AN INTERVIEW WITH: FAVOUR JONATHAN

by Ilayda McIntosh

The process is understanding your journey towards art whilst knowing how to protect your peace, as well.

Since stepping into the digital media world (around 2016), I’ve interviewed many incredibly talented artists, creatives and change-makers across the arts and culture industries. It’s rare, but every so often you encounter individuals who allow you to forget about the interview formalities and structures you usually abide by; those who share a beautiful yet deeply vulnerable glimpse of their soul, in conversation.  

Favour Jonathan is an immensely talented, inspiring and joyous woman. Her artwork speaks volumes to her talent and her authenticity speaks volumes to her character.

It's difficult for me to put myself in the art world, I'm still discovering the art world and what people see as art.

Ilayda:

So let’s get straight into it: huge congrats on the recent Sky Arts Landmark Award, it must have been such an incredible and affirming experience for you as an artist!

Favour:

Yeah! Sky Arts came through with a challenge: ten weeks to create artwork with really tight schedules. It was overwhelming, being given a budget and the opportunity to speak about anything that I’d like to. But I just thought, “let's go!” I've got loads of stories to tell. 

Ilayda:

And the winning sculpture was of the Black Shakespearean actor, Ira Aldridge?

Favour:

Yeah, I pitched to create a sculpture that honours him, to spotlight the history and his story. But I also wanted representation out there for young people. When you're at university, you can't quite see your future clearly. It's important for young people to see this 17-year-old boy who made it before slavery was abolished. He thought; “America doesn't want me, so I'm going to England”. He ignored everything and just went for it. Hearing his story and the changes he brought about within theatre at his age, at that time, was so inspiring. The zero fucks he gave. That's what a lot of young people need now as well. 

I'm a firm believer that the past guides your future. Learning about your past is essential. Being guided by our ancestors means hearing the stories about people that have lived in our communities, facing similar struggles, and learning from them. It’s knowing that “yeah, they did that. So, I can get up this morning and do this.”

Ilayda:

These are pieces of history that aren’t taught in the curriculum or are widely known. It's so important to highlight these in the ways we can.

Favour:

Definitely. These stories aren’t taught in schools because history doesn't want to archive them. We've moved on from the past. But if I can find it in an archive or in the library, it should be in the curriculum. 

There needs to be more representation within art because there are many children who go home after school to a home different to their peers. It's really nice to see yourself in your books, in stories. 

Despite being dyslexic, I don't struggle when I discover a story of an amazing person I'm reading about. I go off with that book! For example, reading about Claudia Jones. We've been turning up at Carnivals, forgetting that she started it from nothing.  When you see yourself represented, your abilities speak up.

Ilayda:

It fuels you in a different way.

Favour:

Yeah. You gain so much more from that representation. 

Ilayda:

100%. So just jumping back to the landmark award, how did that fuel you as an artist? How did that push you further?

Favour:

I've always been interested in history and I love trying to put two and two together because it feels like a puzzle. After winning the award and finding out I could create my pitch, I had the opportunity to speak in my own way. And knew I was going to be listened to.

It also fueled me in that I realised I had the opportunity to talk to young people. These stories help me get out of bed in the morning. I'm human, I have a lot of feelings. So when I read about people that represent me, people with interesting stories, I become fascinated and quite obsessed with their life and what they've done. When that happens, I'm like a different person: I'm alive. 

It is just beautiful that someone gave me the opportunity to be able to share this and show other people this part of history that got me out of bed in the morning. Ira Aldridge was 17! I'm 25.

Ilayda:

Wow, I love that. 

How did you first start creating art? 

Favour:

It's difficult for me to put myself in the art world: I'm still discovering it and learning what people see as art. I come from a culture that is rich in art, but we don't see what’s traditional as art. That's why it's really hard to answer these questions. I'm still learning the arts, and doing so in this western gaze upon African art and craft. It’s less putting things in galleries and more using things for a purpose, celebrating and honouring. Archiving history through craft. 

That's my background. I've always created because everything else is hard! It's really difficult for me, but when my hands are busy, my mind is clear. And as a child, I tapped into that real quick. If I'm busy, then I'm not getting anxious, I'm not thinking too much. That's what got me into doing art. I attended a summer school, then ended up at Central Saint Martins. 

Everything flowed beautifully for me, I won't lie. I'm very blessed and grateful for that. The way we dance is the same way we create. There’s a rhythm. A flow. It's passing time, no one's on their laptops. If you’re bored? Weave a basket. Put something together. The empty carton or empty bottle; turn it into a car, make a catapult.

Ultimately, I just want to create work that helps other people, that educates and allows them to feel something in their lives. 

Ilayda:

So did your definition of art shift when you started studying? 

Favour:

No, it left me confused! I’m still very confused, I won't lie. Art is something free and generally, if you want to become something within the art world, people say you need to have done this show or be in this gallery etc. Can I not just enjoy the process and share it? Not asking too much for it?

Art is the way I keep my peace. When I get troubled, confused or anxious in my everyday life, I go paint. I'll either cry, or I go paint! I pick one. 

Ilayda:

Are your emotions quite intertwined with your creative process, then?

Favour:

Yes, they are. I'm very sensitive, I won't lie. I'll be crying over something that I’m not involved with. 

The process is understanding your journey towards art whilst knowing how to protect your peace, as well. Because it's very spiritual. It’s being able to bring something out of your mind and into reality; making it something tangible, something someone else can understand. Art is a language, a form of communication. If you don't protect your peace in the process of creating, you'll burn out so many times. You’ll end up seeing something that comes to you naturally, like work, as exhausting! 

Ilayda:

I love that. Couldn’t agree more. 

