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Pause with Ronan Mckenzie

Wind down for the year with photographer Ronan Mckenzie as she welcomes us to Home, her multi-functional creative space and sanctuary amidst the hustle and bustle of north London…

 

Photographer Ronan Mckenzie (Image: Ekua King).

As the year draws to a close and the festive chatter fades to a hum, for many it’s time for the real fun to begin: the opportunity to slow down with friends and family and reflect on the year just gone. ‘Even though I'm not religious, what I love about the end of the year is that everyone takes a pause at the same time’ says the photographer Ronan Mckenzie (she/her) who’s known for her emotive portraiture and short films. ‘I'm a wishing person. I like New Year's resolutions and setting intentions at the end of the year. So, for me, it’s important to have time to reflect and appreciate everything I've done over the past 12 months, and to be proud of the work that I've done.’

And Ronan has a lot to be proud of. Afterall, this is someone who launched her agenda-setting arts space, Home, to champion Black creatives in the middle of a pandemic. ‘Since 2018, I'd really wanted to have a physical space’ she recalls. ‘Over the years I’d become more aware of the placement of artists within London – where you can go to certain shows, what shows are missing and what types of artist you can't really see. I had been thinking a lot about my career, my place and what was important. So, during the first lockdown I decided to open Home and start up a creative space that would welcome lots of different types of artists and allow people to have a place to just be.’

This kind of warmth and openness has come to define not only the interiors of Home itself but also its diverse exhibition program and Ronan’s wider photographic aesthetic too. After another year of great change, we caught up with Ronan to discuss the concept of Home, the importance of space and taking time out to pause and reflect…

‘For me, home is a place where one is accepted and comfortable to express themselves in whatever way they would like.’

 

Ronan wears top and pants by COS. (Image: Ekua King).

ON HER WORK
‘A lot of my work is about joy, love and tenderness and creating imagery of that. So even though Home is a physical space, where I’m curating exhibitions or collaborating with people, it still comes out of that place of togetherness and wanting people to feel comfortable or safe and feel seen. Those are the bones of my practice.’

ON THE MEANING OF HOME
‘My mum still lives in the house I grew up in and I was born in the living room. I'm very sentimental so familiarity has so much to do with my sense of home and place. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to create Home. There have been many galleries and public spaces that have been founded by Black people in the UK that unfortunately don't stand the test of time. It’s really important for me to have places to go to that exist in order for me to feel grounded within this country and to be able to say “yeah, I do belong here.”’

‘When I’m at home, I just like looking out the window, spending time sitting and being. There's a grounding feeling to it. For me, home is a place where one is accepted and comfortable to express themselves in whatever way they would like. It’s a place that people can come, and they can put their bag or coat down and know that there's no rush for them to leave. They can just be. It’s so rare now that we're allowed to just be anywhere. There's never a space that really advocates for just sitting and looking in a comfortable way.’

ON CREATING A CALMING SPACE
‘I always knew that I wanted Home to feel comfortable and that I wanted people to be able to sit down. Those are the two things that drove the spatial design for how it feels and looks. I have these beautiful porous walls which are warm and textured. They can contextualise and house the works in a way that plain white walls just can't do. There are textiles and rugs everywhere and the sofas are all different fabrics. It's a warm space too. The heating is on when it's cold and you can come in and kettle will always be on.’

ON COMMUNITY
‘I try not to be too prescriptive as to what people should feel or how people come through the space. For me, it’s an anti-networking thing… I just really want anyone who comes to feel like they're part of it. You don't have to be an artist necessarily. You don't have to be someone that I know, or someone that I've worked with. You should feel like you can speak to someone else who might be there at that time or make a connection. It’s also about observation, that sense of being around and feeling close to others. If you want to share space without even necessarily talking, Home is a place you're welcome to do that.’

 

Ronan wears sweatshirt by COS. (Image: Ekua King).

‘What I love about the end of the year is that everyone takes a pause at the same time.’

ON NATURE
‘Even though some people don’t love that it gets darker, I really don't mind the shift in seasons. I feel most like myself in nature, so if I'm out somewhere where there's lots of fresh air and a large body of water, I feel at peace and very calm. I've always found something very comforting about water – both the journeys and the stories that it holds, but also that you can float on it. That stillness and the idea of being carried and held is something that really inspires me.’

ON SELF-CARE
‘I started meditating every day in the beginning of August. I know how it sounds but for me it is such a big aspect of self-care, especially because my routine – or lack of it – means that I can be here, there, and everywhere. Knowing that I give myself even just three minutes to peacefully think about my breathing and check in to see if my body is OK that day is a massive thing for me.’

ON COMFORT
‘My style is always about finding a balance between comfort, and something I feel great in. I love layering up; wearing turtlenecks with baggy tracksuit bottoms and then putting on a pair of boots or some nice jewelry and dressing it up in that way. I might still just be wearing a tracksuit, but the boots make it feel like slightly more fab.’

‘I put a lot of care into what I wear since how I dress has a big impact on how I feel. Because so much of my work is connecting or communicating with people, whether that's through photography or through Home, I have to feel good if I want to be in a place to champion someone else.’

‘Small things like the underwear or coat you wear make you feel a certain way for better or worse. I put a lot of attention into making sure that I'm cared for and I'm held by the clothes I'm wearing. That in turn allows me to hold others.’

ON HER RITUALS
‘The holidays have always been about food for me. When I was younger, we didn't have much money, so it wasn't a big presents thing. It was more about being together and smelling the gammon cooking overnight! Even though I'm 27, I still sleep in my sister’s bed at Christmas and wake up and spend all day in my pyjamas.’

‘The end of the year is always a round up for me because my birthday is in November. I like having my birthday which is a celebration of the year that I've had and then winding down to Christmas. Everyone's a little bit looser and ready to just sit down, rest and relax.’

Between Me and You, the debut solo exhibition by Bernice Mulenga, starts 20th January 2022 at Home.


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