V&A Dundee

When We Are Together - interview with Chizu Anucha

Glasgow-based artist Chizu Anucha spoke to V&A Dundee about inspiration, the importance of representation, and his experience as a creative practitioner in Scotland.

Anucha provided visuals for a specially commissioned film by writer-musician Kayus Bankole, of Mercury Prize-winning Scottish band Young Fathers; When We Are Together explores dancing, communal experience and togetherness through spoken word and original sound.

What themes or narratives did you want to explore within the film?

Chizu Anucha - The themes Kayus initially came to me with were of celebratory dance, unity and togetherness, and at the time of making the film, I was revisiting early works of Marvin Gaye and Gil Scott-Heron. I think the way that they convey the issues of their respective communities within the wider context of the world around them is really powerful.

"There's so much joy to be found in how connected our realities are, and there's power in that too."

There's a lot of Soul Train in the film, some Nollywood, some footage Kayus shot on a trip to Ghana, and also lots of excerpts from Save the Children (1973). As people of the African diaspora we're really just out here trying to make it work for ourselves and each other.

I think that in my own journey of self actualisation, I have a real desire to feel connected cosmically with the diaspora and with my ancestors, regardless of any spatial or temporal separation. So this idea of interconnectedness across borders and across time was important to get across because there's so much joy to be found in how connected our realities are, and there's power in that too.

Particularly in rural Scotland, it can be really difficult to make spaces where Black people can come together to dance and to celebrate, so I wanted to gather what I could to show a sort of unapologetic and unfiltered expression of it.

How did the collaboration on the film come about?

CA - Kayus and I met while working on another collaborative project called Delineate, between himself, Natalia Palombo (Many Studios) and Tiffany Boyle (Mother Tongue). I like to work on things slowly because I tend to get burnt out quite quickly, so working on this film with such a quick turnover was a challenge.

Right now I'm in a place where I'm meditating a lot to tune into my sense of inner balance and cosmic positioning, because I can get really anxious about what I'm doing artistically, and where I'm going in this life. Kayus was really patient with me, and was really receptive to listening to me vent my worries over the phone, which I really appreciate still.

I looked up to Kayus and his band a lot when I was growing up because they walked a path for people like myself to do what I'm doing right now, so I really felt the pressure to respect that when it came to this collaboration.

For this film, Kayus initially sent me a recording of him reciting the poem, along with a field recording of a music performer he took in Ghana, and vocal harmonies of some of his friends. I built it up from there by looping drum breaks and dubbing over with the Telecaster.

Your work often explores the on-screen representation of marginalised communities – how do you decide what stories to tell?

CA - It's always always always through the research process. It's the archives that set the tone and lead the way for everything else, and then musically, it's important for me to convey my emotional response to the moving images I'm seeing through improvisation at first and then I try to refine it.

"When I was young I rarely saw people that looked and sounded like me on-screen, and that manifests itself in patterns of thinking and behaviour that I now need to constantly challenge myself to unlearn."

I try to make sure I've always got my eyes and ears open, that I'm always listening to good radio and paying attention to global issues documented on video. I'm interested in narrative construction as a methodology, deconstructing and collaging disparate archival sources and threading them together with music and sound, then iterating that process into something cohesive.

I pretty much always have an internal conflict surrounding ownership and appropriation when I make films because I'm repurposing someone's depiction of a group of people and their realities, and representation is everything. When I was young I rarely saw people that looked and sounded like me on-screen, and that manifests itself in patterns of thinking and behaviour that I now need to constantly challenge myself to unlearn.

On-screen representation is how we hold a mirror to reality, and you have a responsibility as an artist, both in how you hold that mirror and in what ways you contort it

What is your experience of working within the creative industries/community in Scotland?

CA - There's a lot of cis-het white male gatekeeping, especially in music. A lot of the time you're expected to bend over backwards or work for free, and I think the creative industries really do reflect Scottish society as a whole.

While there's prevalent ineptitude, ignorance and white supremacist capitalism at the very top of a lot of institutions, there are also a lot of people who know how hard it is for marginalised people to get recognised and who are willing to put you on. This mentality of community care really came to light through what we saw on Kenmure Street not so long ago.

A lot of the opportunities I get come from people that I know personally, or people that run institutions who are willing to take a chance on me. I really do owe a lot to them for that. It's important to find your tribe, and find people who are devoted to similar causes because community is where you find strength and the accountability you need to grow.

Chimzuruoke (Chizu) Anucha is a Scottish Afrodiasporic artist of Igbo Nigerian heritage, currently based in Glasgow and working across sound and moving image. His practice is multi-disciplinary and collaborative, meeting at the intersection of music composition, moving image, installation and performance.