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Jade O’Belle, Birthright (2022)
The short film explores selfhood, bodies, power and rituals as the artist reclaims their Yoruba heritagePhotography Chelsea White. Courtesy of Jade O’Belle and Girls In Film Productions

Watch the trailer for Jade O’Belle’s mesmerising film Birthright

The short film explores selfhood, bodies, power and rituals as the artist reclaims their Yoruba heritage

“When you’re from a colonised background, you are taught to discard your body and values. Your adopted histories are not your own,” explains Jade O’Belle. “My paternal side of the family is Yoruba-Nigerian. My grandparents came over in the late 1950s so my father was born in South London. My connection to my Yoruba culture is from a dysphoric western point of view as I haven’t been to Nigeria yet. Everything I’ve learnt has been from watching my family navigate through England as Nigerians… But even though my understanding of my family’s cultural history is dispersed, it can be reclaimed in a new way of ownership.” The British interdisciplinary artist’s latest work is a powerful and mesmerising act of reconnection and reclamation.

O’Belle’s short film Birthright (Girls In Film Productions) is a hypnotic and enthralling incantation, summoning the mythologies, rituals, and rich symbolism of Yoruba culture. Invited into this otherworldly realm by High Priestess, we’re lured deeper by the haunting score and the enchanting imagery of rolling waves, glittering mirrors and flickering candlelight. A statement about the film tells us, “Birthright encapsulates the Black fem-identity through Yoruba iconography, a conceptual film that strives to reclaim conversations on selfhood, our bodies, and power.” 

“When you’re from a colonised background, you are taught to discard your body and values. Your adopted histories are not your own” – Jade O’Belle

The artist elaborates: “Birthright is an immersive story that visually explores the history of family and Yoruba iconography from a dysphoric perspective. Birthright is a film about intuitiveness; it’s about following the intuition of self. The story is about someone calling on a memory that is innately carried through the body. The short film explores possibilities and fantasies through unworldly dreamscapes created by costume, sound, and imagery.” 

While O’Belle has worked with photographers such as Nick Knight and Harley Weir, and has been a muse to designers and artists such as Di Petsa, Sinead O’Dwyer, and Michaela Stark, the origins of the film lay in a period of self-estrangement. In a conversation over email, she reflects: “I was trying to find a way to connect with my body. Perhaps I was disconnected because my physical traits are not the standard of Western beauty and there is an impression of how I am seen in the world. Although I don’t believe these values about myself to be true, it does affect how you move through the world on a day-to-day basis. These social biases and misconceptions have been put onto us but don’t belong to us.”

Reconnecting with her Yoruba heritage was an integral part of this story. “In this period, I started to perform rituals that felt intuitive, I took note of my actions and then all the symbolism started coming to me. Through talking to family members, I started to connect the dots and realise that these practices were very much linked to my Yoruba heritage, in particular, they were rituals to Yemoja [the mother of all Orishas (deities), and the patron spirit of rivers, sea, and children]. I started to question how informative these ritual practices were and, following my gut instincts within my body, they led me to an understanding of my heritage.”

Reflecting on the film’s potent title, O’Belle concludes: “Birthright is the right, privilege, and possession which you are entitled to at birth. The title Birthright, in the context of this film, is about reclaiming that entitlement of the histories that have been dispersed through colonialism. It is about reclaiming innate values that have been inherited through our bodies.”

To mark the film’s launch, East London’s Guts Gallery will be transformed into an extension of the Birthright world. On September 30, the gallery will become what the artist describes as a “ritualistic metaphysical space”. Alongside a screening of the film, expect a soundscape performance in which Sasoraye responds to the film, a display of the costumes and a reading from artist Ebun Sodipo [who plays the Reflection], and Becky Namgauds choreography of a Twin Flame performance.

Take a look at the gallery for stills from Birthright while the trailer (above) allows a mesmerising glimpse of the film itself. 

Birthright by Jade O’Belle (produced by GiF) will be premiered at Guts Gallery on September 30 2022. Apply for your tickets here.