Abena Essah Bediako

Abena is an upcoming poet, musician and model from North London. They are excited to be taking part in the BBC Words First spoken word scheme and is a member of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective. Their work as a musician and writer explore personal themes of race, gender, sexuality, religion, childhood and mental health.

Black grief and trauma

Swim is a short film that fuses poetry, film, photography and music to explore black grief and trauma along side personal experiences of isolation during the coronavirus lockdown. Water, rain and swimming are three key elements that run throughout the film and serve as metaphors for an individual and collective black struggle. In the poem, Abena explores the effects of BLM on their own mental health and of the black community as a whole. In all, Swim is self-expressive, emotionally cathartic and hopeful.

‘I wanted to really start from the beginning and use swimming as a metaphor for grief, swimming as a metaphor for struggling, to hold all of the emotions and all of the feelings that didn’t know where to go or how to be held…’

In the audio clips below, Abena gives a detailed explanation of the film, an insight into the creative process and expands on the film’s central messages of race, grief, self-love, family and hope.

Audio Interview Excerpts

Individual and collective black trauma:

‘Our experiences were on the table to be talked about – but so was our trauma. Our trauma was everywhere.’

Swimming as a metaphor for grief:

‘Swimming as a metaphor for grief, swimming as a metaphor for struggling, to hold all of the emotions and all of the feelings that didn’t know where to go or how to be held.’

The devising process and spontaneity of filming:

‘When I was writing the poem I had a clear image of what it was gonna be saying… I just had this idea of this film…’

Black grief and mental health:

‘The poem really does talk about mental health, it talks about how BLM affected my mental health, it talks about how BLM affected mental health for black folk in general as well.’

Writing the music and ideas behind the BLM montage:

‘There was that hierarchy of black men being fought for the most, then black women and then queer folk, trans folk. And so I really wanted that montage to be encompassing of all black folk…’


‘It was a really emotional poem and something that I really wanted to say, something that I felt I needed to say.’

Devising and Collaboration

‘Different discplines aren’t as seperate as we think, they all communicate something and so once we did start talking and we started to bounce off each other and bounce off ideas, it just centered that whole idea that we are just artists. We are artists trying to communicate something. We are artists trying to say something with our work.’

As part of the project, Abena collaborated with Toni Mo and Isha Patwa – each artist drew influence from one another to create their final pieces. In a Zoom call, they settled on the idea that isolation can be used as a means for self discovery and personal growth. Isolation isn’t all bad and that often, healing comes when we move out of a dark place. In the audio excerpt below, Abena sheds light on initial ideas taken from the zoom meeting with Toni and Isha as well as the process of collaborating with artists of different disciplines:

For Abena, one of the core takeaways from the session was that healing comes in waves. This provoked images of water and swimming…

‘Water has always brought me peace. Whether it’s the water in the by the canal. Water in the air. Waves in the sky. Waves in my hair. But I can’t swim. Only know to jump so when the tide comes in. When the waves flood. Some days I end up drinking sea water. Sharp salt in my lungs. Panic.

When the quiet comes, time seems to stretch.’


To explore other works from this collaboration group, click on the images below. To return to the main exhibition page, click on The Collaborator’s Project banner.

(Acrylic on canvas)

(Oil on canvas)

More from Abena

Read more about Abena below and follow @abena_essah_on instagram to discover more of their work.

Artist Bio

‘Some of my writing and performance experiences include entering the Some-Antics Slams in Leicester and winning their November and December 2018 slams. Then going on to win the Some-Antics Championship Slam for 2018. In 2019 I was commissioned to write and perform at Leicester’s Festival2Funky. I also took part in the POW! Showcase for young LGBTQ+ creatives in and got in to Roundhouse Poetry Slam finals 2019 in London.

More recently, I had got to perform my original music at Outspoken at the SouthBank Centre which was absolute dream come true. I am currently a member if the Roundhouse Poetry Collective 2019/20 and I am really excited to taking part in BBC Words First this year (which is still ongoing)!

I listen to a broad range of artists and genres and they all influence my music in different ways. But I am very influenced by music that is layered and full of harmony and try and emulate that sound in songs.

With poetry I love to create vivid imagery, my goal is translate the world I see in mind onto paper and into words. I many ways my poems are quite narrative and often explore various aspects of my personal identity. I often like to incorporate music in my poems to bring my two mediums together.

My goal with music is to tour, I want to release my own songs; an ep and albums and be full a time musician (I’m currently learning piano too). With poetry I want to write a full length show which explores being a child of the Ghanaian Diaspora, being queer and growing up Christian and hopefully tour that too! It would also be awesome to publish a collection of poems.

The best thing about creating for me is finishing that song or poem, getting that final edit right and feeling proud of it. I also really love it when I perform and people in the audience resonate with my work or tell me that it helped them. It pushes to keep going and reminds me that there is power in my existence and power in my story.

The most difficult thing about creating is reminding myself that failure is not the end. It’s just the world, the universe or God saying maybe this is the wrong direction, maybe try another door (I learnt this from Oprah). Also finding new ways to communicate and tell my stories can be hard too. I can be really hard on myself sometimes because I want to be a better writer and singer. So I have to trust myself and trust that when I keep going I can only get better.’