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Self-expression

Port, March 2011

Ekow Eshun explains how social networking offers everyone with an Internet connection a curated form of self-expression, and argues that Twitter might one day become our voice of public – and private – record

What does it take to write the perfect tweet? I ask this question in the knowledge that Twitter is hardly short of contributions from the witty, the satirical and the compendiously well informed. But far less is it a repository for the polished, economical prose that’s part of the language of, say good journalism or non-fiction writing. Why? When I raised the subject on Twitter itself recently I largely drew a blank. Most people wanted to tell me that a 140-character limit is the enemy of good writing – as if Hemmingway or Carver or a centuries of Japanese haikus hadn’t made the case for literary concision. On reflection I think the question probably came across as an odd one to ask. Twitter is primarily used for voicing opinion and exchanging information. Worrying about style or form must seem irrelevant or even antique in comparison to addressing the nature of the content itself. more

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Ali Farka Toure, The River (1990)

From the great photographers Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keita to Ali Farka Toure, Mali has given a powerful, daring art to the world. The River is hypnotic, minimal, timeless blues.

Black students deserve better from Oxbridge

London Evening Standard, 8 December 2011

Last year, only one Afro-Caribbean British student was accepted at any of Oxford‘s 38 colleges to study as an undergraduate. Only 27 British students from any origin defining themselves as black were admitted as undergraduates.

This, along with other similarly disquieting information, has been uncovered by David Lammy MP through a series of freedom of information requests.

Through him, we now know that more than 20 Oxbridge colleges made no undergraduate offers to black British candidates of Afro-Caribbean descent last year and that Merton College has not admitted a black student for the past five years — and just three in the past decade.

The colleges have their own rationale for the figures. Black students apply disproportionately for the three most oversubscribed undergraduate courses — economics and management, medicine and maths — which, says a spokesperson, “goes a very long way” to explaining the stats. This is staggeringly complacent. more

The Diary: Ekow Eshun

Financial Times, August 14 2010

I’ve noticed a steady contraction in my weekend leisure options since becoming a father for the first time three years ago. Where once I’d spend Saturdays shopping, browsing East End galleries or just having a drink on the roof of Shoreditch House, now I’m limited to the parks and open spaces of north London. On clement days, a hike across Hampstead Heath or a stroll through Highgate Wood beckons, my three-year-old son beside me teetering along fallen trees and searching the undergrowth for badgers. Often, though, we just settle for the proximity of the local playgrounds at Highbury Fields or Clissold Park.

As a consequence of these outings, rather than any deliberate effort on my part, I have become a member of what I’ve taken to calling the Clissold Park Fathers’ Club. We are an informal – and occasionally reluctant – network of dads, thrust from our homes on weekend mornings by the twin imperatives of spending more time with our children and giving our partners a lie-in. Entry requirements are not stringent. Just turn up with a kid of your own and you’re in. Dress code is informal. Hair is worn tousled. Clothes rumpled. Chins bestubbled. You will find similar gatherings at parks all over London.

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Shock and awe: The art of Chris Ofili

The Independent Friday, 22 January 2010

A major retrospective of Chris Ofili’s work opens at Tate Britain next week. Ekow Eshun talks to Ofili about his new-found ‘sense of freedom’

Ekow Eshun: We’re in your studio in Trinidad, so what brought you here and what took you away from London?

Chris Ofili: I felt in some way things had closed down. London was an exciting place to work at one point, because socially it was very progressive – a catalyst. There were very interesting artists making all types of work, but it got to a point where the social aspect became claustrophobic. The fact it was all happening in London became counter-productive, and highlighted the fact that there’s a big world out there, and places where there isn’t so much vanity about the cultural scene. It also got to a point where I felt the work was really known in a public sense, that the division between public and private was like a thin membrane. And I didn’t feel that gave me a greater sense of freedom. The public is not within my control, but the work is, and I wanted to make changes within the work. That couldn’t happen in an arena that was familiar to me. more

Avalanche!!! – Survival Training

The Observer, Sunday 28 September 2008

He may feel at home on the London art scene but could Ekow Eshun, artistic director of the ICA and a keen snowboarder, cope with a snowslide?

If you are caught in an avalanche you have a 95 per cent chance of survival – if you get help within 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the average time for a helicopter rescue crew to arrive on the scene is 45 minutes, which gives you less than a 30 per cent likelihood of making it out alive.

These kind of odds are at the forefront of my mind when I find myself buried up to my neck in snow on a remote slope somewhere in western Austria – even though it is only part of a training demonstration and help is readily to hand. The experience is still sobering and, if I’m honest, slightly scary.

