Joy Yamusangie’s Musical Dreamscapes

Joy Yamusangie’s Musical Dreamscapes

In the first edition of EarthTones, a monthly column at the intersection of art, music and climate, artist Joy Yamusangie speaks about the role of nature in their multimedia practice and curates a Spotify playlist exclusively for Atmos.

Follow Atmos on Spotify here to keep up to date with monthly EarthTones playlists.

 

Joy Yamusangie creates art from a range of media: illustration, painting, typography, ceramics and film. Different though they are, Joy’s works often return to similar themes. One of them is music. Another is nature. Their work, which is characterized by black line drawings and vibrant colors, occupies the intersection of the real and imagined, brimming with references from renowned mythologies and intimate memories.

 

Take, ‘The Musician,’ a painting of a half-aquatic, half-human, tuxedo-clad jazz artist that Yamusangie created for their show at London gallery HOME By Ronan Mckenzie last December. The sea-person is dressed in a beige waistcoat and brown bowler hat—and, surrounded by a backdrop of ocean blue, they have a meandering tailfin where their legs would be. The work draws inspiration from Mami Wata, a tale about a water deity that is revered across West, Central and Southern Africa. The details of the story change depending on geography, but typically Mami Wata brings good fortune—including spiritual wisdom and healing—to those who worship her.

 

It is a story Yamusangie has repeatedly turned to for inspiration. The coalescence of music and water is also a prominent theme in Yamusangie’s debut short film, WATA, which they codirected alongside longtime collaborator Ronan Mckenzie. Once again, Mami Wata takes center stage as a water spirit dressed in expensive jewelry, baubles and other accessories. Her beauty entices a young musician—and together they become entangled in an intoxicating performance of dance and song against a backdrop of the deep, blue ocean.

 

Welcome to the first edition of EarthTones, a monthly column at the intersection of art, music and climate that asks creatives to curate a playlist of songs that inspire them exclusively for Atmos. Read on for Yamusangie’s playlist, which is filled with an eclectic mix of sounds, and a conversation about the ways in which the natural world informs their art.

Daphne

Thank you for curating such a beautiful playlist for Atmos—the first in our new EarthTones series! Where did you draw inspiration for the playlist? In what ways did the natural world inform the song selection?

Joy

Reminiscing over spring and summer, imagining walking through somewhere like [Hampstead] Heath where there’s parts where you can be alone and surrounded by green. I selected songs that made me want to go outside, somewhere quiet, lay on the grass, look up at the clouds and do nothing else but listen to all the instruments, sounds and layers of the song. I guess it’s songs that bring that feeling of being outside in nature in that palette of  greens, blues and browns. Even if that’s not the reality.

Daphne

What role does music play in your creative practice, more broadly?

Joy

I work to music, for every painting and series of work, there are songs that helped form that piece. I like to make playlists at the end of a series that feature songs I had on repeat during the process or that capture the feeling of the art.

Joy Yamusangie’s Musical Dreamscapes
Joy Yamusangie for Riposte. Photo by Sirui Ma.
Joy Yamusangie’s Musical Dreamscapes
The Musician by Joy Yamusangie. Courtesy of HOME By Ronan Mckenzie.

Daphne

A couple of tracks reference water, something that also reoccurs throughout your practice. From painting to filmmaking, how does water inspire your art?

Joy

When I think of water, I think of how we’ve only explored a small percentage of the world’s oceans. Underneath all that blue, there’s so much mystery. For me and my work, it leaves room for plenty of imagination and stories, Mami Wata is just the surface of it, I’ll definitely be creating more underwater stories in future.

“When I think of water, I think of how we’ve only explored a small percentage of the world’s oceans. Underneath all that blue, there’s so much mystery.”

Joy Yamusangie

Daphne

On that note, let’s talk a bit about specific paintings—I’m particularly thinking of The Musician, which I believe was on display at the Royal Academy of Arts this summer. The movement is beautiful, and I love how it encompasses both music and aquatic mythology. What’s the story behind the painting?

Joy

I became interested in mermaids and specifically Mami Wata. I read about stories of everyday people who interacted with her and this painting shows a fictional character ‘The Musician’, suited like one of those early Jazz musicians, who becomes part mermaid after meeting Mami Wata herself. The character in this painting is the same Musician character in the collaborative film I made with Ronan Mckenzie titled WATA.

Joy Yamusangie’s Musical Dreamscapes
River Boys by Joy Yamusangie. Courtesy of HOME by Ronan Mckenzie.

Daphne

Another standout for me is ‘River Boys.’ Can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind it?

Joy

The inspiration is similar to that of ‘The Musician.’ In my research of Mami Wata I watched a few clips of people who worshipped her and there was music and celebration. The painting depicts three believers emerging from the water, playing flutes, drawing you in closer to hear. And similarly to Mami Wata who varies in gender and form, I imagined the believers in this particular painting to be trans characters, which is a projection of my own interpretation of her story.

Daphne

Has the relationship between the natural world and your creative practice evolved over time? If so, how?

Joy

All that has changed is my perception. Before I wouldn’t necessarily see a connection between the two especially when my work can appear so dreamlike and fictional, but over time, I’ve realized that these myths and stories come from nature and are very much real.

Joy Yamusangie’s Musical Dreamscapes
A New Love by Joy Yamusangie.
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