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Death, grief and rebirth - the evolution of an artist by Stephanie Abadom Stevens

I changed my artist name.


It was a long time coming.


I have included my clan name in my artist name.




It is an ancient name. A name called upon in times of war and peace, a name called upon to claim titles and thrones.


A name I had obscured from view.


If you asked me for my FULL name, I would have given you a garbled response, the words

managing to escape my mouth.


Being born in the 90s and living in a small Sussex town, my parents migration to Great Britain had been a complicated and painful ordeal, my father named me after Princess Stéphanie of Monaco - he wanted to make sure people knew that his darling daughter was royalty. I had been given a name that would confound and deceive the English.


At a young age, I was well aware of the mantra ‘You have to work twice as hard to get half of what they have’ but it became clear to me that working twice as hard was no guarantee.

I remember sitting in GCSE Sociology class and learning that job applicants with ‘ethnic’ names were more likely to have their CVs thrown away, despite their qualifications and work experience.


This stayed with me.


When I turned sixteen, I attended an interview for my first (and last) retail job, adolescent

Stephanie was waiting in the shoe section wearing an oversized trouser suit and brand new ballet flats. It was the first time I became aware of the Questions.




“Yes that’s me.”


“You’re Stephanie?”




“Stephanie Stevens?”




“… Okay. This way.”


A mixture of surprise, intrigue and resentment.

I had ‘Got’ them HAHAHAHAHA.

It became my superpower. The ability to deceive, to distract, to sneak in the backdoor when they weren’t looking.


To be invisible.


Little did I know that to deceive them, I had to deceive myself.


In my desire to fit in, conform, assimilate, blend in, I had lost myself and I didn’t even know it. It

worked for a while, it got me through secondary school, sixth form and university, it got me what I thought I wanted.


Until I changed my career path to ‘Artist’.


I can’t speak for other Black artists, I can only discuss my own experience as a Black woman in the arts. It is something that requires skin like iron and a gentle beating heart, it is something that, I believe, has not quite fulfilled its great potential due to historical oppression, exclusion and misuse.

It is something I fall in and out in love with almost every day.


When I started attending acting classes I realised something was wrong, I wasn’t connecting with the words, emotions and the person standing in front of me. Lacking the awareness of the seed of self-loathing lodged inside of me, I thought the solution was erase my own voice to be part of ‘it’, to envelope myself in the dark corners of acting that thrived on the abuse of power, tyranny and toxicity of human nature.

I wanted ‘it’ to like me, want me so much, that I gave myself away.


This is when I began to die.


I thought that somehow I could compartmentalise it all, but the dark corners bled into my

personal life. The heartbreaks I endured ranged from hairline fractures to earth shattering chasms - the death of an idea, the underestimation of selfishness, a director turning the rehearsal room into their own fascist state, the realisation of deception, the creative collaborator turned predator, a creative project dying on the vine, the apology I never received - all powerful in their own ways.


Stephanie Stevens was dying and she held on so tightly, her fingernails digging into my skin and drawing blood, her smile hurting, her lips cracking and bleeding


Her pain was killing her, every single day. Soft, always, kind, always, forgiving always. She never let herself be jagged, to respond, to stand up, to say No.




Then things started happening outside of the thing I love.

Life happened.

I grieved people, places and things.


She contemplated jumping in front of a speeding train.


Citalopram saved my life when the abyss stared back, held me by the throat and tried to drag me down. I talked to various counsellors and cried so much that my eyelids ached.

I sat on the office floor of my temp job as I spoke with my grief counsellor, Peter, on the phone on Tuesday nights. His Scottish accent was like a warm hug, his words always kind.

He helped me wake up to the fact that I was giving pieces of myself away and laughing while

doing it, that people were stealing shards of me while I slept then I wondered why I woke up

feeling tired and empty.




A little death happened.


A death knell


A shedding of skin.


A rebirth.


I grieved for her.




I have to give Old Stephanie some credit.


She was my shadow.


My shadow kept me alive.


She was hopelessly optimistic.








She carried her own guilt and shame and she never burdened others with her pain.


But it was time for her to go.


There was stillness and isolation and rest.


Then I went to Wales


And Frome


And Arundel


And I painted


And I sang


And I cried tears of joy


And I breathed in fresh air and felt renewed.


And I walked in the rain and smiled.


And I danced with fellow artists in an old church.


And I wrote lyrics for a song that never existed before.


And sweat stung my eyes as I danced to Drum and Bass.


And I walked along the River Arun.


And sang songs about water and how it holds memory.


And I sat on a bench facing the wetlands and drank hot tea.


And I wrote poetry in red pen.


And I lit candles and whispered prayers to my ancestors.


And I said goodbye to people who did not wish me well.


And I burned bridges and never looked back.


And I deleted pictures of people who broke their promises.


And I set pages of old journals alight and put the ash in the soil.


And I woke up feeling excited for my life.


And I went to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror and said


“I love you. How can I make you happy today?”


For the first time ever.


Let me reintroduce myself.




My name is Stephanie Kimberley Ogedi Abadom Stevens.


I am an artist.


I come from a long line of warriors, chiefs, traders, travellers, healers, educators, doctors, soldiers and writers.


I am proud to be who I am and where I come.


I love myself.


What’s your name?