by Rose Miyonga
The 2017 Golden Globes felt quite special to me.
It felt like the first time in a long while, if not ever, that there was some decent representation, that I could look at the list of people that the establishment had deemed “the best” in television and film, and see a more diverse range of people representing the many stories that touched us this year.
Representation matters! And, I don’t just mean one token person who is not straight, white, male and able-bodied on a show written, produced and directed by a white male. What I mean is a plethora of people telling an array of stories in their diverse voices. What I mean is the use of the arts to expand collective consciousness and aid in dispelling the limited idea of normalcy.
I didn’t grow up thinking that my family was strange; my gorgeous multi-cultural, multi-racial family was my first understanding of the world. I only became aware that the wider world seemed to have more restrictive views of what constituted the most inclusive values in the world: beauty, love, family, struggle…
At its best, television and film, like all the arts, can be a mirror into your soul, shining light on the deepest truths of human existence with love and compassion, inviting us to
contemplate who we are and where we find ourselves in the world. Television has always seemed especially amazing to me because you bring the stories and characters into your home, sometimes over a period of years or even decades.
It can engender intimacy and belonging, but at its worst, it can also encourage feelings of otherness and lacking, a feeling that people who look like you don’t belong in the collective narrative or don’t deserve a space to share their stories. I inhabited this realm for a long time, and only obtained self-love through hard-learning against the popularised lack of representation.
Self-love is really hard when you feel like an island; when it feels as though every message society sends is so foreign to yourself. I grew up in a society that didn’t encourage my self-love, that subliminally, and sometimes explicitly, taught me that I was not enough and that I certainly would never be “the best”.
My society taught me loathsome self-depreciation.
Television used to encourage the most negative feelings for me. But it is gradually becoming a source of delight, a place to go to feel understood and valued.
Some day Viola or Tracee or Thandie will win an award or nominated and it will just be about them.
I hope that day is near, the day when it won’t be remarkable that someone who is colourful and unique and universal can be hailed as the best at what they do and that the next woman of colour to win a Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a comedy or musical television series will not have to wait until 2052.
I hope that my children, whatever their colour, gender identity, or ability will be able to hold the television up to their faces like a mirror and proudly see themselves reflected and represented in the most beautiful and honest light.
For now, their wins are still also our wins. They are part of the long-awaited slow-dawning collective realisation that we, too, represent the world.
by Rose Miyonga
Andrea Pippins is an artist, illustrator and designer from Washington, D. C., whose work seeks to inspire a generation of women. Her first book, I Love My Hair is a colouring book that invites people of all ages and colours to celebrate their hair for its unique beauty. Her second book, Becoming Me, is a glorious exploration of what it means to be a young woman of colour. It asks us to doodle, scribble and write our own investigation into ourselves.
I spoke to her about beauty, creative arts, and the importance of self-expression.
I spent my early years, from the age of six months to four years, in a sewing studio in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington, D.C. The studio was run by a French woman named Solange Cody and was occupied by a team of four women who spent their days constructing, hemming, and altering clothes. These ladies, except for one African American woman, were all immigrants—including my mother, who’s from Brazil. While my mother was sewing and fitting clothes, I would be drawing and colouring for hours. I believe that space planted the seeds for my own creativity; my love for textiles, patterns, and colour; and my desire to become an entrepreneur. But that all would come together much later.
I didn’t really know about graphic design until I saw Halle Berry playing the role of Angela in the film Boomerang. Angela was an art director and artist, and it was my first time seeing a woman of colour doing that kind of work. Even though it was fiction, it blew me away. But it wasn’t until I started applying for college that I really learnt about careers in graphic design, or what was then called commercial art or graphic art. I applied to Tyler School of Art at Temple University, and though it took several tries because of a lacklustre portfolio, I was finally accepted into the design program.
