As a black, plus-sized woman, my “leeches” are centred in racism and fatphobia, but I hope to make paintings that apply to a range negative feelings the viewer feels burdened by — or better put, has grown up with, forced into their minds, which they find now sucking, clingingly, from themselves.
“Persistently or clingingly present.” This idiom refers to the way a leech attaches itself to the person or animal it draws blood from; once they begin feeding, the parasites are very difficult to remove, sucked to the skin.
This series examines the process of unlearning stereotypes, traits, and characteristics that are thrust onto us as children, but which begin to collapse as we enter adulthood. However, as the title suggests, this is not so simple a task — we often find these norms and values “stuck”.
In pursuit of this idea, the paintings contain figures physically removing things, or wrestling with currents, liquids, and objects. In doing so, the figures interact with others facing much the same challenges — the negative thoughts and attributes these gestures signify are made increasingly difficult to overcome when reinforced by one’s context. In this imagery, I examine the practice of dismantling and unlearning biases and phobias pertaining to one’s own identity, particularly when these ills are sewn into the social fabric of our naturalized communities.
Olivia Sterling parallels modes of othering through painting cropped domestic scenes. These scenes focus on blackness, whiteness, and racism's small indignities and violence through a "slapstick" sensibility.
Olivia Sterling parallels modes of othering through painting cropped domestic scenes. These scenes focus on blackness, whiteness, and racism’s small indignities and violence through a “slapstick” sensibility. Paintings are often populated with letters and lines, regularly indicating the nearest colour to draw attention to the inanity of the language of race. One might see a “white” hand accompanied by ‘p’, for pink or peach, in contrast to the supposedly superior, pure white, which takes the form of a sticky, liquid ooze.
Her paintings are often set in bathrooms, kitchens, and playgrounds, private or public areas — any place where racism’s macro- and microaggressions might occur. These locations also suggest a variety of transformations, from raw to cooked, dirty to clean, cool to burnt. Sterling believes this aligns with moments of othering and certain observed social phenomena like blackfishing or new modes of exoticization.
In reaction to growing up in a countryside town in England, Olivia Sterling’s paintings often reference British identity by containing specific icons of the British experience, ranging from Victoria sponge cakes, milk bottles, double cream, and Pink Panther biscuits to Girl Guides imagery and plug sockets. Through the use of these objects she wishes to bind her experience as a black woman to its inalienable Britishness, and to tether the paintings to a specific time and place.
IT CLINGS LIKE A LEECH: A DEBUT SOLO SHOW BY OLIVIA STERLING | IT'S 2020 FOR F*CK SAKE – A THIRTEEN ARTIST, BACK-TO-BACK SOLO EXHIBITION MARATHON