Anunaka's South African Photos Confront the Fear of Freedom

We caught up with American artist Anaka Morris in Cape Town to discuss photography and her Imagery is Infinite Archive.

Meet Anunaka, a creative archivist and dancer who seeks to re-appropriate the collective consciousness of artists in the diaspora and on the continent.

Born Anaka Morris in Portland Oregon, Anunaka is a Los Angeles-based artist with an intense curiosity for the African continent. The first time we met, she used her point and shoot camera to document my flower crown cornrows on the balcony of a bar in Cape Town. Anunaka’s first showcasing of her work took place at Creative Nestlings in late August, where she met many of the artists who form part of the collaborative publication that is Silient Zine vol. 2.

In July, Anunaka relocated from Los Angeles to Cape Town to continue her work under her ever expanding archive of conscious art, Imagery is Infinite. Speaking of infinity, it is in this introspective and intuitive process that Anunaka uses the mediums of documentary photography, dance and collage to confront the fear of freedom. She is a soon to be graduate of USC in Los Angeles, which funded her degree exchange programme in ethnographic research, interactive media and photography at the University of Cape Town.

Self-portrait of Anunaka. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Anunaka’s journey as an creative archivist began in 2013 in L.A. “I was shooting artists backstage, in studio and beyond.” she tells me. “I threw three shows showcasing these photos and videos, and began the Imagery is Infinite Archive. The Imagery is Infinite Archive is a universal archive of conscious artists. It includes photos, video and audio that I’ve been collecting for the past three years plus the first two volumes of Silient Zine. The urgency of the movement to create important art is very much alive here”

The launch of the Silient Zine vol.2 took place at Knext Gallery in Cape Town last November. The independent publication is a collaborative effort with Anunaka’s artist clan which she has located herself in on her journey of self-discovery and indigenous knowledge in South Africa. The zine features drawings, visual poetry, photography and writing of diverse styles, linked by the intention to heal and instill positive vibrations. Anunaka’s photographs which were on display at the one-night-only show are analog images of her time in South Africa, thus including the very artists featured in the zine. The culmination of the evening was an ode to infinite reflection and expression.

We sat down in a garden to discuss the Imagery is Infinite exhibition, the importance of Black artists curating the sharing of their art and the locating of one's roots on the continent through artistic practice.

How did you find yourself in Cape Town?

I came to South Africa to find healing and creation. What motivated me to come here is the intuitive feeling that Africa is the source of life. I wanted to continue my exploration of the diaspora since my first experience filming in Uganda in 2014.

As soon as I got here I knew I was meant to be here for a few reasons—my experience has been like one huge déjà vu trip. As a youngin' I remember listening to a language with a clicking rhythm. I’m not specifically sure if it was Xhosa or not. I remember saying to myself that one day I will understand, or absorb, and be within it, experience that environment.

Two years ago my friend Duce offered to give me a tattoo and I was struck by an illustration of a Zulu Goddess named Kwesi by Sara Golish. I chose to get her tattooed because she is a goddess of the sun and I was entering a new phase of self where I recognized my own light. Duce redrew her to represent my higher self and now I’m here exploring my my self in the land that Kwesi is from.

In 2013 I began archiving artists in the LA area during their creative process. I was shooting artists backstage, in studio and beyond. I threw three shows showcasing these photos and videos, and began the Imagery is Infinite Archive. The Imagery is Infinite Archive is a universal archive of conscious artists. It includes photos, video and audio that I’ve been collecting for the past three years plus the first two volumes of Silient Zine. Encountering artists online that are creating consciously drew me to South Africa. The urgency of the movement to create important art is very much alive here.

What draws you to collage?

In Western societies we are bombarded with consistent imagery that is directly connected to societal ideas and meanings. I like to take images and put them with what I associate with spiritually or what I want to contrast with colonial bullshit.

My mother is a collage artist and painter so I always grew up with paper around me in the house. It was never an action that had to do with money, it was always a meditative practice with my mom. Then in college, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety of self and I needed space to just not think about anything. So collage helps me centre myself and lets the messages come through without any sort of forced channelling. I like it because it can reveal itself to you or you can reveal yourself to it.

