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Looking for myself

The Guardian, Saturday 9 July 2005

Gabriel Gbadamosi finds grounds for hope in a black Briton’s search for identity in Black Gold of the Sun by Ekow Eshun

Ekow Eshun’s book comes in reaction to the pervasiveness of British racism, his brush with mental ill health – six times more prevalent among black people in Britain than in the white population – the respite he found in hard work and his resulting elevation to editor of Arena magazine, TV pundit and, most recently, artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. He is part of a new and startlingly successful generation of black British personalities in the arts, alongside the Turner prize-winning artist, Chris Ofili, who has designed the jacket for Black Gold of the Sun. more

Black Gold of the Sun by Ekow Eshun

The Independent, 3 June 2005

Review by Diana Evans

That question – ‘Where are you from?’ – has hounded and perplexed the black diaspora for decades and even centuries. It is a question that is asked everywhere, in conversation and inside the head. It has infinite responses at the same time as having no answer. It’s such a simple, obvious, exhausted question, that to use it as a basis for a memoir about black identity becomes an outrageously brave thing to do.

That question – ‘Where are you from?’ – has hounded and perplexed the black diaspora for decades and even centuries. It is a question that is asked everywhere, in conversation and inside the head. It has infinite responses at the same time as having no answer. It’s such a simple, obvious, exhausted question, that to use it as a basis for a memoir about black identity becomes an outrageously brave thing to do. more

Cultural Politics

London Evening Standard, March 11 2005

HE IS the adept cultural pundit regularly called upon to pronounce on high art or racial politics. Now, rather than dissect other people’s output from the comfort of the studio sofa, Ekow Eshun is taking on a troubled artistic project of his own. By David Rowan

Eshun is the surprise choice as the new artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The 58-year-old institute, in its prime location in The Mall, may still be a favourite haunt of London’s trendiest students, but critics are questioning its lack of focus and cultural influence. The post was widely expected to go to an acclaimed Swiss curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist, whose terms were rumoured to be excessive for ICA budgets. So is the home-grown style journalist the man to give the ICA a renewed purpose?

His previous work, as a member of its governing council, included telling Ivan Massow that he had to resign as chairman, and then publicly calling Massow a “pillock”. So when he was appointed this week, he knew as well as anyone the pressures he will now face confronting its internal splits, tarnished critical reputation and financial uncertainty.
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The view from outside

New Statesman, 14 February 2005

Refugees are a despised underclass, vilified by politicians and the media. But few people choose exile, writes Ekow Eshun. Our hostility only intensifies the pain of displacement

I was halfway through Caroline Moorehead’s Human Cargo when the Tory leader, Michael Howard, placed his advertisement in the Sunday Telegraph calling for a cap on immigration into Britain. Opportunistic politicians who exploit the public’s fears about asylum-seekers are among the minor villains of Human Cargo. Indifferent and cynical as such figures are, they occupy Moorehead only in so far as they offer evidence of how little understanding and sympathy is extended to refugees. Since the mid-1990s, the total number of displaced people worldwide has fallen from 19 million to 12 million, yet during the same period, Moorehead argues, global attitudes have hardened. Refugees have become a despised underclass, vilified by politicians and the media, and defended only weakly by an ineffective aid system. more

Class, drugs and double standards

The Observer, 6 February 2005

Does Sir Ian Blair really think storming lawyers’ dinner parties is efficient use of police time?

Last week Sir Ian Blair vowed to get tough on middle-class drug users. ‘I think there are a group of people in the capital who believe that they are in some way taking harm-free cocaine,’ said the new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. ‘People think it is OK but I do not think it is OK. We will have to do something about it by making a few examples of people.’

His words were supposed to be a declaration of strength. Instead, they sounded like an admission of impotence. Blair is right: there are some who think recreational cocaine use is harmless. The problem for him is there are tens of thousands of them. The most recent figures from the British Crime Survey showed 624,000 people in England and Wales admitted taking cocaine within the past year and 275,000 said they had taken it in the last month. more

Battle of the brands

Hip-hop – As rappers name-drop more and more labels, Ekow Eshun finds the true meaning of bling

The argument over causal links between pop culture and social behaviour is a well-rehearsed and inconclusive one. Yet it’s a debate that is tirelessly rehashed when it comes to rap music. Not long ago, David Blunkett and Kim Howells both denounced the dangerous effects on young people of songs by “macho idiot rappers” such as Jay-Z and So Solid Crew. more

No place like home

New Statesman, 01 January 2005

Writing a memoir – When Ekow Eshun visited Ghana in search of his roots, he was troubled by what he dug up

The BBC’s recent television series Who Do You Think You Are?, in which famous people explore their family history, has delved into some dark places. David Baddiel traced his grand-parents’ flight from Nazi Germany. Bill Oddie discovered that his mother had been wrongly locked up in a mental institution and his grandfather had contracted throat cancer from working in a cotton mill. Both learned that when you go digging for roots, you often come up with something tangled.

