Portraiture

Black Suffolk

Photographer John Ferguson’s portrait series expressing what ‘home’ means to the African-Caribbean community in Suffolk, England.

This new collection of portraits by John Ferguson explores the concept of home for a diversity of people in the African-Caribbean community in Suffolk. This theme creatively expresses people’s experience and interpretation of what exactly is ‘home’. Home can be a feeling, a physical space or a geographical place. Home can be a memory, metaphor or experience. The idea is to connect with the notion that our lives are inextricably attached to where we live, our homes, and Suffolk.

Because of the interest shown in John’s concept and project, he intends to expand this collection to include many others who expressed an interest in being part of the project.

John said: “I’ve met some wonderful people during the making of this project, and would now really like to expand the theme, to include more individuals who have a story to tell about their time in Suffolk and what it means to them as home.”

This is a watershed art project for the region, and one which aims to galvanise pride within the Black community and demonstrate that the narratives and stereotypes are not the reality. Black Suffolk is an educational piece as well as a blueprint for other Black communities, who want to increase representation and have their voices heard.

Black Suffolk is part of the Aspire Black Suffolk cultural programme, which is the community arm of Power of Stories – a pioneering exhibition at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, which exclusively features three original costumes from Marvel’s Black Panther film alongside community-driven stories.

The issues of anti-racism, social justice and underrepresentation have driven all of Aspire Black Suffolk’s work. This is progressive work in a more rural part of the country, and importantly helps to tell stories of the Black British community outside of the frequently seen settings such as London. The Black experience is diverse and multi-faceted – John’s photography clearly illustrates this.

Brian Powlett, chef and educator from Ipswich in Suffolk.

“I put myself out there, and I do my best to be a positive role model.”

I trained as a chef at Suffolk college, where I’d return in later life as an instructor in culinary arts and cuisine. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel the world for my career and for pleasure. However, it always brings me joy when returning to Suffolk – this is where I call home. This is where my family call home. Even though my parents were born in Barbados, they met here in Ipswich as teenagers, and they also call this town home.

These days I work as a cover supervisor, visiting many schools around the region teaching cookery. However, I’m also a student at the University of Suffolk in Ipswich where I study for a degree in Nutrition and Human Health. I am proud of my achievements, and I am always keen to represent my culture. As a black man working in education, we can be sometimes underrepresented here in Suffolk, so I put myself out there, and I do my best to be a positive role model.

I keep myself very busy but having a base in Ipswich always keeps me grounded. The global community keeps things interesting and exciting. I love living in Suffolk where I am never too far away from the beach or the countryside, much like the island of Barbados…. although may be a little less sunny here.

A’naih Marie Soanes, 9, Okoye fan (Black Panther movie)

“I prefer warriors to princesses.”

A’naih loves exploring Black history and other aspects of her Caribbean, Latin and English heritage within the supportive home environment. After being bullied for her skin colour in the past, her mum encourages her to love her “beautiful culture”. Black Panther is one of A’naih’s favourite Marvel films, and she has a particular love of the character of Okoye, head of Wakandan armed forces and intel. Although only 9, she leads a Black book club at her primary school.

Angelle Joseph, 28, musician, performer and BBC Suffolk radio presenter

“No distractions and negativity, just good vibes.”

Music has always been a significant part of Angelle’s life, providing soundtracks to her ups, downs and in-betweens. The studio is where Angelle finds solace, without distractions and negativity – this is her soul food. She admires the sisterhood among many “incredible” Black women in Suffolk, and aims to improve positive representation and erase stereotypes through sharing stories with equity, and exploring their differences and similarities.

Kanika Carr, 30, professional dancer and dance teacher

“I hope to celebrate the uniqueness and beauty in everyone”

As soon as Kanika learned to walk, she would dance. As a young girl she repeatedly watched ballet videos, copying the movements, and dreamt of dancing on pointe and in a tutu. It is the expression and artistry of classical ballet, that inspires and moves her. Kanika “feels blessed” that she grew up in Suffolk; it will always be home, no matter where she is. She remembers the freedom of her childhood, and the support she received from the community for her career. Kanika wants her teaching and dancing to bring the joy of ballet to others, while celebrating their uniqueness and beauty.

