Diaspora Drama celebrates creative offbeat people of colour. Have faith in cyber space. Editor-in-chief, Isaac Kariuki Senior Editor, Lulu Roman Assistant Editor, Amal Hassan Cover image by Isaac Kariuki. Please contact the relevant artists and writers for enquires regarding their work. Special thanks to all the contributors and submitters. email@example.com diasporadramazine.tumblr.com twitter: @diasporadrama facebook: diaspora drama zine issuu.com/ddzine
This issue is dedicated to Maya Arulpragasam.
Nadia el H
Contents Words Simoa - Ally Ang - Tala Ezedien - Catherine Chan
Art Mohamed Ibrahim Ali - Shruthi Maganti - Kriston Banfield Rayanne Bushell Rita Mikhael - Rui Tang - Tabita Rezaire - Jasmine Prasad Jasmine Richards Tania Shaik - Sanaa Hamid - Liz Johnson-Artur Itsikiitsapoyii/Rudy Black Plume - Isaac Kariuki - Óscar Moisés Diaz - Daku
INTERVIEWS Cany Dilan - Liz Johnson-Artur
Land of Forbidden Fruit , Lulu Roman
EDITOR’S NOTES (The first chat room community I ever joined was in 2010 dedicated to a certain pop artist I’d rather not mention in my maturity.) It’s rather exciting that we’ve reached a time where as millennials, art and technology will intersect almost naturally. The moments looking back at your early online activity not only ser ve as embarrassing and delightful memories but a moment of reflection on how the internet and technology influenced your behaviour at that time and further along. I wouldn’t have known there were other black kids into my kind of art without the internet. From Myspace to Second Life to private facebook groups, these interactions may seem meaningless at the time but over the course of this issue, we’ll obser ve just how impactful cyberspace is to our generation and the safe spaces created by and for people of colour to help them navigate through life. This first issue is packed with incredible and diverse talents that have been influenced by technology and community one way or another. Whether it’s diasporic futurewave visuals and music from Daku or disruptive .gifs of the colonial gaze by Sanaa Hamid we hope that this issue will inspire and motivate more artists of the cyber generation to create something that is true to their experiences. 5
Mohamed Ibrahim A li Rep e ate d Fa ilur es
“Tired of using adjectives.” “Story of my life, searching for the right but it keeps avoiding me.” “I have been here many times before,” “the need to destroy things creeps up on me every time;” “and the more I see, the less I grow, the fewer the seeds the more I sow.” “So far removed from all that we went through.” To be accepted, I must blend into convention’s way.” “Nobody helps a liar.” “Carrying lies is a task,” “and i’m not my perspective, or the lies i’ll tell you every time.” “Pretending those words were not mine”
“All the immediate unknowns are better than knowing this tired and lonely fate.” “Embarrassed by your obvious indifference.” “Go up to where they’re blind to mistakes.” “I’d rather move on.” “All of your failures are training grounds,” “and all I can do is try.”
Shruthi Maganti 12
Shruthi Maganti 13
Sodade Sodade, from the Portuguese saudade, is the term for deep longing in Cape Verdean creole. It’s usually nostalgic, the word used when you miss someone or something. I think I have sodade for all those things I’ve never known. I’ve heard about “sodade de nha terra querida.” “Longing for my beloved land.” Land of my father and mother, Cabo Verde querida. Nha terra, my land, with your steep hills, your deep, clear, boundless blue seas, your green life. My parents hail from Fogo. My father lived on a mountain that I braved, endless walking, shading our eyes from a relentless sun. Fogo is fire. My mother grew up in a tiny town, surrounded by grass. Her family’s house was nothing but humble. And her mother’s home, the one still standing, an elegant gray ruin, no one lives there anymore. Still, Fogo means fire. The lava awoke on Fogo and chased people from their homes. Dispersed from their bits of land, their houses, packing up everything to go…where? Nha terra querida. I have sodade for some children I left behind. I have sodade for the tall, strong armed, dark brown boy who won’t make up his mind. Does the longing ever fade? Can any words do it justice? Can you long for something you’ve never known? Like far off places? The touch of that dark brown boy who won’t make up his mind? There are places I’ll never go, faces I forgot, and nha terra querida. Ah, sodade. Simoa
dermatillomania in a brown girl Little bits of me plucked, Pinched, Scraped away. I try and tame my hand, But still, I crumble under the need to perfect what I deem imperfect. The smudges of pink and dark smear across my skin As evidence of my failure to stay my hand. Fear pulses through me as I use my failure as An excuse to wait. Wait for myself to progress and grow, Wait for myself to heal. I have yet to heal. The evidence eventually fades, But the constant stream of shame still lingers in the back of my mind. I know shame has no place within me, Yet I still feel in humming underneath the surface of my skin. As I try and shed the disfigurements, only I notice. I have yet to heal, but still I try and tame my hand Each time the mirror faces me. Nayda Medina, cosmichoney
Scattered Showers, Kriston Banfield, kbanfield 15
Ally Ang, new-apocalyptic
Ra y a n n e Bu s h e ll and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever
