“We have to be uncomfortable in order to grow” – Interview: Kiara Mohamed

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Finding a creative energy during lockdown, artist Kiara Mohamed speaks to us about her new short film, Home, and her photography series, Black People Built Liverpool…

The Double Negative: Hi Kiara. First off, how have you been keeping and coping during lockdown?

Kiara Mohamed: I was furloughed at the start of lockdown, and to be honest, it’s a blessing in disguise because I’m able to have the time to create the art I’ve always wanted to create. Additionally, I’ve been really unwell, so I’ve had a chance to rest as much as I need to. Learned to play Für Elise on the keyboard, baked bread, meditated more. And now I spend my mornings looking at what protest bailout funds I can donate to and Black Lives Matter UK mutual aid funds.

Has the time given you a bit more space to produce and create, then, or has the anxiety-inducing part of this limbo state made things more difficult?

I went from feeling sad to anxious and now I have determined anger. On 25th May I turned 30 and sadly George Floyd passed away. Previously, my work had already been about the Black experience and community work, but learning about George’s death had upset me and created a firm determination for me to continue to fight systemic oppression in my art practice.

“I felt an urge to mark this moment in history”

That meme that’s floating around of Childish Gambino that says “went from baking bread to defunding police”, I feel like that’s me now, haha!

You made the film, Home, which premiered by Bluecoat at LightNight last month. Can you tell us about it?

For the last three years, I’ve been using my drone to film my street and L8 area. I started to look at the drone footage as I was feeling a little loopy not being able to leave the house and was feeling cabin fever. I then started to think about what life must be like for homeless people – are people surviving in homes that were not a home? – and I felt an urge to mark this moment in history, but also make sure we remember to look after the vulnerable.

Did you find the work took on different meaning or gained greater emphasis as we got deeper into lockdown?

This film was created in a space of 14 days on and off. It was very much done very quickly, so it’s meaning did not change. Looking back now I’m amazed I did it, as during this time I was incredibly unwell and was sleeping 12 hours a day! My waking moments were hanging out with my daughters and creating this film.

As a city, Liverpool has a lot in common historically with Bristol, where they just toppled the statue to 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston. So, I’d like to talk to you about your Black People Built Liverpool series.

Black People Built Liverpool is a series of work that focuses on the ways in which Black lives have enriched Liverpool. The work was instigated out of anger. When Black people say: “Black lives matter” and we get resistance, as some people have a problem with that statement.

“Liverpool has built its wealth on the looting of Black lives and Black bodies”

Black lives mattering is made to sound so radical, so controversial, when in actual fact we are very much part of the fabric of British history. We then have people who say that racism is an American problem, when actually it’s a problem all Black people have experienced.

Looking specifically at Liverpool, the city has built its wealth on the looting of Black lives and Black bodies, and this is a fact that is not fully acknowledged in Liverpool because we don’t want to be uncomfortable. But we have to be uncomfortable in order to grow. So my work is very much artivism.

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I saw yours and other responses to Tate’s tweeting about using their platform and voice in the Black Lives Matter conversation. What should cultural gatekeepers and arts institutions be doing right now and in future to play a bigger, more positive, more responsible role in this?   

Tate Liverpool is a prime example of an institution carrying out woke performative action that has no real change or meaning. They say Black Lives Matter, but they do nothing for Black History Month, and additionally to that, they do not give work out to Black artists in Liverpool. That’s not an institution that cares about Black lives mattering because they could be doing so much more, and they aren’t. Black people are speaking out in all the different sectors and speaking out to power, and I’m in the art sector so I will definitely speak up to power where I can.

“Racism is another virus that continues to affect our lives in every way”

Are you making new work currently?

I’m working on my poetry and continue to create short films, as creating art is a way of me relieving the anxiety that’s constantly pressing down on my chest, because the lives Black people lead means we’re more likely to catch Covid and die from it, and also racism is another virus that continues to affect our lives in every way. So I create work to speak up on our experiences.

Finally, what’s the first thing you’ll do when you feel safe enough post-lockdown?

I want to go to the gym and do some weight training! I want to go to the cinema and enjoy a great film! I want to hangout with friends at a nice restaurant and just enjoy food and each other’s company!  Seems so far away, haha.

As told to Mike Pinnington

Media, from top: Black People Built Liverpool Albert Dock; Home; Black Lives Matter © Kiara Mohamed

Home (2020) was premiered with Bluecoat last month as part of Liverpool LightNight

For more information, and for limited edition prints by Kiara, visit Aquarius Rising

Posted on 12/06/2020 by thedoublenegative