Black Hope Matters - Photography by Misan Harriman

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I’m writing this on the morning before the UK enters a second lockdown, watching the results of the most important US election in modern history teeter on a knife-edge. Today, the hues of precarity and anxiety that have coloured this year’s skies are especially bold. Feelings like these have, of course, loomed heavy for all of us during 2020; but for members of the global Black diaspora, an abiding sense of existential uncertainty has long been part of our experiences of life.

It has taken until this year, until the arrival of a potentially lethal virus and the pause it has imposed, for the world to open its eyes to the pandemics of racial injustice and systemic violence that we have long faced. It’s a realisation that has provoked anger and outrage, with crowds made up of people of all creeds and colours rallying together to take a stand and call for change, to make it unequivocally known that Black lives matter. Seeing these scenes play out on the streets of cities across the world has stoked a dwindling flame of hope with fresh fuel.

Black Hope Matters - Photography by Misan Harriman
Black Hope Matters - Photography by Misan Harriman

I’m writing this on the morning before the UK enters a second lockdown, watching the results of the most important US election in modern history teeter on a knife- edge. Today, the hues of precarity and anxiety that have coloured this year’s skies are especially bold. Feelings like these have, of course, loomed heavy for all of us during 2020; but for members of the global Black diaspora, an abiding sense of existential uncertainty has long been part of our experiences of life. It has taken until this year, until the arrival of a potentially lethal virus and the pause it has imposed, for the world to open its eyes to the pandemics of racial injustice and systemic violence that we have long faced. It’s a realisation that has provoked anger and outrage, with crowds made up of people of all creeds and colours rallying together to take a stand and call for change, to make it unequivocally known that Black lives matter. Seeing these scenes play out on the streets of cities across the world has stoked a dwindling flame of hope with fresh fuel.

Among those guarding it with the greatest passion and urgency are the creatives who have made of their practices and platforms beacons of progress. As exemplified by Edward Enninful, who has converted British Vogue into a forum for forward-thinking values; by South African photographer Zanele Muholi, whose life’s work -- a holistic chronicle of Black LGBTQ+ existence spanning nearly two decades -- is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at London’s Tate Modern; by artists and thinkers like Martine Syms and Aria Dean, who have mapped out blueprints for new Black subjectivies; by the pioneering designers, stylists, photographers and creative directors whose testimonies you’re about to read below; and by so many others there’s neither time nor space here to list, Black creatives have proven themselves indispensable agents in the fight for lasting transformation.

It is the hope that they and their work represents that ensures that when we protest for the rights of Black lives, we are not solely protesting for our right to exist, but rather for our right to thrive; for our right to lives lived without fear. In a year that has brought an avalanche of reminders of the bounties placed on our heads, the work of Black creatives has inspired resilience, outlining futures that are brighter than the dark times in which we currently sit. Here, we invite ten distinguished Black creative voices, emerging and established, to share what has fuelled their sense of hope alive over the course of 2020, and what’s keeping it alive for the future ahead.

Misan Harriman, photographer, creative director and founder of What We See

“Observing the murder of George Floyd as a Black man, I was reminded of all the buried trauma, all the little and big things that I’ve personally been through due to the colour of my skin. But photographing the marches and observing the allyship and solidarity of people from all walks of life has given me a sense of hope that I’ve never had in my life before. This year’s social justice movements have shaped my whole calling. I’ve realised that the answer to what I must do has always been sat within the camera I’ve always held -- to use the tools of image making, whether through film or photography, to show the full spectrum of the human condition. Some of those things are things we don’t want to see, and others will give us hope. But I hope that my lens will help everyone understand who we are, who were, and who we could be. “What gives me hope is the people that I’ve met that shouldn’t care about me, or don’t need to care about me, and do. It’s the children that are educating themselves on history that they haven’t been taught at school. It’s all the grassroots organisations that are growing and helping people understand what institutional racism is. They’re people that don’t necessarily know what to do, but they’re out there because they know that what they’ve seen is wrong. That’s been a really big deal for me. Understanding that, in general, people are good, and that they have a collective voice to make the future a better place -- that gives me hope for what the future holds.”

Black Hope Matters - Photography by Misan Harriman
Priya Ahluwalia, designer and founder of Ahluwalia

“This year has made me less scared of being vocal, more fear- less; it’s really highlighted that things need to change. I used to worry that if I discussed such-and-such a topic, then so-and-so might not put me in their magazine or shop. Now, I actually don’t care. I’d rather just do what I think is right. It’s definitely also informed some of the things that I’ve been looking at in my work; I’ve really been considering the idea of protest and the different things it means to people across the diaspora, whether they’re in the UK, Africa or the Caribbean.

