Work / Film

Rhea Dillon explores black existence and politics in her art as a “means of bringing about change”

Unlike most creatives for whom concepts chop and change but means of communication often stay the same, London-based visual artist Rhea Dillon chooses her medium after she has solidified an idea. “I could write a poem that actually evolves into a film or a photography series that then acts as research for a future piece,” she tells It’s Nice That. Whether it’s photography, film, casting or even writing, Rhea’s holistic approach to creativity stems from a love of storytelling; uncovering pertinent, personal and collective narratives.

Having studied at Central Saint Martins, Rhea’s introduction to the power of rendering the real-world creatively came during her teenage years. “I think with photography it was the idea that I could conduct an image from my mind in an instant,” she explains. “I remember shooting at my school parties and everyone looking forward to the photos ‘coming out’ the next day on Facebook to live the night all over again. It was fun to be a provider of lasting memories and then, later, I realised I could take that further.” This understanding has now seen her working for the likes of Nike, ShowStudio, Riposte and Rollacoaster on a plethora of projects.

In a recent film titled Process which premiered on Nowness, Rhea explored the often overlooked and misunderstood particularities of afro upkeep. “Process was all about never seeing black hair being washed and exposing those stages of a process that needs to be ‘diarised-blocked out-half day set aside’ for,” she outlines. “I am a planner as a black woman. As a person with afro hair, you can’t afford to not have it together.” An intimate depiction, the short explores the “crown” that the hair on your head represents as a black female: “this crown I hold on my head is heavy laden with politics and societal pressures,” Rhea adds. Through a combination of image and sound, the film “opens up the sensory experience of the hair ritual of a black person from start to finish. To provocatively push the audience to experience and therefore understand the weight of five little words, ‘Sorry, I’m washing my hair…’”

Equally as imbued with sentiment, Rhea’s photo series Sistahs explores the friendship that exists between a group of young black women from Paris. “I feel there is such a lack of images of this carefree nature of black girls in the art world from trawling through photo series after photo series depicting ‘youth’ and seeing a lack of young black people in these visuals,” she tells us, adding that, “Black girls have a stigma of being rude and argumentative so I wanted to strip all of these ideas away completely.” The result is a series upholding the freedom and playfulness that exists within black youth with compassion and a sense of allegiance.

Ultimately, however, Rhea’s choice of concepts and media reflects her want to transport others to new worlds in order to help the advancement of societal structures. “Surrendering to storytelling is so important for existence as I remember reading this quote: ‘art is everything we hope life would be’,” Rhea recalls, concluding that, “I think art is everything life can be, which is why I often use my art to explore black existence and politics as it’s my means of bringing about change.”


Rhea Dillon: Sistahs


Rhea Dillon: Sistahs


Rhea Dillon: Sistahs


Rhea Dillon


Rhea Dillon


Rhea Dillon


Rhea Dillon: Sunday Best