Purchase the Sept/Oct Issue of New Eastern Europe to read my article 'Inside Kyiv's Co-living Community'
In addition to the short film I released back in April, the New Eastern Europe journal recently published an article I wrote regarding my own thoughts and opinions on Kyiv's new co-living communities. You can buy the September/ October edition at www.neweasterneurope.eu
Berlin’s streets were alive with bare torsos, rainbow flags and lots of latex as 1 million people of all sexual orientations marched during the city’s 40th anniversary Christopher Street Day parade. This year’s slogan, ‘Stonewall 50- Every riot starts with your voice’, reflects on the 50 years since the pivotal Stonewall riots in Christopher Street, New York City, starting the fire that launched the LGBTQ Rights movement.
One of the largest in Europe, Berlin’s parade attracts people from across the world willing to show their support for a still marginalised community. Although companies and corporations have appropriated some parts of the event, a strong political message remains. Signs and slogans proudly stand above the crowd, carried by activists or adorning apartment blocks in the famously queer Schöneberg neighbourhood, thanking and acknowledging those that had bravely fore-fronted the movement’s early days and bringing attention to areas of the world which don’t have the same rights. Others used the celebration to proudly express themselves through fetish clothing, drag, and even in some cases complete nudity, soaking in the colourful diversity of the city. Caught up in the peaceful, smiling faces all coming together to celebrate, it’s easy to forget that had this taken places 50 years ago, everyone would have been arrested.
Article originally published by Veridi News
As the world erupts in protest, I've decided to create an Instagram account called Untold Journalist, documenting movements around the world that are both in and out of the spotlight. If you are taking part in any protests and wish to contribute, simply get in contact with me through my email or via the Untold Instagram page.
All eyes were on Ukraine this past month during their surreal election period. No one believed that a comedian who had played the president in a popular TV show would actually become president in real life. The question arose; would life imitate art? Yes, as it turns out. Volodymyr Zelensky, the now globally famous Ukrainian president-elect, won by a landslide. In fact, the largest margin by any president in Ukraine, ever. Another country ticks the ‘unexpected result’ box. It certainly is a trend these days.
I initially flew to Kyiv to cover the first stages of the election and to find out who was supporting Zelensky. I soon realised I was in a city weary from politics. Still wearing the scars of revolution, war and corruption, Ukraine was clearly wounded from all the lies spluttering out of the same old politicians’ mouths. Her citizens had lost all trust, having believed the current president, Petro Poroshenko, would make rapid changes to the system after the 2014 Maidan revolution. When his promises of eliminating corruption and ending the war in the East didn’t materialise, people were quite understandably upset. So, when a young, funny, relatable comedian from television announced his decision to run for president at the end of 2018, it is little wonder that people started flocking to him. As was explained to me, “He has no experience in politics, but he has no experience in corruption”, something few of Ukraine’s political candidates could attest to.
For many, Zelensky was the new face of politics they had been waiting for and since they had seen him play the president on his TV show Servant of the People, which was also the name of his political party, they knew what to expect from him. In his campaigns, which primarily utilised social media, Zelensky successfully channelled the same character he portrayed on television. After it was announced that he and Poroshenko were the final two candidates, Zelensky released a slick video on his Instagram where he walked purposefully into the €500 million Olympic Stadium, resembling a cocaine-fuelled city banker coercing a client, to the background of upbeat rock music and the occasional slow motion tracking shot. In the video, he challenged Poroshenko to a debate in the 70 000 person stadium, despite having declined all previous political debates. Within 5 minutes of being posted, the video had been watched over 300 000 times and proceeded to go viral over the following days. It was in this moment that Zelensky had effectively won. Now he was in total control, re-designing and altering the political playing field, cornering Poroshenko so that no matter how he responded it would pale in comparison to Zelensky’s charismatic presentation. If he responded in the same fashion as Zelensky, then it would seem out of character and people would quickly call him out for being a phoney, yet if he responded in his typical, professional manner then he would come across as the same-old boring politician clinging onto the past in the face of a new, exciting opponent.