What else inspires your creative process?

Favour:

I get a lot of inspiration from my heritage, my people. I'm really connected to the Benin culture, there's something in there that I dig. I'm not quite sure what I'm digging for but I'm always wanting to know more. I'm like, so who's that and who did what? What century? Is this the reason that is happening? I'm always wanting to know more about our people, our culture, and share that with others. 


There are loads of beautiful mythologies, tales and stories. I get so much joy out of just learning about the history of the Benin people: and Africa is huge! Just imagine. I definitely draw a lot of inspiration from the Benin culture too; the artistry and the way they create. It's something else, I won't lie. I'm just so fascinated.

Ilayda:

That was my next question! I was going to ask what your heritage means to you and how you draw on that within your own artistic creations?

Favour:

I have always been attracted to fire. And what we do, culturally, is metalwork. I love being warm and I love being in a metal workshop. It's in my blood. My heritage and my culture is all about finding out and seeing a lot more of myself. That’s how I feel connected and rooted to my sensitivity and everything.

Ilayda:

I hear that a lot. You work with and teach a lot of young people. Do you ever see yourself kind of mirrored in the younger people that you work with?

Favour:

So I started working with young people in my first year of uni, on the outreach team. I would often see that scared little child or anxiousness in them. And when I did, I would think; “Oh no honey, you're going to be a bigger person than me!”

Whenever I see a young person that is struggling like me or a young person that is very hyperactive, I think about how I can help them. Can you knit? If you can knit, you can kill time. Because you got the energy. There's always something to give to them, something you can repurpose. Because I've got ADHD, I have energy. So I tell them, you better start looking into this and this and that. Seeing myself in them and picking them up through encouragement and patience helped me to see my own weaknesses. Even when I couldn’t pick myself up, I tried.

Ilayda:

It's always easier when it's at arm's length. Like you give better advice to your friends, but you don't take the advice yourself. That kind of thing.

Favour:

Oh gosh, yeah. But I'm really proud of the young people of this generation. Generation Z, right? They get in the game. I love them. I love their activism. I love the way they speak. I love the way they're out there. I love the way they ask. 

I love the way they pull in the dreams. Generation Z does whatever they want. So whatever part I can play within that, I try. I just want them to grow. They care so much about the environment, about people, about health, even each other. And creativity. It's beautiful to see.

Ilayda:

You also honour a lot of Black women within your work. What does this mean to you?

Favour:

It's where I see myself. Claudia Jones lived in Brixton and she was chilling just down the road from me. Notting Hill Carnival is one of the biggest street festivals in Europe, right? 

Ilayda:

Yep!

Favour:

And it's all because a woman wanted to raise money and help the community. She had nothing. She died alone. But reading her story, just walking around Brixton feels different now. Knowing the roads, where things used to be. It feels different. I'm walking around there with my chest up like I know tings!

She barely had £100 to create her West Indian Gazette but she still did it. If she did that? I can try too. 

With my artwork, there are loads of tiny pieces that end up creating this big sculpture. So all these stories of these Black women, fragments of history and even the women I see around me, fuel me. Their stories lift me up. It’s an energy I can’t explain. And I want that for the lives of other people, how can I not share these stories with other people? 

Ilayda:

So beautiful. So, finally, could you talk a little bit about your Statement of Pride piece and how that came about? Is it still ongoing? 

Favour:

It’s ongoing. The reason I started creating it was that I didn't understand how everyone else had permission over my body, without my permission. They would feel entitled to touch my hair, my head of all places! Without my permission.

There was one day I was going to uni. It was summertime and I had styled my afro perfectly and because it’s summer it wasn't shrinking. Everything was glistening, my hair was perfectly round. I put on my dungarees to match the good energy! I sat down on the train, not actually leaning my head back because I wanted it to stay round. I felt good! I went into the canteen, got some food and sat down. Then someone comes up behind me, literally puts their hands in my hair and says “Oh my god, it feels just like pubic hair!”

I wanted to fight somebody. But I didn't, I stayed calm. That’s someone else feeling like they have power or entitlement over your body.

The Statement came after me getting very emotional and looking into identity, at who I am. Realising my hair is my Statement of Pride. Like I can say, whatever I want with my hair. Black hair takes time, it takes tenderness. We don’t all have Beyoncé hours!

So then I just started taking passport-style photographs. This image is a thing that allows you to travel around the world. I started it in 2017 and I’m still collecting all the changes my hair is capable of. The history and tenderness and patience that is Black hair. It takes an hour to just detangle. That’s an hour spent by yourself, true self-care. It forces you to literally align yourself with yourself. It’s a part of the culture, the ritual. So I’ll be creating this beautiful book to raise funds towards creating some bridges and toilets across Nigeria. It’ll feature some of the images I’ve shared online as well as some extra exclusive photos. 

I want this book to be a reminder to young Black women that their hair is gold, it’s beautiful. It grows against gravity. Wear it with pride no matter what.

Ilayda:

And will there be some Black male faces in there one day or is it a female focus? 

Favour:

Ooh! You’ll have to wait and see. 

Favour’s approach to art and the creative process is a refreshing reminder to all creatives. As a creative myself, I know how easy it is to forget that a creative career isn’t a conclusive journey, neither is the pursuit of self-defining as an artist. We explore, learn and find what defines us throughout our creative journey. There is no wrong and right, in art. 

Equally, our ancestors and heritage inform both the art we create and ultimately who we are. For creatives of the global majority, paying homage to our heritage through our art is more affirming than one can imagine. 

You can find out more about Favour Jonathan via the link below.

https://www.instagram.com/br0wnn_sugar/