Christina Oyawale

where i end, u belong, 2019

where i end, u belong is a series which focuses on the stories and experiences of men and non-binary male presenting people between the ages of 18-21. Specifically, examining the navigation of masculinity and their perspectives on masculinity’s effects on mental health and identity. Thus, profiling experiences of those whose identities challenge the notion of the social ideology of “the masculine man”. Throughout the series, portraits, stills from video work, black and white snapshots and scanned-manipulated images are employed with the purpose of creating an intimate viewing experience. The series recounts moments regarding individual experiences with negative self-image, the affects of starting testosterone injections, toxic masculinity and expression through androgynous dressing. Each story offering a new perspective that challenges masculinity while representing the lack of attention made to male and non-binary mental health. Alongside these personal stories, I continued this investigation of masculinity and mental health by observing and documenting male dominated spaces that I frequently find myself interacting in (ie; concerts and skateparks). Documenting men and non-binary people in these spaces allowed for a better understanding of mannerisms beyond just personal experience. The way they move through spaces, articulate themselves and express are reflections of atmosphere and societal expectations.

Q & A with Christina Oyawale

Q. Could you tell us about any current projects that you are working on?

A.While wrapping up final shooting for where i end, u belong, I spent most of the winter break co-directing a friend’s music video. I was interested in the tactility of polaroids which lead me to shot polaroid for the behind the scenes for the video, alongside black and white snapshots with my point-and-shoot. I was obsessed with how all of those turned out which would lead to me working on a photobook titled Nobody Likes You In Your Twenties. I plan to have the book include many of those images, journal entries and day to day changes in mine and my friends’ lives. The title meant to be facetious with the focus of the book being an ode to friendship and aging out of adolescence.

Q. Describe your project in its current state and what you’d like it’s final outcome to be.

A.The current state of the project is soon to be finished, as I’m in the process of getting everything printed for the exhibition. My hope for the final outcome is that people appreciate the stories being told in the exhibition. The stories and experiences are more than just photographs but something I hope sticks with them once they leave. I hope that this brings a new perspective to how men’s mental health is treated and acknowledging the importance of making more spaces for queer, non-binary and trans identities to thrive beyond a society that is still very rooted in gender based living.

Q. How did you reach the conceptualization of your current project?

A.This past summer, I spent a lot of my time at Christie Pits Skatepark where I met some incredible individuals. Despite the optics of skateboarding being a predominantly male dominated sport, I felt like I was accepted in that space. While in that space, I noticed and spoke about how the sport has such a negative representation and in many cases is viewed as indulging in toxic masculinity. I spent most of my time talking to different male identifying people within that space, where I grew close relationships with many of them. I found myself having the same conversations with many of my male and non-binary male presenting friends that stated they felt a need to perform “socially acceptable” versions of themselves for the sake of pleasing socitial expectations. The conceptualization of the project came from a lot of research based conversations with men close to me. There felt like a divide and I wanted to aid in the process of visually displaying how they felt.

Q. Are there any artists that have inspired this work? If so, why?

A.John Baldessari, Driely Carter and William Strobeck are three of artists that inspired this project all for different reasons. I’ve always been fascinated with William Strobeck’s ability to capture the moments within the skateboarding community that go unnoticed. Documenting subcultures and the people in society who are otherwise seen as “outcasts”. John Baldessari and Driely Carter inspired the technical aspects of my project in terms of the physically of a photograph and the technical processes involved. The photo based collages I created for this work were influenced by Baldessari’s piece The Fallen Easel and Carter’s polaroid work. Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Cry magazine served as a framework for this project and was something I referenced whenever I needed further inspiration, as the context of that magazine aligned with the themes in mine.

Q. Describe any challenges you have faced and any solutions that you have found to be helpful in the creative process.

A.There were moments where I felt the story I was trying to tell wasn’t personal enough. I struggled with the idea of the portraits taken for the project solely being portraits of people and not portraits of people telling their stories. My solution for shooting was taking these photographs in spaces they had emotional connections with. My other solution was consulting with each individual throughout the creative process to ensure I was accurately and authentically telling their stories. The more candid images were of my own interpretations and observations of male dominated spaces.

Q. Have you had any success in getting your work out into the world? Do you have suggestions for other artists?

A.I would say I’ve had success with getting my work out into the world but it’s definitely an ongoing struggle. Submitting to everything that sparks your interest is a great way for your work to get noticed. Also, self-curation by utilizing social media has many benefits. Curating your work with other people and getting people to come view your work really creates a sense of community. I think that’s the best way of doing it instead of waiting for the world to find you. I’ve found that being active in the art community in the city can help with more people viewing your work.

Work In Progress

where i end, u belong,2019