How to be Dad

Conversations on race and fatherhood

Photographs and interviews by OLIVIA ROSE


Chad Stennett, 36, Leyton
Father of Niyah, 14; Chanyah, 11; Aziyah, 10

I was 20 when I had my first kid. I felt young, but I had circumstances that made me pattern up, you get me? Now I’m shocked when I look back and see all these young guys — they ain’t got a clue. There’s no manual to this.

I was with their mum for 18 years, longer than most people’s parents have been together. Being with somebody for so long you get to a point where you understand each other. My thing is I’m always going to be part of their lives. Some people might not be allowed to come round to their children’s houses and chill with them, but I do. I put them to bed, cook them dinner and make as little disturbance as possible so they feel comfortable with the situation. 


My dad disappeared when I was nine and I said I was never going to do the same thing. For me the number one role for a man in the family is discipline. You’ve got to show them authority from early on. And women’s roles have changed; they’re not just the housekeeper, they’re going out working. They might not notice as many things as mums who were staying home all the time. As a dad you’ve got to take some of that responsibility on board and listen, to notice what’s going on with your children in the household. 

We’ve got different battles as black fathers with everything that’s going on in society and the media. Race is a massive issue. My children are young and they’re thinking about politics, and are worried about Donald Trump and Brexit. 

If you start your history at slavery, then the kids are going to feel a certain way. That’s what school does. But if you teach them about the African kings and the great civilisations, it’s like “OK and then this happened”. Then they can understand that slavery is a part of a turn of events, when society fell. There’s a lot of good for them to learn aswell, there’s black history. 

They have to know they are different. If you don’t, then the white man’s going to show them when he deals with them funny. So if you prepare them for that and tell them what the bigger picture is, then you’ve given them the tools to deal with it. 

If I can leave my children a legacy it would be morals. I don’t want my daughters being used and I want my son to respect himself as the man he is. As black children, you have to know yourself, know your history and not doubt yourself, no matter what the media is telling you. It’s up to us as parents to tell them otherwise. 


Jon Dundas, 26, Charlton, South London
Father of Bennett, 6

I was 19 when I had my son and I grew up quick. I don’t know when you’re ever ready to have a kid, but after he was born I realised I was doing so many things wrong, it was silly. It was a big shock, a big change. The way I handled money, the way I handled myself — it had to change. I think before him I was more self-centred, but now life comes with that sacrifice, when you literally put someone else before anything. 

A lot of my friends have had kids young and it’s seen as a big problem. But I don’t really see what the problem with it is because I was just really happy. He wasn’t planned, and it’s complicated between his mum and me right now, but we all live together. When people find out I’m a dad and then find out I was with his mum for nine years, some people can’t believe it. I don’t know anyone else that’s been around for their kid like that to be honest, so I get it. It is a thing. I see absent fathers everywhere.


I understand sometimes why people get stereotyped. The way some of my friends act when they get a girl pregnant, that’s why other people think the way they do about us young guys having babies. I was one of the first of my friends to have a kid, and out of my close friends I’m still the only one with a kid. The mandem reacted like most guys my age do — they thought it was the end of the world! 

I’ve had words with my friends about situations like this because I find it offensive the way they talk about it. It’s an immaturity to not stick with your child. 

I try to do the right thing, it’s important for me. Even though his mum’s there, I feel like it’s my responsibility to get up and take him to school. As a dad you have to be there always and bring the security. It’s not always about bringing in the money, because when you have a partner it’s a joint thing, but it’s about love. Love is the one thing I want to pass on to him. I view the world and people with a lot of respect, and I hope that he grows up to be like that. I hope he sees things the way I do. 

I love hearing that word — “Dad” — when they call you. When you’re sitting there and you hear that “Dad, Dad, Dad”, that is one of the best feelings ever. When you hear people complimenting your son on his intelligence or his looks, things like that, that’s one of the proudest moments, because that’s my son. That’s my boy. 


David Nkrumah, 30, Bethnal Green
Father of Zion, 2 months

It wasn’t planned, but when Geraldene told me the news we embraced it. I couldn’t wait to see her belly grow to this stage and I’m excited, really excited. I’vealways known that my first child was going to be a boy and when I found out that was true, it felt like it was meant to be. 

After the baby’s born we are having an African naming ceremony. It’s Ghanaian tradition. The baby is blessed with a name that will give him protection, good health and strength. I’m not that into the custom, but I want him to know his heritage. I didn’t get to appreciate my roots until I got to my teenage years and I started to understand that I’m not from England, I’m from Ghana. When I went to Ghana and saw all these people who looked just like me, it made me understand that it was who I am. Now it’s cool to be African, so I want him to be proud of his roots. 

I think a dad’s role is to be active and supportive in the child’s life, through everything; cook for him, clean for him, educate him. Everything that the woman does the man should do as well. I’ll dive right into the nappy changes! It’s important to teach him how to be a man in this society that we live in, and to teach him how to be a black man. He needs to be taught how things are and he shouldn’t have any limits or feel like he can’t do whatever he wants to do. Even if we don’t have the money to do everything we want, he’ll be all right. I grew up with the bare minimum and I turned out OK.

I don’t feel the pressure of being a dad, it feels like a normal thing to do. Where I grew up, lots of people didn’t even have fathers, but I don’t feel like the people I know have that same thing in them to abandon their child. 

I would like to be able to teach him beyond what I know, education-wise. I’ve been thinking about trying to revisit certain subjects, like maths and English, so I can help when he gets to that higher stage and comes back with homework. That’s what’s been going through my head — how to teach him things that I don’t know about. I’ve got to do some research and learn things myself so that he can become better than I am. I’ve still got time!

People say that I’m warm-hearted and polite, so I would love for him to share that trait. It will represent me if he had that same glow. No matter what, if he doesn’t have any money or things aren’t going to plan, I want him to never give up and to always keep smiling. 


Rene Francis, 31, Plaistow
Father of Amayla-Rae, 3

When I found out I was going to have a baby I was shocked because it wasn’t really planned and my partner was in a different country when she found out — she phoned me from Cyprus. I was just there at home alone, like, “What?! I’ve got a child coming?” Obviously I was scared, but what made me even more frightened was when I found out that it was a girl. That’s when I was worried. I thought: “Oh no I’m gonna have to go through a lot of stuff now!”

