- Words Notion Staff
Multi-disciplinary artist Haus of Darkwah talks about fostering community through education, the inspiration they're finding in others and their new allyship campaign.
Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah is an artist-activist-content creator whose work defines the term ‘multi-disciplinary’. Jumping through mediums and always happy to fold in different audiences for their work, Darkwah is guided constantly by the unifying principle of fostering greater inclusion and bringing the education necessary to achieve that goal. They have worked as a fashion editor for Gay Times and contribute regularly to various community-led podcasts, spreading their message wherever there’s a receptive audience.
Their work is all held on the platform Haus of Darkwah, in which they maintain a journal updating their followers on their latest artistic musings and advice on inclusivity, and have created The Vault of Darkwah community where their followers can congregate and find solidarity with one another.
Darkwah’s work has taken another leap forward with their latest project: their appointment as Allyship Ambassador for beauty brand Sleek MakeUp as part of a five-month campaign bolstering the company’s inclusivity education and allyship programmes.
To celebrate this appointment and their continuing hard work, we sat with Darkwah to chat about inclusive communities, effective education and creative inspiration.
What drew you to the partnership with Sleek MakeUP?
I think I was drawn to partnering with Sleek Makeup in this way because it genuinely felt like a real partnership. Not something I was going to have my face and some words slapped over.
From the moment I started working with the brand – everything was collaborative. They asked me my opinion and took it on board. They communicated openly and freely with me and that spoke to the character of the business as a whole. Even thinking about the fact that as a brand, when they realised that women of colour were spending inordinate amounts of money on makeup due to pigment not showing up properly, thus needing to use more makeup – to have changed their formula to level the playing field as opposed to exploit women of colour, I knew this was somewhere I wanted to be.
I wanted to be somewhere that when changes were made, the people consuming product were taken into account and the changes were implemented with care.
That’s ultimately why I was drawn to this partnership and why I’m so happy we are doing this!
What opportunities do you see in leading the creative element of this ambassadorship?
There are so many opportunities that I see in leading the creative element of this ambassadorship.
There is the ability to further the discussion of and understanding of gender variant people and our existence.
So often the ways in which we (gender variant people) are seen and spoken about has to do with justifying our existence and reporting on the abuse and injustices we face. So little in the media shows us thriving, shining or simply having fun the way so many of our LGB and non-LGB siblings do. It feels almost as if we are some kind of tragic history display – a thing that’s dying out – and I want to actively combat this in the content we put out. We will show gender euphoria while coupling it with makeup looks that will wow and bring people together through the sheer creativity of it all! We will educate, entertain and inspire those who come into contact with this content so that they can go forward into the world and share their light and love too.
There’s the opportunity to make younger LGBTQ+ people feel a little more safe and understood while also helping them to understand themselves and their growth – simply by sharing my story and the stories of others who will be featured in different pieces of content within this partnership.
There’s the opportunity to create a safe space – even for a day – in different stores so that young Trans, Non-Binary and Gender Variant people can come in speak directly to the brand and myself and also get to know some tips and tricks for makeup so they can fully realise their vision for their physical representation.
I could go on forever, to be honest. I’m just happy because it’s an opportunity to give back to a community that has taught me so much about myself while also supporting those coming up and into the community now.
What did you learn from your experience working as Fashion Editor for Gay Times?
If I’m perfectly honest, I think the thing that I learned was that I wasn’t being myself.
I would pour my heart and soul into styling all these stories that actually came from my own experiences. I would dress the models the way I would have wanted to dress. I would cast models that I wished I looked like or wished I could be like. I learned that I was hiding behind creating for something else because I was afraid to step into myself.
That shove out the door actually meant I had nothing to hide from anymore. I had no other choice but to step into myself after having been there.
Why did it feel right to take such a freeform, multidisciplinary approach to your artistry?
It’s the only way I could work and live and be happy. There’s a thing that happens when you step into yourself fully and stop people-pleasing but rather are totally honest with yourself. You are no longer able to put yourself in a box. You are no longer restricted because you allow your energy to flow freely through everything you do.