After working as a graphic designer at companies like Hallmark Cards and TV Land/Nick@Nite, I returned to Tyler and graduated with an MFA in Graphic and Interactive Design, so I could teach design at a college level. Eventually, I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a path as a full-time freelance designer and illustrator. Currently, my work is transitioning from graphic design to a focus on art and illustration. I’ve always solved design problems with illustration, not realising that that is where my skills and talent flourish.
Aside from my mother, I would say the media heavily influence my perception of beauty. My mother had a subscription to Essence magazine, and I remember absorbing those pages filled with beautiful women. But I always saw it as a publication for adults. Where was the magazine featuring little girls who looked like me or had hair like me?
As a teen I loved Seventeen magazine, but honestly, at the time those pages didn’t show anyone who reflected me. So it was difficult to find style, hair, and makeup advice.
As a kid and teen I watched a lot of TV, and thank goodness it was during a time that black TV and film was doing so well. From TV shows like Living Single and A Different World to movies like Love Jones and Boomerang, I did have a lot of positive references that influenced my ideas of beauty. There could have been more, but having those showed me more of a range than what I see today.
I Love My Hair happened when I met an art director at Random House and sent her some ideas for a colouring book last spring, none of which had anything to do with hair. After looking at my artwork, she responded asking if I’d be interested in doing a colouring book about hair, and I said, “OMG, of course.” I didn’t have a specific plan of what to include, I just knew that I wanted it to be fun and that I wanted to show a wide range of hairstyles and ideas of hair. There were 84 pages to fill, so it was a creative challenge to figure out what would be interesting and what would work in terms of filling it with colour. Because “hair” is so specific, and because I didn’t want it to be just about hairstyles, I had to be creative in my interpretations. So I explored abstract representations, lettering, and accessories and tools related to hair.
I don’t know the numbers, so I can’t speak about the gap in the market for books celebrating women of colour, but I can speak about what stories are being celebrated and highlighted. I do think there is a gap in the kinds of stories that are told about women of colour, and a huge gap in what gets recognition, awarded, written about, etc. I assume that fewer of us get opportunities to write books, but also wonder if it’s really that fewer of us get recognized. Or a combination of both. Either way, it is frustrating.
Because of my family and community, I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of self. But in certain areas of my life, I can be a perfectionist, and at times this results in high expectations and me being hard on myself. In the last few years, I’ve learned to surrender, be easy, and give myself a break. This also means not working so much and allowing myself to just be.
I would tell twelve-year-old Andrea to always be herself. That who she is enough, and that life is too short, so to not take things too seriously.
I am a strong believer that image is power. Whether it’s in propaganda, a story being told, or an advertisement, an image really drives the message. The people behind media understand this and use images to tell how us how to see the world. And until we get people of colour behind the wheel as directors, producers, cinematographers, artists, and designers, we won’t be able to control how we are portrayed or the stories that are being told about us. In this way, we can give all people access to visual expression, which is important. The beauty, though, is that we live in a time when the tools to create images and tell stories are readily available. And people are taking advantage of it. We can already see how the media is shifting because of that access.
But on a micro level, being able to understand what you see is just as important as being able to read. So regardless of your level of interest in art and design, you need to be able to interpret the millions of messages being thrown at you everyday. You need to be able to decipher and question the intent behind an image. And with the arts being eliminated from our school programs, people aren’t developing that skill.
Having access to the visual arts is about self-expression AND developing a form of literacy.
My favourite artists are also people who inspire me, such as Emory Douglas, Kerry James Marshall, Sister Corita Kent, Frida Kahlo, Malick Sidibe, and Nina Chanel Abney, among many others.
Follow Andrea on Instagram
Featured image by Danielle Finney, all other images courtesy of Andrea Pippins
By Rose Miyonga
With the prominence of smart, beautiful women of colour in the pubic eye wearing head wraps, it might seem like head wraps are having a renaissance. But i would argue that they never went away. Phenomenal women like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lupita Nyong’o and Zadie Smith deserve credit for wearing their head wraps with such style and grace, and their power is only enhanced by the fact that the history of the garment makes them part of a long tradition of women of African origin defying the conventions of Western beauty standards and standing tall and powerful at the intersection between tradition and avant-garde.
