ABF Step Change Fellow, Joshua Donkor

ABF Step Change Fellow Joshua Donkor asks what impact does our ancestry play on our sense of identity?

Ancestral Foundations

 What impact does our ancestry play on our sense of identity?

This project aims to explore the impact that African ancestry plays on our sense of identity, especially for those growing up in countries with a history of colonialism and prejudice. My aim is to question the effects that this has had on many of us who have grown up in the UK and America with African families or mixed backgrounds. How does this mix of vastly different cultures and perspectives influence our lives and sense of identity?

Equally many have never had the fortune of being able to trace their ancestral roots due to the impact of Colonialism and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

This has led to generations of people across the Western world with lost African ancestry and yet who are still subject to the same systematic issues of prejudice and injustice that impacted the lives of their past generations dating back to those who were taken from their homelands and enslaved.

How does the impact of this lost connection effect their lives and sense of identity, and how does this compare with those who have been fortunate enough to maintain those connections?

By interviewing a range of people across the UK and the US I hope to start open conversations about these topics. These interviews will be recorded and I will also work on a selection of portraits of each individual based off the conversations. For each person I speak to as a part of this project I will create two pieces of work as a means of gaining a truer reflection of each individual and the background that has influenced their lives. This will play on W.E.B Du Bois’ concept of “Double Consciousness” a reflection of the internal conflict experienced by subordinated or colonized groups in an oppressive society. I will incorporate a layering technique into the work with the use of photo transfers as a means of creating deeply personal portraits which capture and visualise significant moments in each person’s lives which have influenced their sense of identity.

These will be used as a means of visual storytelling to compliment the audio recordings and also go beyond them and offer visual clues into the lives and experiences of each individual.

By September 2021 it is my aim to have completed a series of interviews and portraits of between 10-15 people. With the consent of the participants and the lifting of current restrictions this work will then be displayed in an open exhibition in which the portraits will be grouped together with individual audio recordings linking to each series of portraits. I hope to also create an online variant of this exhibition which can also offer an open platform to allow people to share their own experiences and engage with the topic and questions posed in the project.

My hope is that this work can be important and relatable for everyone regardless of their backgrounds. It will also serve as a means to highlight the complexities that exist within concept of “black identity” which is often over simplified and paint an accurate picture of the range of different African cultures that many have grown up with In the UK.  I think being able to share stories, experiences and cultures is an incredibly powerful tool, bringing people together and raising awareness of the systematic issues present in our society.

Joshua Donkor, ABF Step Change Fellow


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