A former child soldier of the Biafran War in Nigeria found his way to Columbia University where he met an American black woman from San Francisco, who was building an identity for herself outside of her loving, but narrow, upbringing as a Pastor’s child. I am their oldest child and only daughter. A Nigerian African American woman whose experiences have seamlessly woven me back and forth between my two worlds. My lifetime of navigating both the African American and Nigerian Diaspora opened my eyes to varying beauty standards and practice, identified similarities, but also created conflict as I found myself struggling to be firmly in both cultures at once. I explore this poetic collision of cultures in my art practice, to peel back the layers of the concept of identity.
In recent years, my work in photography, collage and sculpture has been centered around forms of loyalty (i.e. patriotism, sisterhood, athletic bonds) in femininity within the African Diaspora. How does someone who inhabits the feminine spectrum navigate an expected allegiance to their country that might be hostile to their very existence? How does an individual that operates from the feminine utilize friend circles, community bonds and their own physical presentation to insulate themselves from systems erected to restrict them? What does that look like? Is it different from my own methods? If so what elements can I learn from, celebrate and adopt? Those questions have walked with me since 2015, leading me to begin collecting instant film portraits of black women wherever I travel in the world. I walk up, introduce myself, ask them if I can take their portrait, explaining that I will also give them one. This method evolved in such a way so that each exchange could be as mutual as possible and the concepts of sharing and celebrating each other’s beauty are further reinforced during the creation of each image.
My time in Tenerife, Spain photographing the USA women’s basketball team, which is largely African American, at the FIBA World Cup in 2018, allowed me to make portraits that highlight women from across the world who have formed bonds through athleticism at the highest level and harness their abilities to literally embody their patriotism. The way femininity provides a gleaming platform for one to use your physical appearance to own your narrative fascinates me. The multitude of ways that individuals harness feminine energy to articulate their identity in a world that either condemns it or fetishizes it, constantly provides me with inspiration and strengthens my sense of community within my practice.
My series, “Sightings of the Sable Venus,” confronts feminine standards across my two cultures. I use self portraiture to combine and showcase my sculptural work and the sculptural work of others. My medium is Kanekalon braiding hair; I often take days even weeks installing microbraids, twists and other styes on myself and other women. While braid styles are a beauty practice for all women in the African Diaspora, for the braider, it is a commitment to meditation. A commitment to form and consistency over a certain period of time that can certainly be seen as a spiritual practice. In self portraits that feature my work, I use my own hair sculptures as a mask to separate myself from the real focus of the image: the meditation behind it. In self portraits that feature another women’s work, I wear a full body black suit, still able to direct how the piece is worn, but the visual attention in primarily on the sculptural work in the image as well as the process behind its creation.
Most recently, I lost a best friend to an apparent suicide and the direction of my artistic mission grew a fork; I am compelled to explore my grief through my art practice in order to wrap my mind around the mess that is death without answers. After relentless research, I discovered the Suicide Paradox which highlights that even though black women endure the most factors that should lead to suicide throughout their lives, we have the lowest suicide rates among sizable minority groups. My latest series, “Chicago in August” chronicles the days immediately following my friends passing and burial, a visual representation of life in that moment of tangible, stifling grief; unpacking my own ideas around suicide as a black woman that has been seemingly failed by the paradox.
The discoveries I’ve made through my art practice have helped to evolve my thoughts on identity and various themes of loyalty that I’ve navigated and sought out in my own life. I use my work to advocate for myself and others, to question, highlight and archive nuanced elements of my two cultures that may be otherwise overlooked.