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 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.
Nearly two decades since his death, the legacy of Afrobeat pioneer and human rights activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti (born Olufela Ransome-Kuti) is only growing with the years. The British Library exhibition on West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song paid homage to him last winter as one of Nigeria’s most prominent and prolific cultural figures. There is a rising cult interest in African funk music, a genre within which he is a crucial voice and his life and musicality echo in the contemporary hybrid of protest and music that is the annual Afropunk festival, a counter-cultural platform for asserting black identity and social activism, which took place in London for the first time on September 24th.
But closer to his Fela’s own hometown, the arts and music festival Felabration brings hundreds of local and international musicians, performers and artists to the New Afrika Shrine in Lagos to celebrate the life and work of the multi-instrumentalist, composer, maverick and activist. Started in 1998, the year after Fela’s death, by his daughter, Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti, the festival aims both to celebrate his artistic and cultural contribution to Nigeria and keep his legacy alive. The festival ended this Saturday and to commemorate we are excited to share the work of Nigerian documentary photographer, Yagazie Emezi, who attended Felabration in 2015 and photographed the backstage experience. The result was a stunning series of photographs, which she has kindly agreed to share with us.
I actually didn’t know of Fela while growing up in Nigeria. I’m sure his music surrounded me at certain points, but I would never have been able to pick it out as a child. My earliest memories of Fela are blurry, but I am sure I was already in university in the States by then. His sounds came in through a friend’s computer and from there, I went on to find out more about him on my own.
I was drawn to the crowd that the celebration attracts. It was just one of those events that I had heard everyone talking about so the hype drew me in.
More than anything, Fela lives on in his children. Seun and Femi still perform on stage regularly and the energy and spirit never stops.
I had a friend who was performing at Felabration which is a big deal so I offered to capture her on stage. I’ve been to Shrine on its quiet days and was always curious about what was behind all the doors.
Most rooms are packed with performers. One room is for Femi Kuti’s family and friends. The others are for performers and dancers. Everyone was excited, but you could tell the experienced artists from the first-timers. There was smoke in the air, people were relaxed, lovers mixing with friends, supporters blending in with performers, everything was positive and encouraging.
The spirit of Felabration is that of openness and acceptance, you’re in a safe space when you’re in Shrine. Holding a camera is a common sight and people are very receptive.
If I manage to snag some special access passes, I will definitely do my best! Some good photographs are created in the less accessible spaces!
Check out our feature on Yagazie Emezi and her many creative outlets here (among them photography, cartoon, documentary and straight-talking YouTube videos). Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter. You can also watch her antics on Youtube!
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
How to describe Hardy Indiigo? This multi-level-creative force of a man exudes the kind of positive energy that just makes you want to bake in the warmth of it. Hardy (born Hardy Muanza) was born in Congo, raised in France is now based in New York where he continues to develop his talents as a creator whilst working with various artists in “creating innovative sounds and captivating musical textures.”
In 2012 Hardy produced and co wrote the hit song “Superstar” on Madonna‘s MDNA album as well as collaborating as a musical director and Dj for her Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Project, the Macy’s Launch event for the Material Girl clothing line as well as many other private functions (Hardy “kept the party moving” as Dj for Madonna’s 2012 and 2013 Oscars party).
In 2014, Hardy produced 4 songs for America’s Got Talent finalist Kehlani as well as producing 10 tracks for Stella, (Carlos Santana‘s daughter) including a duo with the Carlos himself.
Hardy’s love of music and passion to create also lead to his first accessories and leather goods capsule collection. A sneaker collaboration with Italian sportswear brand Fila that is expected to be released in fall 2016 as well as a collaboration with Italian eyewear brand Glassing. Keeping up?
Feeling the desire to help kids in need Hardy founded Invest In Kids (called iiKids), a foundation that empowers kids through education, arts and culture. Hardy and iiKids donate a percentage of his earnings to non-profit organizations, charities and foundations involved in helping kids such as our friend Noella’s Malaika Foundation, a school in Congo that empowers women through education.
Yes it was at school I was like 7 years old, her name was Laura Crispy.
She was blonde with blue eyes and a beautiful smile. Everybody wanted to be with her, I didn’t pay her no mind until she did and we became very close. The best part about it is that she was loyal. She didn’t care about nobody or nothing else but me. That was attractive to me.
As a human being and especially as men we are attracted by what we see first then everything else. Physical beauty plays a part until it doesn’t, it’s one of the element that defines attraction. But physical beauty is not enough and will never be for the simple fact that our body transforms as we get older, and only the internal beauty will live as long as we have a soul.
She’s physically a beautiful woman, and a great mom. She raised 4 kids on her own as a young Congolese fresh out the plane. The sacrifices she made, the education she gave us is priceless. Even if a lot of mistakes were made she stood by us and did everything she could. That’s a beautiful person in my eyes.
Values and principles. I get it from my mama. That’s the most important thing for me. This society breeds lost souls, and push insecurity to the extreme. Social medias are the best platform for it.
Way more important. Let’s take social media for example. If you look at instagram, almost everything is related to women is about Fitness/Yoga, Hair/Make up, Fashion, strippers, Kardashians. Everything is about appearances, not much about philanthropy or real women empowerment. And it’s all over the platform whether you follow them or not.
Beauty comes from within, that’s the real beauty. You will always be beautiful in my eyes and those who love you for who you are. Regardless of what people may say or think always know that you are beautiful inside and outside and let no one ever make you think or feel otherwise.
Be careful, protect yourself and your heart by any means necessary. Whoever you are attracted to, make sure he has values and principles that match or complete yours. Have integrity and get the respect you deserve when its due. Never lose sight of your life’s goals. Compromise but don’t lose yourself or waste your time pleasing someone who doesn’t deserve your devotion. Find happiness within. Do not put your dreams on hold to build someone else’s.
A wider variety. We see the same thing over and over again. People have no life, it’s all about gossip nowadays. I would love to see the other women who are geniuses, warriors, skilled in what they do but nobody cares to know. It goes from single moms, CEOs, athletes, doctors to actresses and activists. There’s a wide spectrum to be covered.
Absolutely not. Like I said earlier it’s very degrading. if you do not pay attention, and most people don’t, you really are going to think that this is what women are. And it goes for both men and women, especially the youth. The media sets the standards for the uneducated mind. If Kim K is society’s standard and a proof of concept of success, how the new generation won’t want to be naked online or have their body redone, especially if it equals success. Insecurities and ego are unfortunately the main reason why society and its system is very hard to beat. It’s very upsetting.