I think maybe I sussed out what to expect before she was born because I’ve got little cousins who I’ve seen grow up. The only things I didn’t know were the nappy changes and waking up late at night. I knew it in my head, but then you experience it and you’re like, “Wow, OK, this is what we go through.” I was there for all of that. We were together at that time, me and her mum. Now we’re not together, I don’t see Amayla-Rae as much as I should. It’s crazy because every time I do see her, every time she stays the night, it’s like she’s a different person. She’s learnt a lot more, she’s talking a lot more frequently. 

I’m going to be in her life as long as I’m alive so I’m just trying to stay close to her. If you get too strict they hide things, so I’m just trying to keep a good relationship with her. I’ve got to stick at it; it’s not going to be easy. 

I want her to grow up to be a strong, powerful, confident lady. A lady, you know, not riff raff. The way society is now, I don’t want her to be stuck in that stuff day-to-day — you know the girls that go out partying and are into make-up and take all them selfies — I just want her to be herself and not give in to peer pressure. The thing about her is she’s cheeky, but she’s really advanced and smart, so I can talk to her normally and she’ll understand what I’m saying. But when she gets to that stage where she’s like “no, no”, I don’t know what’s going to happen then.

A dad’s role? Oh gosh! Guidance? Protection? I guess it’s showing her the rights and the wrongs in life, what paths to take or not take. With men trouble and that, she’d go to her mum, but we haven’t got to that stage so I don’t know how to deal with it yet. 

I think everyone wants to be a better father or do better for their child than how their dad did. You just want the best for your child. My dad was always around, but not so much for me. I’venever actually gone to my dad for advice and I would be shattered if my daughter said that about me in 20 years. I would love for my child to say that we have a good strong relationship, we’re close, I can tell my dad anything… things like that. Then you know you’ve done all right, haven’t you? If your child can talk to you and tell you her problems then you’ve done all right.

Aaron Williams, 31, Bow
Father of Kairo, 2

When Kai was born he didn’t cry at all. He was chill, like his Pops. I sang You’ll Never Walk Alone to him and I shed tears. He came out healthy as fuck — 8lb 2oz, a solid strong yout. His first skin to skin was with me; he was still bloody but it didn’t matter. This was my little boy!

About five minutes later he let out a little whimper and he wasn’t feeding, so the nurses took him. Suddenly he had tubes in his hand and nose, and he was in an incubator because he had swallowed amniotic fluid. By the third day in hospital we still hadn’t named him because we were just concerned about getting him home. 

You don’t know how to be a dad until you’re forced to do it. The first week he was alive I probably had about ten hours of sleep. They prepared us for the worst, but in the end he fought off the infection himself. We had a few names floating about — like Royal, King, Rain — but Kairo was the one that stuck. It means victorious. From birth he was fighting. 

I learnt how to be a father through my mum. She worked two, three jobs while she was alone with four boys. When my mum remarried, I thought that my stepdad couldn’t offer me everything because we weren’t blood-related. My brothers and I couldn’t get our heads around it because we were young and it was like, “Ah, he’s white though!” Wewere resentful because my dad wasn’t around. But my dad was an extremely bad partner — because of him my mum doesn’t have any of her original teeth. But I still can’t say I hate the guy, because that would be poisoning to me. I have to break the mould. 

I know one thing: I’m going to be a better man tomorrow than I was today because of my mum, and because of my son. My mum is the truest G. I never understood that until Kairo was born and I was having to hold down the fort. She’s the best woman I’ve ever met in my life and I love her to death. If Kairo feels about me half of what I feel for her, I’ll be super happy.

I’m doing youth work at the moment. It’s my way of giving back to the community I’m from and trying to show them there is a way out. These youngsters have told me all sorts of stories of people losing their life over stupid shit, just because they’re not from the right area. One of the major problems is ignorance. If these kids ever sat down and spoke to each other they’d understand they’re the exact same people. 

The common denominator is the lack of positive male role models in these young people’s lives. That taught me that I have to be there 100 per cent with my son. As a young black boy he needs somebody to look up to who looks like him, who’s also doing positive things. 

Kairo has completed me. I’d lay my life down for him. Nothing compares to having to give a shit about someone else for the first time. I love the boy so much. Creating life is the most important thing I’ve ever done. I’m not trying to be this big superstar. As long as I’m a good dad to him, that’s a success to me. 

Kodo: Cover girl

The Japanese Buddhist monk and make-up artist Kodo Nishimura blends spirituality with fashion

Photographs by JUNE CANEDO
Make-up by KODO


NEW YORK, UNITED STATES — Kodo Nishimura, a Japanese Buddhist monk, looked out of place on an industrial Brooklyn backstreet. He was wearing his “visiting robes” (kairyo fuku). Immaculately dressed, and having wiped away the make-up from previous looks, Kodo looked magnificently monastic. The photography team were racing to get the last shot before the light faded. With robes wrapped tightly around him and wearing clunky woven sandals (setta), Kodo struggled to keep up. He explained how, while training to become a monk in Japan, he had to learn how to walk in sync with the other monks. The practice, called ikken roku tampo, requires monks to lay their tatami mats next to each other and slowly walk toe to heel, back and forth, for hours on end. This diligent practice seemed a world away as Kodo, decked in his pristine robes, ran to cross a dirty Metropolitan Avenue.

Kairyo fuku — Kodo’s own

Kairyo fuku — Kodo’s own

Kodo is no stranger to photoshoots, or New York. He spent most of his twenties working professionally as a make-up artist in the city. Recently, however, Kodo returned home to become a monk. Spirituality and fashion don’t usually go together, but Kodo serves monastic realness with ease. Softly-spoken but direct, slight but commanding, tonsured and fabulous, he is an unassuming bridge between these alternate universes.

Kodo grew up in a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in the centre of Tokyo. His parents often hosted ceremonies and events, but Kodo shied away from the public attention, hiding in the corners of the temple to avoid interacting with the devotees. After the guests had left he would reclaim the space and do gymnastics in the vast, empty hall. His father, who inherited the temple from his parents, is a Mahayana Buddhist monk and a scholar. (Buddhism in Japan is more liberal than in other parts of Asia, so monks can also have lay careers.) As an only child, Kodo was in line to take over the temple but when he became an adult, his father assured him: “You do what you want to do.” 

