Sam Hopkins, artist and PhD student in the Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon (CCW) Graduate School was this month awarded the title of ‘Leading Global Thinker of 2014’ by the magazine Foreign Policy. Awarded annually, the title is given to 100 “remarkable individuals [who] smashed the world as we know it – for better and for worse” (according to their website), and Hopkins was nominated in this list for his work ‘Logos of Non Profit Organisations working in Kenya (some of which are imaginary) 2010-‘ which I showed at this years Dakar Biennale. He collected his award on 17 November in Washington DC at a ceremony .
We interviewed him when he returned to the UK to find out more about his work, growing up in Kenya and his thoughts on being celebrated alongside Angela Merkel and the leader of Boko Harem.
Congratulations on being on of Foreign Policy magazine’s 100 ‘Global Thinkers’ of this year. Can you tell us about your work for which you were nominated?
I was nominated for a work called ‘Logos of Non Profit Organisations working in Kenya (some of which are imaginary) 2010-‘ which I showed at this years Dakar Biennale. As the slightly wordy title of the work suggests, the work is a series of logos of real and fake non-profits working in Kenya. My idea was to look at the logo as a kind of iconography for a set of assumptions, expectations and narratives about how Western Aid agencies perceive their role in Kenya. Growing up in Kenya, and working as an artist there over the past 10 years, I have become increasingly interested in what my friends and I call The NGO aesthetic, a representation of Africa as a space of suffering and charity. The logos can be seen as a distillation of this perspective. For example the Baptist Aids Response Agency in Africa logo is a map of Africa made to look like a biblical head, which is crying a tear of blood. I mixed the real logos with fictitious ones to create a sense of limbo of authenticity; all were presented in the same way which meant that the viewer had to ask him/herself which ones were real, and if there really are organisations called ‘Hope’, ‘Concern’ and ‘Empathi’.
The ceremony was quite fun. I was obviously pretty nervous, and prior to going even wondered if there had been a case of mistaken identity; I mean, I don’t generally see myself as a Global Thinker. But, it all seemed to be for real, and when I arrived at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington DC where the event was hosted, all the staff members of Foreign Policy knew who I was and what I had done, so I relaxed a bit. The event was in 2 sections, a day of round tables followed by an evening reception. There were well over 500 people there, some of whom were interesting, some of whom weren’t, but everyone was open and friendly, which I really appreciated. When it came to the actual award bit, all the Global Thinkers that were present, 42 of the 100 I believe, had to go on stage together, briefly say what we did and then we were presented with quite a cool award that looks like a globe, and slowly spins round. Apart from that, the highlight was probably the food which was ridiculously good.
As well as Angela Merkel and Thomas Picketty, other winners of the award include Putin, Jihadi John and the leader of Boko Haram, what does it feel like to be included in the same list as them?
That’s a good question. Obviously a list of 100 Global Thinkers is pretty subjective, and comes from a specific point of view. On the one hand I appreciate the idea to break down the congratulatory rhetoric that surrounds awards, and to think about people who have had an impact, for better of for worse. On the other hand, it does feel a bit weird to be on the list with people who preach a doctrine of violence and hatred. I was just interested to see if they would send a representative, or respond in any way to the nomination, but I’m pretty sure they did not.
Is there anyone on the list with whom you are particularly proud to share a platform? Or whose work interests you specifically?
I was very proud to be co-nominated (which perhaps technically makes me half a global thinker) with an artist from Angola called Kiluanji Kia Henda, who also showed at Dakar and was working on a similar idea. He developed the work O.R.G.A.S.M (As God wants and the devil likes) which uses a fictitious organisation, the Organisation of African States for Mellowness, to explore the complicated area of charity and how it interfaces the relationship between Europe and Africa. I also like the new work of Cristina de Middel, which uses blends fiction and reportage to represent the slum of Makoko in Lagos. At the ceremony I met Hajooj Kuka, a fantastic filmmaker from Sudan.
My current PhD research at CCW takes as its starting point the History Gallery in Nairobi Musuem, the flagship of the National Museums of Kenya, and looks at the way in which Kenyan identity is represented by the exhibition. My thesis is that identity is always represented in official narratives such as this exhibit, as a function of ethnicity. This however is not my experience of every day life, which suggests to me that identity is a far more complex, contingent and relative idea, than simply an extension of your ethnicity. As the PhD is practice based, the core of the research is the developing of a body of work, moving image documents, that try to represent these other identities.
How did you come to be studying for your PhD? What led you to this stage in your career?
I finished my Masters in 2006 and returned to Kenya to work as an artist, developing a number of different works. Some of these were long-term projects such as Slum TV and Urban Mirror, both of which are collaborations with a number of colleagues, some of these were less process-orientated, more finite and gallery-based, such as the logo work above, and a number of photographic series and studies. However, all of these works moved in the same orbit of participation, counter-narrative and public space. My idea to study at PhD level was basically to create a space where I could start to reflect on this diverse practice as a corpus, as a set of intentions which are my practice. I had always been reluctant to define my practice as something specific, but I see the PhD as a way of trying to better articulate what is at its core.
My big plan for 2015 is to work less and be healthier, but I seem to have that plan every year. Apart from that, I am focussing on the PhD and start to work on some of the moving image documents that I have been setting the context for in the infamous Contextual Review, that I have been working on quite intensively for the past year. Finally, in May 2015 I will co-present an exhibition of the project Mashup the Archive, which is what I have also been working on over the last couple of years. This is a research project based at the Iwalewahaus in Bayreuth that combines artist-led and academic research with the intention of opening up the archive, and making visible some of the mechanisms within it.
Find out more about Sam’s work on his website.
Find out about post-graduate and research study at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon on our Research & Graduate School pages.