Iâ€™ve never understood my family. How they could spend every sabbath, dressed up and praying to white jesus. It seemed ridiculous to me that a belief system handed to them by masters, could ease the pain and daily suffering that is a reminder that we once had masters. That they over there on the good part of town, still see themselves as our masters. It never sat well with me. So the Lordâ€™s house is not mine. Yet, I sit at the table next to my mother and it is hers, so is His. So I sit in the house of the Lord, gritting my teeth. Screaming at her because I do not believe in Him and I am angry at the masters and they do not hear me, nor see me. And I scream at her some more because I do not understand why she is not angry, why she does not revolt. Books have filled me with confidence and my words tear through her, but they do not leave a scar. She knows they were meant for those on the other side of town. I am sorry for my screams. This sorry takes shape; I dress up on the sabbath and sit next to my mother in the house of the Lord. I watch the congregation. The sermon. The singing. Weeks pass and eventually, I realise that they are not praying to white jesus. This jesus has dark skin and carries their anger for them; this jesus tears the master limb from limb and this service is just another means of survival.
I still donâ€™t believe in the Lord, but I donâ€™t mind his house.
Internat ional teen Kurdish Girl vs. The West Interviewed by Zahraa H Cany Dilan lives the life of an average teenager in the Greater Toronto Area. She’s into watching documentaries, Dev Hynes, thrift store fashion, hanging out at grungy locales downtown, and Twitter. Graduating from high school this June, she plans on studying French, hoping to get into teaching. From an early age though, the teen has felt a subtle and ever-present distinction from many of her peers in terms of nationality, and ethnicity. Cany’s one of the 11,685 individuals in Canada with Kurdish origins (as of 2011). Raised in a Muslim household, her family comes from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and has been living in Canada for 22 years. Her parents came together under unorthodox circumstances: her mother, a refugee in Syria, and her father, a Kurdish immigrant in Turkey. With the help of Cany’s uncle, they were married in Syria and moved to Canada. A little over two decades later, they’ve moved from an apartment in Toronto, to a basement in the same city, to a house in the GTA’s suburbia. As of lately, there’s been increased awareness of the existence of Kurdistan and Kurdish people in the Middle East, with the conflicts involving ISIS in northern Iraq. I wanted to know Cany’s perspective on what it’s like to be Kurdish in the Western world, and how her connection to her culture has changed over the years.
How does your cultural awareness as a Kurdish people influence your perspective on issues in the Middle East, compared to people around you? I guess my cultural awareness makes me have some sort of hope for the Middle East, whereas my peers truly believe there will never be peace in the Middle East. It might all be optimism but I mean I would hope this part of the world sees some peace one day. Typically, governments in Middle Eastern countries are, you know, not really democratic at all, so a nation like Kurdistan, which is so democratic for where it’s situated, is pretty cool. The military is a very important aspect in Kurdistan. Kurdish military groups fight for protection of Kurdish people (from pretty much everyone surrounding us because, you know, everyone hates us) as well as independence of course. Our military heavily involves women, one good example being PJAK, which is made up of 50% women: pretty progressive, however insane for the Middle East. I feel like my peers really have such a negative view on the entire Middle East, which yeah, bothers me a lot. It just reminds me of how ignored Kurds are, or how hopeless people are for that part of the world. It also kind of reminds me of how weak and bias representation is in mainstream media, if that makes sense. I feel like eventually, probably a very long way down the road, the rest of the Middle East might adopt some of the same ideologies Kurds have, but again, I might just be an optimist. That’s not to say Kurdistan is perfect by any means, because there are some things they can improve upon as well. So I know about a year ago, you visited family in Kurdistan. Did you have expectations of life in the country that differed from reality, or was your perspective accurate? I was actually very much dreading the trip entirely; I thought going somewhere like France or Italy would have been a much better vacation destination. I honestly expected Kurdistan to just be dirt, some mountains here and there, and judgmental aunties. When I got there it was definitely a lot different than what I had expected. Besides the surprisingly beautiful scenery, I really liked the way people treated one another. People you don’t even know would treat you like you’ve known them for years. A big reason I was dreading my trip beforehand was my broken Kurdish; I thought I would be made fun of for my weak vocabulary and sentence structure by my family, but they loved me so much either way. It was actually the first time meeting a lot of them in person - they treated me like I’ve lived in Kurdistan my whole life. The importance of family and friendship in Kurdistan is so real, which I definitely saw at the many parties my family held in the short three weeks I had been there. There was lots of dancing (which I wasn’t very good at), singing, jokes, various different foods; this aspect of togetherness was so heartwarming and opened me up to my culture a lot more. How has your connection with