Kay Rufai | Bringing art into spaces and to people that have been excluded from it
Welcome to this week’s episode of OpenFrame! Today’s guest is a special blend of Nigerian/British/American creative goodness - Kay Adekunle Rufai.
It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing that Kay does. He is an artist, a photographer, a poet, a writer, a filmmaker, and a mental health researcher. Kay is also the first artist in residence with the West Midlands police in the UK, a challenge that gives him the opportunity to change perceptions, shape minds and build bridges between the police and marginalised communities.
There’s so much to enjoy and mull over in this episode with Kay Rufai, here are some of our favorite highlights:
- As a creative, you don’t need to identify with one single label. Why should you be “a photographer” OR “a writer” OR “a mental health researcher”? When you can be “a photographer” AND “a writer” AND “a mental health researcher” and a lot of other things.
- It’s important to define yourself, rather than allow others to define you. As a Black man, a black artist, Kay Rufai talks about how he experiences a lot of labelling. People want him to be a certain way. He counters this by defining himself and breaking the labels that clients, brands and the industry wants him to carry.
- Kay Rufai’s S.M.I.L.E-ing Boys Project shows Black boys as young, childish, fun, cheeky and just human - not as society often portrays them: dangerous, aggressive and criminals. He also wants to shift how Black boys see themselves, empower them to break the mould handed to them, and improve their mental well-being through honest conversations.
- Sometimes when you don't have access to art, you have to create your own pathway to it. According to Kay, art spaces never reflected people who looked like him. Art was never put up in those galleries, by people who looked like him. Art should be accessible to everyone.
- Don’t wait for permission or a seat at the table. If you wait for recognition or validation from others, be it institutions, gatekeepers or peers, you won’t find joy in what you do. You already have permission.
- Is your work aligned with your purpose? Kay’s bigger mission is to create a world of equity and fairness. He constantly asks himself how a particular thing that he’s working on aligns with that bigger mission.
- Everyone inherently has a purpose on this planet. Some of us would not know what that is because we don’t do the work on ourselves to unearth it. We would choose security, over the desire to find out what that purpose is.
Today’s conversation was packed with wisdom and inspiration! Have you ever thought about how accessible art is? Was that something you were exposed to easily when you were younger? Or did you have to seek it out yourself?
We love the nudge this interview gave us into considering how accessible our work can be to others, what we call ‘art’and who is ‘allowed’ to make it.
This conversation is also available on Youtube. Don’t forget to subscribe to Open Frame on your favorite streaming platform (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, etc) and share this episode with a friend who’d find it interesting or inspiring.
Thank you to our lovely podcast host, Nadia Meli.