From the Guts Gallery resisting art world elitism, to the filmmaking of Julianknxx which champions grassroots stories from Sierra Leone, some of 2021’s Dazed 100ers highlight how creativity will move the world forward
Future Proof: This year’s Dazed 100 celebrates the cross disciplinary risk-takers of a new generation who fearlessly define creativity going forward. Here, six from the list prove that, despite lockdowns, quarantines and culture-freezes, our world is always open to change.
ELLIE PENNICK, GUTS GALLERY
“I believe change comes from a place of anger,” says Ellie Pennick, reflecting on the elitism of the art world. “We need to provide safe spaces, collective shouldering and a general support system to uphold each other.” The artist and gallerist’s anger stems in part from being unable to afford a place on an MA course after being rejected for a bursary. Instead of accepting her fate, Pennick set up Guts Gallery, a platform supporting underrepresented voices in the arts. The gallery offers advice, exhibition spaces, studio visits and more to its roster of artists, helping first-time buyers to access the exclusionary world of art collecting.
Born into a working-class family in Yorkshire, Pennick’s love of art derives from days out to free museums, as well as its ability to give her a voice for her queerness. Her background influenced her desire to support those who “are often shunned by the art world”. With this in mind, says Pennick, it’s vital that Guts Gallery “represents activism” in the industry and “a desire to instigate a wider, larger, necessary shift”. Although the pandemic forced the art world to a grinding halt last year, Pennick says Guts Gallery has stayed reactive, curating online exhibitions and amplifying the voices of those it works with. “The momentum behind Guts – our ethos, our artists and what we’re trying to say – has accelerated. This was just another hurdle for us and the artists to overcome.”
“I think we’re really finding our identity as young Black women in this ‘hybrid-like culture’,” explains Enny, real name Enitan Adepitan. “I don’t think the world gets to see true or diverse representations of British Black girls, and I just hope my music can provide some perspective on the world that I’m from.” Nowhere is this aim clearer than in the rapper and singer’s razor-sharp track “Peng Black Girls” – a defiant celebration of all kinds of Black British women. Spitting affirmative lyrics over a captivating groove, the song shows off Enny’s astute ability to dissect the nuances of the communities around her. While most of the world came to a stop in 2020, Enny was busier than ever. In the space of a year, she dropped her first single, “He’s Not Into You”, signed with FAMM and shot to viral fame with the Jorja Smith-featuring remix of “Peng Black Girls”.
Raised in Thamesmead, south-east London, Enny remembers “listening to a lot of gospel, grime, and soul” and constantly making music on her dad’s computer, later finding inspiration in albums like Who Is Jill Scott? and Baduizm. As the youngest in her family, the 26-year-old says she grew up as “a sponge soaking up all their tunes”. When she went to university, though, music fell by the wayside. It wasn’t until two years after graduating from her film course at Canterbury that Enny picked it up again, finding her feet in Hackney-based collective Root 73 – an artist development platform, recording studio and record label. “It’s been nice to connect and meet artists and producers,” she reflects, “and it’s been a blessing to have a space to record. It’s like a home.” Although she’s released just four tracks so far, her laid-back beats and astute social commentary have cemented Enny’s status as one of the most exciting up-and-comers in UK rap.
SOMA SARA, EVERYONE’S INVITED
“To change a culture, we have to keep talking,” says 22-year-old Soma Sara, founder of Everyone’s Invited – a platform for survivors to share anonymous testimonies of their experiences of sexual harassment and violence. Credited with sparking a #MeToo movement in UK schools, Everyone’s Invited is already making tangible change. In March of this year, the government launched a helpline and review into sexual abuse in the education system after more than 15,000 people – many of them schoolgirls – shared stories of misogyny and sexual abuse. “The response has been extraordinary,” says Sara. “It’s moving and uplifting to see so many brave survivors (speak out).”