your culture changed over the years, if at all? My connection to my culture has changed a lot over the last few years, and I mean a lot. Up until 7th grade, I would actually lie to people about my family’s background in order to be more “accepted”. For some reason I was embarrassed to tell people I was from Kurdistan, dreading the common questioning of what it even is. Even up until grade 11, I was ashamed to even tell people I was from the Middle East at all. I mean, I would tell them if they asked, but it took me a solid few seconds to answer them. During the summer of 2014, my parents decided it was time I got a job. They heard about a Kurdish community centre that was holding summer jobs for youth and naturally thought it would be a great experience for me. The moment they brought up the idea my stomach started hurting, and I mean that. I was so afraid to be surrounded by Kurds who I thought were going to be judgmental or make fun of my very real broken Kurdish. I was afraid of feeling like an outsider in my own community basically. Eventually I decided to go through with it and ended up loving it. I can honestly say the short two months of working at The Greater Toronto Kurdish House changed my life completely. I gained so much pride, confidence and appreciation for my culture, and as a result, I started going to Kurdish protests, festivals, parties, and actively spread awareness on the current situation in Kurdistan all over my social media. When I got to grade 12,I actually centered 95% of my assignments on Kurdistan to educate my peers, as well as further educate myself.
How has your connection with your culture changed over the years, if at all? My connection to my culture has changed a lot over the last few years, and I mean a lot. Up until 7th grade, I would actually lie to people about my family’s background in order to be more “accepted”. For some reason I was embarrassed to tell people I was from Kurdistan, dreading the common questioning of what it even is. Even up until grade 11, I was ashamed to even tell people I was from the Middle East at all. I mean, I would tell them if they asked, but it took me a solid few seconds to answer them. During the summer of 2014, my parents decided it was time I got a job. They heard about a Kurdish community centre that was holding summer jobs for youth and naturally thought it would be a great experience for me. The moment they brought up the idea my stomach started hurting, and I mean that. I was so afraid to be surrounded by Kurds who I thought were going to be judgmental or make fun of my very real broken Kurdish. I was afraid of feeling like an outsider in my own community basically. Eventually I decided to go through with it and ended up loving it. I can honestly say the short two months of working at The Greater Toronto Kurdish House changed my life completely. I gained so much pride, confidence and appreciation for my culture, and as a result, I started going to Kurdish protests, festivals, parties, and actively spread awareness on the current situation in Kurdistan all over my social media. When I got to grade 12, I actually centered 95% of my assignments on Kurdistan to educate my peers, as well as further educate myself. What are some things people have said to you when they find out you’re Kurdish? I honestly don’t really get reactions, mainly just confusion. From people my age at least, I’m used to the basic “what’s Kurdistan?” or “where is Kurdistan?” I get a lot of “say something in Kurdish for us!” too. There’s the occasional time where I’ll have someone who’s very interested in current events take very much fascination by my ethnicity, probably because they’ve never met a Kurd before. Oh, once I got “that’s not even a country” which kinda hurt, but you know. What do you believe the West’s perspective of Kurdistan/Kurdish people is? This is a tricky question, to be honest. I mean, I like to think Kurdistan is generally viewed in a positive way, and we saw that during America’s invasion of Iraq when Kurds and Americans ‘teamed up’ to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We actually owe it to America who appointed four Kurds to the Iraqi governing council, including our very loved president Masoud Barzani. However, the West really neglects Kurds; we really are a forgotten people. Recently there was a conference concerning ISIS and Masoud Barzani wasn’t even invited! In fact, no Kurdish officials were invited, which is completely outrageous considering the Kurds are the only ones actually fighting ISIS at all. I’m just confused, because I know lots of groups who fight for independence are considered terrorist organizations by the west, which really sucks obviously. You’ve attended several protests in the city for various political initiatives involving the Kurdish community. What has that experience been like for you? It’s been great honestly. It’s made me want to protest for things even outside my culture. During protests, I’ve met so many new people who are so full of pride and passion. Being as shy and quiet as I am, you’d probably think otherwise if you saw me at a Kurdish protest. They start off pretty awkward and quiet at first but by the end people are marching hardcore, whistling, singing, ululating and chanting to the top of their lungs. It truly makes me feel so good to be part of this community, something I’ve never felt beyond the last year or so. If you’re interested in 140 character musings, or photo documentations of the teen’s life through a #nofilter gaze, you can follow Cany on Twitter and Instagram @champagnecany.
