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A Conversation with Photographer Agatha Powa about Brexit and the Importance of Art

Although the German photographer Agatha Powa has been taking pictures of her surroundings for as long as she can remember, it wasn’t until recently that she embarked on a full-time career as a photographer. This July, Agatha will be showcasing her very first solo exhibition in Berlin in collaboration with Shutdown Berlin and Fräulein Mag (find the event details here). Not to forget, the event will feature poetry by buzzed-about Abondance Matanda too.

We called up Agatha Powa to discuss her art, which turned into a heartfelt conversation about Brexit and the importance of artistic expression at a time of global tension.

Photo of Agatha Powa by Seye Isikalu

This is your first solo exhibition, how does it feel?

Super exciting and nerve wrecking and all sorts of emotions. But I also don’t have the capacity or time to really let it sink in.

You worked as a dancer, and then you studied theatre and worked with the National Youth Theatre, how come you decided to switch path in life and focus on a career in photography? 

To be completely honest, a friend of mine passed away, and that hit me quite hard. It really made me reflect on my life. Then one of our mutual friends works in film and I always wanted to test the waters in video and photography a bit more seriously. So I just packed up my stuff and moved to Berlin and assisted him on a documentary film. 

Do you feel like you’ve found your right artistic element now?

Yes, definitely. I’m moving into video now as well. And I was thinking because I’ve done so many different things, what the key element that binds it all together is in my work. What’s most important to me is humanity, the people, the person. No matter what I do it’s always about the person. I always try to get a glimpse of vulnerability, because I think that’s what connects us as human beings. I think if we were all connected, then a lot of issues wouldn’t be here.

Your exhibition will showcase a collection of pictures that you took at the Notting Hill Carnival last summer, what does the carnival mean to you?

It was really special for me because I lived in London for almost 10 years and a lot of things have changed lately, so it was quite emotional to go to the last carnival. It was the first carnival after Brexit, like after everyone knew that London is going to leave the EU, and it was the first carnival after the Grenfell Tower fire. 

A lot of my friends didn’t go to the carnival because a lot of acid attacks had happened at other events, so the emotions were all mixed. The media was trying to present the carnival in a bad light,  but it was just really nice to be there. People were spreading love and a lot of support for Grenfell, and everyone was just dancing – it didn’t matter what colour you are, or how old you are. It was just… how I would love for the world to be.

Carnival is so special and so important and I wonder how it will be after Brexit, because everyone from the community comes there and if a part of the community is not there anymore, obviously it changes. It’s really personal to me.

Could you expand on what Brexit means to you and how you think London has changed as a city?

A lot of things have been happening prior to Brexit. There is a lot of violence happening in London, among the youth, and it has increased over the past few years. I think a big part of why it has increased is because a lot of cuts are happening. Since I’m in the arts, I’ve noticed that a lot of support systems from the government that I found to be so amazing about the UK are being decreased.

Art is a great vehicle to let someone express themselves in a way other than through violence. It’s a great way to let all your emotions out in a loving way, and to connect with other people who feel the same.

It’s scary, and I think we aren’t aware of how fragile our system is and how quickly everything can change. That’s why art is important. If you have a gift, and you’re not using it, it’s a shame. Like, ‘shame on you that you’re not using it’. Because the world really needs artistic expression right now.

 

So your art is essentially about doing what you can to spread positivity?

Yes, in the way I know best. If you start thinking about it too much it gets really depressing because you realise how little power you have, or, like, how little knowledge you have. And even if you try to gain more knowledge, I feel like I get even more confused, because you don’t know what’s true and what’s not, and there are so many different opinions, and you can weigh them all up… and in the end, you still don’t know what’s happening. So I think, in order to stay sane, and still do your part, you should use your voice and your ways of expression, and shine the light on what you can.

by Michelle Hallstrom
Photos by Agatha Powa
Link to the Facebook event here.
Follow Agatha on Instagram here.