Interview with Kiara Mohamed for Humanscape, Independents Biennial 2018

image, c. Kiara Mohamed

By Bernadette McBride, Writer-in-Residence for Independents Biennial 2018

The byline for Humanscape ‘”When I am looking down at the Liverpool landscape through the drone I look at the Liverpool landscape; at the humanscape. Our love, our hate, our pain and our joy”

Bernadette McBride: The use of a drone in your work is very interesting to me, aside from the unique aesthetic results it helps you achieve, it’s also symbolic of the concerns you highlight affecting minority groups; in particular women of colour, and the issue of forced marriage and FGM in our communities .

The drone itself, views objects, people, and land from a distance – it sees but does not act (immediately) – is the drone perhaps reminiscent of the ‘silence’ in communities, those who see but do not act?

Although in your case, you use the drone as a tool to draw attention to those concerns; observing the unseen and the unspoken and bringing it to our full-scale attention via art.

Kiara Mohamed: I do a lot of landscape photography and love to go on walks just for this purpose. The use of the drone has come after a self-journey of creative visualisation of imagining the land around me from above. I always find myself trying to understand our human condition through nature. With the drone, I feel like I am taking a step back by taking a snapshot of life and reading between the cracks on the walls in our communities and talking about the unspoken experiences of the minority. At the core of Humanscape, is a project about love and caring; do we care enough for those around us? And should we care? It’s inviting the viewer to participate in anonymously caring for one another and in turn to look back into our own lives and ask our loved ones how they are. I have spent many years feeling invisible and like no one cared and I know many people feel like this in communities where forced marriage and honour-based violence happens. This project is a nod to the invisible and saying ‘I see you and I care, and I will make others see you and get them to care’.

B: You recently shot a video ‘Black Flowers’ in Liverpool Town Hall with @ROOTed Zine inviting black artists to create and be seen in a formerly predominantly white space, aside from your Humanscape exhibition, you are making advances in all directions putting women of colour creatives firmly on the map – what advice would you give to any aspiring female creatives, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds?

K: I would tell them to trust in your truth and let your art come from the heart. That the art world and the social world may feel like there’s an invisible wall keeping them out and stopping them from doing what they really want to do – but that they need to keep pushing boundaries. They are creating a pathway for the next generation of young women from an underrepresented background and making it that bit easier for the next woman to reach her dreams. My projects are about my experiences and shining a spotlight on these experiences by creating art that humanises women of colour, humanises the experiences of minorities and giving them the platform to not just be heard but to heal.

This is how I and three other black women created a podcast, the idea of by black women for women of colour resonates with me. I am a co-founder of a podcast called Black Liver Birds and we speak on our experiences of politics, work, art and everyday life challenges. We will be interviewed by BBC Merseyside Sunday 3rd September 2018 at 8pm, tune in to have a listen to us talking about why our podcast is a breath of fresh air to Liverpool!
In order to change the world, I feel like you have to be brave enough to speak up, create that platform and make people care. The way society is built, we seem to forget or not pay as much attention to women from underrepresented backgrounds but I see it as a social responsibility to use art as a radical activist movement. I would also tell all aspiring female creatives that they are good enough. Society actively conspires in breaking women down and shaping them to them to the male gaze, I am saying you are good enough.

B: You recently won a competition place on the Hedge Arts @artshedge women’s writing and wellbeing retreat, along with a mentoring opportunity with poet Ruby Robinson, creative expression is clearly important to you across your art, poetry and other mediums. I’ve done some training in expressive arts therapy – do you think creative expression is your therapy?

K: I couldn’t believe I won the competition, I never win anything! I feel a little emotional just thinking about the fact that Ruby Robinson is my mentor but most importantly, I’m excited about the future!

Creative expression was the only way for me to come to terms and deal with some of the things that have happened to me in my life. I tend to feel a little lost or overwhelmed but once I’ve penned my emotions in forms of poetry, photography or filming, I feel a little lighter and that I can breathe again. I started writing poetry from the age of 10 and by 14 years old I was writing almost every day; I was angry and hurting and needed a way to process that pain. Around that age, for a period of two years, I used to think of ways to kill myself and actually try to do it. I eventually decided that I needed to use that energy and instead of the focus of dying use it to continue to write poetry and that helped me.

I have tried actual therapy before and I realised straight away that it was not helping me because the person I was talking to could not understand my cultural background and could not appreciate the significant nuances of a young, unmarried Muslim woman leaving home. After a few sessions, I dropped out and went back to my art. My instincts told me that art is a way out for me and so far, it has not failed me.

image, c. Kiara Mohamed

B: How did you learn to create drone photos? Did you study art at college or university? Or are you self-taught? What is it about the medium that caught your interest?

K: When I was living at home I didn’t own a camera but I knew that I’d love photography without even taking any photos. I loved the idea of capturing an essence of a moment. So, growing up I read about women who changed the world and wrote poetry about how I would change the world. In all my work, the significant strand that holds it all together is nature. Be it poetry or photography, nature is always present in my work. I grew up being told I was so unnatural, that no one could possibly love me or want me. I would then look at nature around me; trees, flowers, clouds. I’d imagine I was one with the trees, the flowers, with the birds in the sky. So in my mind I built an energy connection between myself and the nature around me and concluded, how could I be unnatural when I am connected to nature?

I studied photography when I came to Liverpool at the City of Liverpool College and my lecturer was amazing. She believed in my art and encouraged me to explore, which I happily did. When it came to going to university I wanted to further understand the social mechanism of the issues I wanted to explore in my art and so I studied a combined degree of Social Policy and World Religions at Hope University.

Drone photography is only something I have been doing for the last 13 months and I am in love. To be able to see the world the way a bird would see it is both liberating and terrifying. It is liberating because the joy of mapping my surroundings from above is electrifying but the terror that I feel is the understanding that we are not so far away from each other. We are neighbours, friends, lovers, strangers and yet the intimacy might not always be there and I reflect on that when I’m capturing the world from above. I imagine that I am the bird, seeing the world from above and I am in conversation and communion with the world below me.

B: What are your personal hopes and aspirations for the future? Also, Liverpool has been a place you were drawn to personally, and as a place to create in. What do you see for the future of the Liverpool creative scene, and for the future of a more diverse Liverpool creative scene?

K: I hope to continue to create art that I love and be an established successful artist. I hope to reach a point in my life where I feel a little bit more mentally stable. I have a fear of failure; I am afraid that I will not be able to reach where I want to go and most of the time I feel like an imposter. I feel like I’m actually not an artist and somehow talking rubbish but I recognise that as my own insecurities taking over and many years of social conditioning that I have to break. I hope to be a little kinder to myself because as artists and as women, we are wonderful at speaking for others but not ourselves.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Liverpool art scene; Liverpool has an amazing amount of local artists who are creating groundbreaking work but Liverpool’s big art institutions are not doing enough to fund these projects. They want the amazing work that’s coming through but money still goes to established artists from outside of Liverpool.

Speaking on Liverpool’s minority artists – well they are not given as much recognition as they should. The big money in art does not go into small communities – it circles around the same group of people, all benefitting from each other.

That’s why I feel like I have no choice but to create my own platform, to continue producing art that speaks on the experiences of women and ethnic minorities because unless we speak, no one is listening. But I am very positive about the future, I believe we are slowly getting to the kind of society we want to be in. But we can’t afford to be complacent and wait for social change to be done by someone else – that someone is us. However small we change the present for a better future, we will create a big enough ripple effect that can change the status quo.

Kiara Mohamed’s Humanscapes is moving to George Henry Lee’s in early October, until 28th October 2018
Words, Bernadette McBride