I have never considered myself an “artist”—I have never felt like I could. I don’t formally paint or sing or dance, and so it took me a long time to understand how to claim my own creativity. I create through living, and through dreaming—through being a young African who is committed to telling my own stories, and showing that I, in all of my complexity and imagination, am African.
For those of us who are at the intersections of history’s erasure, archiving and sharing our personal narratives is itself resistance. It is art. For young Africans—particularly those of us who are committing to expressing the nuances of our existence post-colony but pre-revolution—this resistance has simultaneously inspired and been inspired by a burgeoning creative culture on the continent. Facilitated by online self-publishing platforms like Instagram and Tumblr, the informality and fluidity of this emerging culture make it a limitless realm of self-determination. Africa’s emerging creative culture means something different to each person who has come to reclaim their narrative of self within its embrace.
The online realm is the digital soil upon which this creative culture grows and flourishes. With blogs, YouTube Channels, Instagram profiles, Twitter pages, and so on, creatives can self-publish and engage with other creatives’ work in subversive ways. For those of us who must make daily negotiations between safety and self-expression in the “real” world, the limitlessness of the online world can be incredibly liberating. This creative culture allows us as young Africans to tell our own stories—to show ourselves, alternatively; to challenge the single story of Africa, simply by telling our own; to create a chorus of narratives which together form new histories. This digital diaspora is not confined by the same challenges of infrastructure or corruption, tribalism or politics. Online platforms expand the prospects of creativity – making possible collaborations that transcend borders, language, and genre.
It is through Instagram that I have been able to connect with some of the most incredible artists I know from all across the diaspora—each “like” and “follow” a digital nod of mutual appreciation. Inspiration and creation go hand in hand as the online world facilitates “real” world collaborations. When I reached out to fellow Kenyan creative Alexis Nereah (@alexisnereah) on Instagram a year ago, I had no idea that my message would lead to a year (and hopefully much longer) of collaboration and creative growth. My digital connection with Alexis manifested into a real life opportunity I could have never dreamt of—participation in the Afri na Ladi residency, a multimedia residency curated by Ghanaian vocalist and creative Jojo Abot whose work I had also come across on Instagram and had been admiring from afar. Jojo had been in touch with Alexis about participating in the residency after having come across Alexis’s Instagram collective Wild Child, and asked Alexis to pass the opportunity along to her creative contacts. The outcome of an Instagram crush-turned-creative collaboration, Afri na Ladi was recently named one of the top seven exhibitions to see in New York by OkayAfrica. Such is the power of these platforms—taking the perceived formality out of artistic collaboration in ways that make the construction of creative community more accessible.
The digital diaspora has no one form—it brings together creatives of all practices, shaping artists whose expressive forms transcend labels. This past year, my focus has been on how young Afrodiasporic creatives are using art to articulate their decolonizing identities and envisioning alternative, Afro-expressive futures. My vision is to cultivate intradiasporic collaborations – encouraging artists with varied histories to build futures together. The project I envision is an intersectional, intradiasporic, multimedia one – engaging with all kinds of creatives, from dancers to designers to makeup artists, to capture and archive what creative resistance and transformation looks like for young Black people everywhere.
Have the audacity to tell your own story—to know that your words and ideas and images are valid—in a world that has always told you otherwise. Envision your freest self; sing, sculpt, twerk, freestyle, take selfies—use whatever medium feels appropriate to reaching that self. And then envision an even freer self. The emerging creative culture makes it possible for us all to create through living.