It’s been a good Black History Month so far.
We’ve had our H+K Roots network creating a Spotify playlist that could rival any algorithms and have welcomed recommendations from our Roots members that include journalists to follow and got personal on what Black History Month means to them.
We also invited people from inside and outside the industry, the first one being British artist Amartey Golding.
We think and talk a lot about creativity and inspiration, and labour over messages and audiences, so I was very eager to get an outside perspective from someone whose work documents not only his own identity but also the process of understanding the unifying themes of humanity.
Our conversation crossed topics of identity and pride, but we started with Amartey’s mixed heritage and what that meant to him.
Amartey has Scottish and Ghanaian parents but was also brought up Rastafarian, which lay at the heart of his cultural upbringing.
Rastafarianism taught him to really understand his own heritage – where he comes from and what it means to be Black and African. This kind of reflection is especially important in a “post-colonial” world where heritage might be hidden, washed away or difficult to access.
This upbringing meant that Amartey felt fortunate to call himself African, feel a lot of pride in that identity and spend time in Ghana exploring it as well.
Unlike most people’s limited knowledge of Black History in the curriculum (say hello to a month dedicated to this deficit), Amartey was brought up in a household where this was supplemented.
Amartey’s mother studied African history so was influential in his education – particularly those moments when he came back from school with something new that he learnt – his mother could add further context or challenge the accuracy of the things he was taught.
“There’s no right answer, you’re just constantly navigating and finding out more about yourself. I think it’s so fascinating being so clearly mixed. That’s the centre of a lot of my work at the moment – dealing with my identity and being proud of all sides”
Amartey and I also spoke about the idea of identity in the UK – what it means to be British vs English or Scottish. A fascinating string of themes that thirty minutes can’t really capture, but Amartey left us curious about exploring those topics further.
He then showed some of his recent work Bring Me to Heal, shot in the British cultural institution that is the V&A Museum.
The garment was central to the piece – made of 100% human hair and made by expert wig-makers who added individual strands over many months. The hair then turned into different hairstyles that worked with the textures.
One thing that would strike many when viewing this film was its style. It is a really slow short film. Atmospheric, visually arresting and thought-provoking yes. But most might say that there isn’t enough action.
We discussed slow art at length. Is there room for people to slow down when entertainment is moving so fast? Why is this important to help people process emotions, identity, and foster understanding?
There was one final question I wanted to understand – who is Amartey’s art for? There are layers of messages open to interpretation, but who gets to access them?
“For many years I always assumed a general audience but it’s not – it’s the art going audience, those usually in those spaces, and that comes with a certain demographic. I’ve now tried to pick myself up on it – who am I really trying to speak to and how accessible my work is.”
Amartey left us with the notion that the arts have a long way to go in that respect – accessibility and education to art should be for everyone, not just appreciated by the few. There are many organisations that are helping to make a shift including Art Fund and Arts for All in London.