory’s online presentation as part of the 2020 UAL Graduate Showcase is available to view, here.

Learn more about Glory via her website, here.

Follow Glory on Instagram @glorysamjollyart

The image shown at the top of the page is ‘Glory’, self-portrait (2020) by Glory Samjolly.

All images courtesy of the artist, Glory Samjolly.