Today I was moved by this image that I came across on Ms Afropolitan’s Facebook page.
It is stunningly beautiful. Arresting. I was so taken with this piece that I decided to check the artist out. His name is Kehinde Wiley, a New York-Based visual artist.
His World Stage series depicts ‘urban, black and brown men’. Here is the brief description on his Facebook page describing his work;
Kehinde Wiley creates highly realistic paintings of people of the African diaspora which reference the Western European portrait tradition.
As I looked through his work, seeing images of Black men faces from Haiti, Lagos, Dakar, Jamaica, Israel and France, I connected with his description of his work and more importantly, his subjects. The Africanness of his subjects, no matter where they are, is what made my heart rejoice. At this point in my journey, this is still very important to me. Not only is it vital for me to identify with my African heritage, there is something about how that is acknowledged by others. Kehinde’s work ( I love this name; it is the name of a character in Ghana Must Go) seems to break down the barriers between people of African descent. Through the lens of his work, we are all African, wherever we are in the diaspora.
Now, not everyone identifies in this way. And that’s OK. This thing of identity is multi-faceted. And Caribbean culture is the one that is most familiar to me as this is the culture I was born into and grew up in. Still, I find that the more time I spend with friends with African parentage, the more similarities I feel in how move through the world, our experiences of being Black British and Black Other, how we were parented, our values. So many similarities yet still so many differences.
One of the things I want to explore in this blog is the perception of difference. Growing up, I was always aware of was the unspoken understanding that ‘us Caribbeans’ were different from ‘those Africans’. Those Caribbean do not know who they are. They have no true heritage. I don’t really know what us Caribbean had to say about our African brothers an sisters. As a child, it manifested in things like laughing at unpronounceable African names at school; grown ups turning their noses up at the smell of African food; how they dressed. Why the laughter? Why were these things chosen to highlight out differences?
This journey is about not about difference but about sameness.
I have not broached this topic with my friends as yet but know that is a conversation that I will have soon. It will be a difficult one. Because in there somewhere I do wonder whether it is true; many of us Caribbean’s do not know who we are. That privilege was taken away from us many generations back. This blog is proof of that in many ways. I am envious of my friends who are firmly rooted to their heritage, with knowledge of their home, their people, their language, their ancestors. Is there truly a snobbery about this?
In any case, those conversations will definitely be the stuff of future blogs! Ghanaian Friend is in Ghana right now and I have asked her to guest on Musings From a Diasporan Newbie. I think she will have something to say on this subject so watch this space!
On Sunday, I’m off to Africa Utopia at the Southbank Centre. Some of the themes for Sunday are around Africa and the Caribbean as well as the wider diaspora. I’m really excited and I’m sure inspiration for blogging will be everywhere.
In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Are you of Caribbean descent and disagree with me? Are you of African parentage and want to weigh in with your perspective? Or maybe you are neither but would like to share your thoughts. I’m happy to explore different perspectives so feel free to comment!
Final words; check out Kehinde’s work. It really is incredible.