Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah is a non-binary, multi-disciplinary artist, content creator & presenter for BET UK. The core aims of Darkwah's work are to educate, entertain and inform and in doing so provoke conversation on the issues they touch on in their work.
Focusing on the Black experience, the Black queer experience and constantly pushing for increased visibility of Black queer talent, voices and insights, Darkwah is dedicated to ensuring they and those they work with can be the people that they themselves needed when they were younger.
Darkwah has also worked with Gay Times where they were Fashion Editor, as well as FGUK, Noctis Magazine, The Perfect and has been featured in Hunger Magazine, AZ Magazine & Attitude.
What is your first recollection of a queer person?
Actually, they weren’t a person. It was Scar from The Lion King. There was just something about Scar that made me feel like I knew this person. The way he moved, the way he rolled his eyes and his shoulder, the luxuriating of his movement. It was the first time I saw someone different, that I identified with and didn’t feel too different.
What does Pride mean to you?
What does Pride mean to me? If I’m honest I don’t know. Every year it changes. With every year that I know myself more, it’s less about being out and celebrating, and more about making sure that I am living in a way that I would be proud of.
I am fine to be seen at the celebrations and protests and to be vocal on social media but I want to make sure that’s 100% in my DNA and in everything I do. Pride to me means being able to see where I came from, being proud of knowing where I have to go and being ready to do the work to take people along with me. Because that’s the thing; everything to me now is not about me, it’s about me and my community. Pride is community to me. Taking pride, taking care, taking refuge, uplifting the community and those who need uplifting, putting myself aside and seeing it from a community perspective.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that the LGBTQ+ community still faces?
I am going to be very candid - the biggest challenge externally is the cis white male issue and the trans exclusionary radical feminists. Those are the two biggest threats from outside the community because they feed into legislation, etc.
From within our community our biggest threat is complacency. I am not saying to beat yourself up every single day from every depressing story that has ever existed in the community, but just because things are better than they were, it doesn’t mean they’re the best they can be. We are not all free until the most marginalised of us is free. If they can’t breathe, we are actively helping to suffocate them if we’re not doing something to work against it. The biggest threat within the community is people not actually knowing the community.
Explore every part of the queer community and then you’re exploring yourself too. It’s when you come into yourself and think “Oh, I’ve hit the jackpot, I’m gay so this is who I am going to be” and then you root yourself in something and you stop wanting to learn because you think that because you’ve discovered this part of yourself you’ve discovered everything. Complacency halts learning. The learning stopping means the conversations are stopping and that means eventually people are going to be fine with gender non-conforming people not having the same rights because we’re fine. Our biggest threat really is complacency, because if less of us are doing the work, it’s harder to face the external threats.
How useful is it for brands, businesses and organisations to engage with LGBTQ+ creators and activists, as Begg x Co and QUEERCIRCLE are doing?
I think brands engaging with LGBTQ+ creators is meaningful in itself. If you want to do something significant, when you engage with that LGBTQ+ creator, ask them to pick a charity and match what you’re paying them and donate to that charity. Because yes, you can smack all of us on a campaign here, there and everywhere and representation is nice and it makes people feel safe, but representation in the face of queer venues closing and more people identifying as gender variant but not having anywhere to go or people to speak to because we don’t have enough volunteers in organisations like Switchboard - that is not right. If you want to prop us up, really give us the resources to prop ourselves up. You can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day but if you teach a man to fish…
How do you see your artistic path so far and what is the importance of occupying spaces as a queer creator?
I gave up the idea of having a path once I gave up the idea of adhering to the gender binary. Every aspect of my life opened up. I can dress anyway I want because gender is a construct, I can be in any space I want, I can speak to whomever I want – should they choose speak back to me, that’s their thing. I have freed myself of that, so I am going to liberate myself in every other way. Since then, if I feel like I want to reach out to someone I want to work with, I do it. If I get a no, at least I have done it and I’m on their radar. The idea of a path is archaic and pointless to me now.
