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Interview: ‘Typical Girls’ Founder Jamila Prowse

TG Team

The Typical Girls team. From left to right, Chani Wisdom, Jamila Prowse and Celiya Koster.

by Rose Miyonga and Jamila Prowse 

Typical Girls is part of a growing movement of zines by and for a diversity of women who aren’t interested in waiting to be given a voice by the mainstream media.
It is a space for self-expression and sharing of the female experience, which ultimately demonstrates that there is no one way to be a self-identifying woman.
It launched in 2015 with an issue entitled ‘Beginnings’, and ‘The Naked Issue’ was released last year, the Girls are back with volume three, ‘Generations’ this month. This issue invites readers and contributors to explore the many facets of their identities and what defines our generation, looking at the activists and creatives rebelling against the many frustrations of today’s society and political climate.
I wish that zines like Typical Girls had existed when I was a young teenager, thumbing the pages of glossy magazines searching in vain for something that reflected or honoured my experience, and I am sure that the next generation of Girls will be better off for having access to such a plurality of talent and self-expression.
We spoke to Jamila Prowse, co-founder of Typical Girls (and ThandieKay Features Editor) about her vision for the future of the zine, and about where it all began.

What is Typical Girls? Where did it come from?

Typical Girls is an intersectional women’s magazine. When it was established at the end of 2015 it was to create an inclusive space: one where self-identifying women from a variety of backgrounds, ages, cultures and disciplines could come together under one roof. In this way it was established as a response, an alternative to women’s publishing as it stood at the time. We wanted to genuinely represent our contributors, in a way that was honest to them, and avoided tokenising.

When I speak about the catalyst behind establishing the magazine, I often return to my childhood. I grew up in a predominantly white middle class community and was raised in a single parent household by a white mother. Despite having a mixed heritage (my dad was black South African) I did not have access to my black heritage growing up. As such, I didn’t strongly identify with my blackness. Yet, being noticeably ‘other’ in my appearance, compared to those around me, I also experienced a strong sense of alienation in my formative years which lasted well into my 20s, and still follows me today.

Chani and Jamila for i-D Spring 2016, shot by Jack Davidson

I always loved magazines as a teenager. The glossy pages seemed to hold secrets into another world. I would tear those pages out and paste them all over my wall, staring at them longingly, and hoping that their magic would somehow seep off the page and into my own life. I was overly romantic, and aching for something of importance to happen to me. I tried to imagine myself in those pages, in those worlds, but I could never quite make the leap of imagination to align myself with them. None of the girls in those pages had hair or features like my own. I would spend hours in the bath smoothing down my afro hair, willing it to stay straight. As much as I hoped and wished that the pastel colours of my favourite publications would influence my own life, I knew deep down that I did not belong in that world, because nothing had ever shown me otherwise.

It’s infuriating that, up until recently, you had to scour popular culture to find black faces reflected back. The few examples of black representation we had were nothing more than homogenised stereotypes. You would struggle, too, to find any discussions or explorations of mixed heritage. As a young teenager I was convinced that there was no one else who felt remotely the same to me.

TG was established in order to ensure that young women of colour could see themselves mirrored in the pages of a magazine. If young people don’t see themselves reflected in the world around them, how will they view themselves as being a part of it? Thankfully, with increasing discussions around representation things are starting to change. Women’s publishing is no longer the whitewashed space that it once was. Instead of responding to a lack, we are now part of a wider dialogue. I am so pleased to be able to provide a platform which contributes in some way to that conversation. If we can create a movement in women’s publishing which truly reflects all women, than we will have achieved something.

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Gabrielle Richardson on the cover of Vol. 3, shot by Amarachi Nwosu

What’s the process of going from idea to holding the magazine in your hands?

We have an extremely tiny editorial team who put together TG. It is made up of myself, our Art Director Chani Wisdom, and our newest Editor Celiya Koster. Initially, after deciding on a theme, we put a call out for submissions. Then the three of us go and source content based around this. Our contributors are the ones who really form the publication. We get sent such incredible work, and people give so much of their time and energy to our little publication. We wouldn’t exist without them.