Ikebana is an ancient Japanese form of flower arranging that Kodo learnt from the age of eight in a nearby temple. It is a disciplined creative expression where beauty is crafted from colour combinations and graceful lines. “That’s where I built my foundation and visual eye. You find beauty in the flow and the balance.” His teacher encouraged his artistic talents and he later moved to the US, where he studied at Dean College, Massachusetts, and then at the Parsons School of Design, in New York. Although he was drawn to the diversity in the US, Kodo found the reality of living there quite startling. Ten years later, he says: “It still is a culture shock.” But this new world had its advantages. “Self expression, creativity, diversity — I really respect that about America. It really helped me to know who I am.”

Coat — Priscavera;   Top — Veronique Branquinho;   Choker — The Shiny Squirrel

Coat — Priscavera; Top — Veronique Branquinho; Choker — The Shiny Squirrel

As a child, Kodo loved to play with dolls and dress up in costumes. His mother was a fan of Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music, and Kodo would get lost in the fantasy world of musicals. He would craft a tail out of some loose garbage, sculpt it around his legs and pretend to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Or he would steal some of his mother’s wrapping fabric, tie it around his head and, twirling around the temple, imagine that he was Belle from Beauty and the Beast

As a teenager in conservative Japan, Kodo was unsure how to deal with his sexuality. “I think I was the one to blame for feeling lonely and isolated. I was unaware that being gay was OK. I was afraid to tell people.” Travelling in Europe and attending university in the US helped Kodo realise his true self. He found encouragement from friends and later colleagues, such as his mentor Yuko Takahashi, another Japanese make-up artist, who told him: “You only live once. Do what you want.” 

Kodo also looked up to out celebrities like Marc Jacobs and RuPaul: “They identify as gay and are thriving in their industry, so why do I have to be ashamed or hide who I am?” This network of support helped Kodo come out to his parents, who were supportive; encouraging him to only be himself. “Now I’m out and people treat me the same, or even better, because I’m open and can be myself. Before I was scared to expose myself because I was afraid that people could figure out I liked men from how I act. So I was always hiding to disguise myself.”

Jacket — Hardeman; Vintage trousers — Cherry Vintage; Beret — Glazed NYC; Earrings — Haarstick

Jacket — Hardeman; Vintage trousers — Cherry Vintage; Beret — Glazed NYC; Earrings — Haarstick

Make-up is his weapon. When Kodo was younger he would sneak into his mom’s room and play with her collection. He recalls how one day, while studying in Boston, he picked up an eyeliner and mascara. “Being Japanese, I wanted to accentuate my eyes to make it one of my fortes. That’s where I started.” Kodo became his own muse. He would experiment with different techniques on himself and on his friends, always thinking make-up was merely a fun tool to feel more self-assured. At university, Kodo studied painting, performance and other arts subjects. After taking a fashion photo class, he realised that make-up could be his art form. His talent and drive helped him rise quickly in the industry after graduating. Today he travels the world working on adverts, TV shows and events, including Miss USA. Although Kodo doesn’t wear make-up every day any more, he still uses his face as an experimenting palette. “I don’t go out in drag. It’s just a make-up skill. It’s for fun.” His Instagram account (@kodomakeup) shows a selection of fierce looks applied to himself or friends: an accentuated Fu Manchu moustache, anime eyes or a geisha face.

In the first few years of university, Kodo never went outside without make-up. He felt vulnerable without it. Make-up was the crutch that helped him to expose his new self to the world. But then one day he stopped. “One time I needed make-up. Now I don’t care.” He realised that the power of make-up remains after it washes off. “People don’t need make-up to feel beautiful. Even if I’m not wearing make-up I can remain confident. It’s like a secret weapon that is eternal.”

As a make-up artist, Kodo enhances his subjects’ natural beauty. “Many people are very beautiful internally, but don’t know how to do the same externally. Some Japanese people use colour contacts, tape on the eye or tons of dolly lashes. It’s trying to be something they are not. They are aiming for western ideals. If it’s fake, it degrades the person. If it enhances elegance, that’s what I like.” Recently Kodo was featured in Out in Japan, a photo series to raise LGBTQ awareness. On the shoot, Kodo met a number of trans people from around the country, many of whom didn’t have confidence in their make-up skills. Kodo realised that his artistry could be an asset to people who were shaping their new identity, and now gives free make-up seminars for Japan’s transgender community. 

Top and trousers — Givenchy;   Necklace — Jiwinaia

Top and trousers — Givenchy; Necklace — Jiwinaia

After eight years in the US, he felt like he needed to reconnect with home. “I was living in a materialistic world in New York.” Kodo decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and study to become a monk. “I wanted to know the answer to the universal questions. Why do we have to be good and be nice to others? What is so fun about competing and being better than others?” The lifestyle change was drastic. Kodo went from the 24-hour, fast-paced world of Manhattan to the hushed walls of a temple in Kyoto. The training required him to remove himself from all distractions of the modern world, including smartphones, social media, television and even watches. In the temple, Kodo immersed himself in meditative Buddhist ceremonies where he chanted Buddha’s name repeatedly for hours on end. “First you’re thinking, ‘When is this going to end, I’m hungry, what should I do after?’ Then you think, ‘Why am I here, what’s going to make me happy?’” Kodo quotes RuPaul: “Emotions are like a river. Meditating helps you to be on top of that mountain and see how you’re feeling and balance it.”

Kodo never felt his identity aligned completely with that of a gay man. “People consider elegance, sensitivity or gentleness with femininity. Wildness, strength and leadership are some of the traits people associate with men. I think I have both of them. I thought I was gay, but I don’t know if I’m a woman inside.” One day, on a photoshoot, a colleague told Kodo about a third sex in Native American culture that is neither male nor female. The idea of a third gender, something greater and different from traditional gender definitions, struck a chord with Kodo. He felt a lightbulb go off. “In Native American tribes when there is a third sex it is considered good luck for the family. They are considered holy. I can feel what women feel and I live life as a man. It’s like living two lives at once. I feel like it’s a power.”

