Celebrating the sacred journey of self-exploration through art

A new exhibition The Deliverance Of Womban explores concepts of identity, diaspora, and race in today’s world through the celebration of inner feminine power


By Karen Alleyne


The concept of femininity is in flux more than ever before and what it means to be a woman in our developed world is constantly challenging traditional gender stereotypes and power structures. This makes it an exciting yet challenging time to be a woman in the west, as strides are constantly being taken so that we can have it all; careers, family, creativity, health, and wealth. However, these same steps have also added a complex sublayer of pressure, a gentle undercurrent of achievement, and in many instances’, a sense of over-achievement that women have to live up to. This can make the concept of ‘equality’, in its simplest form, another type of oppression that we find ourselves confined within. Against all the noise, a new art exhibition has opened up in Brixton, which explores all of these different components of modern-day womanliness on the table and opens them up for questions and debate.


A Womban is a female who is in tune with her full power and is connected to the world spiritually. Through this, she has an internal power that enables her to bee free and express her authentic self. The Deliverance of Womban: The Sacred Passage to Self explores the concept of femininity, identity, diaspora, and race in today’s world through the celebration of the inner feminine power. It draws inspiration from the complex source of energy that is created and represented through these different components and asks the question of what it is to be a woman today. The exhibition acts as a space to celebrate the energy that runs through us all and acknowledges our ability to sense and feel our highest capabilities. Unfortunately, many of us have lost touch with this natural ability in the western world and much of my work is inspired by the journey I have taken to open my third eye and reclaim my natural and ancestral feminine powers. This narrative of this inner energy runs subconsciously throughout many of the pieces on display and is depicted through the use of colour, movement, and texture.


Freedom Through the Tribes (2019) by Karen Alleyne

The key subjects of the exhibition are black women and it also strives to challenge and, in some instances, celebrate stereotypes associated to black female identity. The black feminine self is simultaneously oppressed by Eurocentric beauty standards and patriarchal gender norms, which are appropriated and realigned to fit mainstream comfort zones and repackaged in a more ‘palatable’ form. This juxtaposition is explored by drawing on a variety of historic African cultures, several of which existed millennia before the transatlantic slave trade and the development of modern racism. Many early African cultures did not separate the sacred and secular dimensions of life, but created images that depicted Back women as sacred personifications of social, spiritual, and cultural power. My work builds on this from a modern diasporic perspective that incorporates elements of my dual British and Caribbean ancestry.


The celebration of stereotypes is often something that raises eyebrows when I discuss it, however it is also a very important area of my work. At first, it makes people feel quite uncomfortable thinking that static gender and racialised notions may be glorified in some way. Yet, on deeper inspection, placing a stereotype in front of someone and then asking them to dig deeper highlights the power of questioning bias and stationary views.


Hidden Signals (2019) by Karen Alleyne

One of the pieces that plays with this idea is Hidden Signals, a painting of a cornrow hairstyle. Superficially it is just a picture of a hair grooming practice, that has roots in African culture. However, it actually holds a strong position of conflicting ideologies in today’s society. On one hand, it is still used as a signifier of difference, employed as an excuse to ban kids from schools, block people from promotions in the workplace, and refuse admission into the security and armed forces. However, on the other hand, it has been appropriated into popular culture as nothing more than a fashion symbol, stripped of its negative connotations, and re-introduced as a hairstyle for all.


The history of this hairstyle is much deeper than the polar opposites that it presents today, as the same hairstyle was also used by enslaved Africans in the Americas to design escape roots which were created through the intricate parts and patterns plaited into the hair. ’Cornrows’ were literally that, maps to show ways out of the plantation which were surrounded by rows of corn fields. So, on the face of a stereotype that either depicts social unacceptance or cultural adoption lies a complex and uncelebrated history that is forgotten and ignored.


Symbols Unpicked (2018) by Karen Alleyne

The Deliverance of Womban explores how the divine feminine can give us an understanding of how all the diverse parts of life, identity, race, gender, and history fit together, through their patterns of relationship and interconnections. I want people to leave with an impression; whether that is knowing something that they did not know before they came, or having evoked some emotion, or awoken another level of their consciousness. I want this to be a silent space for thought and reflection that offers a sensory vacation form the constant influx of visual and vocal impressions that are imprinted on our subliminal minds through social media, advertising and print. I want this to be a space that cuts through the noise that makes it difficult to hear the simple voice that life transmits itself.


The Deliverance of Womban presents a collection of vibrant and colourful paintings that show how history both shapes and guides the way society conceptualises gender and identity. This woman-centred Afro-Caribbean diasporic experience will expose you to an uprising of figures, symbols, shapes, words, and colours, and is a true celebration of the divinity of the womban.


See The Deliverance Of Womban:The Sacred Passage to Self at the Azawala Art Gallery, Brixton 9 November to 1 December 2019 and keep up with Oya Arts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram