Dear Akwaeke – a campaign to celebrate publication of Akwaeke Emezi’s memoir

To celebrate publication of Akwaeke Emezi’s memoir, Dear Senthuran, Faber has worked with creative agency A Vibe Called Tech on a new campaign – Dear Akwaeke. The campaign centres a global community of creatives who champion and celebrate Black literature. Those involved speak to Emezi’s work by engaging in unique modes of audio-visual storytelling using vital Black traditions of sound, dance and performance. These individuals and collectives have responded to different letters from the book, continuing the dialogue that Dear Senthuran begins.

Written, narrated and performed by Kristina Neil of the Caribbean literary platform @rebelwomenlit, Neil leads with the question: ‘How do you arrive without death?’ in response to ‘Execution’. Through a series of self-portraits and spoken word poetry, Neil maps the human journey, from the emotional to the physical being, through this audio-visual response.

Rebel Women Lit is a soft and intimate literary community that is open to anyone interested in challenging the ways we move through the world by exploring great literature.

In the last year, thanks to COVID-19, I’ve had to come face-to-face with myself in very visceral and literal ways; meeting myself where I was and deciding where I wanted to be. So, I started taking self-portraits so I could . . . see myself. ‘Execution’ from Dear Senthuran brought me back to that moment of meeting myself again. It, therefore, felt right that I represented my response through images that I’ve captured of myself – that meeting of who I was and who I am trying to be. – Kristina Neil

  

UK-based radio producer, presenter and DJ Antonia Odunlami takes us on a musical journey through the transatlantic. Featuring tracks from UK artist Kwabs, Nigerian musician Obongjayar and many more, Antonia traces the African diaspora through a specially curated soundscape in response to the opening letter of Dear Senthuran, ‘Nowhere’.

Antonia ‘Tone’ Odunlami is a DJ, presenter and content producer based in London, UK. With a particular focus on creative global communities from around the continent, Antonia’s show Diaspora Distins on Worldwide FM @worldwide.fm showcases talent from the African continent and global diaspora.

Just in time for Cancer season, here’s a collection of tracks that to be still to. A soundtrack to pause to, to drown out the noise of daily murmurs, to be alone to, to detach to. – Antonia Odunlami

  

Using photography as a tool of expression within their community, the Nigerian-based publication FEMME Mag has created a series of self-portraits in response to ‘Non-existent’, a letter addressed from the author to their friend Ann. Unravelling questions of invisibility and identity within the African Diaspora, FEMME Mag uses photography as a means to capture womxn, through the lens of womxn.

FEMME Mag is an independent digital publication for Nigerian women that launched in July 2021. Our aim is to create content that is engaging, informative and entertaining for our community. Through authentic storytelling and a team of the next generation of media shapers, we’re building a world, piece by piece, that equips women with the tools they need to forge their own paths.

Photography has often been a medium used to claim proof of one’s existence, acting as a visual affirmation of oneself. In society, however, certain bodies and identities have been rendered void and ‘non-existent’, preferring rather to completely erase them into darkness. To rebel against this erasure, we used members of our community in a series of both individual and group photography where they display a series of strong emotions. From smiles to tears to screams, we wanted to capture each participant in an active state, against a black backdrop, challenging ideas of invisibility. To us, these images say: I am here. I matter. I exist. – FEMME Mag

 

Berlin-based writer, host and performer Rhea Ramjohn @rhearamjohnwriter has created An Ephemeral Try – a spoken word piece that maps a personal journey of the self as a spirit as it steps into power within the human world. Using photography to refer to the various objects, themes and tropes used in Dear Senthuran, Rhea has created a response to ‘Impermanence’.

Rhea Ramjohn is a Trinbagonian writer, producer and presenter representing ancestral codes via vernacular poetics. As co-founder of Black BrownBerlin @blackbrownberlin, her work centres BIPOC empowerment, equitable and inclusive initiatives and the amplification of marginalised expressions, most evident in her short film Livechile! commissioned by Germany’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. She is the creator and executive producer of TantiTable and hosts the science podcast Hormonal. With foundations in African Diaspora and Cultural Studies, community service and education sectors, Rhea has more than two decades of pedagogy, literary and performance experience between the Americas and Europe.

