I struggled with such a mental block when writing this piece. julianknxx is an exceptional human, and to do his work justice was a challenge I was anxious to tackle. To provide context, my understanding of patriarchy is so raw and stark that only now am I revisiting the reality that vulnerability exists in the cis-man. Although I am always optimistic, my experiences have often supported the opposite, so when I feel and see men speak openly about matters of the heart and soul, whilst paying homage to their surrounding women, it commands my attention. During the beginning stages of this process, I was intrigued and curious when I first heard julianknxx’s ‘Death of a Non-Fatal Suicide’.
‘Death of a Non-Fatal Suicide’, produced by Happy Cat Jay (who’s worked with Alxndr London, Flamingods, and Kinder) signifies the point at which feeling suicidal comes to an end – for julianknxx, this was both being at the point of an existential crisis as well as the time he first met his wife.
“Before this, my worst place was where I have thought that everything was meaningless, and it didn’t matter what happened to me”, julianknxx tells me. “Meeting my wife was literally the death of loneliness and the beginning of feeling useful”. We listen to ‘Death of a Non-Fatal Suicide’ in his shared studio space in south London and flick through Broken, the collection this poem is a part of. It becomes clearer that while the multi-disciplinary creative also experiments with photography, art direction, and film, julianknxx’s Sierra Leonean heritage inspired him to embrace tradition – by passing down thoughts on gender, race, and faith with oral storytelling.
julianknxx uses words to explore his own emotional journey, highlighting the importance of sharing experiences that unpack thoughts and processes around mental health. “It is alarming that one of the highest causes of death in the UK is suicide – up there with heart disease and cancer”, he explains. “The fact that young people in particular are victims of suicide makes me really sad, and to think that so many people come to such a place of hopelessness is heart breaking – suicide is a very permanent solution for feelings that don’t always last”.
julianknxx believes it is important to be vulnerable. “Vulnerability is the prerequisite to any good relationship and I try to lead with that”, he tells me. I learn that ‘Death of a Non-Fatal Suicide’ is not just a tribute to his wife, but an invitation to be vulnerable with his one-year-old daughter, to whom this book is dedicated to. “Black women often feel the effects both of white supremacy and patriarchy – and with the latter, black men can often be the ones that act in ways that are detrimental as opposed to being a source of comfort or protection. We as men have a lot to learn about what true masculinity is (and what it is not) and be aware that it has nothing to do with the domination of women’s bodies. On a personal level, it’s taking everything one day at a time and being intentional about giving my wife the honour she deserves, whilst also being an example to my daughter of the love and respect that is due to her.”
Of course, being forthright is not easy. There is a culture of shame around openly speaking about our moments of hopelessness, and often not enough time to pay attention or tend to them. Paired with the pressure to appear stable 100 percent of the time, many of us choose to work inwardly, often isolating our closest ones from important emotional and personal changes.
I ask julianknxx what it feels like to be so bare in front of the world. “Being vulnerable no matter how many people are looking, feels a lot like being naked; people get to see all your rolls and imperfections and it feels like there’s nowhere to hide”, he says. “After a while though, it must be as freeing as Rick Ross feels when he goes topless – it requires a level of honesty and self-acceptance. The poet is right – we should afford ourselves the fluidity and safety to be realistic, honest and appreciative of vulnerability.
Today, julianknxx is hopeful. “To be saved feels like hope but it also feels like being awoken from a sleep”, he says. “Again, there is a level of vulnerability and humility that comes with it when you realise that you can’t actually save yourself. And that’s ok.” julianknxx’s poetry creates an open dialogue between people to reconnect with spirituality, explore the depths of love, and encourage us to do the work to really know one’s self.
Excited for the release of ‘Death of a Non-Fatal Suicide’, julianknxx says it’s been a long time coming. “I feel like I’m definitely putting myself out there – especially when it feels like I’m going against the grain of the ‘unbreakable’ masculinity that society celebrates. This often does more harm than good, but if my work allows other men (and women) to wear their heart on their sleeve a little more, I’m all for that”.
‘Death of a Non-Fatal Suicide’ is out now. Download from Apple Music here.