Banner: Detail of Emma Prempeh (b. 1996), The Vulnerable Disposition, 2019 © The Artist

Emma Prempeh, the 2019 recipient of The Ingram Prize, is a British artist, based in London, working primarily in painting and video. She has previously shown her work at GX Gallery, The Swiss Church London, Herbert Smith Free Halls, and The Cello Factory. In 2019 she was also shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries and this year she won the Alumno/SPACE Studio Bursary Award.

As part of The Ingram Prize, Emma has been invited to stage an exhibition of new work made in response to works she has chosen from the collectionIngram Contemporary Talent: Emma Prempeh opens in the Art Fund Prize Gallery on 5 December 2020.

Emma Prempeh in her studio © The Artist

First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic practice. We know you’re currently completing an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art, after studying Fine Art at Goldsmiths. But how did you begin your career, where does your passion for art stem from?

It is difficult to place a specific time where I really began to call myself an artist. I was always very imaginative and creative when I was younger, with a heavy interest in philosophy and English literature. I pursued art as I felt it gave me the freedom to implement all aspects into my creative practice should I ever need to. My passion stems from existential thought, my need to understand my own freedoms in relation to memory and time.

When you start developing a new piece or series, what is your creative process? Do you first decide on the medium that you are going to work from and start experimenting, or do you being by researching a concept and go from there?

When I begin to develop new pieces, I focus in on a subject, however, the exploration is never straightforward. I think about the way I want the paintings to be portrayed, after which I incorporate materials, and approach the painting as I feel through the subject in mind. My thought process is sometimes daunting as I will spend hours in the studio thinking about how a painting makes me feel. For example, my most recent solo show The Faces of Love with VO Curations was emotionally challenging and made me realise that thinking and reflection play a heavy role in my practice.

Emma Prempeh - Install, Brief Encounters, Hindsight, Windows of Emotion, 2020 © V.O Curations

Last year, you were a recipient of The Ingram Prize and were also shortlisted for Bloomberg New Contemporaries. How has this helped your progress within the art industry?

It has helped my progress tremendously, winning The Ingram Prize was such a shock. I entered without any idea of winning at all and being able to exhibit with so many amazing artists was such a blessing. I was able to connect with a lot of people within the industry whilst practicing on my own for a year after graduation. Bloomberg New Contemporaries gave me a boost of confidence as they recognised my video work, which I have been excited to explore this year and I feel may be translated in the upcoming exhibition.

Speaking of the industry, this year can definitely be considered a year of change, not only due to the way that the pandemic has reshaped much of the cultural landscape but also due to the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement. How have you perceived these crucial moments across the sector?

The pandemic bought digital communications into the spotlight allowing the already prevailing movement of Black Lives Matter to reach many more people. Sadly, police brutality took yet another Black life in America which led many to see the disparities Black people face within the health and educational systems, government agencies, and institutions. This year made me feel a wide range of emotions, from anger to sensitivity and vulnerability. It is something I am unable to ignore, it continues to bring to the surface the fact that as a Black woman I not only deal with the color of my skin when moving through different spaces but the patriarchy as well.

There are still overarching issues surrounding racial bias in the arts and there has been much discussion around representation, anti-racist, and decolonization in art collections, museums, and galleries. In your opinion, what are the next steps that organizations need to take to drive meaningful change?

I think the next step for galleries, museums, and even the educational system is to have a look at the dynamics within each institution. Where is the representation of Black and ethnic minorities in higher positions of power, is it evenly divided amongst artists and workers? In terms of objects, the transparency about how objects in these institutions came to be is important, and actively repossessing artifacts that remain a prisoner of European institutions due to prior imperialism is key.

Emma Prempeh - Install, Forgetting, Brief Encounters, 2020 © V.O Curations

For your upcoming ICT exhibition at The Lightbox, you are creating new work in response to pieces you have chosen from The Ingram Collection. How have you developed this project and what is its overall theme?

This project has developed from ideas surrounding the concept of death. Although initially a morbid subject, the aim of my new work is to explore its importance as a stage of living. I have selected works that find subtle ways of thinking about the journey between life and death; for example, the fallen umbrellas in Carl Plackman’s Territory of Predators, once held by human hands but able to survive longer. There will be strong colors throughout the exhibition which I usually stay shy of – I normally stick to warm and earthy tones. In many ways, the exhibition will have its bright spots, but it will equally highlight the inescapable fact of death.

What is next for you? Any upcoming projects or exhibitions we should keep an eye on?

Right now, I am currently focusing on the MA Painting course at the RCA, but hopefully next year I will be able to participate in more group shows. I think that after my solo show with The Ingram Collection I will rest and reflect on the work I have completed so far and where I would like my practice to go next.

Emma Prempeh - Install, Bereaved, A Loving Contention, Forgetting, Brief Encounters, 2020 © V.O Curations

Ingram Contemporary Talent: Emma Prempeh opens in the Art Fund Prize Gallery on 5 December 2020. 

Would you like to exhibit your work at The Lightbox? Get in touch to hire the Art Fund Prize Gallery.