Zelensky, or rather his team, had successfully forged a new reality that blended the exhilaration and slickness of television with the accessibility of social media and somehow convinced people that this reality was more honest and less fake than the one they currently inhabited. And because Zelensky was used to this world, he could manoeuvre himself through it with ease, fully adopting the personality of his character. Poroshenko was left behind, unused to this new game, hoping that in the end his experience would prevail over Zelensky’s personality. But Zelensky still had one last trump over Poroshenko. Whilst the incumbent president was clear about his policies, Zelensky took a gamble, one that would ultimately pay off despite the huge risk. In a country dominated by binary identities, Zelensky was a blank canvas for personal beliefs. He was deliberately ambiguous with his policies, revealing most of them towards the end of his campaign. For the most part, they didn’t differ much from Poroshenko’s: he vowed to end the war in Donbas, to push for a strong independent Ukraine separate from Russia, and openly supported the de-communisation reforms. These are views held by the majority of the country, they are nothing new at all; in fact you would be hard pressed to find people who disagreed with these notions. But Zelensky’s personality and refreshing approach meant that his sincerity was taken more seriously than Poroshenko’s. In this new world, he’s the most honest man in Ukraine.
It may be of no surprise that Zelensky had a large base of young supporters. His campaign certainly targeted the Social Media generation, captivating some of the mid-20s voters I met, including many protestors who took part in the Maidan. Curiously the post-Maidan youth seem to be less politically engaged than the generation before them, which is perhaps why they largely supported the least political politician. For them, Zelensky is the clean slate that has the potential to fulfil the Maidan vision of a corrupt-free, European-integrated Ukraine. Poroshenko, who was a noticeable protestor during the Maidan, may have been able to secure the votes of an older generation of ardent nationalists who stood alongside him, but the younger generation feel betrayed by his lack of action and are more likely to be open to change than those who were alive during the Soviet Era. In fact, a lot of young people don’t let politics obstruct what they want to do. Having grown up in a politically unstable time, particularly during the 90’s when communism was collapsing around them with horrendous consequences, they are more comfortable with political uncertainty. Instead the wave of hope and possibility from the Maidan transitioned into their daily lives, whilst the recent arrival of cheap airlines and visa-free travel within the Schengen Area has offered the opportunity for many young Ukrainians to travel easily in Europe and bring back new ideas and opportunities. There has also been an explosion in the Ukrainian tech industry, with programming offering a viable opportunity to make money, as well as the chance to work for international companies. Simultaneously, start-ups and co-working spaces are prolific in major cities such as Kyiv and Lviv. This means that young people feel they have opportunities to realise their dreams and ambitions, regardless of Ukraine’s political situation. Indeed, for many the more connected and integrated Ukraine becomes, the only way to go is up, regardless of who is steering the country.
So if Zelensky is the fresh-faced, clean slate that Ukrainians have been dreaming of, why is there such a big controversy around his victory? Indeed many are championing his success as a victory for Ukrainian democracy; a big middle finger to the corrupt politicians who normally run the show. Well, as it turns out, there is a shadow looming behind him that can’t help but cast Zelensky in a rather dark light. It belongs to an oligarch, Ihor Kolomoskyi, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen. He has his fingers in numerous juicy pies, one of those just so happens to be the media conglomerate 1+1 Media, which airs Servant of the People. This combined with his friendship to Zelensky is enough for people to suspect that the comedian isn’t really going to be leading the country away from its undemocratic oligarchic rule. In fact theories have been floating around that Servant of the People was a pre-empted ploy fathomed up by Kolomoskyi in order to gain power from Poroshenko, who he had a falling out with in early 2015. It’s not a totally implausible theory, particularly in Ukraine where oligarchs wield an unhealthy amount of control. Either way, there is enough evidence to suggest that Kolomoskyi and Zelensky have some kind of partnership, but the fact that people are willing to look past that reveals the actors popularity lies more with the faults of Poroshenko than his own policies. In the end, only time will tell if Ukraine improves post-Poroshenko, or if the country has simply elected a new face, masking corrupt oligarchic rule.
