!css

Emerging Artist Prize Winner: Ayo Akingbade

28/05/2021

Ayo is currently at the Royal Academy Schools, based in London Piccadilly. What with her graduation in just over a month, future commissions in the pipeline and one of our three winners for the Kleinwort Hambros Emerging Artist Prize, it is safe to say there is a lot going on for this emerging talent. We interviewed her to hear about her journey as a creative and the ideas that lie behind her work.

You wear the different hats of Director, Writer and Artist. Tell us about your creative journey and how you came to do what you are doing now. 

“Before I applied to Royal Academy, I was working in the film industry. They were huge, glamorous, expensive sets, however I never felt comfortable in the environment and didn’t enjoy the experience. A lot of people around me were telling me that I was an artist. Even in film school, a lot of the films I produced were being shown in alternative artsy festivals as opposed to your more mainstream choices.  
I knew I wanted to create and I wanted my own studio. It’s funny how times can change as 4 years ago I wasn’t convinced I was an artist as I’d never had my own studio. However now I am making art installations and getting commissions. I couldn’t live without my art studio."
"I realise my route into the art world is not the most conventional, however I just like to create, I have to create. “

What was the inspiration behind the work you submitted for the Kleinwort Hambros Emerging Artist Prize?

"I showed mostly my moving image pieces which I wrote as well as produced. For the early work that I submitted, such as 'Tower XYZ' and 'In Ur Eye', there is a running theme of London, urbanism, psychogeography but more than anything city living and how ones places themselves in their environment. 
I am from Hackney and I was born in Homerton Hospital. Over the past 3 years I’ve been reflecting a lot on my childhood and how my experiences within Hackney seem hard to define. I wasn’t seeing work that responded to my experiences and my environment.
Representation, therefore, is a real motivation for my work. Especially in film school, I was often the only black girl, or the only girl not privately educated, or the only person unable to drive. These subtle differences in grand institutions made me feel out of place. 
Even within London, there were a lot of fashion campaigns or grime music videos being produced, however I didn’t feel like there were portrayals of the normal people who lived in these areas who were simply trying to make it. This was the category that I fit into."

How has you experience growing up in Hackney influenced your work? 

“With 'Tower XYZ', especially, I drew on memories of going to school around Mabley Green and walking past the marshes. At the time, these areas weren’t spectacular to me, however, when I go back they’ve become ‘grand’. I have been motivated by an internal ticking time bomb as I see areas from my childhood being gentrified. The landscape is constantly changing and I need to create work that reflects these areas as I experienced them as a child. 
Some people have called me ‘The Social Housing Girl’ because so much of my work focuses on gentrification, how areas change and what it means to be working class.”

“I filmed 'Tower XYZ' on a bit plot of green land just off Homerton High Street. However, when I returned 3 years later to shoot 'A is for Artist', which is about me returning to where I was born and raised, it was gone and been replaced by artificial hills which were originally flat land. It was sad to see.”

How was your work evolved over the past couple of years with going to Royal Academy of Arts?

“Jean-Michel Basquiat once said that his work was 80% anger. When I first started creating, this was where I was also coming from, however, now there isn’t much anger. 
I think the need to constantly make art out of frustration or to prove yourself isn’t healthy. 
What I was making earlier was strongly political. I made the work because I felt it had to be made more than anything else. Whilst, I am still making social engaged work, the core message is no longer as explicit.  My aim with my work is no longer to educate people on how to think, but rather I encourage it to be open to interpretation. I think that’s what makes a film good.
When I joined RA I decided I wanted to start making humorous and playful work, which people were surprised by as they didn’t associate me with that.”

“If we look at creatives such as Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keeffe or Tracey Emin, their work took many different shapes. So, for me, as long as I keep producing, my work will continually be evolving.”

What does winning this award mean for you and how do you plan to use the winnings to contribute to your future aspirations?

“I’m just so happy to be recognized for my work, it’s amazing! To be able to have a jury observe my work and see some sort of value and its intention is great. It’s a relief to not just be in conversation with myself but that my work is able to reach other people. There is a feeling of catharsis in creating work that reflects your thoughts, and having people observe it and relate to it. It feels like a victory.”

“I have an ambitious screenplay that I have wrote called 'Jitterbug'. It’s going to be set in Hackney, it’s about gentrification but with a very different slant. Whilst there are narrative elements of the plot about displacement, like her family being moved out of Hackney because the council sold the land where they live, it is the characters that are the key plot drivers. 
Part of the money from the Art Prize will go towards developing newly formed ideas and purchasing materials for me to continue my experiments. For better or worse, this requires some funding.”

“As for now, I’m working on my graduation show at the Royal Academy, and a new show ‘A Glittering City’ at Whitechapel Gallery opened on May 19th. I also have two very exciting commissions for the future.”