Head wraps are worn by women and men all over the world for various cultural, social and religious reasons, and the history of the head wrap in Africa is diverse.
The African American head wrap has a distinct story. At one time it was mandatory for slaves to cover their hair and, as photographer Juliana Kasumu discovered while working in her photo-series, Moussour to Tignon: The Evolution of the Head-Tie, head wraps were made compulsory for Black women, freed and enslaved in 1786 by Esteban Rodríguez Miró. The governor of Louisiana and Florida decreed that black women, both freed and enslaved, had to wear a head wrap as a means of racial classification.
But like all policies intended to strip Black women of the natural power of their Afro hair throughout history have, it failed.
Kasumu notes: “They looked even more beautiful, and more appealing, and they used to decorate these head wraps with jewels, and plumes. They became more attractive if anything. It just backfired.”
For me, the head wrap is like a crown that gives height, power and presence. It connects me to a long legacy of Black women who refused to crush their beauty to make other people feel more comfortable. Sometimes it’s functional, like when I rub homemade leave-in conditioner into my hair and wrap it to let it soak in, but more often it’s because of how it makes me feel. It makes me stand tall, think hard and feel proud.
“Like all hairstyles for black women, headwraps mean a myriad of things to me. From protective style, to channelling Royal African Realness, emulating Erykah Badu, or even just feeling too lazy to do something with my hair, I find that it’s a look that gets to adapt and change with my mood and style.
My Aunty Chipili was always in headwraps; different materials, different prints and always tied in new ways. I guess symbolically for me it was and still is her crown. A sense of pride exudes from black women who wear headwraps and they also emit a regal energy – I mean look at Nefertiti.
Style inspo firstly comes from every single Igbo and Yoruba aunty heading off to a wedding or Sunday service in the most deluxe gele’s, their looks and fabrics are consistently immaculate. Also, I remember, as a kid my mum having a cassette of Miriam Makeba lying around and being enamoured by Miriam’s noble headwrap and dangly earrings on the cover art. Solange always has fun with it her looks and headwraps and Erykah Badu’s layering techniques are killer. I really love how Nina Simone’s wraps matched the fabrics of her designer suits and bespoke chic clothes. She’s a lasting symbol of opulence and unapologetic blackness.
Last, but not least, Aunty Chipili, who like Nina, always wore whatever she wanted and paired it with an elegantly-tied headwrap.”
“The creative process for styling any of Lupita’s looks is always a joint effort between myself, Lupita and her stylist. Like me, Lupita is always filled with ideas. Her hair is so versatile and we both get excited talking about our visions and possibilities for it. There must be a balance though, of fabulous hair that works with the overall styling; complementing what she is wearing, not distracting from it.
For the Queen of Katwe promotional tour, premieres and so on, Lupita knew that she wanted to wear a head wrap. We started thinking about this about a year in advance and researched sources from all over the world. Our main influence which helped to inform our vision of what we wanted to achieve, was African tribes.
Her stylist and I spent quite a long time in various markets and fabric stores in Kenya, sourcing materials. We took these to the design houses that Lupita was working with, who then either used the same fabric for fashioning her dress or used it to inspire their own choice of fabric.
Lupita had to explain to her fashion houses that we wouldn’t know exactly how her head wraps would look, until the day. On the day of styling any head wrap, I always think that the most important thing is to approach it with a flexible mindset and be prepared to go with the flow. Because each piece of material will bend, shape and fold in its own way. Create with the material.
Styling a head wrap in a modern way, for me, boils down to these three things: creating height, a striking silhouette and choosing the best fabric to either match or complement your outfit.
Femininity, elegance and confidence. You can’t help but walk with your head held high when wearing a wrap. And it’s been shown that if you walk tall with a positive posture, you feel more confident. Which I think can only be a good thing.
