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The Laundry Arts Georgina Johnson
Georgina Johnson and Abondance MatandaPhotography Undine Markus

The new sister arts movement celebrating women artists

Designer Georgina Johnson’s talks to us about her arts platform, The Laundry Arts

Laundry Service designer Georgina Johnson is on a mission – and not just through the clothes she makes. Building on the self-love zine she created with Dazed 100 photographer Tyler Mitchell earlier in the year, The Laundry Arts programme is Johnson’s latest way of highlighting and supporting the experiences of women and minority artists.

Started as a “sister movement” to her main label – a fresh, free-from-stereotype fusion of couture and Johnson’s own perspective as a black woman herself – the programme is, at its core, about the power of collective action in making space for these narratives where there otherwise is none. “It’s all about creating a network of kin,” she tells us, explaining how the two ventures feed into each other. While past collaborators like lookbook photographer, friend, and Niijournal founder Campbell Addy will be involved (appearing as one of the event’s speakers on Sunday), The Laundry Arts mainly showcases the work of artists with less exposure, or at the beginning stages of their careers – like Evar Hussayni, photographer Devin N. Morris, and poet Abondance Matanda – who Johnson hopes to lift up with her own rising star. Some, like DJ MARTHA, who’s worked for Radar and Radio 1, have been friends for a while, while others Johnson found organically herself or through recommendations. All span the world though, with her being adamant to avoid the too-often limited “London, London, London” perspective of similar art movements: “When there’s a whole world, why not make it international?”

“Representation needs to be at the core of things: it needs to be people running things, shooting things, editing things – people at the front” – Georgina Johnson

“I think it’s really good to get people involved when you have a vision, and also to support people through it,” she says of her motivations, hyper-aware through her own lived experiences of how it’s not easy being a minority in the arts. The chances and opportunities afforded to more affluent, privileged people over genuine talents facing classist obstacles of not having enough money or the status of having gone to a certain university sits uncomfortably with Johnson, who remembers having to save all her student loan and start a Kickstarter to even fund her first exhibition – a residency in Amsterdam. “It’s unfortunate that, in a lot of these cases, the people that really want to do things and have to break their necks to do so, come from minority backgrounds,” she observes, though there’s a kind of “glory (in the way) they make it work,” worth celebrating.

Talking about its first exhibition’s theme, “Memories,” gives an insight into where this resilience comes from. “You’ve hit the nail on the head there,” she agrees when I tell her my own interpretation of the theme: that memories are particularly important when you’re a minority because your history isn’t the dominant history, and personal memory becomes the only real way you can connect with your identity. “Even with just the way I work with things,” Johnson can trace this drive to going to the black-owned Saturday school her parents put her in as a child, where their theme song was Nas’s “I Know I can”. To this day, she admits, laughing, “I hear that song in my head when I want to do something.”

“Obviously, blackness is always going to be at the centre of my story – but that’s for me to decide” – Georgina Johnson

This anecdote is a testament to the power of memory – something Johnson became more aware of watching her own 93-year-old nan struggle to remember things in recent years, including who she was. “I just really understood, in that moment, that your memory and your life – in my eyes, that’s the thing you should hold dearest because you alone own that.” With each contributing their own personal memories to the project, this becomes a fitting way for these artists to take ownership of their own narratives while demonstrating Johnson’s idea of authentic agency through its inherent structuring. “Representation needs to be at the core of things,” she makes clear – “it needs to be people running things, shooting things, editing things – people at the front,” making the decisions, and not just faces in a campaign chosen by disingenuous editors only interested in ethnic identities as a buzzword or quota to meet. “Obviously, blackness is always going to be the centre of my story ­– but that’s for me to decide,” she says. With plans for the second and third shows (the women-only, aptly titled “Cunt”, and another about environmentalism) on the cards, we’re definitely watching this space to see what’s next. 

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