Barrington Mason, 68, retired

“I want people to live in harmony and peace.”

Born in Jamaica, Barrington grew up in Willesden, and went on to work for London Underground and as a professional dancer. Since moving to the East of England in the 1980s, Barrington has not experienced racism but still hopes that others see the person in him. ‘Home’ to him means stability, family and security. His time is spent on his hobbies including going dancing with daughter, Rosy – also a professional dancer, playing tennis, watching Nigerian films, listening to music, and rescuing people from danger when playing Zelda on Nintendo Switch.

Carnell Cook, 38, musician, teacher and mentor

“I want to be a good father to my son.”

Sneakers are a passion for Carnell, but his main ambitions lie mainly in his personal life. Aspiring to be a good father to his son, Carnell is providing that crucial relationship which he lacked growing up. Proud of his sneaker collection, Carnell uses them as a form of self-expression. As a Black man in Suffolk, he celebrates his culture and history, while passing on his experience and knowledge to young Black people to not only support his community, but also to dismantle stereotypes of Black men.

Zelly Lisanework, writer, poet, performer and human rights advocate.

“I am proud to be a Neuroqueer Black woman from Ethiopia who lives in Suffolk”.

As an adopted person with duel British and Ethiopian heritage; home for me is defined by the ways I relate to different places and people who have helped shape my life experiences. Suffolk is one of my homes, as is Ethiopia. London and Scotland are also places I consider as home. But Suffolk has been in my heart since I was a 2 year old. My parents took me on holidays to Felixstowe, from our home in Ipswich. 

How I show up as a Neuroqueer Black Woman in these spaces is also different, as I’ve had to learn to allow multiple identities to coexist peacefully within myself, before they could take up space in these places. Suffolk and Ethiopia have been places of both trauma and belonging for shaping my formative years. Suffolk is where I continue to live, both Suffolk and Ethiopia will continue to occupy that space of duality. London and places I’ve been in Scotland are also different, as they were spaces I actively sought as a late teen through to my present, which have aligned with the embracing of my multiple identities. 

Eldridge Marrott, 76, retired

“I feel proud to be a Black man in Suffolk.”

Born in 1944, Eldridge grew up in a multi-generational household. He still lives on the plot of land which has been in his family since 1919. Eldridge’s father, a Black American serviceman, met his mother at a local dance during World War II. But when he was just a few weeks old, his father was deployed to France, never to be heard from again. A familiar story in the area. As Eldridge never had a photograph of his parents together, his children created one for his 70th birthday. His son’s research has found that Eldridge’s father settled in California; Eldridge now ‘Zooms’ with his half-sister there. Suffolk is a tolerant place, according to Eldridge, who is proud to live there. 

Tamika Green, 22, journalist

“I want to strive for equality for local people of colour.”

Through her work as Suffolk Community Reporter for the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star newspapers, Tamika’s ambitions include succeeding in her role and making a difference to young people in the community. Driving equality is key – as a board member of Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives, Tamika wishes that although her hometown is beautiful, it could be more diverse. Her love of storytelling has led her to journalism, but she also loves time with her family, partner and her miniature Dachshund, Teddy.

Gary Powell, 55, Royal Mail postman

“I want a more inclusive society.”

Working as a rural postman for more than 30 years, Gary was born in Suffolk to his parents who had moved from Montserrat and Nevis. His pastimes range from cycling, reading, working out and astronomy – in fact, he has plans to upgrade his telescope to a larger model. Gary has a great sense of connection to his Caribbean heritage and claims to have never experienced racism in Suffolk, nonetheless he wants society to be more inclusive. With a love of the county, Gary is hoping to retire to a more rural location where he has a clear view of the night sky.

