Photographer and filmmaker Rhea Dillon debuts her new series, SISTAHS, which aims to break the stigma that black women are rude and argumentative
“I was just looking for happiness,” says photographer and filmmaker Rhea Dillon, discussing her latest photo series SISTAHS. Created off the back of an intense few years of police brutality and killings, injustice, and a divide which feels like its still widening, it’s no surprise that Dillon was searching. As someone who has “always been obsessed by visuals and making visuals”, she turned to her camera for answers.
Cast and captured in Paris earlier this year, SISTAHS depicts young black women hanging out and embracing each other in blissful moments of friendship. “I wanted to explore friendships in girls,” Dillon says, “as girls are always being quoted as not as open to making friends as boys – where an immature competitive nature or jealously comes into play. Black girls have a stigma of being rude and argumentative, so I wanted to strip all of these ideas away completely.”
“Are we, as a black race, so condemned that we are already angels living on this earth? Poetically, you have to sit with that question a bit” – Rhea Dillon
While celebrating girlhood and female bonds has long been a theme in contemporary photography – particularly in the rise of fourth wave feminism – one criticism, and something that Dillon says that she has been thinking about is how black women are excluded from these visuals.
“I feel that there is such a lack of images of this carefree nature of black girls in the art world,” she reveals. “(I was) trawling through photo series after photo series depicting ‘youth’ and seeing a lack of young black people in the visuals. I don’t think (the female gaze and the black female gaze) should be a separate thing, we should just be making sure that there is an equal amount of people telling their stories.”
Balancing mainstream media narratives and public perceptions was also the impetus behind Dillon’s recent film Black Angel, a collaboration with genderless clothing brand No Sesso, which she made while in LA. “Black Angel was really about asking – with all the killings of innocent black people, specifically children, and police brutality throughout history let alone the recent five years – are we, as a black race, so condemned that we are already angels living on this earth? Poetically, you have to sit with that question a bit.”
She continues, “I wanted to display a sense of freedom and playfulness amongst young black people, period, as I feel they are too often stripped of their innocence in society. One of my key themes in my work is to make sure that there are visuals of innocence for black people and PoC – bringing better visuals of black people and happier visuals... happiness to contrast some of the realities, and making sure there are equal visuals.”
In terms of what she is working on now, her university degree is taking priority, as she is studying Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins. However, Dillon feels a fluidity towards which medium her future work will find itself in. “I love film and I want to do more film now, and I’ve always loved painting as well – it’s about not allowing myself to be boxed in as a visual artist.”