At the end of 2017, we caught up with two talented up and coming creatives. Richard Dixon, photographer and curator and Makesa Kaizen, art director, both grew up on an estate in South Tottenham. We spoke about their first pop up exhibition as The WHO Gallery, Fixation, held at a gallery in Islington, their work and their thoughts on the changes happening in Tottenham.
Richard: I’ve lived in Tottenham all my life, I was born and bred here. I guess the same for you
Makesa: Yeah, I moved to Tottenham when I was about five so I’ve pretty much lived here all my life
Richard: We’ve known each other for ages
Makesa: Since we were very small.
DT: What is The WHO Gallery?
Makesa: The WHO Gallery is my concept in terms of how I’m trying to emerge into the art scene. It’s about bringing awareness to fresh new talent, whether that be those that work in figurative art or conceptual art or maybe abstract art.
DT: When did you start?
Makesa: I started The WHO Gallery in early 2015. I kind of shelved the idea because I wanted to learn the craft first. I wanted to learn what goes into actually funding and putting together a concept such as a gallery. It took me a while to work out the kinks – interning here and there, copious amounts of jobs, being fired from a few – to then understand how you go about organising and putting together an exhibition or having an actual gallery.
DT: How do you both fit in to the project?
Richard: I’ve been working in galleries and museums for five years now and I wanted to start curating.
Makesa: Richard approached me and said, ‘I have this concept. I want to do this exhibition around addictive behaviour’, and I thought, ‘OK cool, let’s entertain the thought’. We went back and forth over a few months and finalised the concept. I’d say the concept was his brain child and we collaborated in terms of finding three artists each and presenting the exhibition.
Richard: I did this project mainly to curate so I wasn’t supposed to be in the show with my photography. Someone dropped out so I had to step in.
DT: How would you describe your photography?
Richard: I’ve been photographing for about five years and I can honestly say I haven’t found a style. I’ve been looking over pictures from the past and I usually have a lot of dark tones involved. A lot of realism… I never really direct my shoots – I just get out there with it and let the randomness take it on. I’m really lost in finding a style and bossing a style.
DT: Is that where your Instagram name (@lostintottenham) comes from?
Richard: That started off as a project and I liked it as a name. It was also to do with the gentrification in Tottenham and living in Tottenham for so long and seeing so many changes within myself to the point where I felt, I know this area, I know what’s around that corner, but I don’t, actually, I’m learning about it myself at the same time.
DT: What kind of changes have you noticed?
Richard: The first big thing for people in Tottenham was the Costa in Seven Sisters. That used to be a shop called Body Music, a record store. We used to love it man. All the mix tapes would be sold there – you’d go there to get local rapper’s mix tapes. You could get everything and then it [moved down a few stores to a much smaller shop] and then there was a big red Costa sign there. That was the first thing. Fast forward, I’ve got a yoga studio next to my house and it’s changed so much but there’s postives and negatives.
Makesa: Yeah exactly, it’s more diverse culturally as well.
DT: You think diversity has increased?
Makesa: Oh, 100%, I think it’s increased. My experience of Tottenham is it’s always been heavily populated by black culture. Now you’re seeing a lot of different cultures coming to Tottenham and lots of traditions as well. Tottenham had a stigma especially where we came from. It had a stigma of being run by gangs… but that’s shifted in the last five to ten years.
Tottenham’s interesting. I know everyone has been ushered out to go up north and stuff so it’s only going to get more interesting when the stadium is built and when the redevelopments take place.’
DT: Does it worry you that people might get priced out of the area or that it’s changing or are you welcoming these new developments?
Richard: In terms of people being priced out you lose a lot of talent. Home grown talent. You’re going to lose that with people not being able to afford it but you do get the other side of it – a more diverse place… There’s a lot to learn from the people that are coming into Tottenham as well, the new businesses.
DT: What was your first exhibition, Fixation, about?
Richard: Fixation was to do with addiction. I wanted to raise the point that addiction is also a mental health issue just like depression or anxiety which are getting a loads of [media] attention lately.
Also, I believe they run onto each other. I believe that you can be addicted to something and then later find yourself depressed or be depressed and get addicted to something. I think they’re equally as important.
It’s something that I keep very close to my heart. I worked in a betting shop for two years as a manager and just being behind that counter sat at a desk all day watching people gamble and seeing the consequences of it. That was where my project came in, when I stepped in to Fixation as a photographer. [I wanted] to capture the environment of a betting shop.
DT: That’s a really good point ’cause initially I associated the word addiction with drugs.
Richard: That’s a stigma I wanted to tackle as well as there are loads of different types of addiction. People are addicted to social media and don’t even notice that as well. In China they’ve got internet gaming addiction – they have rehab for people who are addicted to social media – these are things I wanted to raise awareness of. I didn’t just want to focus on drugs because there’s a lot of things you can get addicted to and gain anxiety from or become depressed.
Makesa: I really liked Richard’s piece because there was a particular image of this man who was staring right into the camera and you could see the melancholy in his face.
The subjects that he shot, you could just see that each one of them had a story… You’ve compromised or sacrificed something to be there or that it’s become such an addictive trait in your life that you can’t help but be there.
Richard: It’s like a loss of control. On the wall in Fixation it said: a loss of control is central to any addictive behaviour and that’s essential to what we were trying to document as well. The gradual slide into addiction whilst one is simultaneously controlled.
DT: You had quite a lot of mixed mediums in the exhibition. Was it important to you to cover a different range of art?
Makesa: Yeah, as a curator that’s very important.
Richard gave me the opportunity to work with him to put on my first show. To get on my feet. I also had a collaboration with Box Park earlier this year. I put together a small display of eight works in Box Park. Having the experience of working with a co-curator and it being in an actual exhibition space was different.
DT: You got into curation before that. How did that happen?
Makesa: My story’s a bit different from Richard’s… I come from a more stylistic background, more fashion based, but I’ve always had an interest in art. I took it upon myself to learn. I’ve found myself falling deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole and being like, ‘wow, I want to do this’, so I took it upon myself to do the research.
I’m going to go and study my masters [Arts and Culture Enterprise at CSM] in January as well which is going to be very interesting… It’s going to be intense.
Richard: My journey is definitely different. I’ve worked for the V&A for around five years and kept an eye on the things that they do and spoke to the curator that worked there. I learned that way and enjoyed it much more than what I was doing at that time. I studied biomedical science so I was from a whole different world. I wanted to combine the two and [the theme of] addiction was a really good meeting point for me. I could explore the topic and knew that the art work would be strong enough to bring forth the idea.
DT: What are your upcoming plans for The WHO Gallery?
Makesa: Continue to gain more exposure in terms of, there’s a few artists that I plan to be working with next year. Hopefully going to put together another show… Two shows next year is my plan… What’s important to me for the gallery is not to scale too quickly. I don’t want to cut corners and I want to really learn the industry that I’m getting into.
I do want to do an exhibition in Tottenham. I think there needs to be more of a push in terms of the arts around here. If it’s more centres, not necessarily centres, but classes that pertain to arts and crafts and getting people involved because we don’t come from that. Myself and Richard are anomalies. We don’t come from that, ‘hey, there’s a class, let’s learn to draw’. We didn’t have those types of environments.
DT: What have you taken away from the first project for the next project?
Richard: So much. Even little errors that you’d forget, or something like that, that’s not going to happen again.
Makesa: Planning ahead. Definitely being more structured going forward. Even hanging the art work.
Richard: We did that the same day.
Makesa: Being organised, making sure you know how to structure the day, that’s very important. We ran into a few difficulties but you live and you learn.
DT: Are you looking forward to 2018?