By: Adrienne Tingba
“Being able to use my platform to expand and diversify the African voice, I feel very passionate about that. It feels intentional, meaningful.” – Lupita N’yongo
Inspiration often catches us off guard. No, not the Instagram approved “off-guard”, but truly off guard, in the most random places, and through the most random things. I recently discovered some inspiration in a place that wasn’t as random, but still just as inspiring, Vogue Magazine. Lupita N’yongo is, deservingly, the Cover-Girl for U.S Vogue’s October Issue. Graced by Celebrities and Supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Beyonce’,Tyra Banks, Rihanna, and Kate Moss, U.S Vogue has grown to be one of the most coveted magazine cover and spreads for any model, fashion it-girl, and non-fashion girls alike. It is THE fashion Bible.
What Lupita did, though, is different from what we have seen in Vogue publications. She showed us a part of Africa, from an African’s perspective. I mean, she climbed a guava tree, rode a commercial motor bike, hung out with her grandmother, and made Ugali, a traditional Kenyan dish. She managed to showcase all that she loves about her home. From the beautiful beaches, to the wisdom which lies in the elderly folks, as represented by her grandmother.
The photo spread included everything a photo spread featuring a certain nation or culture should include — knowledge and understanding about that nation and culture. Usually, when we see images of African nations in magazines and other non-African media outlets, it features White models, with an African aesthetic created from the use of props, or with an African nation exploited for its beautiful landscapes and animals. It never truly captures the African story, as does this recent publication with the help of Lupita and her family. We saw this with the Valentino’s Spring/Summer 16 women’s ready-to-wear collection’s visual campaign which featured White models with members of the Massai tribe used as a backdrop. We also saw this with the outrage that ensued over Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams music video which was set in South Africa, but featured no Africans, only the landscape and the animals… you know, the usual.
These are only two recent example of the constant fetishization that goes on with the African story. Our land is beloved. Our animals are beloved. Our culture and fashion is beloved, but our stories, when told by non-Africans, remains on the surface — with the exception of the occasional War/Crisis story — and does not carry the depth that each individual nation and its people carry. How can it though? How can the African story be captured when the people telling it do not know that story? How can the story be captured when the people telling it have not lived it? When they have not experienced it? It cannot. For the true African story to be told, it has to be told by us, the bearers of our stories, the wearers of our scars, and the protectors of our lands. Us, the African people.
Of course, not everyone has the platform which Lupita has to tell their story, however, because your story is not featured in Vogue, does not mean people are not willing to listen. Each and every one of us has a platform of sort to share our stories. Now made easier with the use of social media outlets, we all carry the platform and the responsibility to diversify the African voice.
Usually, when the everyday person who is not Liberian is asked of Liberia, our story does not go beyond war and other types of crisis. As a Liberian, I know that my story goes well beyond those negative experiences, which is why I have developed, with this blog, my own platform to diversify our voices, and alter the world’s perception of us. I am not the only one on a mission to accomplish this. Other African creatives like Nigerian Photographers Yagazie Emezie and Asiyami Gold, Nigerian Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ghanaian Model Destiny (Ohwawa) Owusu, Ivorian Artist and Designer Loza Maleombho, Angolan Stylist and Creative Director Wilma Moises, Liberian Artist Lina Iris Viktor, among others. It is not an easy journey we have all embarked on — forcing the world to listen to our voices and see the beauty in our stories — but it is an incredible and necessary journey because the time for our voices to be heard is now. For too long we have had to shut our mouths as our stories were narrated to us, even though we could hear the half-truths those narrations carried, almost unable to correct them, but those days are no more.
In wake of the U.S Vogue cover story and photo spread on the Kenyan beauty, Lupita N’yongo, I teamed up with a Liberia-based Documentary Photographer with a very keen eye for seeing the truths in his models, Kerrion Williams (IG: Kiki_the_Hippie), to bring to life a gorgeous photo shoot. The shoot was centered on capturing the empowered modern African Woman who demands that her voice is heard. I selected some inspiration from the Vogue shoot and focused on the ample greenery here in Liberia. Staying true to the theme, the selected clothes and accessories were Liberia made, by Liberians. We had the shoot in a potato greens garden outside of Monrovia entering Paynesville, where the proposed Ministerial Complex is to be built. This is a location which I drive by almost every day, so selecting it for a shoot brought more meaning to it for me.
Like most of the shoots I do, I hold this incredibly dear because it is part of my journey of self discovery here in Liberia, and to rediscovering all that I love about this nation. I hope that you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them along with Kerrion, and that you too are able to find ways in which you can aid in diversifying the African story with your own voices.