April has been a busy month. I visited Ukraine during the first round of elections and watched how a comedian rose to power to become the new president. During the election period, the atmosphere felt tense in Kyiv, despite the sunny spell glowing over the city. I interviewed several people to try and understand what it was that made Zelensky, the newly elected president, such an attractive candidate. I stayed with several people spanning different generations, including an eighty year old Poroshenko supporter, a young woman working in the tech world and a group of students, journalists and programmers who lived in one of Kyiv’s co-living apartments. The later was a particularly interesting initiative that rose out of the Maidan as a way of connecting young, like minded people together to pursue their own projects and combat increasing rents in the capital. In the end, I found the topic of politics rather heavy and well trodden, so decided to create a short film about the co-living space to offer an insight into the positive directions Kyiv’s youths are taking. The film will be released here shortly.
If you are in London over the next 3 weeks, there is something you should go and see. The immersive theatre production of the Ukrainian Revolution (The EuroMaidan) on at the Vaults Festival, in Waterloo. Although sadly I will miss it, I have heard very good reviews as the revolution is brought to life in front of the audiences' eyes.
It shows a fascinating insight into the legacy of the revolution and how art and activism can come together to keep the revolutionary ideas going. Also it is brought to you by directors from one of the most well renowned underground theatre groups, Belarus Free Theatre.
Music and food are also part of the event, to truly bring London to the brinks of Kyiv midst protest.
EYESORE magazine is a contemporary platform for exploring politics, cultures, issues through investigation of cities. I wrote an article for their latest issue, commenting on my experience in post-revolution Kyiv back in 2017. The article features interviews with young people who took part in the revolution and how they feel it has affected Ukraine several years on, as well as looking into the Kyiv activist scene.
The latest issue is available to buy online or in select stores across the UK and Europe. As well as their printed content, EYESORE also release podcasts and host discussion and events. Follow them online to keep up to date with everything they are doing. eyesore.co.uk
For 5 days, a bright red barge was moored in Granary Square, Kings Cross, displaying the work of 6 young illustrators. I used the opportunity to display a variety of paintings and drawings from the past three years, encompassing landscapes, portraits and scenes from films; something a little different from my usual, political route. It was a fantastic chance to show my work in Central London, which would otherwise have cost an unfeasibly disgusting amount for a young artist. So if you are looking for a floatable, alternative and affordable space to put on an exhibition, performance or even a cinema screening check out:
My trip to Bucharest in September led me to an artist hub filled with creatives seeking a positive change in Romania. A group of them took full advantage of their imaginative skill-set, to further the anti-government/ anti-corruption movement currently taking place in the country. The result was a giant puppet of the goddess, Justice, who joined the protestors during the mass August demonstrations, standing proudly with her people. Having initially seen the puppet on an Instagram post, I decided to contact the art hub and meet the masterminds behind its creation. Dreamt up by puppeteer Ana Lambru, and in the same vein as the politically radical movement Bread And Puppet Theatre, Justice holds up a light to the corruption taking place in plane sight. She gave people hope and in many ways gave a face to the leaderless but obstinate crowd.
Instead of going down my normal comic route, I turned towards film to tell the story of Justice. It's my first attempt at documentary making and was filmed predominantly on a smart-phone, a tool which has thankfully allowed me to experiment with filmmaking. Although short, it captures the power of the puppet and offers up an insight into Romania's protests. I've deliberately left out gory, brutal footage as that seems to have become fetishised by the media, thus losing it's impact. However you can still very much gauge the movement's intensity. If you want to follow the unfurling events in Romania, I recommend checking out this YouTube channel:
I plan to return to Romania in 2019 and report upon the changes that have taken place since my last visit and the continuing pressure the creative community is placing upon the government,
A fantastically conscious discussion last night from MANDEM at Goldsmith's University, about how race and class affect the image and role of fatherhood. The discussion was particularly insightful regarding the issues of black male masculinity and the negative connotations that have been perpetuated in the media, as well as the flexibility of fatherhood, i.e does it have to be your biological father who plays the role of the father. I'm very glad to have been asked to do the illustration for this event and it was awesome seeing it projected up there behind the four incisive panelists.
There are future plans to work again with MANDEM and you can keep up to date with their articles and all future events here- https://mandemhood.com/mandemhood.com/