H. E. Ross, 76, writer and poet

“I was a sailor who writes and now I am a writer who sails”

San Francisco-born H.E Ross started out as a driver, then became a Marine, activist and professional sailor. While living in Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands, he worked as a journalist and author and founded maritime heritage organisations. He met his wife while shipwrecked. Following a move to London, they sailed to Woodbridge a decade ago. With their children, they live a simple life on a 1890’s barge, among supportive people, where he wants to finish writing his second novel.

Michelle Taylor (The Funky Celebrant), 55, family celebrant and Mayor of Manningtree

“People often say, ‘You should be famous’.”

Former Suffolk police officer, Michelle, lives with her husband and dog just over the Essex border in Manningtree. Known for her vintage dresses, glamorous DM boots, statement jewellery and a passion for all things Harry Potter, Michelle – aka The Funky Celebrant – exudes confidence. She dyed her hair red after last year’s Black Lives Matter protests inspired her to embrace her own natural hair. A “proud Black woman”, Michelle is a champion for anti-racism and diversity movements, and trains other celebrants in diversity and inclusion.

Mervin Henry – aka Daddy Turbo, 61, DJ

“As long as there’s music, I’m happy!”

Mervin, or Daddy Turbo, is a well-known Ipswich DJ, who has been playing reggae, soca and dancehall music for over 35 years. He started his career when running a pirate radio station, Flex FM, to tackle a lack of representation for the local Black community. He went on to work on the former Radio Suffolk show, Ebony Eye, and has also promoted and interviewed names including The Fugees and 50 Cent. Mervin believes Black people in Suffolk need to make the most of opportunities and create their own space. With boundless energy, Mervin has no plans to stop DJ-ing or presenting his show on Ipswich Community Radio.

Ruel Fox, 53, former premier league footballer and personal trainer

“I’m proud to be Suffolk born and bred.”

Ruel spent almost two decades as a premier league footballer, and has played for Newcastle United, Norwich City, Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion. Now a personal fitness and sports conditioning trainer, and an Ambassador for Whitton United Football Club in Ipswich. 

Ruel still appreciates how football brings people together and inspires joy among both players and fans. With a commitment to being a positive role model in his community, Ruel impresses on younger people that they can realise their ambitions, with the right kind of support and positivity.

Shona van Hassen, 26, performer and jewellery designer

“We have a right to live, and not just to survive.”

Shona grew up around her uncle’s circus, where she absorbed the colours, costumes and music. Now a burlesque dancer, fire performer and jewellery designer, Shona has been faced with prejudiced opinions, saying she has been “hated” for her skin colour, sexuality and mental health. She has channelled those painful experiences into her fight for LGBTQ+ and racial equality, leading local events and protests. Shona is fuelled by her belief that everyone is beautiful, that everyone has a right to be loved.

Affy Green, 31, session musician and composer

“Home is my drum kit.”

When Affy drums, she feels that she is making the most of life. Drumming helped her through dark times, giving her a new sense of purpose. Also, dedicated to racial equality, Affy strives to “inspire the next generation to be strong and accepting of everyone”. Directing some of her creative energy to supporting others, she encourages people to follow their dreams instead of what society wants them to do and be.

Taquan Allen, 24, dancer and property management professional

 “I flip racism on its head.”

A Psychology and Dance graduate from BathSpa University, Taquan aspires to be a dance therapist. Currently working in property management, he often runs along the Orwell River, under the Orwell Bridge, a well-known East Anglian landmark. A driver for his ambition is a desire to help tackle the cultural stigma among young Black men of sharing their feelings. Taquan believes that dance can help people articulate their emotions in a different way. Positive and determined, he refuses to let racism win. Instead, he uses it as an opportunity to counter negative stereotypes.

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The photographer

John Ferguson

John is a commercial location and studio portrait photographer and video director based in London and Suffolk. He shoots a diverse range of subjects for commercial, editorial and corporate clients, all with a clean and elegant aesthetic.

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