CURATOR’S CORNER WITH KHALID WILDMAN

THE LONDON-BASED CREATIVE TALKS BEAUTY, BLACK INVISIBILITY IN ART AND HIS VISION FOR JANUARY TAMARIND.

khalid wildman miilkiina

Very few people alive today, if any, inspire me the way Khalid Wildman does. No singular title is sufficient to capture the breadth or depth of his artistic vision and creative expression, perhaps because his work and life transcend titular traditions and thus subsequently exist in their own unique space, a space of his own making or, more accurately, the space around us.

Whether in his refined taste in fashion, film, or furniture, literally everything Khalid touches is gold. After a fortuitous meeting in London two summers ago and subsequently gaining more insight into the fullness of his artistic practice, it has since become clear that his unfailing and unflinching Midas touch is no coincidence at all as he himself has a heart of gold.

In many ways, personally and professionally, I’ve also since become a beneficiary of Khalid’s perspective and perceptiveness. Over time, many conversations with Khalid amongst sacred places and people have expanded the extent of creativity, fanned the flames of community, and sown the seeds for collaboration that will undoubtedly bear fruit in due season.

At the moment, even as our respective artistic and curatorial practices further coalesce, Khalid is now embarking on the next chapter in an already exciting journey with January Tamarind; a Black-owned concept space and gallery for collectible objects and design from around the world with a focus on work, both timely and timeless, from across the African Diaspora.

“I wanted space to be able to share the stories of art and design and [a] layer of context where sometimes I felt it was missing, even if only works of friends and other artist[s] I admired or felt fond of and change the limited amount of Black-owned art spaces,” he says.

In speaking with several other pioneering creative professionals based in London, the resounding feedback is that such spaces, where the vastness and variedness of Blackness—particularly with regard to art, culture and design—can be explored and expressed authentically are unfortunately nearly nonexistent.

“Accessibility and funding are ever-present challenges,” says Elvira Vedelago, Co-Founder of POSTSCRIPT, a cultural anthology exploring the multiplicity of contemporary women. “Often, art spaces are not accessible to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) audiences, and creating your own more accessible space within the industry requires funding that can be difficult to maintain,” she says.

Read on to get to know more about Khalid, his work, and how conversation shapes his conception of art, beauty and humanity.

What is the origin and significance of the name January Tamarind?

The name January Tamarind doesn’t have any particular meaning. It was a name that felt good when I said it in my head, so it was more my attraction to the feeling, and it’s from that I guess it represented a value for things I liked to see and subsequently share. Basically, it sounded good.

Your work largely involves curating and collecting. At what point for you did this become an artistic practice, and what led you to this form of creative expression?

For me, it’s just about ideas, be it when I’m working with objects, images, or writing. Regardless of the medium, I feel the thought process is the same for me. I guess it has become an artistic practice, but I don’t know if I felt it did or consciously intended it to, it’s more just a part of my life, it’s kind of who I am, how I think and share.

And what role, if any, did your upbringing play?

I grew up in a home that nurtured conversation. If someone found something interesting, we’d bring back and share. Maybe over the next couple of days, we’d probably still be speaking about it. I think that made me very opinionated, but more than anything, quite discerning on what things meant to me. Other than that, I guess I started to value the approach falling into numerous creative projects in London, be it styling or creative direction, which gave me an excuse to utilise the things I do day-to-day and thoughts in my head.

In the midst of a global pandemic and all of the restrictions it has brought with it, where do you find inspiration, and how do you nurture your creative spirit?

Undoubtedly these times come with restrictions, but I feel that some have always been there in other forms, and at the same time, it also comes with so many opportunities, even if it means deeper understanding of ourselves.

Are there any activities in particular that lead to this deeper understanding?

There’s been a lot of conversations, walks, long chats with friends, and I feel they always lead to something. For example, though it was started before the pandemic, January Tamarind came from just sharing during a time of uncertainty. I have the privilege to feel that my freedom has been fractured, not lost, for the simple fact I don’t have to fear the present. I can still dream and I think it’s important we keep our minds on the world we want to see.

