Between the ages of 16 and 19, Agyepong said, no one had any idea that she was crying every day. “[It got so bad] I had to drop out of sixth form,” she said. And, like many people living with mental health problems, she decided not to tell anyone about her problems for several years – not even her close family or friends.
However, her bubbly, funny, and lively personality meant people had a hard time believing that there was anything wrong with her.
“People didn’t accept that I had depression,” she said. “I was quite the joker in school and university so no one really believed me, [the rest assumed I could only be exaggerating].”
Agyepong’s photography project, called “Too Many Blackamoors”, will also be shown at the Unmasked Women exhibition. It’s about an orphaned West African princess, Lady Sarah Forbes Bonetta, from who in the 19th century was presented as a gift to Queen Victoria when she was 8 years old.
When researching Bonetta’s life Agyepong said she was surprised there was hardly any mention of the gender, race, or psychological issues a young black girl being taken into a white royal family was likely to face. At the time, Africans were viewed as subhuman and uncivilised compared with Europeans.
In Agyepong’s photographs she uses Bonetta as a template together with her own personal experiences to challenge the narrative of the strong, resilient, independent black woman, which can be a burden.
“When I was reading about her life, it sounded really rosy and as though she had a great life, but during that time there were obviously issues around gender politics, and about race, but a lot of that information seems to be missing when we talk about black women,” she said. “Even on TV, it’s always about them being strong or feisty, but it’s never about them being vulnerable.”