I exist in the moments in which I exist and feel whatever I feel, should I choose to put them out in a creative way either for myself or to aide anybody else, I do that. How it is received is how it is received. I am putting it out there because I want to have a conversation with people and even if I’m not having an in-person conversation with them, that conversation is still happening because they’re seeing it and talking to someone else. And that’s that.
What’s the role and importance of House of Darkwah as a platform for you? And what have been the biggest accomplishments and challenges of fostering that community?
First of all, House of Darkwah is not a house in the traditional sense of queer houses. I got called that by an editor I was on trip with. He said “we are all children in the House of Darkwah” and right there I gave him my phone to change my Instagram handle. But I think it’s taken on an interesting meaning: I do build and navigate my friendship group like it’s a house. There’s no mother but we’re like mycelium, we’re everywhere.
It's been really interesting. The more I have learnt about myself, the more people around me have felt comfortable to discover more about themselves. The community that I have, which is all my best friends and crazy creatives I work with, is just so easy. Sometimes we will all get together at mine and literally don’t say a word for half an hour. Just because we’re so comfortable with each other. Because of this curiosity that I have, I also attract curious people. Walking down the street looking like I do, attracts curiosity. We are curious about other people – if there’s a new person we will welcome you with a dinner, we’ll sit down and get to know you.
Growing that community has been incredible. Trying to take that community online into a website space has been trickier, I’m still learning how to do it. I love sharing and on Instagram it feels so intuitive, whereas on a website it almost feels like I have to follow a format. I haven’t broken free of the binary in that sense – but once I do it’s going to be on and popping!
What artistic expressions are you currently exploring or which ones bring more joy?
Singing. Around this time of year (Pride month), my existence and the work that I create naturally – which is talking about my existence and the existence and advocacy of transgender, non-conforming, nonbinary, gender variant people – becomes so intensely commodified that it doesn’t feel fun anymore and I have been feeling really stuck. I am a grade classically trained opera singer and so I wake up in the morning and just sing through the day.
What’s your favourite opera?
I don’t have a favourite, but my go-to is Faure’s Requiem, Libera Me. I learnt it when I was 14 and in secondary school, feeling like I wanted to run away all the time. So much so, that I unlocked this trauma this morning: I wear shoes in the house all the time because I was always ready to go. I guess house slippers will be a thing now!
Whenever I was singing Libera Me, I felt like I was saying ‘liberate me’, that’s what it means. So now, when I sing it, I think I am reminding myself of that time but also the crescendo and it’s glorious finish – at the day of judgment. And, you know, every time I didn’t run, I faced my judgement and now I feel empowered whereas before I was crying to the heavens to free me.
What’s next for Darkwah?
You can find all my coming up projects on my Instagram. But to everyone who is reading this, whatever we’re doing right now, even though we are doing the most we can do, it is not enough. We need to be louder, we need to be prouder, we need to be bolder, we need to be stronger with our advocacy. We need to actively go into our circles – the parts of the circles where you know your aunt voted Republican last year – and have a conversation about not what she’s doing being wrong but make it personal. The attacks on our community are personal, regardless of whether these people perceive them as personal. It is due to the fact that we exist in a way that they don’t understand. But they exist in ways that we don’t understand and we’re fine with them. So make it personal: them voting like this actively means that my child or your grandchild should they be queer cannot do this, cannot even speak about who they are, imagine not being able to speak about who you are. Make it personal, drive the point home. You don’t have to do it all the time but one or two times is enough to get under someone’s skin. Get under people’s skins. We have been doing it in the protest way, let’s get into some guerrilla tactics.
Begg x Co + QUEERCIRCLE Supporting Pride
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UK’s first Pride march, Begg x Co has once again teamed up with LGBTQ+ organisation QUEERCIRCLE, this time on a capsule collection of lightweight summer scarves. Proceeds from this unique partnership will support the organisation’s ambitious LGBTQ+ arts, culture and social action programmes.