Vintage vest — Cherry Vintage;   Vintage shirt — Screaming Mimi’s;   Vintage hat — Cherry Vintage; Necklace — Koché; Earrings — Givenchy

Vintage vest — Cherry Vintage; Vintage shirt — Screaming Mimi’s; Vintage hat — Cherry Vintage; Necklace — Koché; Earrings — Givenchy

Kodo prioritises individual values over cultural ones. “Ethnicity or culture doesn’t matter. Our hearts are beating at the same time. In all societies everybody has a good virtue as long as they’re living honestly. I think it’s very hopeful that different sexualities and races are explained and respected.” Kodo doesn’t dwell on terminology when it comes to gender identity. “I identify myself as Kodo. I am gender-gifted.” This is an original and spiritual gender term that softly challenges cis norms. Kodo doesn’t have a preferred pronoun. “There are not enough words to define everybody. Straight, gay, lesbian… I don’t think it’s accurate every time. What’s more important is individual values.”

The process of becoming a monk changed Kodo. “One of the sins is to lie to yourself. If you’re not honest to your heart, that’s a bad thing. I was lying to myself. I started following what my heart would say. I started to correct things I was doing that I knew were wrong.” Kodo continues explaining his revelation in RuPaul-esque terms: “It’s hard to love yourself sometimes. But if you do small things to make yourself feel better, you will feel better. Even if no one’s watching, you are watching.” Eastern spirituality and Western gay culture don’t seem so distant after all — the duality in Kodo’s life is more like a marriage.

Kodo is headstrong, focused and rejoicing in discovering himself. “I like what I like. I don’t care about what other people say. I have my own opinions. I’m not shaken by others.” He has found an unlikely equilibrium between his two lives. “I am very content and happy. My goal is to stay healthy and happy. I know if I achieve bigger things I don’t want to be greedy. I want to refine my health and artistry. Happiness is the most important thing for me. It’s not about competing with other people, but about competing with yourself. That keeps me at peace.” Can I get an Amen up in here?


Ion Barladeanu: Man, myth, legend

The story of how Ion Barladeanu, the Romanian collage artist and pseudo film director, went from down and out in Bucharest to world famous



The first thing to know about Ion Barladeanu’s eye-popping collages is that they are actually film stills. Assembled in widescreen, his scenes of spaghetti westerns, spy thrillers and war epics star legends of the silver screen (Roger Moore, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot among them) alongside the corrupt politicians of communist-era Romania.

Ion began cutting and pasting his cinema-inspired collages in the 1970s, when Romania was under the oppressive rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu. He worked on them in secret; the satirical content was so radically subversive that if the authorities had discovered them, he could have been landed in prison. Years later, following the overthrow of Ceaușescu in 1989 and the dawn of a new capitalist era, Ion became homeless. It was only in 2007, after a lucky twist of fate brought his work to the attention of a local gallery owner, that Ion’s surrealist artworks finally became public. His rise from obscurity to art stardom happened almost overnight. 

Ion grew up in Zapodeni, a rural region of Romania that is close to Moldova. “He has a very strong, very Moldovan, sense of humour,” his curator, Dan Popescu, tells me. “That’s where the dada in his work comes from.” Ion’s father was a member of the agricultura nomenklatura in the region, overseeing the production on the state-owned land. But Ion didn’t like his father, and he left home for Bucharest at 18, making a living doing the jobs no one else wanted.

“He had a lifestyle like Charles Bukowski,” says Dan. Ion worked in turn as a dockworker, a stonecutter and a gravedigger — “he did all the work in the world” — refusing to take part in the socialist workforce. He sometimes worked illegally on the black market; at one point in the early 1980s he was caught working as an undertaker with no papers, and spent three months in jail.


In the late 1970s, Ion began making collages, without any understanding of the history of the medium. For many years he had been developing his drawing technique, and eventually he began supplementing these illustrations with photomontages created from magazine cuttings. “I’d cut out Florin Piersic, Alain Delon and Sophia Loren,” Ion remembers. “Having so many issues of Cinéma magazine, I first made a caricature, then started putting hats on the characters. Afterwards, I cut out [the Romanian actor] Mircea Albulescu’s head. I tried to see how he would look as president of Romania. It was too funny, the tricolor flag, with Nicolae Ceausescu’s club…”

Ion was completely obsessed with movies. During the communist era, cinema was a form of escape; a window on a free world. He went to the cinema regularly, often two or three times a week. He dreamed of being a director and began creating cut-and-paste scenes, using magazine clippings to cast big-name actors alongside the country’s corrupt politicians.

Ion sourced his materials from contraband magazines, mostly French, bought on the black market or found in rubbish dumps. “That’s how it was under socialism, when the comrade Nicolae Ceaușescu was the country’s prince. Then he tore down buildings and I would find pictures in basements, underground. You can still find them lying around, even nowadays. They throw them away in those huge bins that say paper, metal, iron, bottles.”

The ephemeral nature of the medium was not lost on Ion: “I’ve already got 500 kg of waste material. When I’m dead, they will all end up in the landfill. I’m only sorry I couldn’t make a school for collage-makers. Teach them how to cut out. It’s very easy.”

In his early works Ion pasted his actors and objects over hand-drawn backgrounds of living rooms, beaches or street scenes. His technique developed rapidly around 1985, when he began selecting backgrounds from magazine pages or calendars. This method enabled him to fully realise his cinematic scenes, but presented a new set of challenges. As Dan explains: “When you have a background that helps differentiate the light, the chromatics and the shades… it’s much more difficult to integrate the persons or the objects than if you make the background yourself.” Where Ion’s early works were grotesque, with a focus on the surreal characters and objects in the foreground, later works are conceived with a far greater sense of reality.

One of the things that makes Ion unique in collage is his meticulous eye for lighting; in a single composition subjects are lit from a single angle, just as on an authentic film set. And having never seen work by other artists of the medium, Ion broke many of the accepted rules of collage. 

“There is a specific style Ion used,” Dan says. “Other artists work in a very modernist, flat way. There’s no depth and only a single layer. Ion didn’t know about the history of collage or the professional, academic way to make them. He needed layers to create his movies, so that’s why you see two or three layers and depth. It’s funny him not knowing it was taboo. He just did it, and something spectacular came out of it.”