Tabita Rezaire Tabita is a Johannesburg based new media artist. Her current work explores Afro cyber resistance and decolonising practice on the internet.
The Pomegranate ’s Blood Sitting on a stark white plate; The pomegranates.
Cut open, revealing row
Upon row of sweet, red teeth, I see
My grandmother’s pomegranate tree
Through the lace curtains of her bedroom. I pick them up, tear away The white bitter muscles Holding them together.
I crush them in my fingers,
Feel their blood ooze down to my wrist. They taste like home.
My fingers are my grandmothers, stained from picking from the tree all day. The pomegranate tree sits outside her window. I eat them, I eat them -
They are a vessel, a connection To home.
They are in my mouth but when I bite down, I feel bone.
They are teeth, breaking under mine
And there is blood dripping down my chin, my lips are purple and stained. The pomegranate tree sits outside.
Red, red teeth swimming in my mouth, cutting my tongue and Forcing their way down my throat. I cannot swallow the red teeth!
Where is my grandmother’s pomegranate tree?
They crushed its red teeth, tore down the lace curtains. There is blood in my mouth.
Jasmine Prasad 33
To look and be looked at and the issues around it—bell hook’s oppositional Black female gaze speaks about the power that looking can have and how a gaze can dominate. She speaks about the power of “looking back” but my concerns is less about “looking back” and more highlighting the intrusiveness of looking—especially when concerning private spaces. By seemingly inviting the viewer into a space where there is a lone body posing and passive, kneeling and almost submissive; the amount of exposure and openness put on this lone figure has awkwardness to it. Does she know we’re here? “It has long been a practice of the Caribbean peoples to ‘carnivalise’, at times to ‘cannibalise,’ the models imposed by officialdom in the colonies, ‘the enthroning and dethroning of [colonial] ideologies was practical with the greatest haste” – (Rodriguez Monegal,404) Daughters of Caliban—decolonising feminist The imposing of these ideas is how I approach the many different gazes and wider narratives operating on my body and in pictures and dealing with themes of privacy and a gendered racilaised gaze
“Carnivalising” in the essence of actively inciting the viewer to look, to visually consume and enjoy. Carnival goers’ bodies are gazed and the costume, at face value it seems to adds to the power of the gaze but they are there by choice and their bodies are theirs to move as they please. Doing this takes the gaze to a level that’s familiar stomping ground by luring it into that consummative role but only to then realise this isn’t passive participant and it’s been used and eaten (cannibalised) to make a new from that dominant language. Part of my practice is the narrative of Black female form, my West Indianess and boundaries. As my mother tongue lay elsewhere in the Caribbean and the process of becoming a Londoner meant learning to speak again; coming home with a tightly locked jaw tired from turning my “whey” into “where”; not understanding how someone can be West Indian without ever setting foot there and my misinterpreting that for not having to “bite up me tongue”. I was changed because I left and where and who was looking at me—simply being perceived meant I had to transform.
When I think of Deana Lawson’s work, she refers to the people she photographs as “her family” and she photographs in relatively focused areas and it brings this amplified sense of the individual and autonomy. I am the subject and person taking the picture, that permission and trust is one that’s an ongoing mental dialogue. With “her family” these spaces are theirs and you are a guest and it’s understandable to be wary encroaching in someone else’s territory so it creates this room between the intrusiveness of these photographs. When looking at images the viewer often feels safe and not responsible but when you’re in someone’s space (even when it’s only a picture), it can shift to defensiveness about being lured and it tapers some of the pleasure from voyeurism. I wanted to lure that gaze that’s constantly devouring and dominating by using that vulnerability but this is less of a reclamation of the gaze or empowerment and more finding a new subtle language to work just within the borders of the reclaimed and visually domination. That language and territory that falls short of empowerment and how Black women’s bodies and space is treated. Jasmine Richards
notes about the macaanto with the tired eyes maybe sheâ€™s homesick for a place where her heart is full and her mind not haunted. sometimes her alone gets so large, the people on the bus can hear it. nostalgia cracks the walls. the cleaning, the dusting, the scrubbing - these are all ways to begin afresh, ways to begin again. the unbelonging, the unbelonging, the unbelonging. it took everything in you to get up from the sofa today, didnâ€™t it? did the sadness keep you still? exhaustion and heaviness are cruel lovers who make homes at the bottom of the heart, in the curls of the hair, under the tongue. Leyla Ahmed, xauvert
T E L L M E A B O U T YO U R S E L F For some time we have been trying to plant an orange tree. It will look nicely besides the lemon tree, which we gather lemons from every three months. The lemons are sour with a slightly bitter aftertaste. My mother has a sensitive palette and when she bites into a slice of lemon she shuts her eyes so tightly I don’t know what to do. My mother has always approved of these lemons and I am her go-to lemon gatherer. I am seven, and highly fond of responsibilities. I have a child-sized easel set up in the backyard. When the weather is nice I paint abstract shapes. They seem like portraits of women I see at the grocery store. Help me, language. A pause is never just a pause. We stutter to fill in the blanks. Throughout grammar school, I always preferred multiple choice format. A man of about fifty, wearing tan-colored sandals, asks me where I am from. My mother and I are at the grocery store, which is only five minutes away from my easel in the backyard. He leans down to match my height. He rests his hands on his knees. I straighten my back because I want so badly to be taller than him. I hide behind my mother but he doesn’t see her. For some time we have been trying to plant an orange tree. There is a lonely patch of earth in our backyard and the color would really spruce up the place. I’m told. On the weekends I chase my brother around until one of us falls. One Saturday my brother trips over a hidden root which we think extends from the lemon tree. The lemons that day are a greenish yellow. Some have already fallen from their branch. My brother picks up a lemon with a slight tear and screams because it is covered in ants. After we plant the orange tree we wait. After four months, it is mostly branches and stems. On Christmas Day my brother and I wrap a washcloth around the base to mimic what we have seen on A Very Charlie Brown Christmas.
