Drive-By, Side-Eye, 2016 © Genevieve Gaignard, courtesy of the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

Born in Massachusetts to a black father and a white mother, American artist Genevieve Gaignard has struggled with identity issues since a young age. Now, the photographer is turning the camera onto herself in an effort to raise awareness for racial and identity issues that occur within our society. Her most recent work, Smell The Roses, is now on display at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London until July 21.

In works such as ‘Neighbourhood watch’ and ‘Drive-By, Side-Eye’, Gaignard has used American stereotypes as her muse. Juxtaposing white characters in a bi-racial body, the multi-disciplinary artist has caused widespread attention, “I spend a lot of time people-watching so I’m always cataloguing looks and ideas of who I might create next,” she explains. But moving into these characters has not been easy for her.

Neighborhood Watch, 2017 © Genevieve Gaignard, courtesy of the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

“It’s kind of the opposite of my favourite thing to do,” she admits. “It actually feels quite stressful and a little nerve wracking,” Gaignard told Sleek. “I feel like I already navigate through a world where people don’t quite see me for who I am,” she explains, “and so I’m then putting another layer of that on, and then it just becomes even more confusing.” Her biggest challenge however – “My goal is to reach a moment where I feel confident, or am embodying the person in front of the camera.”

One can almost consider the artist a ‘homebody’, but rather than someone who enjoys the confinement of her own home, Genevieve Gaignard leaves her comfort zone in search of domestic space that contextualises her next embodiment.

“I’m never pulling too far from that feeling of home,” she explains, “and this idea of bringing the viewer in because it feels familiar, it feels comfortable — it’s a little bit of trickery, enticing the viewer with this seemingly lighthearted thing and then making them consider how they think about race, and how they make judgements.”

The Color Purple, 2016 © Genevieve Gaignard, courtesy of the artist and Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

Her latest work however has swapped out her love of photography for a range of installations, all of which relates back to her continuing theme of racial identity. Taking inspiration from Mammy figurines – doll like statues that presented an outdated idea of blackness – she combines them with beautiful Victorian-style dolls. Placed in a birds cage and grandfather clock, the characters are re-contextualised to ask the question – “can unconventional beauty be a form of resistance?”

ise and Shine (Her Moment in Time), 2018
Grandfather clock, custom hand painted porcelain figurine, found objects, vintage books, doilies. She Was Afraid of Heights, But She Was Much More Afraid of Never Flying, 2018
Birdcage with stand, custom hand painted porcelain figurine, skeleton key, feather, doily.

“The mammy figurines are such a disrespectful image of how blackness was portrayed in America,” Gaignard explains, “so I collect these two items and remove the heads from both. The mammy head is then put on the body of the doll in the dress, which is then seamlessly put together and repainted, and now is having this new moment where she can just be this whimsical, free creature and not this stereotype of blackness.”

The new installation can be seen at London’s Stephen Friedman Gallery until July 21.