Celebrating Black Achievement Month in Amsterdam
As the Dutch capital booms with talent, its artistic side is stronger than ever. Here, we meet some of the Black creatives, and Soho House members, who are shaping the city
Black Achievement Month is held annually in The Netherlands every October. It brings Black achievers and their contribution to Dutch society to the attention of a wider audience through a programme of performances, exhibitions and events across the country.
To celebrate Black Achievement Month, we meet a creative cast of movers and shakers from the Black community who are helping to shape the capital’s future.
William Ampofo, founder of CRUÈL
CRUÈL is a contemporary menswear, womenswear and unisex brand that was founded in 2018 in Amsterdam by William Ampofo, an expressive designer known for his deconstructed approach to classic pieces, particularly trousers and denim. His collections focus on timeless designs with an avant-garde touch, pushing the wearer to the edge of their comfort zone, and encouraging them to express their true self.
How did you make the shift from specialising in jeans and denim to working win a more avant-garde style?
When I started out as a designer, I mainly worked with indigo denim. But when I was working on our FW19 collection, I began investigating other fabrics such as vegan leather, wool and cotton, and experimenting in black and white. This was the starting point for the contemporary, avant-garde style I have today, where I focus closely on details, material, and the art of deconstruction.
What is your vision for your brand?
CRUÈL’s identity is shaped by Amsterdam’s strong cultural heritage that places creativity and freedom among the most important things in life. As a brand, we believe expressing oneself is a necessity, not a contingency, and we encourage each individual to be exactly who they want to be by thinking, saying, doing and wearing what they want.
What is a career highlight you’d like to share?
A big highlight of my career was being able to participate in Amsterdam Fashion Week for the first time, when CRUÈL was only in its second year. When I started the brand, fashion week seemed like a long way off. But now that I have worked on CRUÈL for four years, and already have several runway shows at Amsterdam Fashion week to my name, I feel proud.
Ami Keita, founder of GEM Faces
GEM Faces is a modelling agency that casts and scouts extraordinary faces in the world of youth culture. Founded by Ami Keita in 2020, the agency aims to explore new definitions of beauty, and to promote diversity in fashion, film, photography and advertisement. This, they argue, is key for individuals to be able to love themselves and recognise themselves in others.
Why did you start GEM Faces?
I started GEM Faces mainly because it was – and still is – my hobby to look at people on the street. With the arrival of Instagram, I was able to continue this pastime online. I would often be asked by my creative friends and acquaintances if I knew of someone for this or that shoot. This eventually led me to my first job overseeing a full casting on a brand commercial, which led to the second, third, and so on. When sharing a proposal for a shoot, there are many faces that aren’t chosen by the client, but that I personally find very interesting. I wanted a platform where I could showcase them.
I started asking the same faces for different jobs, and they liked it, so some asked me if I could be their agent. I didn’t realise the need at first, because these were the people that I would always turn my head around for. I began to realise there was a large group of people that model agencies wouldn’t accept; they would either be too short, too tall, too thick or too ‘different’. Once, a model with a certain skin condition told me an agency they applied to join had replied to them saying, “we already have someone like you”. That’s when I discovered I am interested in a niche group that isn’t normalised or represented enough in the media.
Why is diversity in casting so important?
Seeing other versions of yourself makes you feel human. Being represented in the media you consume every day helps prevent you from feeling alienated or uncomfortable in certain places, countries or markets. I will do my part in normalising diversity within all forms of media so the new generation might not have to fight racism one day.
How is GEM helping to make the industry more inclusive?
Apart from booking jobs for models, I also organise my own photoshoots, where I work with a team from different social as well as cultural backgrounds. This includes makeup and hair stylists that specifically know how to work with black hair, and come prepared with all tones of foundation. I also use fashion stylists that know where to find great clothes in size XL and up.
What advice would you have given to yourself when you were just starting GEM Faces?
Don’t be scared; excellence comes from falling and getting up.
Marian Duff, founder of OSCAM
OSCAM, which stands for Open Space Contemporary Art Museum, aims to promote engagement in the arts for the young and adult residents of Amsterdam, especially for the historically underprivileged Bijlmer neighbourhood in the southeast (Zuidoost) of the city – a modernist 1960s housing initiative that became home to immigrants from newly independent Suriname and other former Dutch colonies. OSCAM was launched by Marian Duff, and curates shows in art, fashion, design and craft, often in collaboration with other social art institutes in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and beyond.
How did OSCAM start?
As an independent art curator, I worked on exhibitions for museums across Amsterdam. In 2017, I was asked by the Zuidoost district if I had an idea for Bijlmer's 50th anniversary. After a work trip to Suriname and French Guyana, I came back inspired, and told the Zuidoost district that I wanted to set up a pop-up museum. And so OSCAM was born.
What artists are you most excited about at the moment?
At home, I have work by Serana Angelista, Coco Olakunle, Method Man, Ilja Meefout, Bas Kosters, Willem Sizoo, Maite Prince and a statue of Martin Luther King by Airco Caravan – there are only 50 editions of those worldwide.
My favourite piece at the moment is Black News (BLKNWS) by Kahlil Joseph. The artwork is a response to African-American cultural heritage and contemporary news channels. The work shows new and historical news images. The piece is on show in OSCAM.
On my wish list is work by Marlou Fernanda. She is a self-taught interdisciplinary artist, and tells personal stories that touch on melancholy and confrontational subjects in expressive paintings. I love Antonio Guzman too. He investigates the transatlantic, colonial history of the colour indigo. I would very much like to buy a piece of fabric from him.
What are your goals for the next few years?
We want to seek collaborations with neighbourhoods abroad that are similar to Zuidoost. For instance, we currently work with the Zimbabwean Magamba Network, and with artists from Senegal in collaboration with Africulturban. We have been working with the Interlock Foundation since 2020 to organise an exchange with the Brent neighbourhood in London, which shares similarities to Amsterdam’s Zuidoost. This way we can empower each other, exchange talent, and learn from each other. We would like to put Zuidoost on the map with these international collaborations.