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Walé Oyéjidé of Ikiré Jones Explains How He Got His Designs In the Upcoming 'Black Panther' Movie

We spoke with the creative director of menswear line, Ikire Jones about how his designs made it into "Black Panther."

DIASPORA—Like most of us, when Walé Oyéjidé, creative director of Ikiré Jones, heard the news that Marvel was introducing its first black superhero with Black Panther—and packing the film with a star-studded, black and beautiful cast, he was thrilled.


He immediately wanted his work to be a part of the production. After all, the motivation behind his designs has always been to broaden representations and portray the complexity of the African narrative through clothing. From the trailer, it looks like these themes are a major part of Black Panther. For Oyéjidé, it was a natural fit.

Confident that his designs should be a part of the trailblazing film, he tweeted at Marvel in March saying, "Seriously @Marvel, are you guys going to let @IkireJones do the wardrobe for 'Black Panther' or nah?." Fast forward to this week, and the designer's work can be seen in the movie's newly released, viral trailer.

While it suggests Ikiré Jones got into the movie through a tweet, the reality, we found out, is not quite as romantic—but exciting nonetheless and a good lesson for aspiring designers. Black Panther is a major milestone for Oyéjidé, and after years of dedicating himself to telling stories through clothing, that very clothing will help tell yet another important story.

We got a chance to speak with Oyéjidé after hearing the news. He shared details about working with the Marvel team (spoiler alert: they're super secretive) and the importance of Africans telling their own, multilayered narratives. Read our conversation below.

OkayAfrica: So, how did it all come about? 

Walé Oyéjidé: Basically, the realistic and less boring answer is very good and consistent work over time. OkayAfrica has been supportive of the brand for a good four years, so you've seen the evolution. It's just been about season after season putting out work that is, what I consider to be, not just work that is aesthetically interesting and pleasing, but stuff that is really socially and culturally relevant. That's very much what I'm about.

So the idea is that you put out work that's really good over enough time, to where you can say to somebody on a much bigger platform, '"yo this is what I do, this is what I've done," as oppose to just "I make dope clothes." That's a long way of saying that we've put out really good work over time, and I was able to present that work to people involved in the process, and they thankfully saw the connection to what they are doing over here.

OA: I saw that prior to this you had tweeted about wanting your clothes featured in the film. 

WO: Yeah, I think the tweet is fantastic, but I think people should also be aware that a tweet alone is not going to change your life or change the world. We've been putting out stuff for years and had been working with people on that side, so a lot of building relationships as well. But definitely, also, shooting a tweet out way before I knew it was going to happen. It was like "oh this movie is coming out, and these people are involved, there's no way I shouldn't be doing this." That was step one. Step two was, figuring out what doors do I need to knock down to get this to happen.

OA: It seems as though you spoke it into existence in a way. Is that something you believe in? 

WO: Yeah, I think that has merit, that's very much the way I operate, but I think when you do anything long enough you realize that you pretty much create your own opportunities. So step one is to call it out, but I can tweet Hov or Kanye today, but if my resume is not up to par, it's just a tweet. So I think that's the part that some people may not be aware of. It's like "oh, I just heard about this brand." But we didn't just tweet them out of nowhere. It was a tweet, but it was also like "here are the receipts" so to speak.

OA: So overall, would you say that tweeting at Marvel gets you noticed? 

WO: I would say possibly but probably not. I shot out the tweet when I heard about the film being made and was contacted a few months later out of the blue. I'm a big proponent of always shooting one's shot. That said, it's kind of a fairy tale thought to picture someone checking their twitter feed and randomly discovering my work. But I think it's more realistic that as my reputation as a designer has grown over time, people have generally become more aware of what I do and what I stand for. I was contacted by a representative of the film who thought we would be a good fit, and the relationship went from there.

OA: The piece that we see in the trailer, is that an original design?