I spent a lot of my time trying to be structured. Trying to fit in boxes, roles, that were supposed to be for me and it never worked. The more fluid I found I was in terms of my gender identity, the less rigidly I viewed anything else in my life.
It just happened that way.
What do the ideas of queer solidarity and community mean to you personally?
To me, both of these things just scream honesty, listening and work. When we hear these words – ‘queer solidarity and community’ - I think there’s something that goes off in our minds that says – stick it out no matter what, or, I’m here for you no matter what but what does ‘no matter what’ actually mean?
We can’t blindly love and follow those around us because they are like us. We have to be able to level with them. Be able to tell them when they are wrong and hear when we are too. We have to be able to hear the voices and plights of all in our community and take their experiences at face value and work towards making sure that we are all able to exist in the most authentic ways to ourselves while allowing others to do the same. It is doing the work – free of ego.
How has setting up Haus of Darkwah as a central platform for your work help change your career?
Honestly, it’s still a work in progress! I know what I want it to be and what it has the potential to be but it’s not there yet because I am pursuing so many things.
I do think it has helped my career, though. It’s helped because people get to know more about me. The way I think. The way I take everything as a 360 experience. It’s helped brands understand that while I may seem brand unsafe in some ways (what with all the body on show etc), there’s a reason for it and thus brings me right back around to not only being brand safe but brand beneficial.
I think, ultimately, it’s made me more accessible – now I just have to go back on there and get posting! Haha!
How have you found the experience of setting up the Vault of Darkwah community on your platform?
It’s been SO tricky! I am such an open book but at the same time am totally not – so I find it hard knowing what to share and more so – what I feel comfortable sharing.
I think I’m sitting on a month or so more of content that’s been created recently because I’m unsure of it.
I think I also find it hard because sharing from now seems a bit disingenuous. There’s so much of my journey that people witnessed but didn’t know about. So much that I felt and went through while also trying to build a brand in myself or build a career path that I want to share before I get to now…
I’m beginning to understand myself more in that way and beginning to feel more comfortable in opening up like that so I think I’m on my way to consistent content.
What difficulties have you found in educating others about the causes that matter to you?
I don’t think I’ve actually encountered any difficulties in educating others in causes that matter to me.
I’ve learned – especially in matters of educating – that the knowledge will be absorbed and processed only when the student really wants to. I say this with my chest because I am such a bad student when in the midst of a teacher but leave me to my own devices and I’ll get stuck into the subject matter.
I think that’s why I like creating content and just sharing it. It’s like dropping a little knowledge nugget and letting everyone pick it up when they get to that checkpoint. Due to the fact that we all see and experience life through so many different lenses, lived experiences, traumas, we can never be sure that we will learn at the same speed or in the same way – we just have to make sure that whatever happens there are the resources for those to learn when they get to where they need to be.
You can’t stress yourself about these things so I choose not to stress myself about it.
What’s been inspiring you in the activism world lately?
I couldn’t tell you even if you gave me topics to pick from. I also don’t know if I would be able to put it into words if I did. Activism, to me is about care. Caring for something so deeply that you are moved to speak about it and do whatever you can to champion or fight for that cause. I care so deeply about everyone having the ability to just exist as they wish so I think I’m inspired by the acts of bravery, activism and defiance that my trans, non-binary and gender variant siblings show in their choice to exist wholly as themselves.
Seeing them live makes me want to live more and fight so all other like us can live loudly, proudly, freely and unapologetically.
What are your future plans for Darkwah as your work continues?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I want to continue doing work that helps people, that sees people who have been underrepresented feel represented. I want to continue doing work that empowers people to be their best self and allow others to come into being their best selves too. Is that in politics, education, life coaching? I don’t know – all I know is, I want to be able to let people feel that they can breathe easier, sleep easier, feel more confident in themselves and really, truly love themselves.