Kuukua Eshun is a beautiful soul who exudes warmth, love, passion and intelligence. She is a writer and poet as well as a multiple award-winning filmmaker. In addition to this, she is the co-founder of the Boxed Kids, the Skate Gal Club and Accra Studio Live. Kuukua has also been featured in the press worldwide including Vogue, The FADER, BBC, among others. I am certain you can’t wait to start reading this interview so, let’s begin!
Photo of Kuukua Eshun
Photo Credit: Blackimagegh
Ayeyi: Hi Kuukua. How are you and how have you been spending your days?
Kuukua: I’m pretty well. I’ve been spending my days doing a lot of work; getting in and out of post-production, pre-production and been in and out of set. And yeah, getting to know myself really well this year. So, I think overall I’ve been thankful. I’ve also been a light to my life which automatically makes me a light to other people. So that’s great. How about you?
Ayeyi: That’s beautiful. I’ve also been doing great. I’ve been resting a lot because school starts soon so I want to make sure that I’m rested. Okay, so Kuukua, the first thing that attracted me to your art was your filmmaking which left me impressed. So, I want to know, growing up, were there any films that you watched which perhaps shaped the way you engage in storytelling or filmmaking?
Kuukua: Ummm…I feel like to be fair, most of the films that they showed on tv, if I can remember clearly, wasn’t something that was close to me. You know, I grew up in Ghana before I moved to Ohio, like right after middle school. Growing up, they showed Hispanic soap operas on TV a lot. Most of the shows had only White actors. Even the ones I loved growing up, were not a reflection of who I am. I’m black, African, and a woman. So, I don’t think any of the films they showed on TV shaped me because honestly chale, it was some white people films (laughs).
Ayeyi: (laughs) So do you think maybe the lack of representation influenced the way you now show your films? Because in your films we get to see a lot of your heritage and representation.
Kuukua: Oh definitely! I feel like I’m one of those people that if I’m looking for something and I can’t find it, then I’m going to create it. So, if you look at my other interviews, I always say that I want to create something I never had as a little girl. It’s so important to me that I do that because of the generation that would come after me.
Ayeyi: That’s beautiful..
Kuukua: Thank you.
Photo of Kuukua Eshun
Ayeyi: So, one of your films, Artist, Act of Love, has received a lot of recognition. It’s won multiple awards and been nominated in various categories. Would you mind telling us what the film is about?
Kuukua: Yeah! Artist, Act of love, I’d say, embodies who I am as a creative. I’m such a hopeless romantic and a sucker for love but growing up, I didn’t really see black love or black representation when it comes to love in that form: so pure, so beautiful, so soft. So, that’s the type of love I yearned for. So, Artist Act of Love is basically a beautiful representation of black love and what it means to find a home in yourself first before you go to find a home somewhere else. In the film, I use a lot of colours and I only have two cast: a girl and a boy. They have this beautiful dark skin and the guy has an afro. It’s literally dreamy. They’re in this beautiful garden and they are in love and they’re happy and you think of intimacy. Intimacy is not just sexual. Intimacy is conversations, the way you’re so close to someone, the bond that you have with another human being. So, for me, it was important to show intimacy in a non-sexual way and still make it look so pure and so beautiful.
Ayeyi: I’m smiling so hard right now just even listening to you describe it.
Artist, Act of Love
Ayeyi: So, apart from filmmaking, you’re also a poet and I love your poetry. What drew you to poetry?
Kuukua: Thank you. Honestly, that was my first love. Every film I’ve ever made is because I’m a poet. It always starts with just a poem. And then it develops and goes into a script and then a film. But it’s always a poem.
Ayeyi: That is interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that.
Kuukua: Yeah, everything I ever did was a poem. I lacked a lot of things, but I feel like I’ve really come to understand what it means to be emotionally intelligent. The world tells you, “You feel too much,” “You do too much,” “You care too much,” “You love too much,” but it’s people who are emotionally intelligent who allow themselves to feel. So, when I was like seven years old, I’d write down everything I felt. Usually when I’m sad or upset that’s when I write more. But it just started from there. And when I was in high school, I started writing poems and my lecturer was like “Oh! This is really good.” So, they started publishing my poems in my high school magazine. And I went to college and the same thing happened. I got published in my college magazine because my English professor said, “Oh my gosh, Kuukua you write so well.” And I was said, “Oh my gosh, I do write damn well.” So that is how it all started.
Stranger To Your Seed – A short poetry film by Kuukua Eshun
Ayeyi: And talking about how you’re really in tune with your emotions, I can really identify with that because with some of your poems, you present a part of yourself that usually people might not want to show to the world. How are you able to embrace those vulnerable parts and experiences and translate them into poetry which is accessible for others?
Kuukua: Um, I think that one of the most difficult things to do in the world is to always understand your own feelings. Now, imagine writing those feelings down for people to understand. So, I don’t think I’m intentionally doing that. I just allow myself to feel no matter what. The film industry is complicated and it has a lot of ups and downs. I have literally cried in front of people I am working with and that is deemed unprofessional. But I’m like if we’re working together and you’re human, then you understand that humans have nervous breakdowns. So for me, I think that being vulnerable is literally one of my biggest powers because I allow myself to feel. I come as I am, and this is who I am.
