In this blog artist and filmmaker Amber Akaunu, one of our recipients of the Remote Residencies programme, reflects on her time during lockdown
There’s no doubt that this year has brought around so many challenges for most of us that we could have never ever predicted. However, a tiny bit of relief throughout this chaotic year has been through both creating art and seeing artists across the city, country and world make art despite the current circumstances. I’ve loved seeing artist explore new mediums, concepts, techniques and even ways to present their work. Although all of this is also so bittersweet as we’ve now seen that making art accessible has always been possible, it’s just never been prioritised.
I’ve also used this time to explore new ways to create and show art. I quit my full-time job back in June and, although financially it was not the most sensible thing to do, it freed up a lot of mental space (and time). This allowed me to direct my now available time and mental space to exploring different passions, materials and ideas in my art. Due to not having to make art around a 9-5 jobs, it’s allowed me to not be interrupted and make work that’s reactive which has been therapeutic.
For example, during this quarantine, I have been researching into my family history and found out my maternal grandfather’s family were Nigerian-Brazilian slaves who made the decision to return to Nigeria after being freed. As I unravelled more and more history about my ancestors, I began to really struggle with the fact that my ancestors were slaves. I began to realise that the torture they endured allowed our bloodline to continue and for me to be here. I decided to make a film about this – well, more of a video essay. The work is probably the most personal thing I’ve created as I repeatedly ask myself whether I am hateful or grateful. Likewise, the recent killings of innocent Black lives shattered me and so many. I felt such a deep anger and disappointment that I released through talking, listening and making art. I created two illustrations which I sold as prints and donated all the profits made within the first 24 hours to BLM UK. We raised £288!
My work is usually quite collaborative which was a recent revelation I made during lockdown. I thought collaboration would not be possible due to the lockdown restrictions. However, I found a way to get around this with my film Afro Hair Rituals II which I developed while on a remote residency with METAL. The film is a second instalment of my first short film ‘Afro Hair Rituals’ which was broadcasted onto BBC 4 in March of this year (this actually feels like a lifetime ago). The film aimed to show how styling afro hair is an act that unites the Black community and compares this process to a sacred ritual. I wanted the second film to expand on this idea while also adding context and the viewpoints of different people – not just my own. I created a call out for Black people with afro hair to create a video sharing their “Afro Hair Ritual” and so far I’ve had some really moving videos of Black men and women styling their afro hair while talking so openly about the political aspects of having this hair to styling tips and more.
I think this period has shifted the way I make work forever. I hope that art institutions can also use this moment to shift the way in which they work as so far a lot of these spaces have not been accessible for everyone whether that is economically, socially or physically. Not all of us have had the privilege to use this time to reflect, create and think but I hope those of us who have can really grow from this.