As a pseudo director, Ion found the selecting of disparate parts was the biggest challenge in creating a scene: “If you’re a director, you have to place your actors in the foreground, space them apart, throw in a helicopter here, a plane there, an Obama kissing his Obama-lass.” An aside: “He was an OK president.”

In 1989, after the revolution, Ion had nowhere to go. Dan explains: “If you had been living in a flat in communist times, you were given the opportunity to buy it. But Ion was in and out of work, and he was drinking. It wasn’t possible for him. And the guys that were living in that block of flats, they took advantage of this and threw him out.” Without anywhere to live, Ion stopped making collages altogether.

He was without a fixed address for more than a decade. He survived on the streets for six years, before taking refuge in a room (with electricity, but no heating) in the basement of a Bucharest apartment block, near the communal bins. Here, in 2007, he was discovered by Ovidiu Feneș, an artist represented by Dan Popescu’s H’art Gallery. “This artist made three-dimensional assemblages and he was always going to places where they discard objects to collect items for his work,” Dan says. “He found Ion there, living in the building courtyard, with his artwork hidden away in suitcases.


“It was a Saturday on December 1, Romania’s national day, and Ovidiu came to me and said, ‘You have to come and see this guy, he’s amazing.’ ” Dan followed him and stayed for three hours. He knew he had discovered someone extraordinary.

“I was like a patron. The idea that he isn’t even self-aware of what he is doing, but everything is in place. It’s the perfect proof that art can exist anywhere, even without a very focused or rational intentionality. Sometimes it happens in a man — he just needs a little focus and a certain obsession. And it doesn’t need all sorts of means, just scissors and glue and some magazines.”

The next day, having made a discovery he knew would be the most significant of his career, Dan returned to his gallery to find there was a major problem with the plumbing. “I was sitting there and, all of a sudden, shit began coming out of the sink.” Something was blocking the pipes and the entire building’s waste was being diverted to his gallery on the ground floor. As it was a Sunday, the day after a national holiday, no one was working. “I phoned the plumbers and they said, ‘OK, we are coming, but first thing tomorrow.’ So I had to take buckets and buckets of the building’s waste out of the bathroom. And the only thing keeping me going was the thought that, OK, there’s a balance in the world — you discovered this guy, but to qualify, somehow, you have to pass through all the shit and piss and garbage that he passed in his whole life, in the course of a single day.”

It took three weeks for Dan to convince Ion to sign with him, but eventually the artist agreed that they should put on an exhibition together. A film-maker documented the process in the 2009 movie The World According to Ion B. “The first exhibition was madness,” Dan recalls. “The art scene in Romania at the time was very elitist. You couldn’t be an outsider. I had a hard time convincing people it would work, but it was very popular in the end. It’s because he’s very charismatic, he makes people laugh. And in Romania we think we are the world champions of humour.”

Within six months of the first show, Ion had a new flat and a set of dentures. He has since held shows in galleries and art fairs across Europe — from London to Helsinki — and gained countless fans. Among them is the actress Angelina Jolie; they once had lunch together in Paris, an experience he described as disappointing. “She is not my favourite actress, as everyone says. I’ve gotten so fed up with that.”

Ion is present at every opening, wherever they are in the world. “That’s one of his biggest things,” Dan says. “If you look at his collages, almost every one has a plane in it. The plane signifies freedom. In communist times, it was the idea of getting away.”


Ion’s art, and the incredible story of his rise to fame, has elevated him to a cult figure in Romania. “Not a day passes I don’t get recognised in the street,” he says. “Even if I dress up as a hobo, people still know me. And I’m proud of it.” He has found his newfound celebrity a source of amusement, although it is not without its challenges: “I went from pauper to prince. I mean, in my own field. Some things have changed, but I’ve also got plenty on my mind. It’s not good to be famous. I’m proud I don’t need a bodyguard, as the likes of Brad Pitt do. On the other hand, I could use a bodyguard, because there’s always some dumbass around.”

For the most part, Ion enjoys the merits of fame. He recalls one of his proudest moments, at an exhibition opening in Slovakia: “I tell everyone this: when I was in Bratislava with Dan Popescu, I had the biggest fame, world fame almost. I had a show in the open and I didn’t get intimidated. I spoke to them in Slovak, I told them ‘hello’ in their mother tongue. And I was surprised that there were 50, 60 people taking photos of me at one time. Men and women. Everybody. It’s amazing I didn’t go blind from the cameras flashing.”

Translations by FLAVIA YASIN; art commentary by GABRIELLA SONABEND at THE GALLERY OF EVERYTHING; portrait by ALEXANDRU PAUL; tiny cowboys by CARMEN LIDIA VIDU from the series ION BARLADEANU, MY COWBOY

Motivation from Mykki Blanco




It’s Saturday night in Kemptown, Brighton, and Mykki Blanco, a 6ft 2in 31-year-old rapper wearing a pastel blue corset, is sitting in the backroom of a chapel. The church’s foyer is filled with a crowd of mostly queer and gender-queer people. Soon Mykki will burst on stage, wearing his trademark wig, and rap about the loneliness of being a HIV-positive man with a drag aesthetic who is grappling with the expectations of black masculinity. But before that he pours himself a Jack Daniel’s — and holds forth about the world according to Mykki Blanco. 

So, how do you like Brighton?
London’s always felt a bit dark to me and Brighton’s always felt more warm. If I knew more people in Brighton I would really like it. I’m from California and when you walk around there’s the same kind of colourful houses here as there are in San Francisco. It feels kind of like home.

Where are you living right now?
I’m living in Portugal, in Lisbon. My boyfriend lives there. It’s more inexpensive right now than other places, unfortunately because of the economy. I haven’t lived in New York for about six years now. Before, in between shows, I was in Paris. People know who I am in Lisbon, but it’s not like there’s any real big Mykki Blanco following there, so I have this sense of normality.

What would you be doing if this were a regular Saturday night in Lisbon?
I’d be with my boyfriend and probably go to dinner and drinks with friends in the evening. In Portugal it’s always dinner that leads into drinks that leads into more drinks and then we end up deciding which party to go to. It’s like a big village, there’s only one mega club to go to that plays techno, called Lux. If you’re gonna go to a party it’s a more underground thing, otherwise it’s Lux.

