Image: India-Mae Alby
Image: India-Mae Alby

Projecting black beauty

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The ‘Black is Beautiful’ project celebrates the faces and achievements of the black community at Warwick.  While there are not many of us, it was through my engagement with the African-Caribbean Society, Warwick Anti-Racism, and the incredible Black Women’s Project, that I learnt in my first year at university what black pride really feels like.

It was this time last year, during Black History Month as a fresher, when I knew I would feel comfortable expressing and enjoying my blackness at this university. I went to as many Black History Month events as I could, listening and contributing to conversations that I had never been able to have with people at home.

I wanted to express my appreciation of the amazing black people at this university through the medium of photography…

I formed friendships and received unwavering support from others who knew what it felt like to grow tired of being an ethnic minority in a very white town/university/system/country.  It allowed me to meet people who also experience microaggressions and full-on racism in their day-to-day lives.

When Faramade Ifaturoti, a Warwick student, had ‘monkey’ and ‘nigga’ written on her bananas in her student flat earlier this year, I knew I could no longer sit idly by. I wanted to express my appreciation of the amazing black people at this university through the medium of photography.

Historically and statistically, it was not expected that any of us end up here, at a Russell Group university…

The project is largely an aesthetic experience; I want viewers to appreciate the hair and faces and smiles of everyone I photographed. But I also wanted to invoke a deeper appreciation through these photographs.
Historically and statistically, it was not expected that any of us end up here, at a Russell Group university. I was one of very few black people at my comprehensive school, and the idea that I am exceptional because of my background, I hope, will one day become obsolete.  I am excellent, the people I photographed are excellent and that should not come as a surprise to anybody.

I really cannot bear to hear connections between blackness and ugliness…

My strongest objection to what happened to Faramade Ifaturoti was related to the use of the word ‘monkey’.  I cannot bear to hear connections between blackness and ugliness.
Not now, but when I hated myself, it was the blackness in me that I hated.  That blackness was not white.  It was not beautiful. But then I found new role models – people who had black skin, like me.

I met people whose hair went up and everywhere and did not need to be tamed, like me. Now I go to university with inspirational people whom I admire.  Actresses, fashion icons, hair specialists, make-up artists, footballers, bloggers, vloggers, poets, singers, rappers, activists and writers – I get to see these people work hard every day.  They are my role models.

Black is beautiful.  I spent many hours chasing people for photos, and many more in the darkroom, developing and printing black and white film negatives.  It was an amazing experience; the best thing I’ve done all year.  How ironic it is that an act of ignorance and utterly ignorant racism produced something so wonderful.

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