April Bey: I Believe in Why I'm Here

1 Sep-1 Oct 2022
PV 1 Sep 2022, 6-8pm

Simon Lee Gallery
London W1J 8DT


Welcome to Atlantica. This world is yours to inhabit. April Bey will be your guide, she’s created a planet that’s free from prejudice, that celebrates difference and where the only currency is love.

April Bey’s first solo exhibition in Europe, I Believe in Why I’m Here, introduces us to the world of Atlantica, created by the artist over thirty years. The gallery is completely transformed into a magical environment exploding with vibrant life that welcomes and empowers anyone that visits. You’ll meet some of Atlantica’s inhabitants rendered as large-scale portraits in opulent textiles; sherpa, metallic thread and faux Atlantican fur, adorned with glitter, sequins and hand stitching. Across selfie-style closeups and editorial-esque portraits these individuals hold their space, unapologetically themselves. Each figure exudes confidence in their own Black skin as they model the planet’s fashion line ‘Colonial Swag’, one of the many brilliantly conceptualised speculative elements of Atlantica designed and executed by April with wit and precision. The figures are accompanied by anthropomorphic plant species collaged in the same richly textured fabrics that remind us of the intrinsic relationship between humans and nature, that all living forms are a product of the natural world. The Atlanticans engage in acts of radical relaxation, nourished by their abundant natural environment and live free from the earthbound limitations imposed on them due to their appearance, identity or ability. Each of the figures in the show is a real person, selected by April as model Atlantican citizens for their ability to boldly go where no earthling has gone before by defying societal norms and pressures. Triple Minor, Astra Marie, Myjah Moon and Saucye West are all stars in their own right, pushing the boundaries of their own creative practices from genderless fashion to iconic nail art and body positivity, inspiring a generation of Instagram followers and rolemodelling self-love and Queer joy.
At the age of 4, April asked her African American father why her appearance meant that she was being treated differently by her peers at school. Instead of suggesting that his child hide or suppress her true self in order to mould to the problematic structures of the world around her, her father responded by explaining that April and her family were aliens from outer space. It was at that formative moment in her childhood, rich with imagination and possibility, that the founding stone of Atlantica was laid. Atlantica has become a site of radical possibility, a space of resistance in opposition to April’s own marginalised experience on planet earth. In Bell Hooks 1990 essay Marginality as site of resistance she states that the process of being marginalised “nourishes one’s capacity to resist [and]… offers the possibility of radical perspectives from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.”1 The new world created by April is a rejection of the prejudices impacting those of us that exist within the margins. A rejection of the bigotry, racism, homophobia, classicism, ableism, sexism and body-shaming that is woven into the very fabric of our society, demonstrated explicitly and implicitly, consciously and unconsciously. April’s own marginalised human experience is exactly what imbues her with the superpower to create Atlantica, an alternative reality built one work at a time with love and determination, a new home ready to welcome anyone willing to make the intergalactic journey.
April’s utopian world might seem purely like a means of escape, a welcome break from our IRL existence, an impossible reality, a far-flung dream. But her work is a challenge, a question; what steps must be taken to make this world a reality? April continues the work of the Afrofuturists who have, since the 1970s, explored speculative futures as a means to re-evaluate the past and reimagine the present. The movement’s mother and April’s great inspiration, Octavia Butler, leads the way in world building, exemplified in her Parable novels where the fictional religion Earthseed poses new possibilities for a life beyond the limitations of the earth we know:
“The Destiny of Earthseed
Is to take root among the stars.
It is to live and to thrive
On new earths.
It is to become new beings
And to consider new questions.”
The constraints and prejudices that we wish to escape on this earth are themselves constructs that began as fictional narratives, now embedded in our daily existence and social order in urgent need of questioning. How do we decolonise our minds in order to shed the trappings of a colonised world? We must write counter narratives compelling and immersive enough to offer a powerful alternative to the world we have become used to, but aren’t necessarily willing to accept. Which version of earth do we want our children to inherit? It’s impossible to experience April’s exhibition and not be moved and inspired by what you see. Here you’ll find freedoms you’d wish for yourself and future generations; a world abundant with colour, inclusivity, and positivity; a future filled with opulence, liberation, love, and hope. Welcome to Atlantica. This world is yours to inhabit, if you make the choice to stay.

- Gemma Rolls-Bentley


April Bey: I Believe in Why I'm Here | Press Release