Of course, I am also highly aware that head wraps can have cultural and religious meaning; which I am always very respectful of. I keep this in mind when working with my clients, choosing colours appropriate to events that they are attending, for instance.
Head wraps are worn by people all over the world; in many ways and for lots of different reasons; functional, fashionable, cultural or religious. Those of African origin tend to vary in style depending on where they are created.
The Nigerian head wrap is called a gele and has inspired some of my creations for Lupita. Geles are usually quite big and bold with lots of height. I wanted to make sure that I did this head wrap justice with a blend of keeping its integrity but making it more modern. I was pleased that this was recognised and embraced by a lot of people who are familiar with geles; and received some very positive comments about it.”
“Head wraps are a part of who I am, part of my identity as an African women. I’m African first- you see me that’s what you notice first. Head wraps also represent my fierce lioness side. I feel extremely powerful when wearing my head wrap, as a child most women who I admired, including my mother, wore heard wraps.
I don’t wear it for political reasons or solidarity with others, all my life I fought for being my true authentic self and wearing a heard wrap is me at my core, however the head wraps has being a symbol to exhibit my African roots when speaking at a global stage, a symbol of pride.
I love bold colours, such as red , green and egg yolk, I would wear it with my western clothing, love pairing heard warps with my fitted suits, you will find my head wrap colour will match my statement accessory wether it’s a necklace, rig or hand bag.
My biggest style inspiration has always being my mother, as a child I couldn’t wait to grow up so I can dress like her, she always had her own sense of style till today my mother designs a lot of my dresses, we have similar taste, we like simple and unique looks, I guess the head wrap gives me that opportunity to experiment with colours and print.”
By Oyin Akande
We are celebrating and you should be too. On Friday 21st, celebrated Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was announced as the commercial face of the new Boots No.7 campaign.
Chimamanda, who already has several critically acclaimed novels under her belt, TED talks viewed by millions and millions and a phenomenal cult following that includes Beyoncé, Zadie Smith, Dior and something like the entire population of Sweden, has just taken on the redefinition of the beauty industry.
What is really great is what this means for you. As the face of a huge beauty campaign, Chimamanda makes accessible the rosy and impossible fantasy of the beauty industry:
“I think much of beauty advertising relies on a false premise – that women need to be treated in an infantile way, given a ‘fantasy’ to aspire to… Real women are already inspired by other real women, so perhaps beauty advertising needs to get on board”, Chimamanda told Vogue in the November 2016 issue which is downloadable here. She challenges the ill-conceived unattainability of women represented in beauty campaigns, which leave the majority of women unrepresented and unable to relate. She has quite literally opened up the possibility that you- someone real- could be the next face of beauty.
What we really love though is that she has opened up a very public dialogue with feminism and make-up, two things long believed to be at odds. Where make-up has wrongly been understood to be a tool to hide yourself, Chimamanda is reclaiming it as a tool of precise autonomy over who you are and who you present to the world. Days before the campaign was announced, Chimamanda released an amazing feminist manifesto ‘Dear Ijeawele’, which you can view via her Facebook page. The campaign merges the voice of contemporary feminism with the face of a real woman and we love it.
Six years old, at my mother’s wonderfully cluttered dressing table in Nsukka, trying on her very sticky lip gloss.
I am in a good mood; I am fit and exercising regularly; I am wearing stable high heels; I have managed to do a flawless ‘cat-eye.’
She moisturized her entire body very diligently. Ashy skin was unacceptable. I remember watching her after her bath, how she would reach across her shoulder, hand coated in cream, to get as much of her back as she could. She liked perfumes. There were heady scents in her bedroom. I remember the green POISON, the fawn CHLOE. She wore perfume to sleep. There was nail polish, powder compacts, eye pencils. She always wore tasteful makeup. My mother is one of the most beautiful people I know, and I thought so even as a child.