W H E R E A R E YO U F RO M
My father once received an onion plant as a thank you gift. We had it planted in the front yard and once every two weeks my father would take my brother and I out to water the plants. He taught us how to turn on the sprinkler, though he did not trust us with the hose which had to be constantly adjusted for volume. You did not want to over water the plants, the flowers from Home Depot, and, least of all, the onion plant. We watered the onion plant for years. My father has not watered the plants for many years now. Our front yard is drier and browner now than it was during my childhood. The last time I stood in that yard I had just returned from my first year of college. Along the small path that led from the front yard to the back yard, there was a wood-latch gate covered in cobwebs. It was a quiet zone where I’d occasionally smoke. I’d watch the smoke entangle itself in the trees overhanging us. I’d plot my escape. I’d bury the stubs and go inside for a shower.
T E L L M E W H E R E YO U A R E R E A L LY F RO M We lived behind a golf course, which meant we often found golf balls strewn about in the brush or inside potted plants. My brother and I collected them in a drawer. In October, walking down Massachusetts Avenue, I remembered this and told you not to laugh. It was windy and you’d lent me your gloves. The sky offered us a clear and concise film but we were neither interested nor paying attention. I’d prefer having you destroy me than see you destroy someone else. If I sound dramatic, then I hope you will never understand me or anyone else. The aesthetics of environmental progress are dulled by our propensity for repetition. A break from tradition won’t resolve matters either. Understand this: I distrust totality. I am my body. I am not my body. When I was twelve, we had to remove the orange tree. Our front yard is drier and browner now than it was during my childhood. My father does not have it in him to discard the empty flower pots. For years now we have waited and we are told there is no harm in the habit. A child’s easel, stained from juice boxes and red paint, will remain the apex of my career as an artist. “It’s late,” a weary mother calls out. Ten children clamor loudly and race one another through a grove of guava trees
Catherine Chen, aluutte
Woman in Red Shawl; 16” x 20” Tania Shaik Woman in Red Shawl; 16” x 20” Tania Shaik
Seated Woman with Feline; 16” x 16” Tania Shaik
The dilemma of wandering through life not quite knowing where you belong is a challenge that many face, including me. We are born in one location, and some are then re-located in a new environment, only to be reared in an alienated urban sprawl. Moving at a young age is particularly difficult for the individual because the young mind is so easily malleable. But somehow like a small jar, it can’t contain all of its contents and unfortunately, displacement of memories occur. Integrating into a new culture can cause you to lose the identity you previously carried so bravely on your sleeve. There are frantic feelings that you’re always going to be an outsider in an environment eternally structured around others’ ways and beliefs. They are incapable of shaking the foundations of the solidarity constructed to keep the “true ones” in, and are wary of outsiders like you. Unfamiliar emotions stir, spurring a rampant need to conform and shake off the image of an immigrant. Belonging becomes your new aspiration. This new environment assumes it knows of your past foundations. Not knowing the truth, it distorts your history to fit the propaganda of your new surroundings just to comfort the contented majority, casting aside the minority. This arouses anger at their naivety and leaves you distraught that you’re losing grip of your roots. The bread paving the path to your old home has now been picked up by ravenous birds, leaving no way of deducing the right path to comfort and familiarity. A member of the outnumbered, you experience a sinking feeling that ricochets the idea that you don’t matter here. You evolve into an unwilling witness to the destruction and blatant cultural appropriation that becomes apparent to you in no time. However, complaining about such issues brands you - “over sensitive and taking things to the extreme.” The notion that their actions disrespect, insult and hurt is not uttered. Complaining about the system is taboo, as the unaccustomed ambiance profess the right to disregard the unknown. The subject of race discomforts people, and I have experienced this first-hand every time I express the wrongdoings of the new culture. I’ve been shut down quicker than I can muster “that’s racist” because voicing one’s opinion goes against the waves of conformity. To talk about others being racist is alluding to the ideology that I am using a “Race card,” and that you