AFRO/KIWI IDENTITY – BEHIND THE SCENES WITH THE STORYTELLERS

Culture, Feature

The Storytellers is a research project executed by author, event manager, researcher and creative director of the website Africa On My Sleeve, Makanaka Tuwe. Now living in Morocco, Maka has been running projects for years. This one in particular began as a university requirement for her masters qualification, but grew to become an intrinsic bond between the nine young Afro/Kiwi women involved; exploring ways to shift the mainstream narrative of African people and perceptions of them, the answer was to become the storytellers themselves.

Maka says “Over a period of two months The Storytellers and I met on Sunday afternoons and what was a creative research project soon became a space of healing, seeing ourselves reflected in our worlds and a safe space were we could unravel. Through the creation of content we produced visual outputs that explore and share the experiences of third culture identity, African representation, being a woman of colour, black love, cultural heritage, colourism, tokenism and intersectionality within African identity.”

PROJECTS:

Dancer Chanwyn Southgate produced a piece in tribute to Brenda Fassie, a South African musical legend; photographer Synthia Bahati asked what does an African look like? In her project Huemans of Africa; a song by singer/songwriter Laila Ben-Brahim called Our Heritage addresses feeling pride in one’s genetic make up; #BLACKGIRLDIARIES explores what happens when being different affects you negatively by Tadiwa Tomu;
mixed race Rita Wakefield writes an essay asking ‘What Is Blackness’; ‘A Weak in My Life’ is a body of poems by Mwangileni Kampanga; there’s a series of memes by Adorate Mizero called ‘A Reflection of the Diasporic African Millennial’ and Rumbi Tomu a focuses on Black Love .


“On the food chain of life it goes white men, white women, black men, black women.” – Makanaka Tuwe.

MAKANAKA TUWE – PHOTO BY SYNTHIA BAHATI.

RESEARCH INFO:

“This research is aiming to provide an impetus for researchers, policy makers and those interested in African development to start exploring different participatory and alternative methodologies to countering the issues that come with migration, identity and representation for people of African descent in the New Zealand context. I begin the exegesis with a personal narrative I wrote as a reflexive diary entry during the research process. The decision to begin Chapter One with Home but never Home was to highlight the reality of navigating life as a woman of African descent in New Zealand and the conversations I engage in about identity and belongingness.” Download Maka’s research HERE.

Go behind the scenes with S E R U M and T H E S T O R Y T E L L E R S photo shoot/interview processes below:

PROJECT EXCERPT:

LAILA BEN-BRAHIM – PHOTO BY SYNTHIA BAHATI.

“For a long time I felt ‘stuck’ between living in western societies norm and following the path of my cultures. Unfortunately, society made me feel discouraged to be who I intrinsically and biologically am. I was trying to mould myself into someone I wasn’t just to fit in and feel ‘white’ – for lack of a better word. Eventually, the more I grew, I started to learn more about my culture, heritage and customs and realised that in order of representing who my family and I am, I would have to stand out at times. I wouldn’t need to wear my hair straight to school or eat promptly with a fork and knife. Some people took my dad’s broken English and heavy accent to mean ‘welfare’ or ‘refuge’, when I saw it as intelligence and wisdom. My brother would even simplify or change his name so people wouldn’t overlook his CV or just to make it easier for people. My dark-skinned friends and I would be labelled at school as the troubled kids and be disciplined without having done anything wrong. Women in my family who wear cultural clothing in public would be labelled, ridiculed, mocked or stared at when they were innocently walking through the city. I am now at a place where I am 100% proud to be a Moroccan-Samoan Kiwi. The values I learn from each enable me to grow, I feel like I have roots when before I felt discouraged, ashamed and a little lost. I love celebrating everyones differences from the inside to the outside because with difference there is no learning, growing or understanding.This song is about finding my love and appreciation for my heritage and culture in my early adulthood.” – Laila. Listen to her song HERE.

TRAVEL DIARIES: LIBBY & THE ORANG ASLI OF MALAYSIA

Culture, Interview, Video

Orang Asli means original people” Libby tells me over a morning coffee in the only open cafe we can find over Christmas/New Years of 2018 in Mangawhai, New Zealand. She has just returned from a one year trip to Malaysia. Predominantly a resident of England, Libby has ties to New Zealand after attending high school in Cambridge for a few years. She is a photographer, visual artist, traveler and poet. While visiting Gua Musang in the Kelantan region she unexpectedly set out on a photo journalism trip deep into the Malaysian jungle, which is one of the oldest in the world. “At the time I was just hanging about [Kuala Lumpur] with my artist friends and then the news kind of grabbed me, the logging that was happening at the time. I wanted – just to know more.”

