Conversations with Amarachi Nwosu
Amidst the growing popularity of African music and art i.e the new modern day rush for Africa happening across mainstream pop culture, story tellers like Amarachi Nwosu want the world to know that Africa is not just a trend. Amarachi believes that in order for Africans to take control of our narratives we have to tell our own stories.
Amarachi Nwosu is a storyteller – using writing, photography and visual art to document the disruptive stories of African creatives. With numerous works spanning from a video campaign in partnership with Nike Women in Nigeria to articles in Highsnobiety, The Fader and CNN Africa, Amarachi is dedicated to dismantling stereotypes about complex identities around the world. Through her self run agency Melanin Unscripted, she has curated multiple exhibitions about the black experience in Lagos, New York and Tokyo.
Amarachi Nwosu has quickly become a household name in any conversation about the creative landscape in Africa. In August 2019, she appeared as a guest speaker on the Afrochella Talks panel held in Accra sharing her tips and tricks about the industry. During her brief work trip to Ghana, I reached out and picked the brain of the Nigerian American creative on the business of Africa, its creatives and reclaiming space.
What is it to document ones history – To reflect society or to reflect ones interpretation of society ?
It is to document ones experience in real time and to save that so those narratives last beyond that moment. I think documenting your story is documenting history whether its reflective of your society or something more personal.
How best can storytellers explore the diversity of African Narratives and identity whilst respecting differences?
By sharing more than the cultures they are directly exposed to and understanding that there is no singular African experience. An experience in West Africa may be different to experiences in Southern Africa, East Africa or North Africa. Then educating oneself on what those differences are so they are able to tell narratives that are respectful and accurate.
How do you feel about the sudden popularization of African music, art and culture?
I am very happy with the way African culture is being celebrated on a creative and cultural level. It’s a beautiful time. As a result, there’s a lot of young people who want to embrace and learn more about their heritage. Growing up in America, African culture wasn’t always celebrated. My mission is helping to actively and creatively celebrate my culture, because I knew there was a lot of beauty surrounding it.
I also want continuity. I want to make sure that the shift isn’t just a trend and it is sustainable enough for generations after us to celebrate our culture widely.
Do you think the shift is sudden? Do you think this means more opportunity or more competition for African creatives?
No, it would be wrong to ignore that a lot of groundwork has been put in place by people who came before us. These people set these foundations and shaped the narratives that allowed us and our spaces to be celebrated.
I definitely think it means more opportunity. I am not one to see anything as competition- the only person I’m competing with is myself (PERIODT) -which I think is an approach every African creative should have. Yes, it may mean more competition in terms of who you are being compared and contrasted with, but the important thing is producing good work at the highest quality.
For instance, documenting ‘Black in Tokyo‘ was more of a personal project. I lived in Tokyo previously and I felt that black narratives were not being discussed and I wanted to highlight the black experience in Tokyo and what being black in Asia felt like.
African narratives don’t just influence Africans
With the current shift, major global brands like Nike are looking to explore the culture. You can see this in partnerships such as the release of the Nike x Super Eagles Jersey, or the work other brands are doing with people on ground in Nigeria. People all over the world can relate to certain aspects of the stories being told.
The Nike Women campaign in Nigeria was an opportunity to show outsiders to the culture that there is a connection here to explore, one that could be relatable to a lot of people. It also pushed the agenda that African narratives can and continue to influence and shape global movements and perspectives.
How do you think we as Africans can control our stories ? What role do conversations like the Afrochella Talks play in the efforts to modernize/grow our creative industries ?
I think the best way to control our stories is to tell our stories ourselves and have them be accurate and reflective of our perspectives.
With the Afrochella Talks, it was a great opportunity because it allowed us in real time to communicate narratives and discuss our challenges and experiences. This plays an effort in growing and modernizing our industries, because it allows access of information and community which in turn allows access to opportunity. Talks like this are always necessary to unionize and come together as creatives.
Overall, I was really happy to be part of the Afrochella talks I think these are the conversations that need to happen around African art, culture and music
In an increasingly DIGITIZED age, there’s This constant flow of communication. content is constantly being created and shared. How can creatives keep up with these trends and fast moving industries ?
I feel like we don’t have to ‘keep up’ with anything. Our stories are timeless and we are constantly reinventing ourselves. Though time will tell what will last, I think the best thing to do is to keep driving our narratives and keep telling diverse stories at the highest level possible.
Even pushing boundaries in terms of how and where we tell these stories. Whether it’s pitching and creating shows on Netflix that reflect the lives of all African people, or gaining visibility on platforms and spaces where our narratives can expand. So that within this globalized age we are able to transcend and reach corners where African stories haven’t reached.
Do you think the size and development of our local entertainment industries can still be a disadvantage for home-based creatives?
We definitely need more development in our local entertainment and creative industries as well as more investment and respect.
I feel like the valuing of creativity, ideas and design is not at an all time high in Africa. We enjoy the products of these things, but we don’t necessarily value them.
If we did, then our governments would be directly investing in young creatives. They would understand that one of the highest commodities, one of the most celebrated elements of African culture is its creative industry right now. If they understood that, they would invest in it; knowing that its also good public relations for the continent and for each country. Allowing narratives within these nations to transcend globally.
The same way a government would invest in PR for a nation or any aspect of development, they have to invest in the development of their creatives.They (creatives) are essentially the storytellers of a society who often tell stories that go further than what a politician would say. Why aren’t more people interested in investing in that?
I think that’s the way it grows, coupled with accountability.
We have to be accountable for the way we celebrate creatives in our industries. We have to give people their roses whilst they’re still here. People like James Barnor, one of the first photographers to shoot in colour in Ghana is just now being widely celebrated. Why hasn’t there been a photography school opened in his name? Photographers are storytellers of our society just like any other artist. Why isn’t there more investment in making sure we keep our history within our lens? Why do photographers or filmmakers from outside have to come to Ghana and document it and having that be the narrative? No, it should be Africa for Africans by Africans and that can only happen when there’s investment in these creative sectors.
What are the ways foreigners can be ethical in consuming and appreciating the culture with its growing popularity?
Learn before trying to interpret and share the culture with the world. You have to actively engage with local people on all aspects – live in their countries, learn their struggles as well as the positives. Even engaging with diaspora can offer a better understanding. Once you have that in mind, its easier to be ethical- I always say, you have to understand someone before you love them. So you can’t love a culture and not love its people, because it is the people that shape the culture.
With your work in numerous global and local platforms, what are your top tips for budding African creatives who want to introduce their art to the world?
Firstly, use the resources around you. If you can’t travel to Japan , there is someone online in Japan who could connect to your story or what you post that can affect how they see Africa. Social media is one of the fastest ways to share your work, because as soon as you post your work it is not limited to only your circle.
Do your research in your respective field and engage with creatives locally and globally. There is always something to learn and a way to grow from engaging with other cultures.