In Conversation

Copyright 2021 – Photo: Meron Gizaw

ACAP & Danijah Tafari

January 2021

ACAP
You are a multi-discipline artist who we have been working with for many years, so we know what you do and why. The main purpose of this short interview is to give visitors to our website background information about your practice and current work. Let’s begin with the current work on this site.

Danijah
The broad theme and focus of the work I create is the human condition, in all aspects. Currently, and for the last four years I am engaged with H2o, all about water and our relationship with it. The body of works on this website are not complex and challenging. Wherever I am in the world if there are water and people, I try to find something interesting to photograph, make Prints and write a short commentary or poem.

ACAP
Tell us something about the things you are occupied with in your writing at the present moment.

Danijah
I never stop writing, I am always making notes about something. I always keep in mind something I read about Pablo Picasso, and I quote, “inspiration do come, but it must find you working.” If you do not grab it in some way, it simply fades away and disappear. Interesting subjects for me right now are globalization, creativity and the global African village. We are going through unprecedented times, very interesting, so many new possibilities.

ACAP
You mention your focus is water, but the works on this site appears to be more about people.

Danijah
You are right, lots of people are in the frame, but for me the real focus is our relationship with water. I will try not to go too deep in the subject as you mentioned a brief outline, I usually leave the intricate theories to the curators and art experts. I think audiences should experience the work and make up their own mind, instead of being led, especially when the work is not complex.

ACAP
I think it is always illuminating when an artist speaks about what they do, it gives the viewer an insight when looking at the work. It can be more helpful than an hinderance.

Danijah
I am all for it, but maybe when an artist speaks about working, it could be difficult for audiences who are not familiar with the language of the arts. For this body of work, I spent summers on the south coast of England in Kent. At times I thought I was in the south of France; the beauty of the place is stunning. The Greek word ‘Thalassophile’ comes to mind, it means someone who loves the sea or ocean. The sea contains therapeutic qualities, just walking by the beach you feel a sense of calm, tranquility, freedom, happiness, breathing the salty sea air is refreshing. These are some of the reasons why we love this particular body of water. The photographs attempt to show people in this mode of love. The prints offer abstract features and relate more to textures, colors, form, tonality, light, feelings, emotions, and reveal other things below the surface of the water.

ACAP
Those feelings you mentioned while being close to the sea, were these also your personal emotional experiences?

Danijah
Yes! Most definitely. It was all around us, everywhere, and not simply in my mind or imagination, it was very real. I hope these feelings and emotions are visible in the work, and the viewer is able to share the experience. The sea possesses potent powers, it does something mysterious to our brain, mind and emotions. It is all at once vast, exhilarating, magnificent, terrifying, beautiful, it inspires. Over the period of time that I spent studying and focusing on the coast, all the descriptive words are very real. true, and much more. The ocean is a place where millions of people go for leisure activities, and social recreations.

ACAP
I rarely go to the sea, maybe I should begin after seeing and enjoying the work on our site. What motivated you to go in this direction and why?

Danijah
Climate science, the changes in our environment, the state of the planet ecosystem, and the many strains of virus in the atmosphere, reveal the crisis. Nature serves us, we should at least have some appreciation of it. Here is some more interesting information about the sea, covering over seventy percent of the earth’s surface, the ocean assists to regulate our climate and weather patterns. The sea produces over half of the global oxygen, and absorbs fifty percent more carbon dioxide, than what is in the atmosphere we breathe. Historically, the sea gave us food and means of transport. I am not protesting, simply observing, expressing, and commenting on something real.

ACAP
Yes, the state of the planet should be a major concern for all of us. Many artists have made work about the environment, but work of that type is not so popular at the moment.

Danijah
The work I am doing is not really about the environment, although that aspect may not be overtly visible, a viewer may pick up on that. I started from the perception and perspective of water, people and leisure activities. I am looking at our relationship with water, with and in nature.

ACAP
What is your background in the fine arts, in particular the visual arts and creative writing, what is your background and how did you begin?

Danijah
I reluctantly, entered the fine arts in the early 1970s with a camera, and the ability to draw and write poetry. All three started as hobbies from primary and secondary school. These self-taught hobbies came about from looking, seeing and quiet observation. They were all activities in my nature and personality. Leaving school, I attended college to study electronic engineering, and after an apprenticeship, I began working in the City of London, installing electronic telecommunication equipment, and telephonic systems in major companies, newspaper building around Fleet Street, banks, and in the main large corporations. At the same time, I continued my hobby by photographing the local African Caribbean communities in East London where I was living, charging a small fee for birthday parties, weddings, portraits and other events. I attended Sir John Cass Art school to practice film process and darkroom printing. The Time Life series of books on photography, were my main guide.

ACAP
When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in the arts, and what path did you take?