Libby kept a travel diary documenting her experience with the indigenous from her mother’s homeland, Malaysia. It would turn out to be a magical trip, a once in a lifetime experience she won’t forget. Logging photos of her experience, the post is a nostalgic throwback and a beautiful account of a spiritual experience that I fully recommend!

EXCERPT FROM LIBBY’S TRAVEL BLOG:

“The sacred site we were soon to visit is a large cave, further into the jungle, called Gua Janggut. The hallowed space is revered, not only by the Temiar but also the Negrito community, another Orang Asli group that live within the area. They speak a separate language known as Mendriq, and there are about 220 of them left, making this a very endangered language. Before heading to the cave, we visited the Mendriq village and we received another blessing from their local elder in order to enter. They too, used a Tualang candle. “

Check out the rest of her diary HERE.

BATU BANG – ‘RED RUBBLE’ Photo by Libby.

EXCERPTS CONTINUED:

“There are various gateways named here; Pintu Raso, Pintu Sindat, Pintu Haluan, Pintu Kong connecting to the other worlds. It was a quiet and potent sensation simply being in this space. Although I was given permission to take photographs here, it almost felt wrong. Only the Shaman can enter the deepest parts of the cave.”

” The earth here is a deep and vibrant red. When it floods, it’s like blood. The Temiar referred to the floods that abolished their housing and brought disaster to the whole of the Kelantan region as the infamous Bah Merah (red floods). As trees are cut, they no longer soak up the rainfall. Silt and other debris is carried downstream by the flow of rainwater into the rivers. Eventually the rivers fill with silt and burst their banks. The ‘killer’ Bah Merah of 2014 rose thirty meters above the level of the river. “

LIBBY HAS PRINTS FOR SALE ON HER WEBSITE.

“Much like the beliefs of the Temiar, the Mendriq also explained that if the construction of the hydroelectric dam was to continue, flooding over Gua Janggut, terrible consequences would take place as the balance of nature is disturbed further and the forest spirits are angered,” Libby writes.

  At the beginning of 2019 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke in the session Safeguarding Our Planet alongside broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, Ardern was asked by former US Vice-President Al Gore what she would say to world leaders who don’t believe the climate crisis is real.

She replied:

“I wonder whether or not I would say anything or if I would just show them something,” she said. “It only takes a trip to the Pacific to see that climate change isn’t a hypothetical, and you don’t have to know anything about the science … to have someone from the Pacific island nations take you to a place they used to play as a child on the coast and show you where they used to stand and where the water now rises.”

 

East Asia is another area of the world feeling the affects of climate change.
In the past year alone there were typhoons in Japan and East Asia, flooding in Japan and China and drought in Central Europe. Commercial logging and deforestation on the continent contributes heavily to this damage.

Libby writes:

“Malaysia has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates. These are valuable ecosystems and are the most ancient and beautiful, tropical forests I’ve ever seen. We must fight this before it is too late. As Orang Asli are displaced from their land because of logging, they are abject to poverty. The once clear river water is now polluted and floods will only worsen. We must learn from the native people and also become guardians of the forest and it’s creatures. Soon, all we will have are these fake paintings, towering over like imprints of a forgotten past.

“As the shape of the Malaysian jungle shifts, so do these cultures.

I am fascinated to see how their values take form in the moving landscape of their lives.”

On January 18th 2019 Reuters reported:

In a first, Malaysia sues state government for infringing land rights of indigenous people

In an ancient area of the world, now functioning amidst a quietly raging money machine intertwined with corruption, there is hope that although indigenous people and their values have been compromised within these societal ‘upgrades’, the now-visibly damaging effects on the earth by these processes, can be restored or at least healed using the values of the very people in which industrial destruction has disregarded. Even in the face of a) extinction for animals and b) genocide for people. Although it is widely accepted among indigenous and other minority cultures, when sacred sites and ancient graves are destroyed for example, there’s nothing that can rectify some spiritual damage, simultaneously it is clear the only way to survive harmoniously is to have a conversation and gain an understanding in order to work together going forward. It is obvious that the earth as a vessel is angry with humanity in its current state, changes must be made. Share some of Libby’s journey into the Malaysian jungle and her experience with the Orang Asli or ‘original people’ below:

Follow Libby on Instagram.