You’re in your thirties now, what did you do for your 30th birthday?
When was that? Shit, what did I do last year? I was in Paris. My friends did a little house thing. I think I passed out after I burnt my nose on poppers. I remember that happening on my 30th.

Do you feel mature?
I don’t feel mature. But I feel like I know now certain things to stay super vigilant with, like my health and my mental health. I'm really trying not to let anyone fuck with my mental health. One of the greatest things about ageing is you start to figure out what your triggers are.

It’s not about going through life every step of the way being like “this is gonna prevent this” or “this is gonna prevent that”, but really learning “oh, I’ve had enough experience that I should know better”, or how to strive to put myself in healthy situations with healthy people.


You’ve said before that you didn’t always want to be a rapper, but a journalist…
You know the journalist past comes from being a writer and I was always encouraged that I was a good writer. And actually it’s funny because this summer with i-D I’m about to host a travel series where we go to Johannesburg in South Africa and I’m gonna be interviewing queer creatives that are thriving and making really important work right now. So that half of the equation is finally being realised and I’m really excited about it because people are only capable of knowing what you do when you do it. I want to balance things of that nature with the music, with the entertainment, and sometimes when I talk about that it feels kind of obnoxious because I’ve achieved certain levels of success. And I do think my career is really thriving — because I’ve worked towards it — but no, I did not want be a rapper.

So would you have believed someone if they told you at 15 years old that you’d be a rapper one day?
I wouldn’t have believed them. I was not a little black boy saying, “I’m gonna be a rapper when I grow up’’. I did not start rapping until I was 25. I stumbled into it. I had the idea to rap as part of a video art project. So I was always this artsy kid. I liked hip hop, but I was like “I’m gonna be a performance artist or a conceptual artist”. I always just thought that was cooler. And then, after about a year of doing the Mykki Blanco thing I realised I could still use the platform for that… I didn’t have to abide or be stereotypical, I could do these performance art ideas, or look to someone like Bowie, someone like Marc Bolan or Prince. Although Prince is way more of a musical genius. I realised as a performance artist I could use music. I think it’s cool things ended up this way but it’s an unexpected part of my story.

Would you describe yourself as an activist? What does activism mean to you?
You know, what I would say is this: I think people have put the term “activist” on me. I am vocal about issues and I’ve realised my social media has been a really important place for queer people or gender-queer people to have debates or public dialogues about nuanced issues that are grazed over in think pieces. I realise that’s why I’ve been called an activist. But I think an activist is someone who is out there on the front lines, not necessarily at protests, but physically there. I’ve not physically been there, even if I have tried to be a voice within my own community.

Does it get tiring talking about queerness? Or do you feel a duty to talk about it?
I don’t feel like it’s a duty. I get asked about a lot of things. It’s funny because I’m not a celebrity, but I have been in the public eye for about five years and I did not have to come out as HIV-positive in public, but that was such an intrinsic part of my personal life and was already starting to heavily effect me. Unless you go away and live on a farm or work in a restaurant and decide you’re not gonna do music any more or perform any more — which is something that you love — you realise it’s just gonna be healthy to be open and talk about these things over the hiding or the living in the shadows. It’s like: how could I have a boyfriend that I would also be happy to keep a secret?

What changed after coming out as HIV-positive?
I realised after I came out about that, that it’s always going to be tied to my name. It’s not a chip on my shoulder, but I do know you really have to do interesting stuff to get people to see past it. And I’m aware that it’s something I’ll always have to talk about because I made it public. But I’m a healthier person for making it public. It’s about owning it. That’s also what I’ve had to do with some of the issues I’ve had about substance abuse. There are times I’ve been in public, around people, when I’ve had full-on spirals, and to not come forward about it — about my recovery or the journey that recovery is. That allows people to gossip about you, or to exaggerate or create a false narrative that you have no control over. I’ve made a decision to be in the public eye and I would rather own my fuck-ups and publicly talk about the things I would rather not have people whisper about in the shadows.


How linked do you think your queerness, HIV-positivity and substance abuse are?
I think they are very linked. I think it’s kind of unfortunate how linked they are. I think one begets the other. Especially when I found out I was HIV-positive because I was ashamed and trying to hide it. I had substance issues because it was to do with trauma that was unresolved. I think that when you come forward [publicly as positive] it’s no longer this pity party, it’s like “I’m dealing with my shit”. And when I make music videos and do things that make you pay attention to me, well you also have to pay attention to my shit. I’d rather you not pay attention to my shit, but I’d also rather own the shit.

Last year you were on a plane and the person next to you called the cops because they said you made them feel uncomfortable. You called it out as homophobia. Does stuff like that happen often?
I realised that I learnt from this experience. It’s like racism — at first you don’t know what’s going on and then after a few minutes, it clicks. It’s not like the 1950s when someone shouts the N word at you or calls you a faggot. I mean, that does happen, but now it’s more subtle. At first you’re like “Why are these interactions weird? What is going on? And then you’re like, ‘Oh it’s homophobia or racism’”.

How do you feel about your gender identity now?
When I first started performing I was trans-identified. That was my own personal spiritual gender exploration. I was in this position twice; I was a gay male who thought I was a transgender woman and then I came back to being a gay man. I think when I tell people it sounds crazy, but as an effeminate gay man who was fully picked on and harassed I think at certain points I felt becoming a woman would be so much easier. I genuinely thought that for a while and then I realised my truth. And then I took a look at myself and thought, “You know what, maybe I’m more gender-fluid. I don’t have to go all the way as me part of liking myself.”

My final question is, if you could have dinner with three people, who would they be?
It would be the writer and philosopher Audre Lorde. Because of the groundwork she laid out in feminism, activism and queer theory. I just think she’s groundbreaking, you know what I mean? I think Oprah. And then…. Iggy Pop. I swam next to him in Miami Beach once but we didn’t talk. I model so much of my live performance off of him and I knew I could not afford back-up dancers or a showy stage show, so when I first started out I would watch a lot of videos of Iggy Pop. I would have a talk with him about how when he started out there were no other role models for letting go or having that sense of abandon he has on stage. I’d ask what allowed him to do that. 





The Accent supper club: May edition

Join Accent magazine for the first in a series of eccentric supper clubs in London.  

