Gold Maria Akanbi is a British-Nigerian multi-disciplinary artist, who is neurodiverse. The Misunderstandings of the Other Side was commissioned to feature as part of DaDaFest Translations. The video piece explores Gold’s relationship with the world and other people as someone who has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The artist talks to Steph Niciu about how art helps her interact with the world and her own identity.
Before finding her passion for art, Gold tried her hand at other creative endeavours including photography, poetry and fashion design. She moved from London to Liverpool to study for a degree in Fine Art and graduated in 2018. Since then, she has produced work that focuses heavily on identity, not only in terms of disability but her African roots, exploring African spirituality and The Black Body amongst other concepts. In early 2020, she became a recipient of the new Black Artists Grant from Creative Debut.
The Misunderstandings of the Other Side is a piece of performance art that explores ASD and the challenges that it presents to Gold while she tries to relate to the outside world. For her one of the key attractions to this artform is that it allows her to experience a deeper level of personal and external understanding.
“In terms of my art and how I like to interact with the world, I feel like I’m always questioning things and myself all of the time. Sometimes it’s not healthy. But having that ability as an artist feels good. I really had the opportunity with this piece to enquire how other people see me and how I see myself. I think that’s one of the of main reasons why I make performance art. It’s to hear myself and feel myself. For so many years, I tried to transcend my body and my mind so that I wouldn’t feel as much. I would get body dysmorphia and experience dissociation. I think performance art grounds me, it connects me to the world and it connects me to the earth.”
The piece is visceral, vivid and gives the viewer permission to unlock what is going on inside her inner world. At the beginning, she declares “I constantly feel like a foreigner”, but what does that mean to her exactly?
“I can learn something well, but that doesn’t mean I can interact with it properly. That’s often why I spend so much time learning about things, because I know that when it comes to interaction, to a certain degree I’m quite stunted. I can be very tongue-in-cheek without even realising it. Sometimes I’ll say or do things that are inappropriate, but I don’t know I’m doing them. For me, always feeling like a foreigner comes from never fully understanding something or never fully being able to interact with it.”
Although Gold’s ASD does pose its challenges, she recognises how it has shaped her. It is a key part of her identity as an artist, and she views the influence it has had on her positively and as something that has given her a sense of empowerment.
“I feel like it’s always been there, but I was diagnosed late. Sometimes it goes right over my head just because it was so external and unknown for so long. Sometimes it’s at the forefront. I don’t necessarily feel like it stops me. It has made me less afraid to prove myself. I used to lean into things that would scare me. But now, I can lean into them because I have an idea as to what’s going on and what’s causing the fear. As an artist, it’s definitely made me explore more, and it’s made me more open-minded about not just myself but other people. I feel like it helps me to understand my work or understand how to make it better. “
One of the significant themes in Gold’s work is trauma. In particular, how she feels that her art can heal her own personal trauma and in turn help others to do the same.
“I can’t run from things any more. I’m forced to address them. I know that I’m facing other people. It’s a challenge in the sense that I know by healing myself, I’ll probably help someone else to heal. That’s what I’m trying to do and hoping to achieve with my work.”
In terms of Gold’s creative process, she relies on intuition rather than trying to plan something to a tee. She enjoys bringing together different art forms to create her work which means choosing one she favours is not easy.
“It’s very tricky because I do really love performance art. But it’s very difficult to do, especially if you don’t have access to equipment. I might have to go for painting. I’ve always felt that it has come more naturally to me, and it’s created a feeling of solace and peace more than anything else.”
Gold’s spirituality is prominent in the piece. She feels a strong affinity to it and how it connects to her ASD and consequently the outside world.
“Now I know that I’m on the spectrum, it feels almost like they’re the same thing. I don’t know if that makes sense to people, but it was like I had to create something else or something had to come out in order for me to understand the world. Something that’s not tangible, that no one else can see, think, or understand. I think it’s similar to intuition or psychology, for example. It’s something I can understand only from my perspective. For me, my spirituality is grounded in my interaction with the outside world.”
Heading into 2021, Gold has work and projects that she has pitched, but the impact of the pandemic has stalled their progress for the moment. What’s clear though is that the statements she makes about identity come from a place of self-assurance and deep introspection, which in turn helps us feel more connected to her as an artist and our sense of who we are as individuals. It is this confidence and not letting fear dictate her vision which is what makes her an exciting artist, using her voice to amplify aspects of identity that we need to delve deeper into and explore.
The Misunderstandings of the Other Side is available to watch with audio-description, with BSL or without access features via the DaDaFest website
Visit Gold Maria Akanbi’s website to see more of her artwork. Poem7 is a combination of poetry and handmade paintings using an impasto technique to help transport the reader and encourage a tactile interaction with the written work.