“Freedom to me is the ability to pursue what you’re passionate about to its full extent.”
Christopher Lutterodt-Quarcoo is a Designer, Artist, Director and Writer (in that order). A British born Ghanaian, who spent his early years travelling the continent of Africa. Founder of UNMATERIALISED and Director of The Advrsry. He is also a graduate of London College of Communication and The Royal College of Art. Now that we have addressed the necessary formalities, let’s get to the flesh of the conversation – a discussion about life in Africa, life in the diaspora, life as a creative, music…
The weekly ‘Emerging Journal’ that Christopher writes for Shades of Noir, presents a man of many honest, articulate and reflective words. Words stimulated by his life experiences thus far, contextualized by formal education and personal reading, impassioned by experience once again, and finally released in a form of catharsis.
The journal itself is a goldmine, each article containing several gems to be extracted and held onto by those who find a voice that they can strongly relate to, or a voice that speaks for unaddressed issues in the “emerging” artist’s life.
This interview-style-feature is essentially a journey through a conversation I had with Christopher, in Elephant & Castle’s Long Wave Bar. When we met that afternoon he was coming from, and afterwards going to, “…for Christopher to stop producing, is for Christopher to perish” – words that Christopher said to have “rung true” in his most recent journal entry.
In our last conversation you referred to Senegal as the African country that had the biggest impact on you. What do you recall of your time spent there?
I lived in Senegal for quite a while; 6 or 7 years. French and Wolof, were my first languages. It was a different way of life. You knew your neighbors. When you’re out, people know your family. You mention your last name they’ll say “I know where your family is.” Everyone is looking out for you, to the point that you never stayed inside your house. There was way too much going on outside, way too much happening, things that you could get involved with. Staying in your house almost felt like a waste of life.
Senegal for me was amazing; unbelievable. The people, the music, the food. The way you connect with people, everyone is genuinely open. And because of that, you can make a lot of friends, you can get things done.
Which were some of the other African countries you spent time in?
We spent a lot of time in Cairo (Egypt), and Kenya. Cameroon too, we visited there. Egypt was interesting, we’ve never really been able to climb the pyramids but I think we kind of did back then! This was in the early 90s.
How would you say your travels have changed your outlook on life?
I came back when I was 7/8 and well, you realise that the world is a lot bigger, Twitter can only take you so far.
It’s only when I came back to England, I discovered TV and I realised it’s just a waste of time, unless you’re actively doing something for it or with it.
To be honest I find, in this country and western countries typically, we take so much for granted. What are we doing with all of the resources we have? It makes you appreciate what you have. To be in this country and have all of these free resources, and for it to be relatively difficult to get to a point where you’re completely starving (the full extent). To not do something with all the opportunity…
Do you see yourself going back to Africa?
Yes, eventually. I can see myself making longer stays in the next five years. I think there is a bound duty to do that, to go back. If you look at our parents, they came over in the 70s/80s. The goal was to come here, get information and qualifications and then go back, but they ended up staying. Then they made us. All that potential and drive hasn’t gone back to the place where it started. So there is a deficit, and we’ve done it. We have to contribute in some way shape or form.
South Africa is looking very interesting to me right now, and also Kenya. The design community in Nairobi is looking like they can do some [amazing] damage.
What interests you about South Africa?
The music that they’re producing right now is possessive!
Are you into South African House?!
It’s next to gospel! That’s the way to heaven. I went to Deviation’s 9th anniversary, and what they played was straight spiritual, it finished me. My soul was renewed.
Was art always the path you were going to follow or was there a point in your life where you had planned to take a different route?
Art wasn’t a predestined path for me, I come from a political family. [Chuckling slightly] Our household conversations, our conversations around the dinner table were about genocide in this country, political manipulation, funding, and corruption.
I was actually heading into politics, my brothers were involved in law and international relations. I was heading down the route of sociology and religion. And then ironically, my design & technology teacher in school at the time suggested I do an art foundation.
At the same time, I had started producing fashion garments at school and I used to sell them. For me, it was just customizing somebody’s stuff that you got. I hate looking the same way as everybody else and then eventually I thought “why not?”
One day I got a call from the London College of Communication and they said “your interview is in an hour.” I had left half my stuff at home and I got changed at the bus stop!
My mum was the creative one in my family, she was the fashion designer, so I guess it’s always been there. I think what I’ve done is fused the creative side, with the political side.
In what ways have you done that?
I look at it as a kind of medicine and sweet candy analogy; you’re hitting something very hard but you’re also engaging them and you’re entertaining them at the same time. Which is a great way to get through to people who don’t like going that extra mile to do investigation all the time. Or they like to protect what they know.
What does freedom mean to you?
I could be corny and say that freedom is to say whatever you think or feel, but that could also be irresponsible because you need to be considerate and think about how you would make people feel.
Freedom to me is, the ability to pursue what you’re passionate about, to its full extent. I think there is a false sense of freedom in many countries, we’re told “you can do or you can be whatever you want” but only so far.
What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?
Hmm, 18? I wish I did everything that I was planning to do a lot sooner. I would say try everything a lot sooner than later. You only ever know what you’re doing or whether something is right for you once you’ve tried it. There’s only so much you can get from other people giving you advice, you have to go through it first hand and fail, and get embarrassed until you realise where you’re meant to be.
Do you see this as a regret or appreciate it for shaping who you are today?
No, I appreciate it and I wouldn’t change it. I just think it would’ve been great if it happened sooner. It would’ve helped me learn how I want to make decisions, earlier on. I’ve realised I can be very indecisive and I have to work through all of my options before I select one.
So yeah, the advice would be, try everything that you’ve got, it doesn’t hurt to try. You have nothing to lose.
How would you define happiness?
Happiness is when you can accept that things aren’t perfect, but you feel a sense of satisfaction and the desire to keep going because you recognize “I’ve come this far.”
Interviewed by Charisse Chikwi