Isaac Kariuki

Image by Isaac Kariuki.

Kenyan-born Londoner Isaac Kariuki is a diamond in the rough. He explores technology booms, gender, race, and social development through a variety of creative mediums including photography and writing; he asks big questions in bold ways and creates space for others to do the same. As the founding editor of Diaspora Drama, a contributor-based publication exploring people of colour (PoC) and online/tech culture, Isaac enables creative PoC around the world to participate in an ongoing dialogue about identity, purpose, art, technology (and much, much more). His photography is far from ordinary—his work Hole in the Wall (the 2nd place finalist in Zealous’ Celebrating Diversity Open Call) features individuals who, though physically diverse, share one commonality: they are outsiders who find unity with one another. We hope that you start this week as inspired as we are—it’s okay to cause a commotion. You don’t have to go quietly. You don’t have to create quietly. We are learning this from Isaac—and now you can, too.

Isaac Kariuki

LAB: Could you say more about the title of this work (Hole in The Wall)? What does it mean to you?

IK: On Kesha’s 2010 single “Take It Off”, she cries “There’s a place downtown / Where the freaks all come around / It’s a hole in the wall / it’s a dirty free for all”. The phrase hole in the wall stood out for me—it was the first time I’d ever heard that. She describes a party in the grungy parts of the city where nobody will judge her for what she’s into, what she wears and most importantly, who she is. I loved what that phrase projects: a burrowed habitat for outcasts to celebrate themselves and each other.

LAB: Which if your Hole in the Wall subjects do you relate to most? Why?

IK: Justin (with the pink hair) was the first person I approached for the project. I met them at an East London after party. We were the only chatty ones that evening. I complimented their outfit over a million times that night–and so did everyone else. I really admired their confidence and humility. At the shoot, however, they were initially pretty shy. I assured them how great they were. I get like that sometimes too—I’m only confident when I’m in a familiar and comfortable space.

Isaac Kariuki

LAB: Why do you think marginalised communities are excluded from the arts? How does your work address or counteract that?

IK: There are a lot of factors that come into that: the people at the top. The Guardian stated that “the wealthiest, best educated and least ethnically diverse 8 per cent of society make up nearly half of live music audiences and a third of theatregoers and gallery visitors”. That means the wealthy few disproportionately benefit from Arts Council funding, which devastates any chance for working class or minority ethnic groups to progress their craft through government aid. It’s become so ingrained. Have you ever noticed how many of Britain’s top award-winning actors come from the same private schools? Or that many gallery owners know each other through their families? Nepotism and privilege allow the unfair system to stay the way it is.

I try to counteract this by mostly working with people around me, and they all happen to be queer and/or people of colour. We help each other out, lending each other cameras and retweeting our individual successes. It’s the little contributions we can manage.

Isaac Kariuki

LAB: What is an example of creativity celebrating diversity that’s inspired you lately (a piece of art, a movement, a person)? How did it impact you?

IK: Recently, it’s television. “‘Atlanta” and “Insecure” are both about confused, determined and socially aware 20-somethings living in worlds that feel like magical realism. I really enjoy the atmosphere, tone and playfulness of these shows. The way they weave humour into politics (and vice versa), which I aspire to get right with my work.

LAB: You’re also the founding editor of Diaspora Drama—could you say more about the zine’s mission and what inspired you to start it?

IK: I wanted to make a zine about the internet, but more specifically the young people of colour that inhabit it. They shape culture, from humour (RIP Vine) to the politics of #BlackLivesMatter. I wanted to highlight our achievements as well as explore and celebrate the art and writing we create online. I was really inspired by OOMK, another London-based zine. By the time I discovered them, I was pretty certain zines had died out in 2005—but through them, I saw how much the scene has expanded thanks to the internet!

Isaac Kariuki

LAB: Name three things that you find beautiful.
IK: Solange’s new album ‘A Seat at the Table’, my partner, and this blog.

LAB: What’s your biggest hope for this work?

IK: Hopefully let the community know that they’re beautiful and worthy of respect and dignity.

LAB: If you could send one message to your audience, what would it be?

IK: No idea is too “out there” – it’s probably more original than you think!

Want to be a Zealous Featured Artist?

Get in touch today! We’re always on the lookout for the latest and greatest Zealous talent. Check out the other Celebrating Diversity open call winners’ features here.

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