Amartey Golding

Screenshot of film by Amartey Golding showing a black ballet dancer wearing fur around their shoulders and a headpiece made of chainmail


Can you tell me about the film you submitted to Nanny Cam? - the starting point, the story behind it, the production.

Ok so The project came about when quite a few themes I had been thinking about for a while started to merge into one. It's my first time ever making a film and I didn't set out to make one, the project just developed in a way that made film the best medium. So I threw myself into the deep end and made it! Hahaha

Its about looking at this human process of being victim and oppressor, and using the portrayal of black masculinity in the media and Homophobia in the black community as mere examples of this.

The film follows Solomon Golding who plays himself as he partakes in this chainmail ceremony. Solomon is my brother and the first black british male to join the royal ballet company.

I was fascinated by the process of nostalgic childhood associations to discriminative and/or violent cultural behaviours and wanted to explore that more. Things that we have grown to love and even build our identities and understanding of the world on that hold the key to the suffering of so many people and a lot of the time we ourselves are included in the list of sufferers.

I used the two quite obvious themes that I had first hand experience with to introduce the idea, they were Racial discrimination and Homophobia. I was worried about using these themes as they are big buzzwords and people tend to get caught up on them and cant get passed them to engage with the ideas they are being used to demonstrate. But at the same time, I experience much due to the colour of my skin, which has gotten tedious and I have also been exposed a lot of homophobic ideologies and was fascinated by how something so blatant and violent could be so normal to me, even enjoyable when the conditions are right.

Its this dilemma more than anything that was at the center of my mind when making this film and the themes were too interesting not to do for fear of being pigeon-holed.

The main catalyst for the chainmail element was when my godson called me out of the blue after a year of no contact. At the time I had just started drawing up some ideas for high fashion chainmail garments, an idea i'd been waiting to get round to for about 6 months but hadn't had the time until now.  I was thinking it would be interesting to make some excessive chainmail pieces that the models could barely carry down the runway, in an ode to excessiveness, the irrelevance of such a medieval material and all it could represent etc etc etc, It was a starting point.

Anyway, so I picked up the phone and we spoke for about an hour or two. He told me that his best friend had been stabbed to death in broad daylight. He told me that when he went back to manchester, where he is from, another friend was stabbed to death at a house party. That was two close friends that had died within a week.

Now, I have lived on the outskirts of Brighton for the last three and a half years, my house backs onto the downs. I have a dog that I walk through the downs every morning and most evenings. If it rains when we are out, I get back, put a few logs on the fire. Every now and then I might be called out of isolation to do an exhibition or a project of some sort and then it's straight back to thinking and making. It's such a detached existence that I had, not forgotten, but more like I completely removed myself from certain realities/dynamics that I already knew existed and hearing this was a pretty clear reality check.

When my godson told me about his friends, my chainmail drawings immediately took on a whole new meaning. It wasn't an irrelevant material anymore, and even though it is medieval, it can still be used to save lives today.

So I started to make chainmail imagining it to be used as cheap and effective protection for young men on the streets and being surprised that they weren't already making it for that reason. After the best part of a year spending around 6-12 hours a day making chainmail, I still hadn't been able to finish a whole piece. Although pretty simple to make, it is very repetitive and slow work. My hands were calloused and I was now socialising even less than usual. My aunty had told the family I was losing my mind from being too isolated after speaking to me on the phone in a conversation that I had thought id sounded relatively sane in.

Anyway, the idea started to take form and develop over that year. The making of the chainmail was meditative and had become, for me, a mourning process, for the two that had died and all those that are dying in England and around the world by the hands of another, directly or indirectly.

I couldn't help but think about these deaths being another statistic of black males being used to somehow communicate the nature of black men that fit with a long standing propaganda of violent primitivity.

I felt like the statistics and facts always used on the news, in the newspapers and by politicians were being used to portray a fiction of black men and that masqueraded as the truth.

Just because they are facts, it doesn't make them the truth. I then thought as a response id reverse the process and use fiction to convey a truth by introducing real black men who I knew to an audience. These men would engage with a fictional world that they are supposed to inhabit, a world made up of all the ideas and assumptions that are constantly attached to black men.

The chainmail culture and the narrative it follows, was made to mimic the prominent elements that have come to define the contemporary black identity, such as poverty, 'gang culture', physical strength, performance/showmanship, primal drives of masculinity and the constant threat of violence.

In the film all the chainmail is real, and the weight of Solomon's chainmail is actually 65kgs, it was important that it was real.

I tried to create this almost purgatorial world that these real people are stuck in and forever forced to play caricatures of themselves, but at the same time, they are writing the rules of someone else's purgatory. I liked the idea of all these overlapping worlds where one is simultaneously a god writing the rules for the person in front of them and also condemned to live in the hellish confines of that person's imagination.

Rather than brimstone and fire, it's the subtleties that are hellish and maddening. The constant repetition of actions and behaviours that are so close to reality that onlookers assume them to be your own, yet so completely off that you are disgusted that someone would expect that of you as it goes against everything that you are.

It's a tricky thing to express your frustration at a situation without making yourself a victim or having someone to blame, especially when it is something that has such a big influence on your day to day experience of the world.

I think this piece represents an outlet for a younger generation of black men who, because of an evolution in social context, look to approach their position and narrative differently to the generations before them. This approach is interested in the fallibility of humanity as a whole, the environments that nurture it, how we as humans inherit discriminative behaviours and how having certain imagery or scenarios embedded in culture allows us to have benign and even positive nostalgic associations to the most destructive and brutal of processes.

