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Meet Uncle Keith: Where village glamour finds city streets

Dagmar Bennett’s Uncle Keith is a fervent step forward in aligning disability and difference with creative expression through clothes, an expansive editorial photo series capturing her uncle’s abundant wardrobe as a means of communication, conversation and human connection.

With a bunch of yellow daffodils sat obliquely in the corner of the screen, Dagmar Bennett’s Welsh identity extends well beyond her gentle accent and clear pride in her ancestry – she is at once an emblem of her country and a strident observer, having carefully documented her family in a recent BBC documentary aptly titled Village Style. Hailing from the very same rural village in south west Wales, Dagmar advocates for creativity borne from the Celtic nations; “an identity”, she says, “that sits a little different to a British or English identity”, as a country with its own native language, rich history, and vibrant future.

Having studied a technical arts degree funded by Madame Tussauds at UAL, Dagmar began her film career by exploring figurative sculpture and life drawing with clay, creating a physical legacy for artists and activists challenging narratives and stigmas in human difference. Dagmar’s early sculpture work led her to Adam Pearson, an actor, presenter, and campaigner with a keen interest in how we can tackle disability hate crime as someone with Neurofibromatosis Type 1, a genetic condition that causes excess body tissue to grow predominately on his face. Adam and Dagmar struck up a fond friendship, and went on to collaborate on a sculpture of Adam’s face that uses art as a medium of capturing his identity beyond disfigurement.


Words by Elsa Monteith

Dagmar’s work continued to archive difference through the medium of film and photography, in collaboration with friend and photographer Stefy Pocket seeing the advent of the Uncle Keith editorial, that will make its BUILDHOLLYWOOD poster debut on 1st March, to mark St David’s Day in Cardiff. The Uncle Keith project is an ode to village glamour, capturing her uncle Keith in a series of statement outfits and a stack of hats styled from his abundant wardrobe. There’s an eclecticism to Keith’s fashion, and a pure Welsh clarity to his clothes – with the recurring red of the dragon ringing true to the same power and solidarity found in the ruby glint of the Six Nations rugby kit.

Dagmar remains between two cities, with the streets of Cardiff just a stone’s throw away from the London landscape she now calls (second) home. It’s not always about location, but it feels important that the posters will be found in Cardiff as an art form in and of themselves, celebrating local Welsh stories and people, rather than just pushing products for profit. Introducing Uncle Keith to the streets of Cardiff once again marks a fresh catwalk for Keith’s latest outfits, archiving his remarkable gift when it comes to getting dressed, documenting his penchant for good style, and capturing his love for self-curation that will persist beyond these images.

As an artist working across space and place in both cities and villages, do you feel that growing up in South West Wales has influenced your creative practice?

I was always very Welsh; I spoke Welsh, I went to a Welsh school, I learnt all my subjects in Welsh, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. I always thought I had to move out of Wales to become an artist, but now I look back and I just think there are so many rich stories and interesting characters here. Traditionally, the media has associated Wales with rugby, or beer, or leeks (laughs), but there are a lot of young Welsh artists who are changing that narrative, and trying to give a more realistic representation of the modern and progressive country Wales is. Now is a really exciting time to be a Welsh creative.

Do your early creative ambitions align with your current work? What does your day-to-day look like as an artist?

As a kid I was always getting paint all over the carpet, and tended to spend my lunches in art class – I was a bit of an art geek (laughs). No one in my family was an artist; both my parents worked in the NHS, but they were always very supportive of me. There was never really a route into the creative world when you grew up in Wales like I did. I’m actually starting a supper club with a friend from Barry in London for Welsh creatives; it feels important for us to try to figure out a way to inspire and help the next generation of Welsh artists who don’t see their career path represented.

I loved watching your film for the BBC; Village Style. How did you approach the creation of hyper-local art that documents your family?

In terms of the hyper-local; it’s amazing to work with family, but it can also be really emotional. This project was a way for me to connect to my heritage and the people in my family that I didn’t get the chance to meet, and it really strengthened my relationship with my uncle. I guess that’s why I worked with my good friend and talented photographer Stefy Pocket in documenting the project – her approach to photography is to capture people in their rawest form, instead of putting a sympathetic lens on how disabled people are viewed. I wanted to give my uncle creative recognition for his style, and capture his outfits in a way that credited his character and fashion sense – which Stefy completely got and nailed it with her photographs.

