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In conversation with: 2B or not 2B Collective

Over the last couple of years we've teamed up with 2B or not 2B collective to allow OCA students to join their online life drawing events. We thought it would be a good idea to catch up with them, find out a bit more about the collective and convince anyone who hasn't attended a session yet to join in! In this post, Jess answers some questions, read on below:

Who is 2B or Not 2B collective?

We are a London based and internationally streamed BIPOC run art collective that aims to give space to marginalised and underrepresented bodies through in person and online art events. We've worked with a number of institutions in London such as The National Gallery, the NHS, Soho House, Tate Modern, British Red Cross and Lululemon to name a few.

You describe yourselves as a BIPOC collective that focuses on inclusivity and diversity, how do you commit to these values and why is it important?

When we first came online during the lockdowns for our life drawing sessions, we noticed that even though there were many other groups that had come online as well, there was unfortunately not a lot of diversity or inclusive representation in terms of models or hosts which was surprising. We understand that the arts has many barriers to access whether that be economically, racially, geographically, physically, to name a few. We try our best to break through those barriers by platforming marginalised and underrepresented bodies and also keeping our sessions as affordable as possible.

It's important because growing up as marginalised diaspora people ourselves, we didn't see representation and inclusion both in our schools or work, and we didn't realise how much this affected our psyche, confidence and security until we deliberately created these spaces for ourselves and how much of a positive impact this has had. We all live in this society together and so it makes more sense to give voice and representation to everyone, society benefits as a whole when we celebrate the diversity of the human race. We all have something valuable to contribute.

Do you think Arts & Cultural Institutions and Organisations could do more to celebrate diversity and be more inclusive?

Absolutely! There is still so much more work to be done before we can close the many inequality gaps and it'll require those who are in power to share their resources, networks, patience, understanding, compassion, energy and time. We're seeing a slow change in tide, and there are many gaps to close. It's a bit tough at the moment in the UK post COVID, post Brexit and we're in the middle of a Ukrainian war along with a cost of living crisis. Governmental grants are drying up left, right and centre and as always, arts funding are always the first on the line to be chopped.

Are organisations still prioritising inclusivity and diversity during these uncertain economic times? Are we acknowledging how different marginalised communities are affected right now by these factors in the arts industry and how are we addressing this? How do larger institutions, corporations and organisations at the top change things at a fundamental level so that power, economy and resources are distributed more fairly? We need to ask questions such as how diverse the board of directors are? Are all the more "diverse" hires at the entry positions of the company or are they in a position of power where they can call the shots? What are the pay disparities between men and women? POC hire ratio? Is everyone able bodied? Sometimes we hear things like "no one diverse has applied for our vacancies which is why we find it hard to expand to a more diverse team" - is that where it stops? How do we overcome that? How are organisations actively going out of their way to find more diverse hires?

There's a lot of uncomfortable but necessary conversations, rethinks and organisational remodellings to be had across the board, and there needs to be real change and accountability - not just surface change.

Do you come from a creative arts background and how do you balance being an artist and running a business? Are they intertwined?

Everyone in the collective comes from different backgrounds, everything from engineering, software, data analysis, business, etc. I myself have been fortunate enough to study fashion design as a degree, and then work as a bespoke trainer designer for Nike, before going freelance 5 years ago. In all honesty, being a freelance creative working for yourself is not easy and not for the faint of heart. It requires working round the clock and there's very little time off - at least when I worked for Nike I could have the weekends to myself!

I can't speak for all artists so only myself, but I can say that balancing being a freelance creative and running a business/community/collective comes with its own set of challenges. Not only are you trying to push the envelope with your work and events, but it's also the reality of trying to pay your rent and bills on top of that. I couldn't do it without my close network of friends and community, we as a collective wouldn't be where we are now without the support from our followers, artists, and collaborators.

Being an artist/creative and running a business/collective definitely intertwine as they both feed into one another. The creative problem solving you do as an artist and freelance creative overlaps with how I run the business because you've got to think on your feet, trust your gut and be confident in your decision making.

What is the process in regards to sourcing and working with your models, in terms of recruitment and safeguarding?