Accent supper host club Ned Alderwick at the Madonna Inn in California

Accent supper host club Ned Alderwick at the Madonna Inn in California

Each month, Accent will host an intimate evening of food, drink and performance. See the magazine brought to life with live performances and talks from stars from the magazine's pages — as well as some of Accent's biggest inspirations — over a candlelit dinner with friends. 

Tickets include welcome cocktails, a three-course menu of global-inspired vegetarian cuisine by The Little Cooking Pot, and front row seats to an eclectic show. 

The first supper club will take place on Sunday May 14 at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London.

Accent May supper club
Sunday May 14, 2017
7-10 pm

Servant Jazz Quarters
10A Bradbury Street, Dalston
London N16 8JN


Main course of kala chana curry, coconut rice and flatbread from The Little Cooking Pot

Main course of kala chana curry, coconut rice and flatbread from The Little Cooking Pot

Tanqueray Mojito
Tanqueray gin, mint leaves, fresh lime juice and sugar syrup
Panipuri with potatoes and kala chana, mint chutney, nigella and pomegranate
Mini masala dosa
Cauliflower and ginger samosa with fresh green chutney
Mini roti with smokey aubergine, toasted coconut flakes & coriander chutney
Thali (main course)
Coconut and cinnamon dahl
Aubergine and kala chana curry topped with toasted seeds & spring onions
Tandoori roasted broccoli with sesame and mint chutney
Coconut sticky rice with okra, lime, peanuts and black sesame
On the table
Green chilli pickle
Mint raita
Fig and cardamom kheer with pistachio chikki

The menu is fully vegan, and catered by The Little Cooking Pot


A ticket to the Accent supper club includes a front-row seat to an eclectic show.

Here is the starry line-up for May . . .

Performance artist Liv Fontaine

Songbird Sadie Sinner

Reba Maybury reads an extract from her new book, Dining with Humpty Dumpty

Ned Alderwick


Reflections from an ‘in-betweeny’ on a double life lived at the weekend. With photographs by Jack Davison


LONDON — I used to work in an office. One day I was expecting a visitor. Somewhat bewilderingly, when he got to my floor he asked for ‘Julie’. “He’s only Julie at the weekends”, declared a female colleague, so that everyone could hear. I had not divulged to, and had deliberately kept hidden from, anyone at the office, that I was, indeed, (not Julie) ‘Andie’ at the weekends, and my colleague’s joke was, therefore, pregnant with hidden irony, or, possibly, my cover had already been blown: the hair long enough to be en chignon, the mascara not having been completely erased by Monday morning?

But yes, she was right: I am ‘Andie’ at the weekends (a ‘genuine’ girl’s name in France and America). A very part-time tranny, dancing Saturday nights away at the Way Out Club in Aldgate, or sometimes Wednesdays at the Shadow Lounge in Soho: two popular transgender venues. People of all ages, all backgrounds, all races, dressed and made-up magnificently differently. Many are part-time, like me; some have undergone anatomical and chemical change to move more convincingly into the realm of the feminine: boys, girls and in-betweenies. Some of the more convincingly and biologically transformed can look askance at we ‘in-betweenies’: we’re not the real thing, we’re merely playing at it. I heard one such belle of the ball — rather spoiling the graces lent by her most admirable physical beauty — complain about the smell of testosterone in the Ladies, because, she animadverted, of all the trannies there.

Such girls could never undergo the purported ignominy of being ‘read’. Me, I don’t mind that much if I am taken for a man in a dress or a rather ragged or bizarre form of female in a dress. Being a ‘man in a dress’ — because of the artificiality of the ‘disguise’ — tends, ironically, to afford you more attention, even admiration: having one’s photograph taken by strangers in the street, questions about where you got your shoes or costume, advice from girls on make-up, etc. On the negative side, this artificiality is occasionally an invitation for aggression: I was hit on the head on the night bus home by a man who evidently found my appearance offensive. Some young men, full of their own self-importance and booze, can evidence a strident reluctance to include me easily within their heretofore imagined view of the world, suddenly and rudely interrupted.

"I think it’s great to have two selves, to run two wardrobes, two persons, and be a citizen known completely differently. It’s boring being Andrew all the time"

I can’t get very worked up about being ‘read’. God has distributed his gifts unevenly; and I am disinclined to get political on the subject of men in bras generally, as perhaps we are invited to do when embraced, mostly unwittingly, by the LGBTQ community. Given that we are fighting against Nature, against the incredulity of family or friends, we necessarily find ourselves out on a limb. From this state of affairs it is but a short step, I think, to find oneself putting up a finger to society at large, in however vague or disorientated and meaningless a manner: we find ourselves manoeuvred into the position of rebels. Which is curious, really, when all we’re doing is wearing a skirt. You wouldn’t think people would be so sensitive: the fact that they are makes rather attractive, to me, an outcome which is more than just frivolity.

It is suggested that of all the deviations, transvestism is the most philosophic or aesthetic — as against being purely sexual in motivation; even that our primeval or ancestral gods and progenitors were androgynous and possessed of a wisdom that the subsequent human declension into male and female has vitiated. According to this view, your humble tranny reclaims and becomes the inheritor of a divine authority: a shaman, a priest-like sorcerer, a visionary! Try telling that to the man on the night bus back! (Or any of the girls at the clubs, come to that.)

Is one more in touch with one’s feminine side? It’s suggested that dressing-up can be an amelioration of the demands of an over-harsh super ego, instilled by a male-dominated society. When I look around me at the clubs, I’m intrigued to think that almost everyone there is actually a man. Although the male ego is never far below the surface, I think there is a certain softening of the personality: if only a more genuine sensitivity to the aesthetic. Which, in fact, is rather academic because the clubs are a carnival, showtime, bravura, and being someone different for a while — a place where everyone is a star.

I think it’s great to have two selves, to run two wardrobes, two persons, and be a citizen known completely differently. It’s boring being Andrew all the time.

And anyway, think of the health benefits: all that dancing! Plus, there’s no way one is going start putting on weight, if one is still to get into those size 10 dresses. And finally, why should women have all the fun of the many transformative and deceptive possibilities afforded by make-up and dress? A ‘star’: repeatedly burnt to incandescence and continually reliving its genesis—at the weekend.

