Ekow Eshun: ‘Growing up, I wanted to be Spider-Man’ | Life and style

My earliest memory see the ocean for the first time. I was in a three-year-old car driving along the Atlantic coast in Ghana. I was so struck by the light on the water and the incessant waves. It was like seeing another world. Before that I only knew land.

My parents set a good example. They came to Great Britain from Ghana in the early 1960s. They didn’t tell us to work twice as hard, they modeled it. My father did an MBA as an adult. My mother was a nurse and also graduated. It was about expanding their opportunities, navigating a world that was directed against people of color. Their ability to adapt, survive and thrive was inspiring.

Superheroes were my refuge for youth. Britain in the 1970s and 1980s was a bizarre and racist place. I read Marvel comics and watched science fiction movies as a way to think beyond the mundane.

I did a bungee jump at a Tribal Gathering rave in the 1990s – I decided it would be a good idea to jump off a crane above the crowd. It was like a living nightmare and it lasted a surprisingly long time. Stepping into the void is a feeling I’ve never forgotten.

Keep moving’, that Soul II Soul song, is my guiding principle. As a black person, people are always trying to corner you, lock you up or restrict you. Keep creating, imagining and moving forward. Otherwise they’ll hold you, and you can’t have that.

Representation is improve in the arts, but people of color remain in the minority. There’s a game I’m playing with some friends at the Venice Biennale. We compare who we are seen as. I am mistaken for pretty much every other black person in the art world. The most egregious was Mark Bradford, a great performer from California who is 6 feet tall and skinny.

Don’t chase money chasing happiness. Happiness is about love, human connection and ordinary intimacy.

When I was growing up I wanted to be Spider-Man, a nuclear physicist or a writer. I had no superpowers and was bad at science, but one in three is not bad.

Parenting taught me that I know nothing. My kids are 12 and 15 and they think I’m some kind of walking idiot.

A stolen pamphlet changed my life. In my teens I found a publication on British cinema in Brent’s town hall library. Inside was an essay by Stuart Hall, the cultural theorist, on black Britishness. It was the first time I had read anyone’s experience and it amazed me. I ended up stealing it. It turned out to be published by the ICA – and I became director of the ICA many years later – partly because this publication opened my life.

My worst habit is work. I’ve got rid of all my other vices – I’m quite reserved. I’ve given up drinking. I am a vegetarian. I don’t do caffeine. I’m actually a super nice guy.

Style, not fashion, is the key. To quote Eric B & Rakim, “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you are.” It’s about defining yourself on your own terms, how you carry yourself, what puts you in a certain scenario.

Love Island is a clouds over our summers. My wife Jenny’s affection for that show is the only barrier in our relationship. Otherwise she’s great.

Ekow Eshun curates In the Black Fantastic at the Hayward Gallery, June 29 to September 18, and a parallel program of screenings at BFI Southbank

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