Almost every object I name is referenced in the book or at the very least, its themes and tropes are interpreted through the image. I created the ‘altar’ you see in the picture with objects that symbolise impermanence as alluded to in Dear Senthuran but added a main element from my own interpretation – smoke. As it’s a static image, you can’t see the smoke so well, hence the use of sound via wind chimes and birds to give the feeling of fleeting time. A small ceramic rabbit is at the center, tying back to Dear Kanninchen (rabbit in German) and the altar is created for Akwaeke, who refers to themself as a god, so I thought it was more than fitting as a dedication to them, their amazing work and existence. – Rhea Ramjohn

   

Using sustainable materials and textiles, British-Ghanian multidisciplinary artist Enam Gbewonyo @enamgd explores notions of identity and family in response to ‘Masks’. Taking inspiration from African embroidery traditions, Enam interprets the cultural artistry through a contemporary lens.

To receive ‘Masks|Dear Maki’ as the letter I was to respond to was divine serendipity. I immediately connected to Akwaeke’s words in how they spoke to the many thoughts and feelings I have been exploring in my personal journey as well as some of the themes underscoring my practice. My response became a manifestation of all these elements. I began with collage of an African mask and Akwaeke’s photo, the images spliced and intermingled so they are just determinable but not quite. Some of the masks’ features are enhanced with embroidery, but then the image is masked further with burnt-out and laddered tights, embroidery and loose threads. The overall effect, a cracked, torn, broken assemblage of a face stitched and glued back together, the many making an imperfect whole. Some of the text from the letter also adorns the front and the back of the work as though a prayer. Inspired by the book title . . . Senthuran, which means warrior, the African mask was the perfect symbol. More so because the mask acts as a portal to spiritual and ancestral realms. It is also racially charged as it underpins the commodification and vilification of African features that birthed black face caricatures and the many stereotypes of blackness. Stereotypes, which have led to the cloaking of our true selves with a supposedly more ‘palatable’, ‘passive’ version. The compulsory performance act to fit into the patriarchy. Yet more problematic are the masks we all wear to make invisible our true self from ourselves, scared of who that self might be. My artwork, ‘Dear Maki, an entity of many, masked by one or none. Searching for the whole, is a cracking of those many faces, a breaking apart in attempt to reach the true essence, BEING. – Enam Gbewonyo

Responding to ‘Pain’, the UK-based, queer-led publication AZ Mag @azmaguk uses video and poetry to expand on ideas of the body, both in its physical and ephemeral state. Written and performed by queer Nigerian/Togolese multi-disciplinary artist Michelle Tiwo @thasunshineemo_, the poem explores the intimacy that exists within our relationships, between friends, lovers and family.

Within the LGBTQ+ community, Black people and people of colour (QTIBPOC), are often underrepresented and in many cases not represented at all. Since 2015, AZ Magazine has provided a platform that not only allows QTIBPOC to showcase their talents, but also allows them to address the issues that they face in their communities.

Michelle Tiwo is a queer non-binary Nigerian/Togolese writer and performer. Their work explores familial dynamics, identity, religion and what it means to be a first-generation Afrobrit raised in Sarf East London. With work spanning across radio, poetry, theatre, film and music, including Poetry Film Hack with Inua Ellams and Sistren podcast – there’s no art form off-limits when it comes to fully realising the perspective of this emo with a sunshine aura.

Pain is a feeling that every human being has experienced at some point in their lives. In Michelle Tiwo’s short poem they write about physical and mental pain whilst in a dream. – AZ Mag

South African ‘bookstagrammer’ Nokukhanya Ntsaluba @pretty_x_bookish uses photography to reimagine the world of Dear Senthuran. Using her body as a canvas to expand on what is real and what is imaginary, Ntsaluba responds to ‘Desire’ through a dream-like colour palette to create images of aesthetic pleasure.

Nokukhanya is the face and brains behind PrettyxBookish – a digital space focused on sharing her love of books and all things literary through curated visual content and written reviews.

In responding to Akwaeke’s latest offering – and the idea of desire that is a theme explored in the book – I thought a lot about my own relationship with the visual aspect of the reading experience. In the past year or so I have found that doing book cover recreations and cover-inspired makeup looks has given me a greater appreciation of how book covers entice readers and act as both an invitation and a foundation into imagining what the story holds. In thinking about Dear Senthuran I wanted to convey the boldness of the work through these images; the vibrance of the images speaks to my experience of the work. The book is bold, bright, elemental and affirming, which is what I hoped to convey in the cover recreation. – Nokukhanya Ntsaluba

 

 

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