And is there a specific reason why the concept space and gallery is part of this world you want to see?

I’ve always felt that there were [a] limited amount of Black-owned art spaces. Often a lot of historically significant works or cultural assets would be in institutions minus Black people, sometimes not even as viewers and I wanted to aid the disintegration of that, I also felt certain assets were overlooked.

You recently designed the studio for artist and designer Nadine Mosallam. How did you approach this project and what challenges did you have to overcome in the process of bringing it to life?

I felt zero challenges. It was fun. We both share a love of sculptural things. She has been on the journey of me selecting particular pieces, so it felt and was more like a partnership.

What role does your identity and heritage play in your artistic practice and creative expression?

Everything and nothing, as it’s constantly changing depending on my head space. It’s like seasoning a meal; when the focus is on flavour, seasoning is everything, when the focus is on nutrition, the raw taste of the ingredients is where the enjoyment is. We’re always changing, and our thoughts are being cultured as we move, and our identity changes with it, or at least that’s how I feel. It’s like, with objects, the conversation and my intention was to have space where there’s focus on works from the African diaspora, Black artists and creatives but that conversation for me is interconnected to an overarching concept about beautiful things from humans from wherever.

And how would you define beauty?

I feel that beauty isn’t a destination and more of a conversation, so it’s more of a conversation about beautiful works and things I believe in.

But back to identity, do you feel your work is uniquely connected to it?

I do feel very connected to my heritage being Black, being Jamaican (British-born), growing up in Brixton (London). It plays a huge part in work and the stories I tell, but I also feel sometimes, my culture and identity is about just being human. Some days I feel we get so caught up in the physical, then I remember to just breathe and with that remember my spirit, my connection to all things and it allows me to zoom out a bit and just by the thought, I remember all things are reflections of ourselves.

We’re currently seeing a brighter spotlight being cast on Black artists and creative professionals, but oftentimes it feels a bit tokenistic. How can brands (and brand managers) be more authentic and intentional about this effort?

I don’t know – sometimes the most radical thought is understanding. I feel the more I understand about my own humanity, the more I understand others. I guess we should put the concept of understanding before the concept of love. I feel that love can often be an ideal of what something means for us, but understanding is more of a journey and we don’t need to fixate on understanding everything all at once. Sometimes our learning stops at our illusion of love. Someone would be like ‘I love Black music’, ‘I love Asian food’ and that love would be the shrinkage of a person’s reality if the understanding doesn’t exist.

What does representation in the creative industry look like to you?

Molasses Gallery. Home by Ronan Mckenzie. On Road Research.

Why are spaces like January Tamarind important?

I guess conversations and the diversity of thought. I feel spaces like January Tamarind are necessary as it’s just another conversation, I/we as a people, humans, should feel the desire to create more spaces, more conversations that way, our voices don’t need be confined to to corners of our minds or particular areas but just float in the essence of what it means to be human and connected.

And are there any particular voices your space will help uplift?

When it came to me wanting to develop a space it’s because I wanted a space where maybe my little cousin could see and maybe see works that maybe reflected something closer to home even if that’s a home they’ve yet to know. The universe is a big place and often, we don’t get to see all the tables available before we decide where we want to sit. I felt that was a conversation worth having.

We accept that the problem of Black invisibility in art is not germane to London and is sadly reflective of so many other sites of cultural production the world over, but we reject the notion that this must continue to be the norm.

“In a world that often works to invalidate the experiences of Black people, accessing space that captures the dynamic nature of Black art is a reminder that not only do these stories, voices and perspectives exist, they matter and they are nuanced and significant,” says Vedelago. 

Even in this time of indescribable need, we hope that you will consider making a contribution towards January Tamarind and support a vision for a space that will, in turn, make space for Black voices and lives to thrive.