Artist Diana Chire on listening to black women’s rage

Diana Chire caused major ripples during Frieze Art Fair last year when she curated the hugely successful, all-female, guerrilla blockbuster show ‘TAKE! EAT!’. Born in Egypt and raised in London to Ethiopian parents, Chire’s performance pieces focus on themes of feminism and racial identity. Here she tells us more about her work and the power in embracing feminism as an artist.

1 year agoText by


NOTION: Tell us a bit about your background?
DIANA: I studied fine art at Westminster. It was only when my teacher at university gave me a book called ‘Wack!’ that I really knew I wanted to be a performance artist. It said everything about feminism I felt, but never had the dialogue to express – and finally, with performance art, I do!

How did feminism come into your orbit?
It was strange because I would be angry sometimes when something sexist happened – like being told to sit, stand and speak a certain way by family members and that ‘there’s no way women should never talk over men!’ But at the time I didn’t have the knowledge or the words to talk back.

So feminism and art made you feel like you had some power at last?
Yes definitely. I read all about these wonderful women – Linda Nochlin, Sarah Lucas, Adrian Piper, Valie Export and Carolee Schneemann – creating work to fight injustices, and it made me feel empowered.

How do you feel about women’s anger? Do you feel like it’s increasingly acceptable to express it, or not?
Women aren’t supposed to be angry. Especially black women. We are meant to be passive. But having a strong opinion doesn’t mean you are angry!  And if I am feeling angry, then yes I am angry! It’s fine to be angry as well!

It would be a great thing for humanity if everyone would start to really listen to black women’s rage and started to empathise with why it might be so…

I’ve been making a lot of work in reaction to this. As a black woman I think we are constantly, endlessly critiqued on our hair, bodies and skin tone far worse than any other race. It sometimes feels like being white and adopting black traits is ‘better’ than actually being black and having genuine black features.

Jumper and Trousers Uniqlo

Do you think the fashion and beauty industry are to blame for making black women and girls feel bad about wearing their natural hair?
We live in a world where we have an institutionalised system that has historically demonised, criticised and mocked black women. Growing up in this is hard – seeing all the idealised standards of beauty in society. You can internalise a lot of self-hate from this.

What can we do to change this and make things better for young black girls growing up in this society?
I think we need more women of colour speaking up about their insecurities. I grew up feeling like maybe it was just me who felt this way. That’s why creating performance art is so important. I can say exactly how I feel without using words, just my body.

What are your thoughts on Black Lives Matter and the people that say ‘All lives matter’?
‘All lives matter’ thinking is total bullshit.

Can you elaborate on this?
White people are not getting stopped and shot for no reason, but black men and women are. It’s in the news almost every week. There are countless statistics. By saying ‘All lives matter’ you are saying there is no racial disparity in America! I feel like when you say “All lives matter”, it’s like saying, “black lives DON’T matter!”

Shirt, Jacket, Waistcoat, and Tie Child of Jago, Trainers Artist’s Own

Tell us about your recent performance piece where you shaved off your hair?
I invited some of my friends to my studio not telling them what was going to happen. Then they watched me get my head shaved! I’ve always chemically straightened my hair and would always wear hair extensions. My natural hair was always something that was hidden and made me feel really anxious and unhappy. The moment it was shaved off it was as if I had let go of all the parts of me that had rejected my natural state.

How does it feel being female in the art world today?
I feel that the art world is more open now to women in the arts, but it’s far from being equal. Collectors and galleries are so much more likely to work with young male art graduates. It’s happened a few times where I’ve had male collectors ‘casually’ ask me if I’m dating anyone seriously. It’s confusing at first but then you realise that there is always a fear that they will invest in you and you’ll get pregnant and disappear!

So you have to say you’re not dating anyone when you are?
Exactly. You have to be creating work, be at all the events, look good and be eternally single. It’s different for men. Women like Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin changed the mould in the 90s but it’s not the same anymore. Men can make work, look how they like, date who they want, have kids, and still be successful.

You recently moved to Berlin! How is the art scene there?
Berlin is an amazing place! Everyone here is a free spirit! There’s something about Berlin that makes anything possible. I’m staying in the same neighbourhood as David Bowie and Iggy Pop when they were here! London is too expensive for an artist to survive now.

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Words + Fashion Namalee Bolle
Photography Andree Martis
Hair + Makeup Gavin Pickle using MAC Cosmetics
Styling Assistants Alan Godd + Joyce Ogunfeyimi

Featured image credits
playsuit Nobody’s Child
shirt dress Gyo Yuni Kimchoe
trainers Adidas