I could have told them as much. For the past two years, I’ve been writing a memoir about searching for belonging in England and Africa. As research, I spent part of 2002 travelling around Ghana, where my family originates. I was born in London and, by returning to my roots, I hoped to find the sense of home that had eluded me while growing up in a white country. more

A universal colour

New Statesman, 11 October 2004

Black culture – As the Victoria and Albert Museum launches a show examining black British style, Ekow Eshun wonders if such a thing still exists

Halfway round the array of hats, hairstyles and dresses on display in the V&A’s exhibition “Black British Style”, I realised the contradiction at the heart of the show. “Black” suggests a homogeneous identity defined by skin colour. “Style” is the antithesis of that notion: it is predicated on individuality. The truly stylish define themselves in opposition to the group. Think of, say, Oscar Wilde. Or, for that matter, many of the figures featured in this show. Here are images of rakish young men at blues parties; groups of girls in matching outfits at nightclubs; the drum’n'bass artist Goldie decked out in diamond rings and a mouthful of gold teeth. If all they have in common is the colour of their skin, then the V&A can’t claim to have curated the show at all, but has merely brought together an assortment of pictures and memorabilia. more

Will the verdict be child-like innocent… or child abuser?

The Observer, Sunday 23 November 2003

Ekow Eshun says Michael Jackson presents himself as the victim of a vengeful media

When the world’s most famous pop star stands before a state of California judge in January, he faces the final verdict of a public trial that has lasted for two decades.
The singer is accused of multiple counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14. Innocent or guilty, what will be revealed in the courtroom is the real face of Michael Jackson.
For the moment, with the singer out on a bail of £2 million, it’s still hard to say who he truly is. Not that we’re short of choices. Through the tabloids we have become familiar with ‘Wacko Jacko’ who sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, dangles his baby out of a window, dyes his skin and shares a bed with young boys. Jackson himself would prefer that we saw him as the real-life Peter Pan, at his happiest riding the Ferris wheel in his 2,600-acre version of Never Never Land. more

From Tarzan to Rambo

Tate Online, November 2003

When I first saw Sonia Boyce’s piece From Tarzan to Rambo, I was aware of a faint itching somewhere at the back of my head. I knew I was trying to remember something but I couldn’t think what. Images from her work stayed in my mind: the Thirties-style pickaninny child; the mohicaned savages in the bush; Boyce’s own face, by turns startled and reflective, sketched on paper and shot on film. A few days later the scratching in my head turned into what felt like a swarm of angry bees buzzing and clamouring for attention. Drawn back to the artwork I started to think about what Boyce had inscribed beneath the surface of the canvas. Two ostensibly disconnected names came to mind: Hegel and Tintin. more

The Rap Trap

The Guardian, 27 May 2000

Dr Dre helped pioneer hardcore hip-hop: violence against “bitches”, the love of guns and fast cars. Now a millionaire father-of-two, he says he’s turned over a new leaf – all that gangsta stuff was just about marketing, pleasing the fans. So who is the Dre of today? And has he really managed to break free from his past?

I’m on my way to meet Dr Dre, and I have a song in my head. It’s called Fuck You, and in it Dre explains, in some detail, how he just wants “to fuck bad bitches”. The streets of Los Angeles glare white in the midday sun. I struggle into the plush recording studio where Dre is working. We talk for a while about his latest album, Dr Dre 2001.

He recorded it, he tells me, because he felt misunderstood. “People definitely had the wrong idea about me. A lot of people were saying I was a mean cat, I disrespected women, a lotta bullshit, a lotta nonsense.” more

Bond St to Brick Lane via Borough

New Statesman, 10 April 2000

London should stop selling faded pomp and circumstance to tourists and get modern. Ekow Eshun offers his personal itinerary

How is it that London chooses to advertise itself on the basis of its historic monuments rather than its vibrant contemporary culture? Millions of tourists arrive each year only to be herded like dumb cattle in the direction of Madame Tussaud’s, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Little wonder that, despite vociferous attempts at rebranding, Britain is still seen from abroad as uptight, insular and tradition-bound. Capital-dwellers know that the London tourist’s visit, with its narratives of pageantry and past empire, bears little relationship to the complex, culturally diverse modern city in which they live and work. So what should be on the map for the discerning 21st-century tourist? more