“One thing that’s given me hope is witnessing the most widely attended civil rights movement in history -- it’s really captured the attention of more people than ever before. People have been educating themselves, and education leads to understanding and empathy. And we’re seeing charities and movements that are pushing for the implementation of a Black curriculum and the teaching of Black history -- the fact they’re gaining traction gives me hope. Still, there’s a lot of work to do. We need to keep the conversation in public conscious- ness and push things forward in a way that affects systems of power. One way that’s happening is that there are more Black-owned businesses in fashion than ever before. At the end of the day, Bianca Saunders, Nicholas Daley, Mowalola Ogunlesi, Grace Wales Bonner -- we all get called Black de- signers, but we’re actually Black business owners. And that’s a huge source of hope -- change, after all, has to come from the top down.”

Rasharn Agyemang, creative director, photographer and stylist

“It’s taken me years to really feel empowered and not give a shit about people’s complexes with the colour of my skin. Around two to three years ago, I was getting a bit depressed. I was experiencing rejections for opportunities that I was eligible for, and I felt like I was being racially profiled to the extent that I stopped creating for a while. Eventually, I said, ‘Just go for it,’ to myself. ‘Fashion has been your dream since you were 10 years old.’ When I just accepted that, as a young Black creative, you will always have to deal with people being intimidated by your skin colour, I became fearless. I just started talking about my culture, about being a gay Black man, and started to really put that into my work.

“When the pandemic first hit, I was terrified that it was about to destroy all of the hard work that I’d been doing since that realisation. But actually, COVID made people sit still -- it made people really look at my work. And then when BLM happened, I was posting stuff and speaking out, and even more people started to notice -- even people who used to ignore me. At first, I was really suspicious of anyone who contacted me. I even called a few of my mentors and asked them for advice. ‘Use these opportunities to your advantage, don’t feel any shame,’ they said. ‘It’s your time to shine.’

“I think we really need to celebrate each other more as Black creators, to get out of this headspace of thinking that we stand alone. We need to not just be seen on magazine covers; we need to be presidents of companies, fashion directors and editors in order to have a truly authentic voice. I’m now see- ing these kinds of changes being made, and I just hope that they stay. As long as things keep improving in this direction, I think the future is pretty bright.”

Black Hope Matters - Photography by Misan Harriman

Bianca Saunders, designer and founder of Bianca Saunders


“It’s been quite difficult to discuss the past few months, as I feel it’s a period we’re still going through. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was so worried about what the end result would be, but I do think that many positive things have come out of it. People have really been able to understand my work, which has always been quite multifaceted -- it’s not just the clothes, it’s also any creative project that I put out. “It’s also been a year of reflection, of taking the time to focus. Previously, I was so used to celebrating a moment in different ways, but not actually living in it. Always looking forward to the next thing coming along. But we’ve now all really had time to do one thing and sit with it for a good amount of time, which is really good practice for any creative.

“Though it can sometimes be difficult to admit it, things are getting better. I’ve moved into different stages of my career, which gives me a sense of hope. And the most difficult thing has been getting over the challenges of this year and finding new solutions. I’ve gained a new sense of confidence from having to push myself further than I ever thought I could. We still have to figure out how the rest of the year will look, but I’m really grateful that I’m still at the beginning of my career; I still have the knowledge and ability to run every single part of the business, and if I have to do it all in isolation again, I know I can.”

Ola Ebiti, stylist

“The solitude that the pandemic has brought has really al- lowed me to look inwards and reflect on what I want to say and how I want my voice to be perceived. It’s given me more time to research and actually produce things that are 100% my vision. My eyes have been opened to a lot of things that I’d taken for granted, and I think I’m a lot more honest, and a lot more guttural with the way I respond to things.

“I’m a genuinely hopeful person, and I think it’s really important for POC creatives to keep the conversation going, because we’re the ones who can eventually advance it. I’m Nigerian, so during the #EndSARS protests, I’ve been think- ing about how I can lend my creative voice to the movement and actually create work that can hopefully either inspire people or help to keep that momentum and the visual language around it going. It’s something so strongly about, it represents the beginning of the biggest social change in Nigeria of our time. Another thing that makes me hopeful for the future is just seeing so many people create great work within the context of the pandemic. If you can still find a way to produce and create within all of these limits, that demonstrates an ability to overcome great obstacles. if you can do that, just think of what else you can do.”