It’s become an absolute delight. I was once interested only in the most minimal makeup – colorless mascara, that sort of thing – but became more interested in make-up when I started using it to try and look a little older. I was so tired of being told I looked like a child. Now, I like to try new things, and I like the temporary transformation that make-up can bring.
Yes. “Nekene nne unu,” he would say – “look at your mother!’ – when my mother was all dressed for church on Sunday mornings, sequinned george wrapper on her waist, a sparkly blouse, a beautifully-structured gele on her head. She knew he thought she was beautiful, you could tell.
I once decided I wanted a funky afro. So I colored my hair in my bathroom, with three different color kits because the first two didn’t quite show. The result was orange hair. But what brought despair was how dry and brittle my hair became.
A good facial moisturiser.
In a narrow train toilet, although that was less crazy and more uncomfortable.
A greater range of colors (and undertones) in foundations and tinted moisturisers. A greater awareness that dark-skinned women have enormous buying power and are as much interested in beauty as anyone else.
Some years ago in my hometown. It was very hot, I’d been outside for a while, and suddenly felt a gooey heaviness around my eyes.
Buy Boots’ No.7 products here.
Interview by Rose Miyonga
I first came across Ronan Mckenzie’s photography in December 2015, around the time of her Dalston exhibition A Black Body, and have been a fan ever since, so I was delighted when she agreed to share some of her stories and inspirations with us.
Her photographs capture the epitome of ‘London cool’, but also convey a deeper message: the celebration and demystification of the black body. As such she challenges the mainstream representations that fear and fetishise Blackness, refusing to be silenced and exploring the diversity of faces, bodies and opinions that exists.
Mckenzie has been featured in Dazed and Confused, i-D and Vogue, to name but a few.
She may be young, shockingly young considering the depth and breadth of her work, but don’t be fooled, the 21 year old knows what she’s talking about.
I’m 21, I was born and live in Walthamstow – North East London. I had loads of fun as a kid, there were some tough times, but i have a lot of funny and happy memories; one time my brother took a biscuit without asking from the cupboard so my mum took us all to the police station and got a police officer to tell us off, I never stole anything again.
We were always around cameras when we were young, my parents took a lot of photos and videos of us, and my mum always gave us disposable cameras or Polaroids to take on school trips, but I only thought of photography as a career early last year.
It just wasn’t for me, I didn’t feel like myself – I was coming home feeling low and didn’t put any passion into any of my work so I knew there was no point me being there. I was going to try and stick it out until Christmas but I just trusted my instinct and jumped ship after 2 weeks.
I just wanted to show black beauty and diversity, that was the main idea. I felt and still feel for the most part that black people were always portrayed as one type of person in the media, and I wanted to create a space full of different black faces, bodies and personalities.
Well when I first started it was more about getting my work seen by as many people as possible so I would shoot and send it off to small magazines, websites and anyone who would take it. When it came to my exhibition, because I’d been interning and assisting in the fashion industry since I was 16, I had a few friends that helped me get exposure on big platforms like i-D and Dazed. It is difficult to get exposure in mainstream magazines, and now that I know my work and my style, I’m not about just pushing my work to anyone and more about selecting what’s best for me and creating my own platforms..
I think this is a very exciting time for women, and all creatives because opportunities are broad, and if you work hard you can achieve. I think with platforms like Gal Dem, ethnic minority women have a safe place to speak openly on their experiences which is amazing. We need that to become mainstream.
I just shoot anyone that catches my eye, it’s difficult to explain but I love faces that for some reason jump out at me. It could be that I see the kindness in their eyes or they just have incredible ears haha, but it just catches my eye.
A warm soul.
At the moment I’m so inspired by Simone Biles!! 4’9, from a non conventional family, defied all odds and is world champion! That shows true determination and passion!
I have a few things in the pipeline.. 😉
Being happy working on wherever my path leads me! 🙂
Follow Ronan on Instagram