A Lesson in Diversity with Sophia Tassew

Ahead of Sophia's exhibition launch tonight in partnership with ASOS Supports Talent, BRICKS contributor Ellen Atlanta caught up with the creative director to discuss rebellion, diversity and RIOT! RIOT! RIOT!

Words by Ellen Atlanta

“I remember when I walked into work with my afro for the first time,” says Sophia Tassew. “It was early on a Monday morning; the music wasn’t on yet, and the office was quiet. I sat down, started to unpack my things and a male colleague turned to me and said, ‘Hey Sophia, did you forget to comb your hair this morning?”

She speaks softly but with intent, hand nestled in her hair as she props herself up, laying down on her bed. “I face these micro-aggressions all the time, you know? But I’ve learnt that I have a right to exist in this place.”

Sophia Tassew is taking up space. As we Facetime, her curls fill the periphery of the screen.  A poster girl of the unofficial Black Girl Magic movement that’s unapologetically sweeping across social media, melting into the gaps and expanding, bigger and bigger until you just can’t ignore it, she glows with a defiant energy.   

From appearing in Stormzy’s ‘Big for your Boots’ music video to having her artwork turning R&B albums into documentary film posters go viral, the 20-year-old art director, visual artist and curator has proven that she’s doing so much more than just ‘existing’, she’s thriving.

Sophia is about to launch her third exhibition, RIOT!RIOT!RIOT! at Protein Studios, backed by ASOS. Inspired by the 90’s Riot Grrrl movement and rebranded as an intersectional platform to celebrate freedom, feminism and rebellion, the exhibition will open on Saturday 21st October.

“This exhibition is all about being a young person and recognising your ability to scream and shout through art, not even just through art, but through your very existence.”

With RIOT!RIOT!RIOT!, Sophia has curated a line up in which all artists are women of colour; Rene Matic, Joy Miessi and Hannah Hill will show work that explores themes of womanhood, race, sexuality and protest. The exhibition is a form of protest in itself, fighting back at the white, cis, male domination of the art world.

“I love going to art galleries, but I just find that I’m forcing myself to connect to the artwork,” says Sophia. “It’s like you have to be this bouji, arty, cool kid to understand, but the art world shouldn’t be like that. Going to major art galleries, it’s rare that you see work from women of colour, I wanted to put us in that space, to let other girls know that they could be doing it too.”

This idea of representation is a common theme in all of Sophia’s work; her existence fights against everything society tells us to be: quieter, smaller, to take up less space.

Growing up, I never saw someone who looked like me that was an art director or a film producer, and I thought “shit, how is this going to happen, what am I going to do?

Sophia Tassew

“My work puts women in a position of authority, it stands for every single type of girl,” she says. “Growing up, I never saw someone who looked like me that was an art director or a film producer, and I thought ‘shit, how is this going to happen, what am I going to do?’. We only learnt about the Steven Spielberg or the James Camerons; we never learnt about people who looked like us.”

Which is why Sophia uses her exhibitions and social media to put herself, and other minority women in a position of power. She’s also a huge advocate for body positivity and self-love, which is one of the reasons she’s been announced as the latest ASOS Insider. She’s beautiful, unapologetic and fierce, but is honest about her journey of personal growth after her struggles with bullying and low self-esteem.

“I was bullied in secondary school for my size and now I’m doing what I love because of it,” she says. “I just wish I’d had someone like me when I was younger. I get so many messages from young girls saying thank you and letting me know that I’ve helped them with my posts. It’s really heart-warming.”

And she’s not done yet. “I’ve still got so many plans,” she says. “My ultimate goal is to have my own creative agency and just be this iconic art director and activist. I want to be known for being the person that’s very loud and constantly riots through her work.”
Keep on rioting, girl.