Why do you find it necessary to create a transcontinental art archive?

Well, I guess the first place to start is my ancestral severing to Africa and my need to reconnect. I think it’s really important to reconnect with the continent through art because it is our most organic form of communication. A transcontinental art archive serves to document and preserve the history that we are creating now since our ancestral archives have been erased and silenced. I see myself searching not necessarily for my own soul…

But the scattered pieces of it?

Aweh! We are all just so separated right now that I feel we just need to be in one place, have our art in one place. The biggest fear I have is that all of the conscious art will just slip into the tornado of saturated media.

Is that why you publish this archive independently?

Yes, I publish independently but with the intention of universal credit.

So decolonizing art by taking away the concept of even owning art. How do you find these artists to collaborate with?

Most artists I’ve collaborated with I’ve either purposefully manifested because I find their art inspiring, or they come into my life because we are on parallel paths to elevation. I seek beings who are creating in order to revolutionise art rather than capitalize.

What are some of the most significant experiences in relation to locating your roots on the continent?

Definitely climbing the mountain has been a huge part of healing my spirit. Feeling my body in nature and not being afraid of failure within nature because the earth always has Our back. My growth of Self has a lot to do with my relationship with the earth.

I came here with the intention to connect with those on the same frequency and I found a clan. I see my reflection within the people I’ve met here. We are able to connect on a much deeper level than I thought was possible. I know now that I can love at a larger capacity than my upbringing has ever taught me.The lessons within our reflections have been the most infinitely beautiful experiences. Listening to other languages has also been very important.

And how has language affected your thought process as an artist?

I was in an Uber on my way to develop some film and my Uber driver was from Zimbabwe. He could tell I was American and he asked if I know the meaning of my name. When I said I didn’t even know the language it was in, he told me in Shona it means ‘she is now beautiful.’ It’s really trippy I chose to come here out of intuition and it happens to be a place where people speak the language my name is in.

I have become much more aware of the intention behind my words. English is very good at taking away the spirit behind what is being said. Only thinking in English traps my imagination. Learning and listening to the many languages here helps me understand the infinite ways to perceive life. Witnessing the infinite ways meaning can form itself.

What are you projecting into 2017?

I manifest continuing this archive by documenting artists in colonized spaces who choose to channel their innermost light and dark. I hope to direct films, travel, collaborate and ascend.

Chaze has got Zambian roots and is currently making the most out of a polyamorous relationship between poetry, photography and documentary filmmaking in Cape Town.

Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

Maia & The Big Sky LP cover.

Start Your Week Off Right With This Soulful Kenyan Collaboration

Maia & the Big Sky connect with Blinky Bill for "Pawa."

Maia & the Big Sky's music routinely blends soul and funk influences with the coastal rhythms of Kenya and features singing in both English and Kiswahili.

Maia's recently tapped into the vinyl revival wave as her 11-song Maia & the Big Sky LP is reportedly the first Kenyan album released on vinyl since the 1970s.

The Nairobi-based artist is now sharing the new music video for "Pawa," the album's leading track, which we're premiering here today. Directed by Chris King, the beautiful new clip sees Maia & the Big Sky taking over the TV airwaves and minds of all of those watching, freeing them from the "power" that controls them.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo: Mídia NINJA

The Assassination of Marielle Franco and the Dawn of Brazil's New Civil Rights Movement

Marielle Franco was one of a new generation of black activists trying to overturn Brazil's entrenched and violent racism

The violence in Rio de Janeiro right now is akin to a war zone, with per capita death tolls resembling those from Afghanistan and Syria. Two weeks ago I traveled there for business and stayed in the relatively safe and trendy neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Each night of my stay, was abruptly awaken by long streams of gunshots and also fireworks from the nearby favela of Falett. The fireworks—as I learned from my local friends—were not a result of any celebration, rather a signal that either drugs, guns, or the police have arrived. This is the norm for many of the 763 favelas in Rio which houses nearly 25 percent of the city's population.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox