Olivia Joan: Wallpaper* Next Generation 2021

Olivia Joan: Wallpaper* Next Generation 2021

Our Next Generation 2021 showcase shines a light on 21 outstanding graduates from around the globe, Wallpaper’s pick of the best new talent in seven creative fields. Here, we profile graduate of Parsons School of Design, New York, Olivia Joan.

Olivia Joan’s joyful portraiture of her female relatives challenges negative stereotypes of Black women and pays tribute to Black matriarchy. 

Joan spent years making her family feel at ease in front of the camera and this is a lifelong project. As life begins and ends for members of her family, Joan creates portraits along the way. She is especially proud of her portrait of her grandmother (Joan B Johnson, co-creator of the first Black-owned company to be publicly traded on the American stock exchange), who has since passed away.

Olivia Joan Wallpaper* Next Generation 2021
Olivia Joan. Dream collaborator: ‘Tyler Mitchell. Much like my work, Tyler creates positive and dreamy representations of Black people, giving viewers a refreshing perspective on the Black identity.’

While her subjects are mostly directly engaged, regal in their strength and stature, in others there are moments of resistance and tension, as in portraits of her sister and mother taken immediately after an argument. In one image, Joan’s mother perches edgily on her seat, aware of a large ham in the back of the frame that needs preparing for a family gathering.

Joan says that the best images often happen while she is setting up her lens and her family are most relaxed. All pretence falls away in these images, and as a viewer it feels like we’ve been let in on a family secret. §


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