For issue 3, visual artist, writer and creative consultant Amarachi Nwosu came to us to pitch the cover story. Amarachi assembled an incredible team in New York, and took to the streets of Brooklyn with our cover star Gabrielle Richardson. Gabrielle is a curator of the Art Hoe Collective, an online platform which showcases the work of PoC. Gabrielle is at the forefront of a movement of creatives who are shaping the future of representation. She is facilitating the voices of young people, Amarachi recognised that instantly, as well as the fact that Gabrielle’s ethos is entirely aligned with our own. The vision and dedication of the team behind that shoot brought a real magic to our third issue. You can feel the life jumping out of the pages when you look through it.

Once all the content is together, it’s just down to Chani and her laptop. Months of graft and painstaking work from Chani gives the publication a real sense of self. She puts great care into all the minute details of the design, hiding little nuances that tie the entire feel of the magazine together. That sense of coherence you get as you turn from page to page is all down to her.

Jamila interviewing Hollie Cook for issue 3

You’re doing something new with the magazine, but that at the same time reflects a long history of feminism in print. Who/what were your influences?

We take our namesake from The Slits song ‘Typical Girls’ (we’re always overjoyed when readers pick up on this detail). For us, their no bullshit attitude, and complete control over the work they were putting out, is a real inspiration. They went out on stage and acted in a way that society wasn’t used to. Here were three women who stood on the cover of an album, stark naked and covered in mud. In terms of subverting the male gaze that was revolutionary. It was so rare for women to stand in the nude, in a way that wasn’t sexualised or produced for a man. The Slits showed that you could be a woman and still be strong, independent, and not take shit from anyone.

In our third issue we got the chance to speak to Hollie Cook, who was part of the second generation of The Slits. Hollie’s first experience of touring was with The Slits. She spent many of her formative years under their wing. It was amazing to hear firsthand how the band shaped the musician, and woman, Hollie is today. You can really feel that their resonance withstands multiple generations. I’m sure it’s something that will continue to be passed on by Hollie, who in her own way refuses to make any compromises on her vision.

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Nakeya Brown, ‘The Edge of a Dream,’ featured in issue 3

In terms of publishing, there are of course DIY zines. In our ethos we’re very much aligned with the idea that if you don’t see yourself being represented, you go and create something that does. Spare Rib, which was a second-wave feminist magazine, immediately comes to mind. But then, in that, I think it is necessary to acknowledge that feminism has not always been an inclusive space. In fact, many people, especially women of colour, trans women and sex workers, still feel alienated from the movement. It’s about trying to create something that is truly inclusive. Inclusivity is not instantly achievable, and as editors we are constantly challenged to work at it. We might not ever get the formula completely right, but with each new issue we can ask ourselves how we can be more open.

i-D, too, has always stood aside from the crowd. Whereas tokenising, and a lack of visibility, have been inherent problems within publishing, i-D has never adhered to this. The first person of colour to feature on the cover was as early as April 1983, when the Nigerian-born singer Sade graced the fourteenth issue. In issue 3 we got to speak to Lynette Nylander, the writer, editor and creative consultant who worked as Deputy Editor of i-D for 3 years, about how the publication shaped her experience of growing up as a young black girl in London. i-D made it possible for women like Lynette, and the editorial team behind TG, to realise that we could be a part of shaping the culture around us.

Today, publications like Riposte, Sister Magazine, OOMK, Orlando and Girls Club push us to be better. I love that so many independent publications are now going out and shaping the landscape of publishing to be a space of resistance.

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TG’s art director Chani Wisdom, with a copy of issue 3 at Magazine Brighton.

Typical Girls is part of a movement of zines with a fresh take on art and society. Why do you think people are interested in reading more socially conscious content today?

