Kudi’s Mamba Mentality
Committed to placing Black British culture at the forefront of the art world, Aaron Kudi’s talent and authenticity have cemented his place as one of the British art scene’s most exciting new names. From working with Louis Vuitton for their 200th birthday, to his recent appearance on the illustrious Dazed 100 list, Kudi (his mononym alias) is the epitome of Black British excellence, pushing every possible boundary whilst refusing to be pigeonholed.
This month, he unveils his latest masterpiece in collaboration with Browns East. Named Mamba Mentality (after the phrase coined by the late Kobe Bryant), it focuses on trusting the process of your mindset in pursuit of your highest potential in life. Featuring a marble CCTV camera sculpture and video monitors that survey the experience of the Black British working class, the installation exudes the true spirit of Black awareness and community.
To commemorate this groundbreaking new work, journalist and writer Shakeena Johnson sat down with Kudi to learn more.
SJ: You describe Mamba Mentality as “showing the racial breadth and variety of working class communities, as well as the interpersonal relations and stereotypes associated with them.” Tell us more about what this means to you.
AK: It’s about showing the different racial dynamics within the working class community. There’s racial tension in the UK right, that is very obvious, but we've all got the same oppressor, and the same oppressor has caused conflict between us. I’m trying to show people that when I talk about working class communities, I'm talking about the collective; the set of people that are subjugated to a class. Those people need to have a great standard of living; those people deserve to have access to opportunities; they deserve to have the right funding and for their children to go to the right schools.
The reason I called it Mamba Mentality is because, when you’re Black and working class, you're in a state of ‘mamba mentality’ every day of your life. We as Black people have been told since we were kids that we have to work twice as hard to make a status quo that was made by white males - that is the “Mamba Mentality”. Kobe coined the term for sports but it extends beyond that. It's a full working class experience and mentality.
If you wake up at 5am every day and go lay bricks to build these shit new gentrified buildings so you can send money back to your relatives? That’s mamba mentality. If you're a mother from Sudan and you’ve got four kids and you're still trying to do your degree whilst making sure your kids go to school and have the best education, that’s mamba mentality. It's not just a state of sporting excellence, it is actually a state of genuine survival.
SJ: The Black British Experience is something that radiates throughout your work. How important is it to you to create art which appeals and exhibits such a diverse culture?
AK: It’s very important to me because my brand is Black Britishness. I’m not here to tell the experience of a Black German or a Black American, I’m here to show people what it's like being Black, British and working class. My end goal is to help people connect the dots of where our experiences meet. Whether or not we are similar, how do we connect? For me, it's been a history lesson because I've learned things that even I didn’t know.
SJ: Tell us more about the techniques and materials you use to make your work, and what led you to using these processes?
AK: I’m always questioning why we value marble more, when concrete is the foundation of society. Similar to why we adore the rich and protect them, when our own communities are what matter. The lines between class structures and their associated materials are what lead me to use them in my work.
What I’m trying to show is the tug between the two; how society has built stereotypes and social understandings through material and industrial association. I don’t like the way society has labelled marble and put it on a pedestal for the “upper class” and “higher dynamic”, and that’s why I use the materials the way I do.
SJ: Do you feel a sense of responsibility as a Black British artist to teach and raise awareness on social issues?
AK: Personally, I think it’s our duty when we make money to give back in some form, whether it's to build playgrounds for the youth or new areas for the community. In the UK, British culture is individualist at the core. We don’t move as a community - you can look at our voting pattern since the post-war 60s; you can look at any social dynamic theory that's been done in the UK. I feel like we have to strive as this generation to have these discussions.
My prayer is that through this conversation, other people realise that they need to have the same conversation and slowly and surely, similarities will start to build. Oppression should not be the hammer that binds us. We shouldn't be in a community because of oppression, oppression shouldn’t have forced us to be a community. We should be one because we've got each other's back and that’s where the responsibility for paying it forward and teaching comes in.
Kudi’s work will be on view at Browns East from 14th October 2021 - 11th November 2021.
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Words by Shakeena Johnson
Images by Rashidi Noah
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