Stacey Gillian Abe has always been creative. Born in the West Nile region of Uganda and currently based in Kampala, the young and budding artist would often be found crafting something with her hands – enjoying the tactility of building an artwork of her own. This inspired her to study art at university, before majoring in painting, sculpture and installation. “However,” she tells It’s Nice That, “I did not continue with painting right way, and I dropped it after graduating to try out new media and modes of expression.” This led her down the path of photography, video and performance installation momentarily. Only recently did she decide to pick up a brush, returning once again to the blissful process of painting. “My journey back to painting started during the first lockdown in 2020 as a coping method, mostly,” she continues. “This desire to pursue it and get serious with it hit so hard when my first works received good feedback, but also because it felt like a new chapter in my creative journey had been born.”
Stacey has exhibited widely across New York, London, Paris, Johannesburg and Cape Town, and her vibrant pieces have been featured in the pages of The Independent and The New York Times; she was also listed among the Forbes Africa 20 under 30 Creatives. What ties everything together is her visual analysis of gender, identity and class – the pillars to her work that spearhead the subject matter and tone. “As a human being that identifies as Black and female, the question of equality and my position in society, the question of identity and colour becomes an urgent topic of discussion,” she adds. “I think about it more as a responsibility rather than a choice, to want to raise these topics in my work. Because equality and identity in relation to gender, race and class are some of the things delaying progress (I’d like to think!).” With this in mind, Stacey turns a sharp gaze at the workings of history, diving deep into her studies and critiquing historical references on these topics. “It is also the idea that, through my work, I am able to re-imagine an alternative future where, in these worlds I create, we are free, unapologetic and provocative, taking up spaces and positions only imaginable.”
By working in this manner, Stacey is able to turn a critical eye onto the world around her. And this is why her work tends to take on an autobiographical form, during which she pulls inspiration from her memories, experiences and interactions before thoughtfully twisting them into a conceptually rich artwork. Ponder at her portfolio and you’ll be taken aback by both the layers and the technical skill present throughout each and every one of her paintings. Her subjects tend to be softly gazing into the eye of the camera, or sometimes they’ll be looking just to the side. Their skin is painted in a magnetic shade of blue, luminous in its texture and shading; this contrasts with the brush strokes found on the textiles and clothes, as well as the typically stark background framing the protagonist.
When asked about her best-loved pieces, Stacey responds by stating that “is it said a mother must not play favourites, but I can not help having extra love for Dear Letaru… (2020), Coming of Age (2021) and What we wanted (2021).” Dear Letaru… is one of her very first pieces. It was created during a time of difficulty – “a really hard situation” where both herself and sister had been “suffering in silence for a while.” This piece is a reflection of that moment in time, and one that depicts the subject looking idly into the near distance, wrapped up protectively in a red blanket. Coming of Age (2021), on the other hand, has been described as a “voice that keeps playing in my head,” says Stacey. “Whenever I look at myself in the mirror, I sometimes wonder if I did or if I do right by myself, and if every decision ever made is for that girl, or if I make her happy. The work also hints to how myself and we as individuals are often too hard on ourselves.”
The third piece, What we Wanted (2021), is quite the opposite of its predecessors in the sense of it feeling like a “breath of fresh air” for Stacey. What she means by this is that it’s conceptually introducing a new dimension to her practice, and “opening up other channels of interpretation and how the work could be read.” Hidden between the layers of this piece – and all of her paintings, for that matter – are stories after stories. Both personal and anecdotal, if the audience begins to peel back these painted layers, then Stacey’s artistic truth and ethos are fully revealed.
Stacey Gillian Abe: Forget me not (Copyright © Stacey Gillian Abe, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.