News and Views

Amanda Holiday talks art, story-telling and what ties us

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Artist Amanda Holiday has come a long way, since the voyage that brought her from Sierra Leone aged five, to the Liverpool Docks and a childhood in the North of England. Early adulthood began at the progressive Jacob Kramer College, where she hung out with Damien Hirst; this contrasted with the more conservative Wimbledon School of Art, where she recalls being one of only two black students in Fine Art. With classmate Mowbray Odonkor, she co-founded a Black art students’ group; the first get together was in south London where around forty BME artists and students including Keith Piper and Donald Rodney packed into her house. The discussions were lively to say the least. ‘It was a blossoming time for us’, she says, ‘We were hungry for it’.

Holiday went on to exhibit in such landmark shows as The Image Employed at Manchester’s Corner House which included the work of Chila Burman and Claudette Johnson. During this intense political phase, she ruffled feathers.  Her drawing showing the demise of Margaret Thatcher subtitled ‘The death of monetarism’ caused a stir at the time, though Holiday insists she had not drawn it to shock: ‘My interest in politics is broad’, she says, ‘my art isn’t necessarily symbolic’. The work is part of her extensive ‘Hum of History’ project begun in the late 80’s and on-going. The ‘hum’ she says is from the Buddhist ‘kyo’ or vibration, the thread that links us together as human beings; but we are questioning in nature, she adds, delighted at the different perceptions her art invites.

A daughter of a senior official from Sierra Leone and author Jane Holiday, she showed early promise as a writer, but chose to pursue art. She suggests this was due to subtle prejudices at the school she attended. ‘I was top in both English and Art. But I was the only Black girl at school, so I guess they couldn’t exactly give me the English prize. I got Art instead and this had an impact on me’. Nevertheless when Holiday married and settled in Cape Town in 2001, she returned to writing and ‘story telling’, producing several successful documentaries and screen plays. When the marriage ended, Holiday started drawing again, and discovered a poetic element to her work. ‘Poetry influenced me a lot. I recognised that the poets were getting there a lot quicker than us [artists]; poetry grasps truths in our existence in the way that art struggles with, so we sometimes need a whole series of artwork to articulate something’; hence the Hum of History series.

Now back in London with her daughter, Holiday continues to tell stories. Her interest in combining poetry with politics has led tangentially into the realm of fairy tales, and exploring Black Women’s identity within them; her Black Rapunzel and Red Riding Hood are examples of this. Other works, which are not overtly political, such as ‘Fingerbowl’ and ‘Manplate’, still manage to provoke intense responses. Whether considered literal or metaphorical, all Holiday’s artworks are infused by a sense of colour that is unmistakably African while the storied depictions of disparate strands of her life unearth more delights. Holiday’s journey is far from over.

Amanda Holiday’s work is currently on show at at the Mango Rooms and Mango Shack restaurants in London and at

by Natasha Chari

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