Andrew Logan — in fractured mirrors, light

Words by Matthew Ponsford with photographs by Elliot Kennedy


“He is like a huge open eye. An incredible open eye. You can see every detail in his eye and you can see how our world is transformed into something new — something magical. 

“You stand in front of him and it will change you . . . and give you . . . incredible power . . . I . . . I don’t know . . . how. It’s beautiful.” 

— Experimentalist Andrey Bartenev 

BERRIEW, WALES — Andrew Logan is a beacon of light. Everyone will tell you so. David Hockney, Derek Jarman, Leigh Bowery, Vivienne Westwood, Duran Duran, John Waters, Rula Lenska, Adam Ant — they’re a glimpse of the characters who have inhabited the fairytale world that Andrew has built from scrap. 

The artist has always had passion for the “unusual people”; the “creatives”, the extraordinary lives — and so it’s hardly surprising that some of the people arriving at his door happen to be famous. But it’s not about that. 

For the past 40 years, Andrew has been best known around the world for an anarchic party that envisioned a better future. His Alternative Miss World is a fancy dress contest inspired by a dog show, which — in thirteen instalments so far — has embraced a world that hasn’t always been welcoming. 

Andrew, a willowy 70-year-old, remains the Pied Piper, according to those who share his life. He inspires celebrities and misfits alike to follow. 

At the centre of his story are spaces he has filled with light and the people who have been bathed in it. He built the Glasshouse in Southwark, London, his home and studio for 25 years, and packed it with creations assembled from jumble sale finds and glitter: collages of bric-a-brac, jewellery made from coloured glass, sculptures of Pegasus with wings outstretched, colossal eggs glistening with shards of fractured mirror. There he lived beneath a glass ceiling designed by his architect partner, Michael Davis, so he could gaze out into the infinite and fall asleep under the lights of the universe. 


In this article, the people closest to Andrew — Michael, Brian Eno, Grayson Perry, Zandra Rhodes, friends and family — reflect a little of the glittering glow that he gives off. 

We meet Andrew in rural Mid Wales, at the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture: the only museum in Europe dedicated to a living artist, and Andrew and Michael’s temporary home. 

In the village of Berriew, Powys — halfway up Wales, and a few miles from the English border — there are artists in the hills, apparently. Michael, who has been with Andrew for 45 years, says the couple started journeying here in the Eighties, when friends of theirs were caretakers for Julie Christie, who breeds sheep up the road. There’s a long history of artists arriving from the big city, but, as a scene, it never really came together. 

Berriew is made up of a few country lanes that converge on a gurgling river. There’s a church with a tower, two pubs, a Spar shop with stale sandwiches, and a sign listing those glorious years when Berriew was recognised as the best-kept village in Wales.

And then there’s Andrew, across the road, hat-to-hems in shining pink, beaming — a man from a distant planet. 

They get on well with the locals — mainly farmers — he thinks. But he can’t get through to them, really, about the museum or his art. “Impossible”, he says, quickly. “Only through the schools: the children.”

In the early days, it took a day to get to Berriew from London: “It was exciting, you’d get lost, it was fabulous.” He’d always dreamt of having his museum and, when he and Michael found some abandoned squash courts near the river, they built it. It opened in 1991. As you walk in the front door, almost filling your line of sight is a 10ft Cosmic Egg — a giant oval covered in mirrored glass that reflects everything: the light through the doorway, the artefacts lining the walls, the strangers around you. Andrew glows. Being so remote amplifies its effect, he reckons: “It’s a double shock: you walk in and think ‘Oh my goodness, where’s this come from?’ ”

Buy the issue to read the full article


Vietnam, They Ask, So What Was It Like

Wartime photographs by Vietnam veterans, with words taken from the poem, Vietnam, They Ask, So What Was It Like, by Sgt Clyde B Canny of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment
From an exhibition curated by Marissa Roth

Vietnamese fishermen heading out in their sampan to the South China Sea from the port in Nha Trang, Vietnam  Michael Olson — U.S. Army, Specialist 4, 981st M.P. Sentry Dog Nha Trang, Vietnam 1969-70

Vietnamese fishermen heading out in their sampan to the South China Sea from the port in Nha Trang, Vietnam
Michael Olson — U.S. Army, Specialist 4, 981st M.P. Sentry Dog
Nha Trang, Vietnam 1969-70

They Ask
So What Was It Like

I felt so young

I felt so old

I felt so hot

I felt so cold

sometimes wet

sometimes dry

Joe Kempt, 1st Squad machine gunner from Louisiana, East of Tay Ninh, Vietnam July 1969   Bill Noyes — Sergeant E-5, 3rd Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion of the 22nd Regiment, 25th Infantry Division Vietnam September 1968 – September 1969

Joe Kempt, 1st Squad machine gunner from Louisiana, East of Tay Ninh, Vietnam July 1969

Bill Noyes — Sergeant E-5, 3rd Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion of the 22nd Regiment, 25th Infantry Division
Vietnam September 1968 – September 1969

still can hear

the choppers fly

a weapon fires

someone cries

some would live

some would die

the still of night

till cannons roar

knock mighty trees

to jungle floor

the smell of life

the smell of death

a newborn baby

draws first breath

it don’t mean nothin’ *

but that’s a lie

now there’s time

to stop and cry

take the hill

let it go

we still ask why

do any know


*This expression was commonly used to defer painful reactions to battlefield experiences to a time when they could safely be processed.

Unfortunately, for some, that time has yet to come.

USO performance at Fire Base Rawlins, Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam, November 1969  David Fahey — Spec 4, US Army, 25th Infantry, 4th Battalion, 23rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade   Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

USO performance at Fire Base Rawlins, Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam, November 1969
David Fahey — Spec 4, US Army, 25th Infantry, 4th Battalion, 23rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade
Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Sergeant Burgie, my best buddy in Vietnam, Cambodia, May 1970  David Fahey —Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Sergeant Burgie, my best buddy in Vietnam, Cambodia, May 1970
David Fahey —Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Mortar batallion, Cambodia, May 1970  David Fahey —   Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Mortar batallion, Cambodia, May 1970
David Fahey — Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Boy with his little man, Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam, November 1969
David Fahey — Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970