Debby Akam


Skills: Drawing; Print making; Painting; Video; Photography; Working with personal histories and other stories; Construction; Motivating people; Creative education consultancy

Key themes: notions of Memory; Customs and traditions; ‘Home’; Family; People and environment; Power of colour; serendipity; improvisation

Debby studied Fine Art at Edinburgh University, gained an MFA from Northumbria University, and more recently completed a doctorate at the University of Sunderland focusing on video projections in rural sites. She is based near Penrith in the English Lake District, where she mainly works with video, print and painting.

The power of colour in environments as a source of emotional response is fundamental to her approach across media.  Much of her work has been concerned with forgotten histories, and how people engage with their immediate environments. This has included research into livelihoods, customs and traditions of craft production and decoration; notions of what is meant by ‘home’ and cultural traditions passed on within families. 

Debby's  work often combines hand- made techniques such as woodcut printing with digital technologies. Drawing, Painting, Photography, and Printmaking and video are core elements of her practice, providing a space to work through ideas as much as an end in themselves. She often works with layered images where different kinds of source material are juxtaposed, for example, the gestural marks of woodcut blocks contrasting with the immediacy of events captured in photographs. Motifs are drawn from life, from ‘found’ source material, patterns noticed in textiles, the natural world or the built environment, an improvisational approach that allows an element of chance into the making process, and one that often results in images that invite multiple readings.

She welcomes collaboration with other participants, and the mechanisms by which individuals can contribute to collective artworks are constantly explored in her work in different media. Some of the  first collaborations with community groups were made using mosaic techniques on an architectural scale, for example, Mr Shariff”s Shop. She has since developed strategies to involve people in collaborative works using photography, video, printing and digital technologies.

Current work about what makes people feel ‘at home’ began in 2006 with Next Stop Byker, a project with residents to produce a mural for the Metro station using photography and collage techniques to explore their immediate environment, and the Asylum Seekers Cookbook Project, for Newcastle City Arts 2007 combining cooking with neglected personal histories. 2010 Swimming Without Water started with a series of workshops with local residents that resulted in a site- specific installation in Moseley Baths, Birmingham charting how urban dwellers experience Nature through swimming in different places.

A recent collaborative project, with 3 other artists Christl, combined video and poetry and sculpture to explore how making links across family generations can enhance an understanding of the connections between diverse people through history, genealogy, stories and art.