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"The Astral." Photo by Mikael Owunna.

This Photo Series Is a Much-Needed Counter to Violent Images of the Black Body

"Infinite Essence" is Nigerian-American photographer Mikael Owunna's response to the one-dimensional narrative we tend to see of the black body.

This beautiful, thought-provoking photo series affirms what we already know—that the black body is magical, no matter what odds are against us.

Nigerian-American photographer, Mikael Owunna, touched base with OkayAfrica to share his new photo series, Infinite Essence. The series is Owunna's response to America's issue of police brutality, like the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and Walter Scott, and the viral and violent images of the dead black body we've seen as a result.

"It has become frighteningly routine to turn on the television or log onto Facebook and see a video or image of a black person either dead or dying, like images of Africans dying in the Mediterranean," Owunna says.

"With this series, I work to counter these one-dimensional narratives of the black body as a site of death and destruction with imagery capturing what I see in my friends, family and community—love, joy, and ultimately, magic."

Owunna worked on Infinite Essence for the past year, and says his creative process began with a feeling. As he notes further, it's was a process of trial and error.

"I was beginning to explore my own spirituality and journey and learning about how black, queer and trans people in particular were respected for their magical abilities in many pre-colonial African societies. I was meditating on this idea of magic and how I can capture that in my work, harkening back to the 'Final Fantasy' video games and anime series I grew up on. How could I capture all of this? I did two pretty disastrous test shoots using long exposures and lights, that did nothing for me artistically.

It had none of the feeling I was looking for. So I went back to the drawing board. I pulled up Google image search results of magic in Final Fantasy and kept scrolling and scrolling and staring at images that had that emotional tug, that spiritual capture of magic and transcendence that I so wanted to bring into the work. As I was staring at the works, a voice in my head told me glow in the dark paints, and then from looking at that I found the world of UV photography. As soon as I saw some sample works in that space, I knew that was the direction the project would go and it was all steam ahead."

Shooting this series was the first time Owunna collaborated with makeup artists Karla Grifith-Burns and Davone Goins to bring his vision to life. "It was powerful and inspirational and brought so much structure to my feeling and thought," he says.

Owunna settled on the name of his series after reading about Odinani, the Igbo traditional belief system.

"Seeking to understand the basics of that, I came across brilliant writing by Chinua Achebe wherein he used the phrase 'infinite essence' and that clicked everything around it," he says. "When I can name something, it brings it to life in my head in stunning color."

Click through the slideshow below view Owunna's series, Infinite Essence. Read his artist statement for the project, where he speaks more in depth of Achebe's work on infinite essence here. The series is also on display at Owunna's solo exhibition at Montréal's Never Apart Gallery from today until April 7, 2018.

"Carefree Timewalker." Photo by Mikael Owunna.

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Single cover. Still From YouTube.

Idris Elba Teams Up With Wiley, Sean Paul and Steflon Don on New Banger 'Boasty'

Yes, Idris Elba makes music too.

After it was announced earlier this month that Idris Elba is one of the many musical acts performing at Coachella this year, some folks on the internet were surprised to discover that the celebrated actor also makes music.

In fact, everyone's favorite zaddy DJ turned mega-actor, began his entertainment career as a pirate radio host. Elba reminds us that his music-making skills are still very much in tact on a banging new collaboration with British rapper Wiley "Boasty," which also features fellow British MC Steflon Don and Jamaican heavyweight Sean Paul.

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10 Albums That Prove Nigerian Rap Is Back On the Rise

Featuring Falz, M.I Abaga, Ice Prince, Poe, and more.

Until 2018, rap in Nigeria was all but dead. Lamba or party afropop blew up and became way more lucrative. There weren't too many rappers who were able to make commercial-yet-indigenous Nigerian rap music since the likes of MI Abaga and Ice Prince. More and more rappers were singing at the same time "Alte Cruise" was growing in Nigeria, trap was big in the US, grime was rediscovering itself in the UK and South Africa was at its most vital yet.

So what happened to Nigerian rappers? The big names were couched in the comfort of their pop status. The younger rappers were yet to find their voice and in these intervening years, lamba music just got bigger and bigger, and rap less lucrative. Whether planned or by coincidence, a slew of confident and well thought-out albums were released with the trend continuing in 2019.

Read on for our selection of the best new albums that prove Nigerian rap is back on the rise.

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Cassper Nyovest. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Op-Ed: Cassper Nyovest Says His Latest Album Is a Game Changer (It’s Not and Here's Why)

Sweet and Short is a great moment for South African hip-hop, but Cassper Nyovest is far from breaking any new ground sonically or culturally.

Sweet and Short, Cassper Nyovest's fourth album in as many years, sees the South African hip-hop superstar facing an existential crisis of sorts. He dubs his album a game changer, one that's revolutionizing South African hip-hop. Whether he does so or not is part of a larger question around his music, as an artist perpetually in between genres.

Whatever our evaluation of his musical output or the extent to which we measure his impact, what Sweet and Short highlights is how imperative music descriptors have become in Cassper's quest to stand out. This ironically devalues the very descriptors he employs in his attempt to do so. The problematizing that Cassper Nyovest (unintentionally) represents is not a new circumstance for two genres with a long love-hate relationship.

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