Danijah
Looking back, I was approaching photography as an art medium without being conscious of it, this was the way I was working. I wanted to learn the art, craft and techniques of it all. In the middle of the 1970s, I entered an open entry competition at Whitechapel Art Gallery. I got in and sold work. If I remember correctly, I was the only person showing photography in the show. At the time photography was at last being accepted as an art medium and was taking off in America, but the idea was still under heavy interrogation in the UK. The gates of the fine arts opened and invited me in.

ACAP
Was that the point when you decided this was for me, the fact that a prestigious gallery recognized your talent and abilities.

Danijah
The whole experience of the opening, the excitement and buzz of the show, gave me many ideas. I went there on many occasions after, just to see what was going on. I even spoke to Sir Nicholas Serota about the work, he was Nick the director at the time. I started having solo exhibitions, including the national theatre and galleries in Covent Gardens and other places in London. I also began working freelance in reportage and documentary photographer. I resigned from my place of work in electronics, at the shock of my family and friends. I was in my late teen, early twenties. I went to New York and attempted to attend art school at Parsons, and the School of visual arts. I was admitted, but later when the entrance office realized I was a foreign student everything changed, the fees suddenly became enormous and beyond my reach. After nearly a year there, I returned to London.

ACAP
How was your experience in America, why did you choose to go there, and the fact of not realizing your ambition to enter art school there, what was your reaction to this big set back?

Danijah
I had made the decision that if you choose to do the things you love, then there is never a chance of failure. When you love it, you will put everything in it, to be good at it. The joy of it, and being able to do it is enough for me. America opened my eyes to the world, the short time then, and many other experiences in America, assisted in my maturity. Coming from London, I felt like a little country boy arriving in the wild big city. Looking up, the skyscrapers seem to sway in the wind. Alone in a lift, and pressing the button for floor 45, then relaxing for the long ride. In no time swoosh, you are there with a feeling of slowing compression. Clouds floating by was the view, amazing! This was in the late 1970s.

ACAP
You are back in London, what happened and how did you get back on track.

Danijah
It didn’t take long to get myself re-organized. From the early 1980s I started working part-time, and attended Sir John Cass Art School two days a week, in order to prepare a portfolio of work. I applied to St. Martins School of Art with the name Fitzroy Sang, a different name to the one I use now, and graduated with a B.A. in Fine Art. While I was there, I experimented with all media (plural for medium), painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, video, poetry. There were times when my photographs were mistaken for paintings.

A few years later, I attended City University part-time at the Barbican and completed an M.A. in Arts Administration and Policy. Apart from my professional studio practice, like many artists starting out, through the Public Arts system I conducted workshops in Arts Education, participated in Residencies around the country, travelled all over for exhibitions, talks, and other events like exhibition invigilation.

ACAP
Something interesting, are you able to tell us about the name change, what events led to this decision?

Danijah
It started as an epiphany during a visit to Jamaica, I experienced a metaphysical reconnection with my ancestral roots, like veins going into a variety of directions. It was significant and symbolised a new beginning, to grow and evolve in maturity. New knowledge about the real me. I suppose it could be explained simply in that way. The change of name is the recognition of that fact, and the acceptance of a new path, and in no way represented a removal of the past. It became legally official in the early nineteen nineties.

ACAP
Weren’t you a leading member of the Black Arts Movement in England? Tell us something about that.

Danijah
I wouldn’t say I was a leading member, but I was participating in that movement through the work of Eddie Chambers, who was based in Bristol at that time. Artist categorized under the banner of ‘Black’ had no choice, we needed an organized format to be seen and heard. Kwesi Owusu, wrote a book titled “The Art That Britain Ignores” the text explained fully what was going on then. Near to end of the 1990s, becoming more mature, I wrote and submitted a statement about the name ‘Black Art’ the meaning, the written policies and politics, the search for identity was not me, I was never lost. I left it all behind me, and lived the life of a global nomad for over a decade. As an identity, it is a political and social construct. The term Black has very little meaning for me, especially when it comes to culture, creativity and making art.

ACAP
What about the present and the future, where to now?

Danijah
Apart from developing skills and finding new ways of working, I believe to be an artist involves a search to improve your methods, means, medium, and language to express your thoughts and ideas. All things that will allow you to communicate creatively, in a way that is uniquely you. Today, still practicing across a number of disciplines, I understand myself more as a cultural industry professional than a painter, photographer, writer or artist. In art practice now, I suppose, for many people art can be almost anything. I question that approach for the role of the visual arts in the current times. Creative activities are not only about an object or product, nor simply the means of validating intellectualization. I still think it is all about assisting people, the viewers, the audiences, to see things generally overlooked, that are really important in new, and inspiring ways as an experience. All true artists are unique individuals, and not a type.

ACAP
If there is nothing more, we will end here. Thank you for the time and agreeing to speak to us.

Danijah
Thank you, I hope visitors to your site will take the time to read this interview, it may allow them easy access to fully understand and appreciate the work on show. Best Wishes!