Ayeyi: And that makes you more relatable. It makes people go like “Oh, I identify with this or I identify with that” and I think that’s really great.
Kuukua: Thank you. It’s either people love you for that or sometimes they are like you’re too fucking emotional (both laugh).
Ayeyi: (laughs) I understand.
Words of the Wise (Nyansasɛm) Jounal Visual – Kuukua Eshun and Principality (Narrated in Akuapem Twi)
Ayeyi: Apart from being a filmmaker and poet, you are very passionate about mental health. I read an article of yours on mental health which was published on different sites and platforms in Ghana. In trying to educate people on mental health in Ghana, has there been any common misconception that you’ve come across?
Kuukua: Yes. People think mental health means that you need to be locked up in an institution like you’re mentally unstable. But we all have mental issues and there are levels to it. There are so many things that a lot of people don’t identify with that they go through and that’s mental health. Mental health issues just means that everything is not as stable or in place as it should be. Sometimes you might be having sleepless nights. That’s your mental health. It’s not a bad word. It does not mean you’re mad and running in the streets and need to be locked up. I think that’s the biggest thing for me that I would love people to get rid of. Mental health is not a bad thing; it’s wellness. And it’s so sad that my article is literally the only mental health article online in the mainstream media in Ghana. Which is crazy! Like how?
Ayeyi: It really goes to show how little attention is given to mental health in Ghana. So, do you think that maybe we need more safe spaces to discuss mental health and educate people? What would you say should be the way forward so that we can be better equipped?
Kuukua: Yeah, we do need a lot more safe spaces, for sure, but I feel like we can start by having conversations at home with your brother, your sister, your cousins, your friends, your family. I feel like it could be just as simple as that. And I know that not everyone has healthy families to talk to and not everyone has a family to talk to. But I feel like just starting at home, is good. If we can even have mental health studies at school, I think it would be a lot easier. Because not every Ghanaian parent is educated but if the kids are educated, then they can have conversations like that, openly. We need to have more open conversations with the people close to us. Because like you said, you’re being vulnerable and it’s scary to talk about it in our society because maybe you’re embarrassed and don’t want to be stereotyped.
Kuukua Eshun’s mental health article featured on GhanaWeb
Ayeyi: And still on things you do to help society, you’re a co-founder of the Skate Gal Club. For all those who may not be familiar with the project, could you please shed more light on what the group does?
Kuukua: Yes. So basically, Skate Gal Club is an all women, all girls skate club but we don’t just skate. We have women from all different walks in life: students, doctors, lawyers, nurses, filmmakers, dancers…all kinds of women. We come together and we talk about things that empower us and make us feel beautiful. And we do that through sports. Sports is frowned upon in Africa, especially if you’re a woman. Now imagine being empowered through sports. I feel like it’s just beautiful and it’s so powerful. So yeah, that’s basically what Skate Gal Club is about.
Ayeyi: And apart from the Skate Gal Club, what also attracted you to be the co-founder of the Boxed Kids?
Kuukua: Okay so, it was started by myself and my partner, Prince Gyasi in 2017. That was the first time I came to Ghana since I left. So, I saw this young boy making a boat at Jamestown and found it amazing. After conversing with him in Ga, because he didn’t speak English, I found out that he didn’t go to school and was a fisherman like his father and grandfather. And I was so inspired because I was like if with this knowledge, he’s making a boat, then does he know what he’s capable of? I mean, I can’t even make a boat with all my education. Also, Prince’s mum has been doing charity work for a long time, so he grew up around that. So, we decided to make an organization together where we can help because we were both passionate about that. And that’s what basically birthed the idea.
Ayeyi: That’s really empowering. This is an area which is really dear to my heart so to see you doing this is really motivational for me.
Kuukua: Thank you.
Ayeyi: So, for my last question, I want to ask this: When your name is mentioned or anyone remembers you, what do want to be most remembered for?
Kuukua: I want to be remembered for the way that I loved. I want to be remembered for my compassion; for my passion. I want to be remembered for my work and always using my gift. That’s what I want to be remembered for, but I feel like it all comes down to love. Because if you don’t love your work, or you don’t love what you do with the stories, the experiences, and the people around you, you can’t even create work that is authentic. And for me that is beautiful. Actually, everything has to come from love. I want to be remembered for love.
Ayeyi: And I think you do emanate love. I mean, just like during this short period, I’ve already experienced that radiation of love and warmth from you. So yeah, people will remember you for that.
Kuukua: Thank you.
Ayeyi: Kuukua, thank you so much for this interview. I’ve learned so much and I have been touched by the way you’re passionate about what you do. Everything about this interview has been inspirational and beautiful and I’m really grateful. I just want to say thank you and I wish you the very best in everything you do going forward.
Kuukua: Thank you, my love. I wish you the same too. I’m so excited for your journey. I can’t wait. I can’t even wait for it to come out and other people read it. Thank you.
Photo of Kuukua Eshun
Photo Credit: Accrastudioslive
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity*