The Bahati siblings are those kids – the family whose house you always wanted to hang out at growing up, because it’s like a creative fortress of possibilities.
Specialising in photography [Synthia], oil painting [Sonielle] and video mash-ups and clothing design [Frandson]; the three say, they are stoked their second exhibition, REGARDE-MOI. VOL 2 drew people to their vibe.
In this interview, the sisters say they are happy they can contribute to making positive space for young People Of Colour [POC] in Auckland’s arts, culture and music scene. “I feel like we don’t try to be anything we’re not,” Synthia said. “We don’t come from anything flash and you can see from the videos that it is what it is, we’re not trying to show off, we’re just doing us.”
Sonielle says Frandson’s Instagram video edits are like Indie films. By cutting up random moments the siblings experience day-to-day, he folds audio and video editing into art. “His style is nostalgia, it is this feeling of memory and recreating memories, manipulating it through edits and stuff to make a new memory over an old one,” Synthia explains.
Sonielle said she loved how people who came to their exhibition felt reflected on the walls. Held at the After Ours studio on Cross St, she says “When you have traditional artworks or display spaces, it’s not often that you can look at the artwork and see that reflection.”
“At the exhibition they could take live pictures of themselves so, they too, were a part of the work,” Soni said.
The Bahati’s said they can see how their creative contributions are helping to build space for young Black and POC creatives in Auckland city. Synthia said they are not the only ones putting in work, but are proud to be a part of the movement.
DJs Soraya, Pharaohswami and Andy Heartthrob also played live sets on the night too. “The DJs that were there have different styles but they know how to bring people together with the music they play and they made such an amazing atmosphere to have around our art,” Soni said.
Synthia has been an active creative in the Auckland fashion and music scene for a few years now, recently shooting Frandson modeling for Paris Georgia, and featured in the Viva print special of up and coming black creatives in Auckland city, her focus as an arts practitioner has always been centered around seeing Black people in Auckland represented visually.
A sense of community to her, is vital for minority groups in big cities. She says if it wasn’t for her community, she would focus on other subjects. “It’s why we do what we do because of the community and the people around us. Without that, I wouldn’t be doing this, I’d be doing something else,” Synthia said.
“Community is so important around Auckland because it’s so easy to feel like you’re alone. There are less of us, but the more we work towards making this community bigger, the more opportunities for everyone, then we will all have somewhere we can belong and connect,” Soni said.
“It’s more for the younger generation growing up, bearing in mind, what are they going to see growing up?” Synthia said.
In the future, real inclusion the sisters say, looks like a platform where Black creatives own the autonomy to actually direct their own narratives and portfolios in mainstream commercials, instead of just being a guest.
“It doesn’t make sense for someone who wouldn’t have a clue about a people or culture to come and be like, you’re going to come and do this and this; that’s how you get big mistakes happen and accused of cultural appropriation in the first place”, Synthia said.
“You know the Gucci thing, with the scarf and the lips or people doing Black face or putting Black people in animal print then calling it jungle fever, it’s things like that.”
“‘You don’t really have an excuse to be doing that these days; there’s your business and your creative team and I can guess what that looks like,” Synthia said.
“It’s also about people educating themselves..You can’t just hire a person to tick a box and think ‘oh cool we’ve done our part and that’s it,” Synthia said.
Although 2020 ushered in a lot more inclusion for People of Colour in the arts and media realms, Soni and Synthia say there is still a long way to go.
“There could be people who don’t get access to see our world every day. One guy [at a different party] who asked to see my Instagram was like, ‘Your photos are really cool but why do you only photograph African-Americans?’’ and I was like, actually they all live here and have all pretty much grown up here. “But he was so surprised like ‘all these people live here?’
Synthia is the only one of the siblings born in Tanzania. Soni and Frandson were born in New Zealand. Synthia says: “Representation and genuine interactions [with non-Black people] has improved since I was a child but you know we still get asked, can people touch our hair in restaurants and like, ‘oh my god it’s so soft’ and for me it’s so sad to see like this guy would have never had a Black friend in his life.. people are not branching out of their comfort zones of what they know to gain new experiences. So they become so closed off to the idea of being around other ethnic groups.”
Sonielle says “In the creative industry I feel like some people underestimate how powerful it is to just have a range of people in shoots or on TV. When I go outside and walk around the city, I see a wide range of people, different ethnicities and different looking people in Auckland.”
S: Well it’s like the ultimate goal would be to get to a place where it’s not even about that right, for art practitioners that are of colour, to have their work just speak for itself right?
Synthia: Exactly, definitely.
S: Some of the role of artists in society is to document or reflect events that are happening to humanity, in Auckland there was an iconic Black Lives Matter movement which reached global news platforms, did that influence your output this year?
Synthia: I feel like I’ve been making work about Black people and wanting to celebrate them for a while, so it wasn’t anything new to me. It was cool that more people are realising there’s Black people in Auckland but I think the BLM march was just the start. And we’re Black people, I personally don’t think it’s our responsibility to educate people. I was just tired this year. It’s not up to us to educate or beg people like, ‘hey please care about us’, it just shouldn’t be a thing… I just don’t understand why people are so horrible.