Black Hope Matters - Photography by Misan Harriman


Saul Nash, designer, choreographer, movement director and founder of LUAS

“2020 has been a very interesting year, though it’s been a lot to process! What has been happening in the world over its course has inspired me to continue to push and persevere in the hope that one day I can also inspire and provide opportunities to others. The thing that’s really maintained that sense of hope is my dance practice and my work as a designer -- it’s really kept me going, and I’m still lucky that I can continue being able to express myself. Looking forward, what gives me hope is the idea that this brief moment of pause could potentially spark positive change throughout the world.”

Laëtitia Gimenez, stylist

“The events of this year have definitely had an impact on how I approach creating. I’ve felt strengthened by the energy of the movements we’ve seen, new voices have emerged and I’ve felt inspired and enriched by what they had to share. It fed me and gave me the strength to keep going. Now more than ever, I feel the need to express myself, to feel listened and to be part of a movement to rethink and reboot the whole creative system. I’ve become more aware of the things that I don’t want to reproduce and reinforce in this system. What I think is now really important now is that we start to listen to each other, and take each others’ feelings into consideration. People need to be able to speak for them- selves, especially members of minority and marginalised communities, but we should all be part of this conversation together.

“What’s given me hope that we’re working towards this is witNessing the potential of my own generation and the way we are reinventing activism. The radical creativity of those around me inspires me a lot: we’ve witnessed the youth coming out together, crossing boundaries and succeeding in doing it. While I was marching against police brutality here in Paris, I was moved to see how young, powerful and proud the crowd was -- seeing that gave me so much energy and continues to make me hope for the future ahead.”

Black Hope Matters - Photography by Misan Harriman

Amber Pinkerton, photographer and filmmaker

“The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked a series of internal revelations, which has definitely felt like an emotionally heavy weight on our shoulders. But my creative practice and work has always been informed by this message. This movement has not been a prompt to restart, but a reminder of a greater importance -- it’s given me an urge to continue what I do in the way I do it. “The only way I was able to recuperate my sense of hope was by consciously abstaining from the media for a while.

My mental health was at stake and this was the only way I could recover. Now I’ve come back into my own self-focus, and as painful as these issues are, I’ve regained the energy to continue bringing attention to them -- it’s a burning passion that I just can’t manage to separate myself from. “What continues to give me hope is this generation -- their courage and demanding spirit, how filterless and unapologetic they are. I’ve never seen anything like it. It makes me feel like the world is going in a good direction in the hands of the modern youth.”

Photography Joshua Woods
Joshua Woods, photographer and filmmaker

“I don’t think this year has really shaped my way of look- ing at things, I’ve always been aware that the system was flawed. Growing up as a young kid in Harlem, you’re in- formed by the streets -- it’s a code, and it’s basically a life hack. If it wasn’t for my street smarts, I probably wouldn’t be as far on in my career as I am. My photography work is informative on many levels. It comprises a few storylines. It’s mostly centred around Black lives, LGBTQ founders, Fashion, Black Panther plane-hijackers, West Africa, Harlem, and life as it comes...

“My creative projects are what helped me stay sane during confinement. They also made me examine my role in the creative landscape, and the freedom that I do have. What gets me most excited is that I get to be a part of building the Black image, which is the most important image to me. Black people will survive and grow; failure isn’t an option.

I like what the painter Kerry James Marshall said: ‘When you fail at a thing it means you’ve run out of options, that you have no other capacity to imagine another way.’ What gives m hope are the unlimited ideas in the Black imagination.”

Andre Walker, designer, stylist and creative director

“I am a radical when it comes to race perceptions and the behaviours and generalisations they imply. For years, centuries even, the earth’s populations have had access to a narrow account of the above and while all this is known, freedom from all kinds of oppression remains a personal goal. That said, what I choose to say now regarding creativity and work keeps this fundamental awareness in mind: freedom is the goal. When I think it over, it becomes a part of my practice.

“What’s maintained my sense of hope this year is remain- ing aware of the basic needs, family, friends, and community. And God/literature, of course. What fuels it for the future ahead is the prospect of uncovering fundamental truths which crumble prejudice and bring about the ability to recognise the difference between what humanity has made and what humanity inherits.”

Photography Joshua Woods
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