can’t just frame white faces in a portrait of privilege because “we didn’t choose to be white.” I’m bilingual, but I have been victim to responses like “English or go back to where you came from,” prior to being asked to utter syllables in my native language because it’s “cool” and “exotic.” Momentarily, slithers of shame run through me. I have mastered my tongue to impress the new environment and prevent the degrading of the deficient black girl with an accent, only to be met with mocking chortles. An accent faded of its heritage and vivid earthy savanna, now symbolising lost integrity and backward people of colour, tongue only to be used to entertain the masses of guiless pupils, farcical school boys sickening me. I have the need to scream that I am not your object of amusement nor a mobile travel guide serving to offer you insight into that obscure continent sprawling across the globe. We of other cultures do not respire to quench your harbouring thirst for “hip” bohemian fashion and unheard tongues that you desperately mimic to perplex your cohorts. And I can’t deny the undeniable. At home, I am losing the ability to effortlessly chat with my mother. Reality no longer consoles me and her reminiscing of times back in Africa do not enthrall me; home is not homely mum. The great plains have been diluted of their orange hues and golden flecks as man raises his authority and rubbishes the pride lands, “now wreaking of poverty and exploitation” according to those who know nothing, only thinking they do. My memories have now been dubbed in English. I feel like a bleached poster child in my home for white washed culture. I am not ashamed of my race any longer. But I am afraid of being rWidiculed. I am afraid of being made fun of again. Fearful that my race is the defining factor for people to judge me on. Perturbed that compliments from others will end with the phrase “…for a Black girl.” The only comforting thought? That I’m not the only one experiencing this, and that there are a few who know, who care, and seek to sow the seeds of acceptance and feel the wisps of renewal and empathy in an air no longer polluted by the derogatory dystopia, sadly present in the darkest tendrils of my mind.
Jacqueline Caine, Ghanaian-princess 39
Sanaa Hamid Disrupting The Archive
To begin, it is important to introduce the notion of the archive as a historical resource, but also question the validity of it as such, particularly when institutionalised. The process of working with this archive, and the difficulty I experienced was parallel with my experience of working within a Western-centric art institution, as both encouraged me not to be politically critical, or didn’t understand when I was. The colonial gaze was so interesting to me, because it was such a physical and undeniable representation of the power systems involved in image-making during colonisation. I spend hours staring into the eyes of the “native women”, reduced and belittled at the hands of the photographer and his curiosity to sexualised, eroticised and exotified portrayals of themselves. I was actually encouraged not to pursue this train of thought, and after showing initial progress of my film, It was described as “offensive” by both University staff and representatives of the Royal Engineers Museum. This shocked me initially, but It was clear to me that the only acceptable forms of art, particularly created as a result of a University and museum collaboration, was either non-political and/or merely aesthetically engaging, so I was encouraged to finish. The title was born out of this imbalance of perspective, as it is an offhand, belittling reference to the devastating effect colonialism had and still has today.
I spent weeks at the Royal Engineers Museum in Kent, over whelmed by the vastness of the material as I was trawling through the crisp, grey and immaculately ordered boxes of photo-graphs, documents and albums. I spent weeks in their archive, and was a lot more interested in their uncategorised material, looking at the tired faces of strangers I felt an indescribable unity with. The first thing that really struck me about the images was the ethnographic studies, and the camera as a weapon of the colonial, while male gaze. The act of seemingly innocent “play” for these officers, seen here in blackface and dressed as “local” women, is subverted to highlight their mocker y and actually ridicule their presence and the farce of militar y power. There is often the idea that archival material is precious, not to be touched, not to be engaged with in a particularly political way. The archive became my playground, where I dismissed the power structures in place in a tongue-in-cheek manner and was therefore labelled offensive, insensitive and a reverse racist. “Colonialism Sucks” is the product of my disruption of the archive.
