Interview: The Power actor Heather Agyepong talks radical truth

Actress and artist Heather Agyepong on her powerful new TV role

Heather Agyepong

Heather Agyepong

Heather Agyepong is an actress and photographer with a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for what she describes as “radical truth-telling”. Widely celebrated for her work exploring subjects including mental health, invisibility, and the diaspora, Heather will soon be hitting our screens in the highly anticipated Amazon adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s ground-breaking novel, The Power.

Heather plays Ndudi, a young Nigerian journalist who is friends with Tunde – the novel’s only male protagonist – when a sudden evolution provides women and teenage girls with the power to electrocute people at will. Like the book, the series is set to be a gripping thriller about gender, violence and injustice, starring Toni Collette, Halle Bush and Alice Eve.

Heather, who has won multiple prizes for her photography, is also exhibiting her latest project, Wish You Were Here at London’s Centre for British Photography until April. The works pay tribute to African-American Vaudeville performer Aida Overton Walker. Here, the artist tells Tempus about working on projects she believes in, healing through art, and drawing strength from black women throughout history.

Heather, tell us about your role as Ndudi in The Power?
Ndudi is young Nigerian journalist and master’s student who is super smart and always on a quest to find the next story. She is best friends with Tunde who also shares her passion for uncovering the truth and highlighting issues within Nigeria. She doesn’t always show her feelings and has a tough exterior but, due to the new force of The Power, she is faced with life-altering changes exposing her to real vulnerability as well as incredible opportunities for both her and the people around her. Playing a complex, dark-skinned Nigerian girl, grappling with power both electric and internal, felt like a dream story to tell.

What first attracted you to the adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel?
The book includes the conversation about intersectional feminism and how power and oppression affect people around the globe very differently and it is so nuanced in its approach. Also, the power dynamic changing to a matriarchy didn’t equate to any sort of utopia in the book – The Power actually critiques how ultimate power within any singular group doesn’t create equality. The love, joy and stunning depictions of empowerment weaved in the book was also so gorgeous.

What inspires your work as a photographer and artist?
My work always starts with me. I want to explore and unravel layers of myself that I’ve either silenced or not acknowledged. My work is about radical truth-telling – be it about black women’s vulnerability, healing, body exploration or re-imagining myself as black women from history to draw strength from the forgotten or erased past. My visual artwork acts as a therapeutic tool to understand myself better.

Tell us about your current exhibition, Wish You Were Here?
The work looks at ownership, entitlement and self-compassion as black creatives. I wanted to create these postcard images as a conversation about my experience as an artist, not just to encourage others but to show up and be seen so others can know they are not alone. Wish You Were Here focuses on the work of Aida Overton Walker, the celebrated African-American Vaudeville performer who challenged the rigid and problematic narratives of black performers. She re-worked a dance (the Cake Walk) that was seen as mocking black performers, and filled it with technique, flair and a deep expertise. Even though Aida was working in an incredibly hostile environment, she found a way to expand the limitations of what it meant to be a female black performer. The work is a conversation between me and her – the past and present impacting one another to elevated new heights – and honouring her work while also honouring my own journey, hearing Aida as guidance.

You are inspired by a quote by Aida: “Unless we learn the lesson of self-appreciation and practise it, we shall spend our lives imitating other people and deprecating ourselves”.
I just can’t believe this quote rings so true from when she first said it in 1902. The quote is on my wall at home and I just try to spend regular time reflecting on it. When (daily) comparison comes up, I think of the quote, close my eyes and touch my heart. I just allow myself to have compassion for myself, take a deep breath and reflect on the blessings I have in my life. Comparison isn’t just a
joy-killer, it preys on your insecurities.

What’s next for you?
I am back on stage in June at Lyric Theatre in School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, written by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Monique Touko. I also have an exhibition called Ego Death, which is part of the Jerwood/Photoworks Award in Belfast from 6 April
to 20 May, and a performance about rest that I am currently creating for a festival.

Watch The Power on Amazon Prime

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