The Chainmail is an important element to the film. Its contradictory nature as an item to preserve life and to facilitate death reflects the dilemma of living and the subjective nature of the aggressor and the victim.

To this end, the film also illustrates this process from both sides, By Solomon performing to 'Boom Bye Bye', a famous dancehall song that has been the centre of controversy since the 90's due to its violent homophobic content. This song was one of the many examples we grew up around as children within the community and therefore have inherent nostalgic attachments towards even though simultaneously holds such ideas that preach his demise. I think there's an honest melancholic beauty to  that.

How many people were involved? How did you cast: who are the onlookers?

All in all there were around 50 - 60 people involved in the whole process. Probably a bit more to be honest. My mum, Aunt, sister provided all the crew and cast with hearty vegetarian homemade food throughout the day. It was such a great vibe! The cast were made up of old friends and extras who were bought in to make up the numbers. A lot of the people used in the film had a personal connection to the ideas that were being explored and really believed in the necessity of the project, which really meant a lot, as you can imagine.

Where was it shot?

It was shot in an ex prop warehouse in shepherds bush that was being turned into property guardian accommodation.

How was it like getting access to the location?

It was actually surprisingly easy once wed decided to use it. We’d been looking for a location for ages and the right thing just wasn't coming up at an affordable price and I was starting to worry, But then a friend of mine that was helping me organise the crew and cast moved into this huge old warehouse as a property guardian and when I went to visit her it just all made sense and we asked them if we could shoot there.

We shot the main performance of the film in the basement. The whole building has been divided into rooms now so we got in just at the last minute.

Was it funded? if so, by who? If not, how did that work?

I was lucky enough to get Arts council funding for the film. It was the first time I’d gone for funding, and the first time i'd even thought about actually making a film, so it was a huge deal when I heard i'd been awarded the funding. It took me more than 6 months to write the application as i'm terrible with forms and paperwork and was determined to do it right.

I have also just been awarded the funding for the next 2 films in the chainmail series!!! I can't wait to put what I learnt in the first one into practice in the next 2.

How did you decide on the length of the piece? (it’s so amazing, and normally my attention span is like 3 seconds but this totally held both myself and zarina til the very last moment. We didnt realise 15 minutes had past)

Hahaah thanks that's such a nice thing to say, I'm glad you guys enjoyed it. Well I planned to make it a little over 5 minutes, but I think that was a bit of a random time as i'd never made a film before so didn't really have an idea on how that time translated to the feel of the piece, I just knew how I wanted it to feel and that was the priority. It had to be slow, to overdo the use of macho slomo walk ins and the drama of Hip Hop music videos. It had to draw from the voyeurism of documentaries that provides people with insight to how the ‘Other’ lives and most importantly, it had to take those and make them new, to make them beautiful and enjoyable, even though slightly melancholic and haunting.

favourite film?

So many it's impossible to say, at the moment im really enjoying the quality of storytelling from Korean films. Oldboy is my favourite obviously. I know it's cliche to say, but it's so damn good. It also resonates with a script I'm writing at the moment, so that might be why it gets a few extra points from me.

Other faves have to be, the Goonies, Hook (with Robin williams), the prestige, the fall, ghostdog, Pan's labrynth, The last of the Mohicans, White chicks, the place beyond the pines, O’brother where art thou … See Im already off on one, too many to list.

favourite artist?

Again, its hard to say, but Goya has to be up there with Egon Schiele and olafur eliasson. Thomas Heatherwick, Rubens, Jill Scott, Damien Hirst, Calatrava, Lynette yiadom-boakye, Nick Cave, Nina Simone, Dennis Bown, Phillipe Stark…

As Arty Farty as this may sound, I see ‘Art’ like Kungfu, its more an attitude than a single discipline, and is applied to pretty much any action a person might do. So on my artist list Id have to have Tony Benn, Dr Richard Stone, Mike Tyson, Nigel Benn, David Akinsanya, Kidane Cousland, Solomon Golding, Iyata Golding, Ishaman Golding and my mum.

Im also really digging what you two at the white pube are going on with, its super exciting and long overdue!

favourite artwork?

I love Cathedrals, absolutely magical.

Where are you from?

Born in london and Lived London, Wiltshire, Cambridge, and Ghana.

Mums white English/Scottish, Father is Ghanaian, Dad is Jamaican.

Where do you live, and how do you feel living there?

I live in brighton. I love it as im on the outskirts with cos and sheep all over the place.

How are creatives supported where you live? what’s the art scene like?

Ive lived in brighton for the last 3 years ish and I stay at home working most of the time so don't really know what's going on at all. Im completely out of the loop.

But I have just received funding from the artscouncil for the next 2 chainmail films and even though the artscouncil is nationwide, I was granted it from this district, so its not all bad. But outside of that, im not sure what funding is around.

How do you feel showing this video amongst others who do not have a degree in Fine Art?

I think it's an exciting step to see what everyone is doing outside of the artschool trends and how it may differ to the usual degree fest.

I can't help but feel like this show is an unopened container on the show storage hunters, I can't wait to get in and see what stories and talent we’ve locked away and thrown away the key on.

Do you think it is appropriate this film is shown in two institutions?

The institutions Nannycam is being shown at are awesome and I think it's a really strong start, but I think it is such an important concept that it needs to tour further and longer. Or maybe have its own set up like the White pubes answer to the Hayward Gallery's Infinite Mix show last year.