Sara launched Everyone’s Invited in June 2020, after conversations with friends exposed the pervasive normalisation of sexual harassment and violence. “As a young girl, I didn’t have the understanding, language or courage to challenge rape culture,” she explains. “At the time, it was just something that I thought everyone had to cope with.” Sara isn’t alone in thinking this way. For young women in the UK, upskirting, slut-shaming, revenge porn and catcalling are part and parcel of growing up – an insidious but ‘unavoidable’ problem. Though she welcomes the progress achieved so far by Everyone’s Invited, Sara is clear that there’s a long way to go to eradicate rape culture completely. “We want to encourage everyone to challenge this harmful culture in their daily lives with empathy, understanding and communication.”
JAMEELA ELFAKI, AZEEMA MAGAZINE
Launched as a print magazine in 2017, AZEEMA – an Arabic name meaning strength, firmness of will and determination – is a project dedicated to showcasing, celebrating and building a community of the women so often excluded from the mainstream western press. Now thriving as a multi-format platform, creative agency and, in creator Jameela Elfaki’s words, “beautiful community and family”, AZEEMA continues to break the mould with inspirational stories from the fringes – from the unheard voices of survivors of gender-based violence in Nigeria to the Middle Eastern showgirls of the Latin cabaret. Growing up in the Midlands, Elfaki found it hard to get her hands on indie magazines, and near impossible to find publications that reflected her identity as a Sudanese British woman.
“Seeing other women like myself and reading stories I can really relate to would have given me such happiness and joy,” the photographer and DJ reflects. “It would have made me feel more assured of my identity, knowing that other people like me exist.” Frustrated by the lack of representation – and the misrepresentation – of women and non-binary folk from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, Elfaki took matters into her own hands. “AZEEMA’s existence, especially here in Britain, is so important. We live in a culturally mixed society that can feel very divided. As a grassroots platform, we impact culture just by existing and resisting the status quo. Our platform is a positive power that is wide-reaching, inclusive and limitless.”
When he was nine years old, Julian Knox (AKA Julianknxx) and his family fled Sierra Leone amid the country’s decade-long civil war. After living in The Gambia for five years – where Knox learned that he could “find solace on the continent” – the poet and artist moved to London at the age of 15. “Finding a language for the feeling of not quite belonging is something I explore (in my poetry),” says Knox. Although he’d been writing from a young age, Knox never shared his work with anyone until he saw others writing and performing at university. It was this – and the films of Roy Andersson – that encouraged him to break out into the multidisciplinary space, creating work that brings together the written word, music and film. Weaving through all of it is Knox’s desire to write what he calls a “history from below”, telling history from the perspective of the marginalised to “regain our voices and reframe our positions”.
Case in point: Knox’s 2020 short film In Praise of Still Boys, in which the director reimagines his childhood and carves out a space for young Sierra Leoneans to write their own histories. The film is part of a larger body of Knox’s work which will be exhibited at 180 The Strand in September. In the meantime, Knox is simply focusing on his practice: “making good work, and telling stories from the ground up”.
ETHAN P FLYNN
At 18 years old, London-based musician Ethan P Flynn dropped out of the Guildhall School of Music after working with David Byrne – an achievement that made university feel “kind of pointless”. “I felt that if I didn’t have anything else to think about, it would be easier to do music full-time,” he says. “It wasn’t exactly stupid, but it wasn’t exactly cool, either.” Luckily for Flynn, it seems to have been the right decision. Since leaving uni, the Yorkshire-born multi-instrumentalist has collaborated with the likes of FKA twigs, slowthai, and Jockstrap, and signed to Young. Last year, he also released his first album, the amusingly titled B-Sides & Rarities: Vol 1, which contains a patchwork of ten tracks written between 2015 and 2018. It’s an experimental pop dreamscape that sounds like it’s been filtered through a fuzzy VHS tape, but the release only scratches the surface of the 22-year-old’s fast-growing body of work.
“I felt like those songs would be a good backdrop for what’s coming next,” Flynn explains. Since then, he’s continued to write prolifically, effectively creating an album a month – some of which draw on lockdown themes of “isolation, loneliness and death”, which the songwriter admits “is pretty cool but also pretty peak, considering”. Condensing his plethora of tracks, Flynn is focusing on finishing a new EP, as well as setting up a studio – as he says, taking “the well-trodden path”.
Explore the full 2021 Dazed 100 and cast your vote now – and stay tuned for the winners announcement.