Meeting with Kenneth Tharp CBE

Kenneth (left) and I (right)

I’ve spent the morning reflecting on the profound conversation I had yesterday with one of my heroes Kenneth Tharp CBE. He was a huge part of why my #GetDyl2Cambridge campaign went viral on Twitter and I’m forever grateful to him for his continued support and wisdom.

Initially it was meant to be an afternoon tea but it ended up lasting 6 hours. It’s not everyday one gets to meet someone as versatile and layered in their thinking. Here are some of my reflections:

1) Be proud of but not shackled by your heritage. Embrace your individuality.

2) Reconciling different strands of race and identity takes skill and piercing introspection.

3) Reconceptualising Britishness may not change how your fellow compatriots perceive you but it’ll certainly bolster your confidence in how you choose to wear the complexity of who you are.

4) We reflected on some frankly absurd but equally hilarious experiences we’ve had in relation to our hair! For a beautiful account of this common experience, I’d recommend reading Sharee Miller’s ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’.

5) Make connections between seemingly disparate fields for this is where creativity lies. As an art director and choreographer, Kenneth has worked with performers and theoretical physicists to achieve beautiful pieces and while collaboration is notoriously difficult to achieve between members of different disciplines, when done right the result is magic.

6) The etymology of ‘woke’ — a term that has become an anti-mantra for segments of the political right — in many African traditions is far more robust and poetic than its critics concede.

7) As Bonnie Greer observed, being woke was related to ideas around mindful living and transcendence — being awake to the Divine, to nature, to the sky, to the trees and the air. Such an approach was (and in many respects still is) absolutely necessary to escape the inhuman conditions and false doctrines imposed by the powers that be.

8) I was also inspired by Kenneth’s daily disciplines and hobbies like swimming, sea kayaking, tennis and cycling. And I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful discussions we had around timeless experiences like staring up into the sky and simply admiring the sensation of being self-aware.

Hanging out with Kenneth over the last few days has reignited my artistic passions (visual art and dance specifically) and I thoroughly enjoyed the Untitled exhibition Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. The curator’s recognition that questions of blackness, race and identity are entangled in a multitude of aesthetic, material and political concerns really struck me as a powerful assertion of individuality and a beautifully rich account of the human experience.

I’m excited to get to work on some daily sketching and perform impromptu dance routines with mes cousins who are staying with me over the summer!