Anu Ambasna’s new exhibition explores dance music tropes and the importance of friendship
In I wanna see all my friends at once, the DJ and illustrator displays a decade of artwork and collected items that celebrate her world
In March 2023, Anu Ambasna AKA anu was walking around New York City with her earphones in, blasting tunes as she walked among the skyscrapers. Over the past few weeks, she had been making her way through Arthur Russell’s expansive discography and his various bands and aliases, when one song from her playlist grabbed her attention. It was Russell’s band Dinosaur L and their 1982 track ‘Go Bang!’, where over a groovy, twanging guitar riff were chanted lyrics: “Bang! / I wanna see all my friends at once”.
“I was like fuck!” Anu says. “I want to put all my friends in this exhibition because they really influenced my work and influence my comics.”
That feeling is the basis of her new exhibition, I wanna see all my friends at once, which runs until May 14, presenting a diverse range of the illustrations and installations that she’s created over the past few years at Peckham’s Satellite Store.
Anu has been a long-time pillar of London’s electronic music scene, having played a core role in the team at Rhythm Section and holding down a residency on NTS Radio, while also lighting up dancefloors across the world in a healthy DJ career. But she first got her start in music in 2013, when she launched a publication with her friend, which alongside a series of long reads about wider aspects of nightlife culture, featured many of her own illustrations – she has been drawing non-stop since she first picked up a pencil.
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It’s been a decade since then, and in that time, she has continued to draw, illustrate and collect trinkets from the places she’s visited and good times shared with friends. Those items celebrate the small, important moments in Anu’s life, with the small objects acting as physical reminders of good times. “Wherever I’m in bars with friends we always do these exquisite corpse things, where you get a piece of paper and you fold it, and the first person would draw the head, and the second person will draw the outline [of the body],” she says. “I do loads and I like to collect trinkets and memorabilia – things that will spark a memory for me, I’ve got folders and folders of stuff like that. I’m definitely a hoarder.”
Altogether, the exhibition is a fun array of work that represents the diverse strands of Anu’s art. The walls of Satellite Store have been painted especially, as well as featuring various story-led comics she’s illustrated and trinkets she’s collected – plus there's a centrepiece installation that celebrates the importance of friends throughout her life, which she kept quiet about for the sake of surprising them when the exhibition launched.
Splashed with colour, incisive humour while featuring a series of characters and worlds she’s developed, Anu’s comics are a fun dive into her psyche. In more recent times, those have come to explore some of the less attractive sides of the dance music industry. One particular illustration features two uninterested looking characters standing at the door of the (sadly now defunct) Canavan’s Pool Club venue in Peckham, talking to the door person, with a caption reading ‘You’ve probably seen my name on the list’. “A lot of it is responses to my everyday life or situations that I’ve been in or that my friends have been in,” Anu says. “Some of it is very exaggerated – just my funny, stupid commentary on the stereotypes that exist within music and club culture.”
And to celebrate the exhibition’s launch, she invited some friends along for a special takeover on local radio station Balamii – where in the spirit of good vibes, she aired some light-hearted sounds on the airwaves. On set from Bryce’s Brother and Abel was “a radio show based off of the music Milhouse’s dad (from The Simpsons) would listen to,” she explains. “He’s very lonely – going through the wars.”
Altogether though, the key to the exhibition lies in its name, I wanna see all my friends at once. “For me it’s a way to appreciate and express gratitude,” she continues. “The people within my world who are real, like my family and my friends really influence my work and shape it in a really amazing way – all of them are kind of my muses, so it’s a way for me to just celebrate that. But it’s also a way to invite them into my world to see the other friends who are like [the characters] in my comics, so it’s a space for everyone to meet each other.”
I wanna see all my friends at once by Anu Ambasna is on view at Satellite Store in Peckham until May 14
Isaac Muk is a freelance writer and Socials Editor at Huck Magazine, follow him on Twitter