You speak about the phrase “cymru rhydd” in Village Style, meaning “free Wales”. How do you feel this freedom translates into your uncle Keith’s sense of fashion and sense of self?

 When I saw it I felt like that freedom really encapsulates my uncle. People should be able to feel free, and it’s super refreshing to see someone who has such an eccentric and glamorous fashion sense in the backdrop of a small traditional Welsh village. In another life, he might have been working in the fashion industry in London or somewhere in the creative world. I just think we should be able to live without judgement, and style is such a powerful way to talk to the world. Fashion is a way for my uncle to express himself – clothes have become an expressive form of communication for him.

I’m curious to hear more about your work as an artist challenging cultural narratives. How do you find your work is received by the public when exploring both visibility and erasure in human difference?

The Adam Pearson project was received really well. But ultimately, there’s a lot of work to be done with these subjects. Sometimes I feel like people just aren’t ready yet; it takes the media some time to catch up, but a lot of people have loved it because I’ve brought a human element to my projects. It goes back to freedom – you shouldn’t have to fit into a box of what society deems normal, that just doesn’t exist. We should feel empowered and free to be who we want to be, right?

Talk me through Uncle Keith. How did you arrive at the project? What brought you to your uncle Keith as your muse?

I’ve always been inspired by him to be honest. Growing up we used to go and watch my brother play rugby, and my uncle would always come dressed in these amazing flamboyant outfits – once there was a yellow two-piece, another time a full orange outfit, a lot of double denim, you know, really fun stuff. I felt inspired by him and his love for fashion. I applied for this opportunity to make the BBC documentary (Village Style) with a production company that helps new talent into TV called It’s My Shout, and then decided I wanted to extend this project to have the fashion editorial to go with it.

Uncle Keith has a remarkable hold on colour, identity, style, and self-curation – how does the art of getting dressed relate to Keith’s Welsh identity and connection to his clothes?

My uncle has an archive of over 50 years worth of clothes, and he hasn’t thrown anything away (laughs). We spent days going through his wardrobe to style the outfits, he even had some clothes from his father who I never met, so we included a couple of pieces in the pictures which was nice. He speaks a lot about his mother too, talking about how she would go to chapel with matching gloves, handbag, and shoes – he loves matching his colours like she did. I kind of based outfits on these locations and stories, creating a few different options for around the village and in his home.

There’s a wonderful synergy between rural village life and love of Welsh identity in Uncle Keith – how do you feel about the project coming to life on the streets of a city like Cardiff?         

Yeah, it’s exciting – I love Cardiff. When it comes to the city streets, a lot of posters are advertisements trying to push a product, so it’s really exciting that BUILDHOLLYWOOD are spotlighting local creatives and shining a light on stories rather than just selling stuff. I would really like to exhibit the pictures in a gallery at some point, but this is really nice because not everyone goes to gallery spaces – it’s a good opportunity for the mass public to have access to free artwork.

Could you share three best kept secrets in Cardiff?

It is a city that has such an atmosphere, especially when there’s a game on – the people are just so much fun. In terms of best kept secrets – there’s this place called Paradise Gardens, it’s kind of a small bar club, and they do a range of music nights. Then there’s a little community cafe in Grangetown Park which I love. You can buy other people coffee and they put free tokens on the wall, it’s just a really nice sense of community. And what else… To be honest, I just love the dance music scene. A lot of good creative stuff is happening in Cardiff, it’s the place to be.

What’s the generational connection like between you and your uncle Keith? Do you have fond memories growing up with him that have stuck with you?

I have fond memories of playing in the garden with my cousins who lived locally and bouncing on my uncle’s knee in the kitchen whilst the adults drank tea and chatted. Those times are steeped in family stories for me – my mum would tell us stories about how my grandfather would be in the mines all day and then come home to the garden tending to his plants and flowers and rose bushes. I really try to incorporate these stories from my family into the creative direction and styling, so that the memories can be passed on again and again.

Uncle Keith Credits

Creative Director & Stylist: Dagmar Bennett @dagmar_be

Photographer: Stefy Pocket @stefypocket

Wardrobe: Keith

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