It should be clear by now that this issue of Cultureserve is about self-representation. A combination of generation x, y and z seem to be calling out in a unified voice: it’s time to reprezent! Take over the media and the market and put out our own images of self. A chorus of echoes around the globe is saying we’re not just poor, diseased and struggling, we’re living life!
This month’s FLAVA feature, London based Kali Arulpragasam (sister to M.I.A.), told Cultureserve part of her motivation for her TOURISM (Terrorism Affects Tourism) collection of breast-plate necklaces and earrings (a homage to hip-hop’s dookie gold era) came from the media’s focus on negative representations of countries from the global south (a.k.a. the third world), “…when you google Iraq, for example, you get images of American soldiers with guns in rubble. This is not Iraq! Iraq has culture, music, fashion, children playing, sports champions, great architecture, etc. I wanted to create a positive tourism poster for the most dangerous countries that we are told we cannot visit…a tourist poster portraying a proud identity.” In regard to her home country Sri Lanka, Kali wanted to reverse the media’s visual trend - promotion of men and guns as a metaphor for heroism, “I wanted to speak for the majority, for the women and children, for the beautiful landscapes, the amazing wildlife that are now largely forgotten or undiscovered.” PS – You don’t want to miss a peak at the TOURISM look book/photographic masterpiece covering multiple countries from Colombia to Sudan, with around the way girls from each country representin’ in their national costume…it’s off the chain!
(Above: Sri Lanka and Afghanistan breast-plate necklaces in silver & gold. Each piece is light weight, hand cut, plated and linked to form a painting – available at www.superfertile.com)
In like fashion, NY/Johannesberg based photographer Ayana V. Jackson, has sought to “increase the visibility of African descendant communities worldwide,” through a holistic visual representation of a peoples’ living history. In her latest work, she questions the gaze of mainstream media in relation to people of the African diaspora through her own images of youth culture and contemporary lifestyle in post ’94 South Africa. Her work conveys a sense of honor, respect and mystical sensuality that renders a sense of peace in the viewer and inevitably diminishes the power of sensationalized mainstream media imagery.
In Ayana’s artist statement on the work, she comments, “…international television and print media have done an impressive job of continuously reminding us of the country’s poverty and HIV/AIDS crisis. Emaciated bodies in clinics, pot bellied children in rural villages…these images are fixed in our mind…Aside from photography and footage from Mandela’s release and subsequent election, the images found in the international public’s memory of South Africa are, in my opinion, disproportionately loaded with conflict and misery.”
(Images: Shosholoza I, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2007 (left) and Shosholoza II, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2007 (right))
Ayana’s previous project, El Negro Mas Chulo: African by Legacy, Mexican by Birth, explores the present-day culture of African-Mexicans in Mexico in collaboration with fellow artist Marco Villalobos through image, text and film. This particular living history has yet to make its debut on the global media stage and is just beginning to carve out a place in the collective memory of Mexicans, Chicanos and the African diaspora. It remains to be seen how this will play out in the 21st century, but Jackson and Villalobos have certainly contributed a voice of quality into the media mix. The project has traveled to New York, San Antonio, San Francisco and Los Angeles so far.
(Images: Con Tanta Luz en la Voz/With So Much Light in the Voice, Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, Mex, 2005 (top left), Entre Colores y Dias/Between Days and Colors, Chacahua, Oaxaca, Mex, 2003 (right) and La Puerta de Dona Bertina/Mrs. Bertina’s Door, Santo Domingo, Oaxaca, Mex, 2003 (bottome left))
Read more about self-liberated African and Indigenous maroon societies of Mexico on the Mas Chulo website.