In the beginning of the initial lockdowns, we had to intentionally seek out people who were often not shown or platformed and reach out to them, primarily through Instagram. A lot of people didn't reply, but a lot did. Luckily now after a few years of showcasing only marginalised bodies we actually get swamped with requests from models with marginalised bodies! It is a real blessing for people to reach out and want to debut as a life model with us.

In terms of safeguarding, we make sure that models get to choose their own poses, their own themes, their own pose times and breaks to suit their own physical needs, what they want or don't want to wear, whether they want to model online or in person, how they want to portray themselves in the marketing material in terms of photographs and description. Different models have their own needs/limits and it's important to accommodate them in order for them to be as comfortable as possible for the session.

How was the move from IRL (in real life) to online sessions, what are the benefits and challenges to both?

We were lucky in that during the initial lockdowns, many people had quickly become used to working online. It was like a world we didn't know that would flourish and continue to grow even after the world started opening up again. Because of the growing scene, we were able to tap into a network of models from across the globe, suddenly distance wasn't a factor we had to consider anymore and anyone who had a good enough camera and connection could potentially be one of our models. Of course it still comes with its own set of challenges, such as faltering internet connections, different time zones, language differences, technical issues, to name a few.

With IRL sessions we get to be in the room and the model doesn't have to worry about sorting out their own camera angles and technical aspects if we're streaming in the same space, but this is something that needs to be done on the side of the model when we don't live in the same city or or country. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes prep work that goes into training up a model if it's their first time as well, and also guiding them in pose work if they're not used to holding long poses.

What advice would you give to a student who hasn’t attended a session before? What should they expect?

If you've never attended a life drawing session in general I would say expect to be in a space where you can focus on tapping into the creative side of your brain, being able to relax and have fun drawing/painting/collaging in whatever medium you want to explore. I do believe that all life drawing sessions should be a space where models and drawers can appreciate the human body in all its glory, and be able to celebrate all body types. For our 2B sessions, our methodology derives from a free class we used to attend in Brick Lane, London over ten years ago. It was so informal and relaxed, they played prohibition era music and there was a huge Lurcher dog called Peggy that would walk around stealing your cake! We wanted to replicate that same atmosphere for our own sessions because we wanted to create a space where you could relax, make new friends, listen to music while you drew at your own pace.

We usually start off with quick poses to get you warmed up, we know for our evening classes especially people will have come in from work or school, and they're tired and still in that work mode of thinking, so we ease them into the session. Then the poses usually get longer and longer as the session progresses so you have more time to really dial into your drawings.

And finally, just for fun, who is your favourite artist and why?

Oh this is such a hard question! There are so many it's difficult to just pick one. To name a few I absolutely adore the bold works of Yayoi Kusama, Basquiat and Ai Wei Wei for his political art. There is also a Japanese art collective called Chim↑Pom who make performative works and guerilla art stunts that touch upon social commentary, for one piece they drove around Japan with a megaphone that would play crow calls so that they could attract swarms of live crows, they'd lure the crows to swarm over government buildings like a bad omen.

I also love the work of Barbara Kreuger, again for the bold compositions and pop cultural references to capitalism and consumerism. The first time I came across her work properly was through an 80s John Carpenter satirical film called "They Live" where her typography is stretched across buildings and giant billboards in different scenes.

The last honourable mention would be for the kooky creative couple who designed "The Site Of Reversible Destiny" in Yoro Park, Japan. It is a "experience park" full of colourful, off the wall buildings and sculptures, some rooms filled with sand and irregular structures. It took them 30 years to realise their vision! After having lived in Japan for a year myself, I absolutely fell in love with some of the whacky attitudes that Japanese design philosophy emcompasses and allows for - the freedom of expression. I would love to visit this place in the next 2 years to shoot a video!

If there's a common theme amongst a lot of the artists I've mentioned is that their works tackle socio and political themes in playful, eye-grabbing ways. There's something very powerful when artists can bridge that gap between their inner world and the outside world in a truly engaging way, something to get people talking about subjects that are otherwise uncomfortable but necessary to discuss. Sometimes I feel that art can be used as a gateway or catalyst into change, whether that be art, fashion, film, music, or writing. I see art as a tool to communicate something that the artist wants to say, and using humour and playfulness to do it is something that is always very appealing to me.

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