The use of moving image as a response to the archive was important, as the internet and ac-cessibility of it somewhat contrasting to the myster y and secrecy of museum archives. It didn’t seem “living”, or a space where contemporar y issues could comfortably merge and be discussed. The idea of archiving as action is an interesting notion, as is the archival narrative, which I think is heavily influenced by the space in which the archive is held, and by who. There is always a political intention for it, which is often to educate, but it is important to question that process itself. The Royal Engineers Museum, for example, was clearly hoping to create a patriotic narrative of British militar y histor y, using the archive to engage with the local community in Kent. It was actually based next to the army barracks in Chatham, and its proximity sometimes almost felt like a historical justification of current militar y oppression.
Selfies are often referenced while discussing the “narcissist generation”, but here I utilise my Photo Booth camera in order to create portrayals of the self under my own direction and control, while referencing the accessibility of image-making in the digital world. I attempt to insert myself into a historical space where the practise of photography was a privilege, and was dominated by the white male. Selfethnography through social media has become widespread, and is a tool we can use in order to create visibility for ourselves as women of colour, and reclaiming the ability to do so.
This series of GIFS recontexualises the idea of self-representation and the selfie as a means to responding to the oppressive colonialist gaze. Ethnographic studies of “native women”, who became dehumanised and the victim of the white male’s curiosity and desire to document and own, are combined with my own performative engagements with these images, which result in an interaction between myself and the women of the archive.
Frames from Sanaa’s Ethnographic Selfie series.
The archive became my playground, where I dismissed the power structures in place in a tongue-in-cheek manner and was therefore labelled of fensive, insensitive a n d a r ever se r acist. â€œ Colonia lism Suck sâ€? is the p r o duc t of my disruption of the archive.
THE BLACK BALLOON ARCHIVE Images and words by Liz Johnson-Ar tur Inter viewed by Isaac Kariuki.
What is the Black Balloon Archive? The Archive was never started with an aim. It takes its name from Syl Johnson’s song ‘Black Balloons.’ ‘And the sky so light seems snow white on a bright morning soon, oh! Dancing in the sky you surely gonna spy a big old black balloon.’ It describes perfectly how I feel, after all this time when I go out to look out for black balloons.”
What made you start it? Hunger. When I arrived to London in 1991, I expected grey skies, bad food, and pale looking people. The bus I had to take to go to work was in Brixton. It was a revelation: it made me realize how hungry I was. Before I came to London, I had only travelled around eastern Europe. My mum, who was Russian, took me on some amazing trips. She gave me my love for Russian literature and Russian people, but in all this time, my interaction with Black culture was very limited to say the least.
A lot of Black curators and artists feel that there’s a huge neglect when it comes to documenting and archiving our own culture(s). Do you think that’s true? I am colour blind, but like every human being I carry a history that is all my own. To fulfil myself, I had to explore my missing parts. If this missing part would have been yellow, white, or any other colour, that’s what I would have seek out to find. If there is neglect, it also means there is great richness to look forward to. We gain more by doing and telling stories than lamenting neglect.
What can young artists do about this? Young artists should love life, enjoy every moment, and use their own language to tell the things they see around them. If they like to take photographs like I do, keep doing and inventing them
Do you think Black representation has gotten better, especially in Europe? There is a lot of Blackness in European history; good and bad. And yes, we Europeans need to dig more and more. It will make our history only richer and more exciting to retell.”
What made you pick up a camera? The darkroom. I fell in love with photography the first time a friend showed me how to process a film and print a photograph. Being in the darkroom for me is pure meditation. Sometimes I think that’s why I take pictures in the first place, so I have a reason to go and meditate.
What camera(s) do you use? I trained to be a photographer in Germany in an very old institution. I was taught to use every format of camera, from 35mm to 10x8. When I started taking picture on the street, I preferred to travel light, but over the years, I used every possible format. One thing I do insist on is that every photograph has a negative to back it up. I love negatives.
What has been the most fascinating place to photograph? For me, the street is the most exciting and democratic place to find what I am looking for
I find your style very raw and honest. Is there a particular way you like to photograph people? I take what I get. If someone gives me the privilege to take her or his picture, I couldnâ€™t ask for more.
I gotta ask about M.I.A., how and when did the relationship start? I met M.I.A. through an assignment for Fader Magazine. My respect and appreciation for what she does has grown over the years. If there would be more artist like her with dedication, love, and a great sense for humanity, the music world could be a wonderful place.
What was your favourite shoot with her? Double (Bubble) Trouble. Over the last 10 or so years, I never know when M.I.A will knock on my door. D.T. was very nice â€˜cause the location she chose was the estate where I have been living for the last 20 years. It was a coincidence, but then again, I believe that everything happens for a reason.
I think both you and Maya are highly invested in displaying and celebrating the voiceless cultures around you. What advice would you give to a young artist of colour trying to bring out the best in themselves and their culture in their work? Love yourself , love your people, enjoy others, and never stop your curiosity.