It’s tricky growing up in a world which is so centred on technology. It is something we are all acutely aware of but it’s actually terrifying. Information is so fast paced and easily digestible that we don’t really need to take the time to sit back and think anymore. We’re told what to read, what to like, what to follow. I was part of the generation that spent the first decade of our lives largely offline. I didn’t have a smart phone until I was about 17, and didn’t have Facebook until my mid teens. I find it really concerning that young people are now being raised entirely on social media. There’s no escape from it. It penetrates every aspect of your life.

With that, how we consume our news has altered considerably. The rise of clickbait journalism and fake news has taken away the core of what we’re reading. I think people are increasingly realising this, and making a conscious decision to seek out platforms which provide honest, captivating, thought-out content. We take our time when producing TG. The 6 months between each issue prevents a fast pace of consumption.

In look and feel, TG is closer to a book than a magazine. It’s a really weighty publication (quite literally – it’s a heavy bugger). It asks you to take your time over it. Pour yourself a cup of tea and sit down in your favourite armchair. When people have a copy stored on their bookshelf, I always feel like that’s exactly where it should be. You could easily spend months perusing slowly through the pages. It’s not about being up to date with the latest fashion or news; it’s about slow journalism, which might be somewhat outdated by the time you get to it, but is more about the timeless value of people’s stories and experiences.

What can we expect in Vol. 3?

As we have grown and developed, so too has the breadth of the work on our pages. Issue 3, which is our biggest issue yet, is filled with life and colour. It is an offering, a love note, to all the incredible women who inspire us on a day to day basis. TG allows us to explore the many aspects that can, and do, encompass womanhood. It is our way of proving that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ girl.

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Garbielle Richardson in issue 3, shot by Amarachi Nwosu

How do you think small publications can survive and thrive in the technology-dominated instant-gratification society? How can we make space for zines like Typical Girls to get the respect they deserve?

I think it’s about putting your money where your mouth is (as blunt as that may sound). We have a lot of power as consumers. If we invest our time, energy and interests, as well as our spare pennies, into publications and artists we believe in, they will be able to continue. If we demand, as consumers, that journalism is considered, and conscious, then publications will eventually have to listen.

The reality of publishing is that it’s a pricey industry. Funds that come in are quickly eaten by printing costs, and all the expenses that come along with running a small business. In order for independent publications to survive, they need to have readers who are invested in their livelihood. None of the people I know who run small print magazines make any money. They do it out of the necessity to contribute something worthwhile to the industry. Everyone involved tends to have full-time jobs on the side just to keep it going. We put our own money into TG, and don’t earn a cent. Our contributors, too, give their time for free out of a love of the publication. But it’s not an ideal situation by any standard. For creatives, making work is often the determinant of their livelihoods. It’s how they put food on the table.

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Jamila with Vol. 1

We need to shift how we view the creative industries entirely, especially people who work outside of a commercial, corporate agenda. In today’s political climate there is little financial support available for independent artists. If we can consciously change how we, as consumers, spend money — buy an artist’s print instead of a wall hanging from a high street store — we can make small changes that have the potential to really impact someone’s life. The same goes for if you have a choice between a publication heavily filled with advertising, where 70% of the publication is marketing, and one that is independently run.

And Typical Girls in the future?

The aim in the future is to continue to grow and develop with the times. Hopefully collaborating more with publications we admire, and continuing to work to create a cohesive and supportive movement of independent publishing. We have lots of exciting new projects in the pipeline for the next year, to really push what defines TG as a publication, so watch this space…

Typical Girls Vol. 3, ‘Generations’ is available to order here.
You can follow them on Instagram and Twitter
Cover Credits:
Photography: Amarachi Nwosu
Producer: Michael Rotimi
Hairstylist: Kessia Randolph
Photo assistant: Nikko Gary

Interview With Artist And Illustrator Andrea Pippins

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.

becomingme1_1000Tell us a little about your upbringing.

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.

aliciakeys-cargo_731Who influenced your perception of beauty growing up?

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.

