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Photography (MA)

Melanie Issaka

Melanie Issaka (b. 1994, Ghana) is a visual artist living and working in London, UK. A graduate, with a Graphic Design BA from The University of Brighton, she is currently studying a master’s in photography at The Royal College of Art. Melanie aims to develop a social practice concerned with representation, history, and language with reference to the intersectionality of Race and Gender, as well as exploring the materiality of print and lens-based media.

What does it mean to be Black, British, and Female? I find myself asking questions about my place in the world; to what extent does my environment inform my identity? I am interested in interpretations of identity: what are the structures that govern our communities and bodies? Double consciousness, a concept introduced by W.E.B. Du Bois in ‘The Souls of Black Folk’, describes the internal conflict of feeling that Black people have more than one social identity, which makes it difficult to develop a sense of self; a juxtaposing of two selves, a ‘performative you’, an identity constructed by society through a White gaze and the ‘you’ outside the confines of stereotypes. 

‘Locating The Personal’ investigates visibility and colonial alienation within the Black community. A series of self-portraits, this body of work aims to question the representation of the Black Female figure within the photographic canon. Exploring the spaces I occupy and generate, confronting the materiality of my hair and body, I create imagery which blur the lines between the self and the other. Showcasing environments that govern images in degrees of abstraction, in moments of stillness, from milliseconds to hours, I strike a pose and imprint myself onto various surfaces. Through encounters with material, I mark my presence. In negotiating between personal levels of visibility, I claim space. As I lay on photographic materials I am brought into focus. In referencing intersections of Race and Gender, this body of work utilises the photograph itself as a discursive and dynamic space for discourse.

Locating The Personal: Contact 1 — Photogram, C-type print, 180x120cm, 2021
Locating The Personal: Contact 2 — Photogram, C-type print, 180x120cm, 2021
Locating The Personal: Contact 3 — Photogram, C-type print, 180x120cm, 2021
Locating The Personal: Contact 4 — Photogram, C-type print, 180x120cm, 2021
Locating The Personal: Contact 5 — Photogram, C-type print, 180x120cm, 2021
Locating The Personal: Contact 6 — Photogram, C-type print, 180x120cm, 2021

How does one locate oneself when not performing for others? Our society teaches us to look at ourselves through the eyes of others, often leaving us feeling like a stranger in our own body. Feeling uncomfortable under the gaze of my camera, and in extension the gaze of an unknown audience, I created a body of work which examines my relationship with myself and the spaces I occupy. In my bedroom, during the process of making photograms, I come into contact with photographic paper. As I become aware of my emotions as a bodily surface I allow myself to play. On my own terms, in moments of illumination, I expose myself.

Medium:

Photograms, C-type print,

Size:

180x120cm
Dark & Lovely: White on Black — Photogram, Silver gelatin prints, 20x25cm, 2021
Dark & Lovely: Black on Black — Photogram, Silver gelatin prints, 20x25cm, 2021
Dark and Lovely: Red — Photogram, C-type print, 60x40cm, 2021
Dark and Lovely: Brown — Photogram, C-type print, 60x40cm, 2021
Blue Magic 1 — Cyanotype, Archival pigment print on Hahnemüle Photo Rag, 60x40cm, 2021
Blue Magic 2 — Cyanotype, Archival pigment print on Hahnemüle Photo Rag, 60x40cm, 2021

Named after the haircare brand Dark & Lovely, this series of works explores the notion of the ‘Black aesthetics’ and respectability politics; drawing on a shared memory of assimilation by people of African descent to conform to a European standard of beauty.

Medium:

Photogram, Silver Gelatin Print

Size:

20x25cm
Blueprint 1: Black Skin, White mask — In-camera Cyanotype collage, Giclée print, 70x50cm, 2020
Blueprint 3: Hands Up — In-camera Cyanotype collage, Giclée print, 143x50cm, 2021
Blueprint 2: Black Skin, White mask — In-camera Cyanotype collage, Giclée print, 70x50cm, 2020
Blueprint 4: Dreaming of Shells — In-camera Cyanotype collage, Giclée print, 50x33cm, 2020
Blueprint 5: Black Skin, White mask — In-camera Cyanotype collage, Giclée print, 40x30cm, 2021
Blueprint 6: Black Skin, White mask — In-camera Cyanotype collage, Giclée print, 40x30cm, 2021
Blueprint 7: Black Skin, White mask — In-camera Cyanotype collage, Giclée print, 40x30cm, 2021
Blueprint 8: Black Skin, White mask — In-camera Cyanotype collage, Giclée print, 40x30cm, 2021

What does it mean to be Black and British, an African in Europe? A series of self-portraits, ‘Blueprint: Black Skin, White Mask’, draws on the notion of the blueprint- the models and structures that govern our society. It plays on the duality of presence, where one can be both hyper visible and invisible simultaneously; referencing Frantz Fanon's urgent critique of the effects of racism on the psyche, examining how colonial subjects internalise prejudices and stereotypes, eventually emulating the 'White Masks' of their oppressors. 

Medium:

In-camera Cyanotype collage, Giclée print,

Size:

2021