“I have always felt that places like school, church, mosques - which society says will aid in a journey of self-discovery - can sometimes do more damage than good. It's the places like the sea, the gym, the youth centre, the arts centre where we can embark on this journey fully. That was the point we wanted to get across.”
Adam Mohamed, 25, is discussing his spoken-word piece, Untitled, an exploration of place and identity in modern Ireland. It nearly broke the internet when it was released in the final days of 2020 on Twitter.
It’s a subject close to Adam’s heart, having grown up in a mixed-race family in Ballymun and he lived in the flats there until he was eight. The video accompanying the piece was released in the final days of 2020 and in it, Adam explores his existence as a mixed-race and mixed religion man in Ireland and the struggle to cement his place in the face of prejudice from some areas: ‘If you can't see through the veil/ then dún do bhéal,’ he says in the piece.
Adam says much of the conflict he faced about his identity as an Irish-Sudanese person throughout his life came from other children when he was growing up, adding he rarely encounters such issues today.
“The only time I experienced direct racism was when I was a kid, by other kids. I didn't really think anything of it because as a kid, we all slagged each other, so I took it with a pinch of salt and gave it back,” he says.
“However, I always knew I was different and I always felt like I didn't fit in, which made me try hard to fit in. I realised, however, that this was mostly all in my head, and it was my insecurities and fears that caused me to feel that way. This sparked an internal journey of remembering and rediscovering myself, in order to grow into the best version of myself.”
Adam’s experience growing up between two religions is something he says that shaped his current outlook.
“My mother’s family is Catholic and my father’s family is Muslim. It’s an interesting nuance. I don't really practice either religion fully but I have definitely taken from both. It’s important for me to find the middle ground of both and I've built my values, principles and faith from that middle ground. I would be more of a spiritual person, I believe in God and regularly pray. But as you see in the video, I find God and faith in nature rather than in church or in a mosque.”
Adam says his piece, Untitled, was inspired by the ever-changing cultural landscape in Ireland, particularly at the moment.
“The piece was made to reflect the conversation which is currently happening in Ireland at the moment. Issues like class, race/Irishness, identity, politics and religion are being openly dissected, specifically in music, in a way that I have not seen before. I felt my journey as a mixed-race/mixed-religion man from Ballymun brings a new dimension to that conversation.
The video was included in the Festival of Now, a unique festival film celebrating the heart of music and arts in Ireland today while also raising funds for Jigsaw, a youth and mental health charity. It featured live performances and interviews with over 20 established and emerging Irish artists and was curated by POD.
It was Adam’s festival debut and he was joined on the billing by Gemma Dunleavy, James Vincent McMorrow, Panti Bliss and Pillow Queens.
The musicians, poets and performers at the Festival of Now focused on their experiences of the past year and delved into the importance of music and art for our mental health.
Adam says the subject of race and identity is being more openly discussed and accepted in Ireland now. He believes the prominence of diverse voices in music and culture has led to this development.
“The country is changing for the better. People from my age and peer group specifically, are open and comfortable having these conversations. As a whole, I think we are leaving some of the old ways of shame and inferiority in the past, and moving forward as a country. This is evident in the diverse genres of music, films and the amount of independent podcasts popping up everywhere. It's great to see!”
Issues surrounding racism and bigotry still exist, Adam says, and he calls for more public discussion to tackle these problems.
Adam adds that the media and other areas have led to a strong platform for performers such as himself and he hopes this support will continue and grow.
“From what I've seen so far, the media is doing a great job of getting new acts in front of audiences. The Department of Tourism, Sport, and Culture are also really helping a lot with their funding for artists and promoters. Long may it continue!”
The video for Untitled was shot in just 12 hours in December on locations in Ballymun and Portmarnock beach and edited within a week. It was produced by director Mark Logan, director of photography Conor Hayes, producer Dean Scurry, editor Georgia Kelly, Jack O’Donoghue was in charge of music and Adam’s sister, Nadia Mohamed was creative director. Adam says the reaction to their work has been “phenomenal”.
“The amount of responses it has gotten from people of all ages, races, and backgrounds has been truly heartwarming. What amazed me about the reaction was that people who aren't mixed race, or mixed religion identify with that and connect with it. It's a universal thing, that just happens to be my truth.” Actor and playwright Emmet Kirwan was impressed by Adam’s work and called Untitled “an amazing piece of writing and the performance. Real truth.”
Untitled isn’t Adam’s first foray into the creative scene. He graduated from NCI in 2016 with a business degree and has been working since then but he said he realised at a young age he had a talent for writing and performance.
“I did pretty well in school, particularly in English, so I always had a good grasp of the language. I only realised I had a flair for spoken work when I attended a project in my local arts centre, the Axis. I was mentored by guys like Paul Alwright, Damien Dempsey, Terry McMahon, Stephen James-Smith, and John Connors. This was when I first started writing, and I was able to realise my creative potential from that.” He hopes to build on the “momentum” generated by Untitled’s successful reception.
“Expect more from me in terms of poetry and music,” he says. Adam Mohamed is certainly one of Ireland’s most promising talents and is a creative force to be reckoned with.