One cubic metre of snow weighs 500kg and the feeling of helplessness engendered by having it piled on top of you is enough to induce rapid panic. Worse, trying to fight your way free – which feels like a rational response to such a situation – will only make things more fraught. While kicking and shoving creates marginally more space for you in the snow, in the thinner atmosphere of the mountains it proves quickly exhausting. And with each breath you take between exertions, the snow collapses further into the cavity around your body: the more you struggle for freedom the more surely you’ll entomb yourself. By the time I am dug free only a few minutes have passed, but I am eager not to repeat the exercise. It is a salutary reminder that we place ourselves in inherent danger each time we venture into the mountains. more

View from the top: Ekow Eshun, artistic director, Institute of Contemporary Arts

PR Week UK, 10 January 2008

Ekow Eshun rose through the ranks of trend-setting journalism at record speed, before reinvigorating one of London’s premier arts venues. Adam Hill finds out how he has boosted the profile of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Ekow Eshun is rightly described as a high achiever. A former assistant editor of style bible The Face and editor of men’s magazine Arena (both before his 29th birthday), he regularly appears as a cultural commentator on Newsnight Review as well as writing for The Guardian and The Observer.

He has penned a highly readable memoir, Black Gold of the Sun, in which he made the startling discovery that he is descended from a slave trader. For nearly three years he has been artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in central London, guiding the institution through a spectacular 60th year in 2007. And he doesn’t turn 40 until May. more

Zen and the art of mastering your snowboard

The Observer, Sunday 14 October 2007

Ekow Eshun is known as director of the ICA, and a regular on BBC’s Newsnight Review, but beneath his sharp suits lurk the baggy pants of a snowboarder. We sent him to Japan to indulge his passion for powder

When I first took up snowboarding a dozen years ago, I was a danger to myself and others around me. Having never skied, been on a skateboard (good training for snowboarding) or indeed, even stood on a snow-covered mountain before, I was no more steady or accomplished than a toddler taking its first steps. What I was good at was falling; the performance of spectacular rococo tumbles that would launch me cartwheeling down the mountainside in a mass of flailing limbs. Small children applauded as I careered past, their cheers – and the cries of angry parents – pursuing me down the slopes. more

How my future caught up with the past

Financial Times, 7 June 2007

Art has the power to disrupt our relationship with the everyday. So does having your first child – I now live in a permanent state of immanence

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future recently. Four weeks ago, my partner Jenny and I had our first child – a boy called Milo. I am elated, of course, but also conscious that the horizon of my world has contracted to match his – Jenny and I now live in a permanent state of immanence dominated by the prospect of the next feed or nappy change. more

Ekow Eshun: My Week In Media

The Independent, 8 May 2006

Last week I read …

Between the Prescott stuff, the Football Association’s tussle for Scolari, and Rooney’s foot, it was an enormously entertaining week. All of these have an amazing element of soap opera to them.

The awards ceremony for Beck’s Futures was last Tuesday. This year the critics and the public loved the winner, Matt Stokes. Seeing that reflected in positive coverage was brilliant.

The New Yorker had a travel issue this week. Anthony Lane wrote about how cheap flights have transformed air travel in Europe and he started by booking a 99p trip to a city he’d never heard of. It was about the experience of travel and how it feels in Europe now. Anthony Lane is British, but he and Seymour Hersh have an assurance and perceptiveness with their writing that I never see over here.

Last week I surfed…

A journalist called Neil Boorman is writing a brilliant blog called Bonfire of the Brands (bonfireofthebrands. blogspot.com). He’s built a certain amount of his identity around brands because he’s a style journalist, and it’s turned into an inspired debate about the stuff we consume and what brands mean. He’s building up to a day in August when he’s going to burn all the stuff from his consumer life.

Aintitcool news.com treats Hollywood with the same affection and obsession that European cineastes do French films. It’s enthusiastic about films many would dismiss as popcorn. more

About Black Gold of the Sun

Ekow Eshun understands what it means to be multicultural. Born in Britain but spending part of his childhood in Ghana, he felt caught between two cultures whilst never belonging to either one. In Black Gold of the Sun: Searching for home in England and Africa, he sets out to trace his past in Britain and Africa in the hope of discovering a sense of place in modern life.

The result is an exploration of modern identity that straddles two continents and forces us to understand ourselves in ways that look beyond the colour of our skin. It also proves that we are not always who we think we are.

Black Gold of the Sun was nominated for the Orwell Prize for political writing, 2005.

It was described by The Independent as “ambitious in scope, impressive in execution and wide in appeal, a beautifully written, intellectually vigorous study of belonging.”

You can read reviews of Black Gold of the Sun here, here and here.

Difference unites us

New Statesman 01 August 2005

This has nothing to do with the Blitz spirit, writes Ekow Eshun. It is about a modern society founded on mutual respect

During the past few weeks, as London has endured attack and uncertainty, it has begun to seem to me that another conflict has been taking place – this one between opposing views of the capital itself. On the one hand there is the notion, propagated by the tabloids and sentimentally inclined commentators, that London’s response to the bombings resembled nothing so much as a resurrection of the Blitz spirit – the whole city coming together in a concerted spectacle of defiance and comradeship. As the Daily Mirror put it: “We can take it. If these murderous bastards go on for a thousand years, the people of our islands will never be cowed.”

Against that perception is the idea, asserted by Ken Livingstone among others, that the threats to London have revealed its true character as a multicultural world city, where 300 different languages are spoken by some seven million people, all of them united by a common argot of tolerance and acceptance of difference. more