And check out her art on her Website.

BTS SHOTS:

THREADS: AUCKLAND DIVERSE with SIAN KOLOSE

Culture, Threads

In this T H R E A D S shoot I linked up with Sian Kolose who, at the time, had her online shopping mecca Hunting Ground Store still in incubation with her sister Tina Kolose. For this shoot, we put together a list of the dopest models we could source, then set about shooting them. I realised while putting this portfolio together just how busy we got – 16 models, two days, one make up artist, two cameras, one stylist (Sian), one photographer (me) and K’RD. 

Models included Luke Collins, Maia Te Hira, Anny Ma, Suha Wahab and Sarah Hindley, Max Robinson and Tina Kolose. Blaze the Emperor, Bryson Naik, Tony Douglas, Blu, Shajal Singh, Tashi Levitt, Arlena Teiho, Leah Pao, Bheilee Okesene, Felicity Aroa.

EXPERIMENT

Working with Sian was a really fun experience, I particularly enjoyed the collaborative freedom I had when working with her.  Two examples are getting Tina to hop into the trolley as well as contrasting Tashi’s white satin skirt with the dirt from the car park; also the darker tone of the material soaking up the fresh water (it had just rained) from the puddle. (BELOW). Being my first shoot of this scale, working with Sian gave me the confidence to try new ideas out. 

STREET

REFLECTION

PRE-LOVED

Recyclable fashion is a good way to combat the humongous waste issue that human kind face remedying today. Having the skills to re-work an old garment and make it new, or the eye for how to pick a garment and make it seem new is an ever-growing/required skill and, as we continue to throw material into the earth – like we don’t understand some materials like Nylon take around 20 years to breakdown- we must incorporate reusable fashion into our basic shopping vocabulary. ** Disclaimer** to the Salvation Army in Glenn Eden – this does NOT excuse you charging 70$ for a shirt someone dropped off while throwing away rubbish and other household goods, then telling customers on a low budget ‘well that’s what it costs in Ponsonby’. Just saying… Not really I mean it… Please stop dousing the thrill of op-shopping with your inflation excuses!

ELEMENT

This year, Rihanna did a shoot for Garage Mag, shot by photographer Deana Lawson who specialises in taking photos of subjects in their home, in what she describes as ‘their domestic space’. Shajal (BELOW) used to flat above the shoot location – Hero Sandwich House – in Auckland so was certainly in her natural space. I would like to explore these themes more in future work – especially in domestic settings. 

MOTION

Movement is another aspect I noticed when reflecting on this shoot, these models had their stance on-point and I also liked to encourage the energy and sense of action with my angles. (Shout outs Blaze The Emperor). 

BRYSON X TONY

COLLABORATION

Tony Douglas is someone whose style I noticed after moving home from Perth in 2011, he was DJing at an underground bar in Wellington as one half of Calm The Fuck  Down aka CTFD. During this shoot, a film and photography guru himself, he taught me to set the meters properly on my external flash. (Blush face emoji).

DIASPORA

Joan Smalls took part in this interview with the Business of Fashion addressing diversity and inclusivity last year. She said “It’s interesting because of my background I come from an interracial family and my household has every different shade and in my world I’ve always seen it as inclusive so coming to New York and making a career modelling they reminded me ‘what we see you as’ not who I identified with”. I think as women of colour, Sian and I brought that sense of diversity within the world we see to the shoot; it’s something that I feel proud of upon completing the project.

HERO SANDWICH HOUSE

CULTURE

Cultural diversity in mainstream media and the importance of seeing one’s self reflected on TV and billboards is an agenda in my work that I hold dear. Growing up as an ‘other’ in New Zealand, it was very earlier on in my exploration of myself, then my work as an extension of myself, that I have consistently focused on culture and identity. Juxtaposing the confronting and contradicting elements that happen when east meets west in my compositions is something I will continue to do. There have been movements and collectives in Auckland like Milkshake Models, Dynasty, FAF SWAG and photographers like Imogen Wilson who have also pushed identity boundaries – I’m only excited to see what the future brings for Kiwi creatives and brown children who can see themselves positively and accurately reflected in the media. 

MERCURY PLAZA

Mercury Plaza is definitely a popular Auckland location for food and photos. The food court there is due to close, but I hope it reopens/moves somewhere else cause for me – South East Asian food is what helps me hold on to small pieces of Malaysia and remedies the sense of feeling homesick all in one $10 meal! 

There are more shots from this shoot on Instagram