Last week Tate Collectives and The Great British Art Debate spoke with Inua Ellams, a word and graphic artist, through a live twitter Q&A to ask his opinion on migration, Britishness and contemporary art practice.
On reading back his reflections, we thought that we should share them further as a blog post. We hope that your enjoy them.
Q:How do you define Migration?
A: I’m with Wikipedia on this. ‘the movement of people from 1 country or locality to another’ but locality is the special word. I think it’s everything from how u leave your flat & get to work, to how you start from an idea to a finished piece of work.
Q: How have these themes influenced your creative practice?
A: In quite profound ways. I left Nigeria when I was 12 and arrived at Holland Park School, a cultural melting pot. I was dropped into debates on being African, Black African, Black British & African American stereotypes…all this against the Moroccan, Persian, Iranian, Egyptian classmates. Against this, I had to define myself…and up until that point, I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle. That’s it. My way out was simply to return to my roots. When I create, I start from what held me together when I first left. My childhood, my playful sense of self.
I also had a lot of immigration problems and I learnt to dream to imagine the rest of the world I could not touch..
Q: How does your background influence your work?
A: As a kid, I drew. A lot. To entertain my friends & impress my father. I wanted to be a visual artist & architect. When I started working as a poet, I focused on painting pictures, but using words. It all begins with imagery. There is an African saying ‘you have to know where you came from to know where you are going’ & another saying specific to poetry ‘the inklings of poets are the forgotten adventures of God’. Imagine what might have been had my migration story changed at different points and those possibilities & answers are what I explore.
Q: Is the idea of ‘British Art’ a fantasy?
A: Art is a reflection of who we are at a given time. What does it mean to be British? There lies the answer…and military might. All of Art is a fantasy, we create the idea of its importance and share this idea.
Q: Would you identify yourself as a British Artist?
A: Yes. It took a while to consider myself as such but I’ve come to understand Britain as a cake spiced with all humanity the voices, races, tones and tastes, hypocrites, lovers, liars, conjures and thieves and I sit comfortably among them.
Q: How do you think the idea of Migration is being Redefined by young contemporary artists?
A:…to write with flaws, perfections, successes and failures. ‘To thine own self be true’ as the bard put it…to live in a city, we too navigate traffic rules when migrating from home to office. We carve personal journeys and the same task is faced by poets. Contemporary British artists are doing the same thing, being themselves
Inua returns again for Late at Tate June 2012 on Friday 1st June to perform his poetry live. An event not to be missed.