Dress by Vivienne Westwood. Earrings by Alighieri   Photo by David Reiss
Heather Agyepong and I sat down right after the close of her press tour for her new show “The Power” on Amazon Prime, based on Naomi Alderman’s homonymous novel. The double threat actor is also floating on the heels of the success of her photography series, “Wish You Were Here,” which is currently being exhibited at the Centre for British Photography.
In “The Power,” she portrays Ndudi, a budding Nigerian journalist. The novel’s world experiences a shift when women develop the ability to produce electricity from their fingertips. “She stumbles on The Power, this story, and it changes her life forever in a really interesting way,” says Agyepong.

Suit by ______. Earrings and rings by Alighieri.    Photo by David Reiss

“The Power,” is, in a way, a retelling of our world. The power dynamic between men and women shifts as the mere physical strength of men yields to the greater electrical power of women. It’s the perfect role and the perfect story for Agyepong, who excels at retellings. She explained to me that “I’m interested in reimagination in all my work, and the idea of seeing the world differently, I think, is the beginning of change.”
She first made inroads to both acting and photography as a teenager. Her first project, “The Gaze on Agbogbloshie” was a more honest look at a commercial district near Accra, Ghana. While most photographers and journalists portray the area as an electronic waste dump, Agyepong’s series took a more honest and complete look at the district. In her next projects, her work quickly shifted from journalism to self portraiture, as the messages she wanted to present shifted. She began “Things about myself, things about my culture, things about my friends. When I reviewed the images later on, I was like, this is all about me. I didn’t consciously think about it at the time, but I was breaking down my identity, who I am, and my values.” Journalists often put a piece of themselves into their work, but Agyepong pours so much of herself into her images and performances that it’s no wonder that she transitioned towards more artistic endeavours.

    Photo by Heather Agyepong

In her series, “Wish You Were Here,” which was commissioned by The Hyman Collection, she explores the history of the cake walk dance. The dance was originally created by black slaves to poke fun at the slave owners and their ballroom dances. Over time, the dances became popular at performances to white audiences, and postcards which made fun of the black originators of the dance became common. Agyepong’s latest series interacts with those postcards, taking the narrative into her own hands. “The idea was to reimagine them in a way that would be more empowering for black creatives.” Her images reference the work of Aida Overton Walker, a dancer who became known as the queen of the cake walk. She took the dance to new levels, performing with an extraordinary degree of skill and elegance. Agyepong’s reimagination of the postcards builds on and makes a fascinating and powerful addition to the cake walk dance’s legacy. 
When I asked her about the meaning behind a few of her images, Agyepong told me, “The photography starts with me, but I really want people to project their own stuff on it. I try to leave an air of ambiguity, so that it’s ‘What are you feeling about this image?’ rather than me telling you what to feel or think. It’s allowing you to have space within the work.” The multifaced nature of her photos certainly leave room for the viewer to peel back multiple layers of meaning and significance. 
She did tell me that in addition to the past, the series interacts with contemporary pop culture. In one image, “B***h Better” (a reference to the Rihanna song, “Bitch Better Have My Money”), Agyepong explores the challenges that working class artists encounter when talking about money. She asserts, “Pop culture has empowered black people and women in trying to reclaim their images.”

Agyepong’s affinity for reinterpretations fits in perfectly with her role as Ndudi. When her agent learned of the project, she knew that it would mesh well with the themes and concepts that Agyepong pursues and values. Upon reading the novel, she fell in love with the story. “I’d never read anything like that.” The way the book (and the show) talk about gender and power present the topic in a new and intriguing light. “The thing I loved in particular was how we talk about women. And that intersectional lens, I think, is what really drew me in.” She added, “It’s really clever, really nuanced.”
She describes Ndudi as “this young, smart Nigerian woman.” Portraying a journalist seems the perfect role for Agyepong, as someone who sheds light on otherwise underexplored topics in her own life. “She’s so bold. She has a lot of cojones I’d say.” “The Power, from the first episode, changes her life forever in a really interesting way. And throughout the series you see how it changes her life in a good way, and also a physical, life changing way.”

Suit by ______. Earrings by Alighieri.    Photo by David Reiss

Agyepong devotes between twelve and eighteen months to each photography project. Her latest work is “ego death,” an intensely introspective work which builds upon Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow. “ego death,” commissioned by Jerwood Arts and Photoworks, employs stunning double exposures and striking tenebrosity to consider her own shadow. Agyepong relates to Ndudi’s “Inqunisitive curiously, this kind of inquisitive, investigative eye.” In portraying the character, she says, “that’s something I really tapped into.”
After you’ve watched Agyepong in “The Power,” you can find her giving two talks at Photo London in May. She’ll be in conversation with two of her mentors, the curator at The Walter Collection, and the head of Photographer’s Gallery, who selected Agyepong to win the Jerwood/Photoworks Award last year. Her latest work, “ego death” is currently on display at Belfast Exposed. You can see that until May 20th. Agyepong is clearly at the beginning of a meteoric rise, and I’m eagerly anticipating her future work, both as an artist, and an actor.
Talent Heather Agyepong @heathatrottlives - Represented by Pinnacle PR @pinnaclepruk
Photographer David Reiss @davidreissphotography
Wardrobe Stylist Luci Ellis @luciellis - Represented by The Wall Group
Hairstylist Kieron Lavine @kieronlavine - Represented by The Visionaries Agency
Makeup Artist Min Sandhu @minnie_muaRepresented by The Only Agency

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