WO: That one is not original for the movie, but there are pieces that we gave them that are original. What's good for me, is that I don't know the final cut, I don't know if you know about Marvel, but they're like super, super tight, so you have no idea. It's like a black box and you send them things but you have no idea what's going to come out on the other side. I haven't seen the film, I really have no idea. Just like you, seeing the trailer was my first exposure to it. I was like "oh that's nice, that's a really good look."

OA: So you don't know anything we don't know?

WO: That's a good way of putting it. Yeah, I know what went in, but I don't know what's coming out. I've seen that, but I can't tell you what else might be showing up. I can tell you that we provided things and we made things.

But certainly, it's very very nice, for me it's vindication because the fashion industry is huge. Menswear is less popular, but I feel that it's saturated with people who make beautiful things. Far less people, make things and also have something of merit to say. It's always been extremely important for me to be like, "ok we are these things," but by the way, I am attempting to speak, not just to my experience, but for people who are in situations like mine, people who have been underrepresented in society and culture whether they be African, African-American, gay, female.

Just the idea that we are people who have things to say, and this status quo, generally, in this society has not been attuned to our point of view, but we are in a situation where a lot of us are basically claiming or spots on the throne, whether it be shooting out a tweet or taking a job because you're like "I need to be up in here, I am coming in here, I am claiming my spot." And I feel like that's the attitude of our generation. "You my not want me up in here, but I'm taking the spot."

I feel like the film is saying that, I feel like my work is saying that, and so all of it makes sense. For me, having an opportunity like that is really just confirming that if you are consistent and true to yourself and you just work and prepare yourself for when the moment comes, if you're ready, you're ready. And I feel like a lot of us sort of have that lesson to learn. As opposed to me saying, "I am going to make some jogger pants in all black so I can be like Rick Owens," because that's what's hot right now, that's great, but that's not necessarily true to me or who I am. So if you stick to your aesthetic and if you're really pure about what you have to say, if you're coming from an honest, authentic place people will respond to it.

I think what I do resonates with people because they can tell that it's what I really believe about what I am saying—that's what's important about the work. Work that has a point of view eventually finds a place with people who appreciate that point of view.

It just so happens that in this case, it happened to be Black Panther.

OA: I loved seeing your work in Black Panther, because it showed that they were conscious of using black designers and black creatives. What is the significance of that to you?

WO: Again, it's the state of the world and America as it is, so many of us are familiar with the idea that sometimes people pay lip service without actually doing the research, or even caring enough to look into it. Everything is a symbol of that, even people not taking the time to pronounce your name correctly.

So basically, it's the idea that representation is so important to us, because it shows that people on either side of the table are seeing you as a completely nuanced person, it doesn't mean that we are perfect, it just means that we are whole. We're looking at Africans as people who can have both the highs and the lows. I mean, many of us are familiar with the narrative or trope of Africa as being poverty stricken, disease-ridden, war-ridden and all of that stuff, and those things do exist, but it's very rare to hear about the opulence, wealth or even the middle class in Africa.

I think the beauty of Black Panther, is that even though it's fantastical, it at least opens people's minds to the idea that people of African descent can be villains, they can be superheroes, they can be rich they can be poor. They can be whole, complicated humans and nuanced, just as people are from other heritages. So, it really is just about cracking open the door and seeing us as equal to everybody else. I think that's what a lot of us are trying to do with our art in different ways. It happens to be a film, I happen to be a person who makes clothes, but uses clothes as a vehicle to talk about these things. We're all basically working on the same issue, just in different ways.

I think Black Panther is not only going to be a dope film, but also a really fantastic opportunity. The idea that people are taking their kids to Halloween parties dressed as a black superhero—I think that maybe, these are things that other cultures take for granted, because maybe they haven't been pushed into the positions that we have. Like having a black president, we have our own black superhero, and he's dope. You have these dope actors involved, the cream of the crop, basically all the black elite actors, you have one of the dopest black designers in the world. So you know, it's the best of everything.

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From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

*

There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

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Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

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