From a young age, London-based visual artist and performer Heather Agyepong hoped to become an actress and so spent a number of years training until, between the ages of 16 and 21, a period of severe depression brought this aspiration to a brief halt. While studying at the University of Kent, hours spent alone in her dorm room inspired Heather to buy a camera as a means to force herself to step outside, and soon this tool became her coping mechanism that naturally progressed into the empowering creative outlet she continues to pursue today. In her early photographs, Heather aimed to capture people’s emotions, particularly the ambiguous ones, that reflected her own internalised feelings at the time. Today, the themes of mental health, cultural representation and identity are explored in both her images and performances, each informed by Heather's own experiences and those of people from marginalised communities.
Heather is currently working on an upcoming project with Tate Exhange which will commence in Autumn 2017. Her latest exhibition Habitus will be featured as part of the Black Blossoms on Tour exhibition in September, beginning at the Royal Standard Art Gallery in Liverpool.
I feel like photography can really affect mental health so through my own work, I wanted to criticise self-reflexivity within it.
One of the reasons I didn’t tell anyone I was depressed was because of how I saw myself as a black woman, which was mainly informed by images of black people. Many of them would often be negative and I’d internalise these images, so my issues with false representation in photography is why I like to challenge this. Through my own work I ask is photography always truthful? And what exactly is left behind outside of the image?
Growing up in South London was very inspiring and I guess it's what made me so driven.
The idea of being able to ‘make it’ was a myth, it felt a bit hopeless, but I was around a lot of Afro-Caribbean communities in South who very much aimed for the top, despite their living conditions or whatever. All of the people doing great things who come from there seem to be going against the odds. Through my work, I only explore identity or representation around mine or marginalised communities experiences because this is what I know and what I am most interested in.
My perception of Ghana, where my family is from, changed for the better when I was 16.
I hated being from there because of the images I saw of the country but when I went over, it was a different story. People would often make fun of my surname because it was West African and I had a sense of shame based on preconceived ideas on how it would be. Then, in actually visiting, I found it to be really vibrant and hard working - totally different to what I thought it would be like.
There are a number of women who encourage me and whose work I really enjoy.
I used to only look to a lot of American people for inspiration but I feel a disconnect there because they've experienced different things to what we have here in the UK and vice versa. There are a number of British women who inspire me; Olive Morris and Beverley Brian from the British Black Panther women movement that existed in Brixton in London between 1968 – 1972. I only learnt that the party existed here two years ago!
My fundamental message is very specific of the age we are in right now: don’t compare yourself to other people.
Comparing yourself to someone else will often just make you feel bad, so hopefully my message is to realise the importance of being an individual and realise that only you can be the best version of yourself. No one else can be as good as you at being you!