Your first book ‘I Love My Hair’ was a great critical success. Where did the inspiration come from?

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.

afroblue-thandiekayDo you think there is a gap in the market for more books celebrating women of colour?

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.

Your new book, Becoming Me, deals with self-discovery and self-acceptance so beautifully. Tell us a little about your own journey of self-love.

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.

If you could give the twelve-year-old Andrea one piece of advice, what would you say?

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.

What role do you see the visual and creative arts having in dealing with some of the issues of our age?

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.

becomingme2_1000Who are some of your favourite artists? Who inspires you?

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.


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Featured image by Danielle Finney, all other images courtesy of Andrea Pippins

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ‘The New Face of Beauty: You’

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.

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Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. Photo by Akintunde Akinleye

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.

Watch the No.7 Campaign Video:

 

We invited Chimamanda to our first ever blogpost- within the context of beauty and makeup- back in 2013 when we asked her to do the ThandieKay Q+A. We would never have imagined then that any make-up brand would use a grown-up woman of substance as a make-up ambassador let alone one of colour, and for such a mainstream, British brand. It gives us great pleasure to realise that little girls going into Boots will now see a magnificent role model, whose beauty is secondary to her wisdom, fearlessness and intelligence.

What is your earliest make-up memory?

Six years old, at my mother’s wonderfully cluttered dressing table in Nsukka, trying on her very sticky lip gloss.

I feel most beautiful when…

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.’

When you were a child, what was your Mother’s beauty routine?

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.

Is make-up a chore or a delight?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Thandie Newton at the Toronto Premiere of 'Half of a Yellow Sun' (2013)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Thandie Newton at the Toronto Premiere of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ (2013)

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.

Did your father refer to your Mother’s beauty, and how?

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.

What’s been your worst beauty mishap?

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.

If you could give one beauty gift what would it be?

A good facial moisturiser.

Where’s the craziest place you’ve done your make-up?

In a narrow train toilet, although that was less crazy and more uncomfortable.

What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry?

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.

When was the last time your mascara ran, and why?

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.

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Buy Boots’ No.7 products here.

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Backstage at Felabration with Yagazie Emezi

By Rose Miyonga

Backstage at Felabration 2015. Photography: Yagazie Emezi

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.2015-12-29-at-11-04-34-am-768x500

When did you first become aware of Fela Kuti? What are some of your first memories?

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.

Why did you want to document Felabration 2015?

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.

How do you feel Fela’s legacy lives on?

More than anything, Fela lives on in his children. Seun and Femi still perform on stage regularly and the energy and spirit never stops.

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You chose to photograph behind the scenes of the event. What inspired this?

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. 

What did the back-rooms feel like on the night?

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.

IMG_2921The photos you produced and so beautiful and intimate. How did you manage to get such candid images?

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.

Will you be a part of Felabration again this year?

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!

Felabration 2016 wrapped up Saturday and we are already looking forward to next year. Check out this years’s performances on Instagram and follow the event on Twitter

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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!

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Interview With Photographer Ronan Mckenzie

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.

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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.

Where were you born? Tell us a little about your childhood

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.

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When did you first pick up a camera? 

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.

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I heard that you dropped out of Central Saint Martin’s after two weeks. What happened? 

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From the ‘A Black Body’ series

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. 

Your December 2015 exhibition ‘A Black Body’ was a wonderful exploration of black identity. What messages were you trying to share?

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.

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You’ve been featured in Vogue, Wonderland, Dazed and Confused and many more big fashion publications. Was it hard to get exposure in mainstream magazines? Was it something you sought? 

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..

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What needs to change in the way the fashion industry treats women, and especially women of colour? 

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. 

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 You always bring out great depth in your subjects. How do you choose your models? 

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.

What do you find beautiful?

A warm soul.

ronanmckenzieWho are some of your mentors? Who inspires you? 

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!

What are you working on right now? 

I have a few things in the pipeline.. 😉 

11. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Being happy working on wherever my path leads me! 🙂 

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