How do you find and decide which photographs to add to the archive? In terms of people, everyone counts. In terms of photograph, I like to keep my standards high.
Could you tell us about the book you’re soon to publish? The book is a collaboration between me and a friend who convinced me to share my photographs. It’s good to share!
Lastly, who are some photographers that inspire you? Pushkin, because he revealed the Russian soul to the common people through poetry. Dostoevsky taught me that every soul counts, no matter how troubled it might be. Tolstoy, for his boyish enthusiasm for life and women. Chester Himes, for visualizing Black life. Plan B is still relevant 60 years after it’s conception… sad but true. Walker Evans taught me style: less is always more.
Itsikiitsapoyii The Stoic Indian Series: Volume 01
Teen Beat, Isaac Kariuki 72
Teen Beat, Isaac Kariuki 73
Óscar Moisés Diaz Camisas from the series Viviendo en el Departamento 15 | 2014 | Interiores @ Galería Salarrué Boston MA This piece is titled Camisas and it is the second in my series Viviendo en el Departamento 15. It is a series of works that make use of the research I’ve conducted over the last three years that I’ve coined under the phrase Diasporic Salvadoran Aesthetics. The title comes from La Prensa Grafica’s Departmento 15 news section. It is a section in the Salvadoran newspaper that features the stories of Salvadorans living outside of the country. I was deeply influenced by Salvadoran-American scholar Cecilia M. Rivas’s writing on the newspaper section in her book Salvadoran Imaginaries: Mediated Identities and Cultures of Consumption. The ongoing series seeks to put a visual language to the years I’ve lived in the United States with my family since 1998 when we came as refugees from El Salvador. I see the shirts in this specific installation piece as paintings in the expanded field. They each come from the closets of family members. Each is a puzzle piece that helps form somewhat construct a Salvadoran collective identity when they are displayed together on a clothing rack. The San Salvador bus T shirt (top right) was sent to me by my sister who lives in Soyapango. When the first Salvadoran supermarket in Charlotte, NC opened, they gave out commemorative shirts. The shirt with the map (bottom left) has a identifier for each department of El Salvador. There is a shirt with a speech bubble (centre left) that contains in it Caliche words and phrases and it says “If someone speaks to you like this then they are without a doubt from El Salvador.” The shirt with the surfer and cla figure is a shirt marketed to tourists to visit El Salvador. It shows us the image that the government is trying to push of a post-war El Salvador in it’s reconstruction era. There is a shirt that says “ Si vas a los Yunais” (centre right) which gives advice on items to bring if one is going to the United States. I am interested in the semiotics of the shirts and how they contain dialogs about belonging, diaspora and identity. The installation will always be shown with at least one new shirt on the rack each time it is displayed. “ 74
Diasporaland, Daku 76
Diasporaland, Daku 77
‘Future Youth’ is what Shabab Int., a clothing brand by Mohammed Hasoon evokes at first glance. The aesthetic is based on contemporary youth lifestyle in the Middle East which started with just one hat in Calgary that moved it’s way to Paris and finally to the Middle East. Mohammed says “it’s a culture brand because it’s representation of the new youth ideology that’s emerging. The final outcome is a product of the culture and the “new Middle East”. It’s always a form of communication to connect with the youth from around the world. Building ideas together collaborating for the sake of culture”.
Images by Mohammed Hasoon
w w w. s h a b a b i n t l . b i g c a r t e l . c o m
Black British Sitting next to the Somalian girl, hair clothed in red & who are you & strands of your hair being yanked & ‘Kwalitee White Oats’ & a crackling box TV & who are you & buying a pack of Skittles from the nearest Polski Sklep & who are you & a stream of rapid Yoruba & it’s soaking through the wood of the door & who are you & “Do you speak African” & who are you & “The Happy African” & it’s trademarked & you refute & who are you & who are you to refute & I thought you were British & I thought you were Ghanaian & I thought you were Jamaican & I thought you didn’t care about this & about that & about you & I thought you knew & I thought you & thought you & you & who are you, really? Toyin A
It grows within you like flowers on a grave. Scars on your face, craters on the moon. Dare I sit in pain? Dare I lie on such dangerous beds? Dare I come back? Return again. To say what I am and what you see are opposite pictures, and naturally, you see the one worked on the most, perfected the best. Thine eyes, they lie to you. Thy tears, they recompense the life you got, but could not lend. Tied to the ceiling, hanging from a building. Stuck to the grass, Moved by the seas. The violin plays no sound at all costs. One body of form, one mind at all loss. Foreign to all the world and me, vessels tumble through my time, and not too often, I fall asleep.
Manuel Paulo Villafuerte
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