Featured Artist Aislinn Finnegan(London)

I am an illustrator living in London who is half Zambian and half Northern-Irish whose work focuses on the concepts of identity, femininity and race. I use portraiture to empower and aim to normalize and represent Black female narratives in the art world using an Afro-futuristic approach by placing them at the center and forefront of nearly every piece.  My work celebrates Blackness in all its beauty and power and challenges Western beauty standards with each Black female being specifically adorned using influences from contemporary and traditional African/African diasporic hairstyles (exploring the versatility of Afro hair), ornamentations and makeup. Applying a minimalist approach, I use the contrast of black, white and earthy colours to highlight the intricacy and detail of the line work and patterns that symbolize and explore intersections of individual identity and aesthetics in an effort to normalize Black representation in the art world.

I spent most of my life in academia until last year, having moved frequently during my upbringing. My passion for art was a constant thread from my early years through my master’s degree. It allowed me to freely express myself until I reached A-level art, where rigid grading criteria limited my creativity. I would bring in pieces that I had laboriously worked on for weeks and get a “wow….it’s gorgeous…art school will love you…but unfortunately for your a-level mark….”Despite being a skilled foundational artist, I couldn’t create stylized or culturally reflective pieces. I would receive compliments but not the A-level marks I aspired to, which left me feeling slightly unfulfilled.

My journey continued with a foundation art certificate program that encouraged me to unlearn past constraints and explore my artistic identity. After much introspection, I settled on Textiles as my medium but struggled to find meaningful themes, often creating floral and abstract embroideries instead.

University introduced me to the complexities of defining my artistic identity in a predominantly white environment.  I started to use my experience and knowledge and finally started to articulate myself and my art, I was met with questions that I needed to answer and not that much help or assistance to figure them out. My work became about my identity, race and femininity as I battled through my mental health and a cumbersome identity crisis.    My tutors struggled to connect with my vision, which prompted me to delve into African art and Black art concepts, which resonated with my ideas more.

The transition to portrait creation felt more fitting, and I ultimately shifted from embroidery to drawing and illustration to convey my message. although I enjoyed creating portraits with embroidery, I found that shifting to a more illustrative, portraiture approach, it encapsulated what I was trying to say. In my final year, I concentrated on illustration and print work, honing my drawing skills and mastering drawing programs. I attribute my progress to the freedom and self-reliance that arose from a lack of understanding and support. 

Each step in my artistic journey has been challenging, and I still have reservations about my drawing skills and certain aspects of human anatomy. Nevertheless, drawing remains a therapeutic outlet. I continuously explore various themes and techniques to enrich my art and add depth to my work. Over the years, I’ve learned to let go of perfectionism, realizing that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and that mistakes and errors are always valuable learning opportunities.