PAST: RACE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE
35x45cm, 4 photographs
Click on the thumbnails to view full image
ABOUT THE WORK
In Amber's own words
After attending a discussion on the school to prison pipeline by Manchester based organisation, Kids Of Colour, as well as reflecting on my own school experience, I felt it would be suitable to explore this idea further in my piece. Elements of the school system such as onsite police, no tolerance attitude and even the searching of students' school bags before they enter, can all have a serious impact on the direction of a child's life, especially if we also add race into the situation. I therefore decided to explore this issue through the architecture of schools and police stations in the city that I live in, Liverpool. I aim to at least shed light on this topic and encourage everyone to research the school to prison pipeline further to gain a better understanding of the impacts it has on young people's lives.
Amber Akaunu is a visual artist from Liverpool who uses film and photography to dissect issues such as race, identity and Black history. Amber graduated from university in 2018 with a first class degree in Fine Art. While in her final year of university, Amber noticed a lack of representation and opportunity for artists that looked like her and therefore co-founded ROOT-ed, a magazine for artists of colour from the North West of England.
We had a short chat with Amber to get to know her better
What is your creative background?
I’ve always been the kid that draws. In school all my friends would always ask me to draw on the front of their books and then when I was in secondary school I always chose art. When I went to university I chose Psychology because I was interested in it and my family did not want me to study art. But at the last minute I realised how much I love art and that I can’t imagine my life without it, so I applied to do a Fine Art degree. I think that’s when I fully committed to this path, dedicating my time and my career.
What were your key influences during your university time?
First and second year it was kind of the basic things: I was really into colour field painting like Mark Rothko, and colour theory. I’m glad that I dedicated my second year to learning about colour and colour psychology because I still use that today.
Summer between second year and third year there was a protest in America and there were KKK members present. I was so shocked and disturbed by it, I realised I couldn’t just sit around doing artwork about colours - I wanted to do something meaningful.
So in my third year I did a project of 39 short videos that were an interpretation of 39 different Hip-Hop lyrics, to celebrate 39 years of Hip-Hop. This led me to making work around the topics of racism, colourism, beauty standards, poverty and other things I thought were relevant. I always feel like Hip-Hop is the documentary film of music.
How did you start making video work?
In my first year of university we tried all the different mediums for a couple of weeks each, and in the second year we were asked to choose our discipline. I chose film because I loved video art so much. I felt like it was more accessible because it didn’t have to be in an art gallery - not everyone has access to an art gallery. My Dad bought me a camera for my birthday, got Premier Pro and taught myself how to use it and then made my first project.
Do you prefer film to photography?
Ye, absolutely. It allows me to get so much more in depth with my topic. I just applied for a few Masters because I really want to have the tools to communicate more effectively and I feel like I can do that with film.
What kind of film do you want to make: shorter art films or narrative features?
I want to do both, they both have a purpose. It really depends on which would be better suited for the topic I am working on. I also want to get into documentary filmmaking. Steve McQueen is a big career inspiration for me because of how well he’s been able to navigate both the film and the art worlds.
What inspires you and how do you develop your ideas?
So many things! Conversations that I’ve had, events that happen in life and history as well. I’m not really sure how I can describe the process - it happens so quickly. I get completely consumed by an idea for a while, and I’m constantly thinking about it and then all of a sudden I’ve got it. I like going on long walks and just thinking so that’s one way I go about it. The other is music - I love listening to music, just playing it out loud.
Would you say music is a key thread in your work?
Yes definitely, it’s a big influence. Even with some of my videos I try to pace them like a song, so that it’s like a beat as well. When I worked on the 39 videos project, I researched how a Hip-Hop song is laid out and whether I can replicate that visually. Pace is a very big thing for me in the videos that I make, and layering - I layer different footage and I try to mimic how a song would have harmonised voices. I also love music videos, like the videos by Solange and Jenn Nkiru.
What are the key themes in your practice?
I am a black woman from Liverpool, and I feel like especially in the art world that’s not represented at all. I always try and come from that place: northern, black perspective. I co-founded a quarterly magazine called ROOT-ed and we support and promote artists of colour from the North West of England. That perspective is not shown at all, and there is not much support for black artists in this area. It’s been encouraging and inspiring to be able to meet and connect with other artists who share this perspective.
Do you organise any in person meet ups with the local artists through the magazine?
Yes, we do quite a lot of in person events! We always do art crits, networking events and film screening, as well as an epic launch party for each issue.