What’s behind the name Moosh?
My grandfather’s name is Mushumbusi – it’s a short form of that because people couldn’t pronounce it, so I just ran with it. It’s from Luziba in Tanzania. and means the one who leaves the clan. Then my family name Nyamwehura means ‘pioneer’, translated as doing things differently, which has the same meaning as Gerald, my English name. It’s complex, but the main thing is the importance of knowing yourself, especially in a westernised society.
I get that, as in carrying who you are to different places. Do you live on your own?
I have family all over the world but I’m just doing my own thing. I came to London from Texas. I was born in Uganda – my mother’s side, and my father’s family is from Tanzania, then I moved to New York when I was quite young. When I think about it, my Mum should have just brought me here instead. I love London and being in Barking and Dagenham. I like simplicity. I like the fact that I can go outside and see people in basketball shorts and flip flops even in February, “it’s hot now, but later it might be raining so we’re going to wear everything to be prepared!” I like that it has its own culture compared to other parts of the city. And for someone like me, an artist who wants to empower the community, it’s the perfect place.
Do you consider yourself vulnerable?
Beyond coronavirus and what’s happening now, I feel really vulnerable in the context of fearing police brutality. This increased support for the Black Lives Matter movement has been a product of Covid-19, as people now have no choice but to pay attention. I’ve had challenging experiences, with comments like, “you look like you sell drugs” and I said, “really? Do I look like a pharmacy? With Boots printed on my forehead?” Plus other far worse experiences. You get to a point where you develop PTSD.
I actually cried the other day when I realised that’s just how it is. Although England is better, it established what America is. Even here, I still get stopped and searched all the time. It’s different because I always have my hands up in the air and people say “this is not America, you don’t have to put your hands up” but because of what’s happened so many times with law enforcement, I always react that way. It fuels my drive to make a difference in communities using my heart. Before, I was just making art because I was good at it, but now I think there’s something more I could do.
I feel a positive pushback there in you responding with your art. If you had a platform, what message would you like to send to the public/decision-makers?
We need more leaders who are courageous. We also need those who try different tactics and more people like you and me. Regular people that have been through this that can tell people, “hey, I went through that so what we could do instead is…” Not just going with how things have been for all these years. It’s also about thinking what you can do personally to look after yourself. I think of it as living in my own country in terms of my power over my state of mind.
That’s very resilient and inspiring. How have you and your community reacted to the crisis? Is there anything you are particularly proud of or happy about?
As people with kids were losing their jobs struggling with mouths to feed it was people like you and me who made and delivered food packages. The community has definitely responded in the right way. Understandably, some of us face fear and ignorance in this stressful environment, but then you have those that are courageous coming together and trying to do something. I love that kind way of stepping up.
What are your hopes for the future, for yourself, your family and your community?
There’s going to be a need for healing for our minds too. That rebirth is a healing process. After you get a cut, cleaning the wound hurts but it’s going to get better. Similar to how I carefully consider the nutrition of what I make as a chef at the food bank where I volunteer, when I make art, I look at that as medicine which can help with depression.
Will we see you at the Biennale next year?
Venice? Why not the Barking Biennale – I think we’ve got a great environment for it. We have enough talent and vision. I’ve seen so much of that around here, we can get investment into the community. It would be nice to have something like that.
Another example of Moosh’s art