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.

News Brief

Prominent Zimbabwean Activist  Sheds Light on Current Crisis

Doug Coltart, a vocal activist and human rights lawyer based in Harare, speaks to Okayafrica about what's currently happening in Zimbabwe.

A few days ago, the Zimbabwean government issued a directive to major cellular network providers Econet and TelOne to disable the internet and all access to social media. The directive was an attempt to prevent any information from spreading outside the country's borders with regards to the nationwide protests which have led to the deaths of at least five people and the injury of at least twenty-five others.

Keep reading... Show less
The front page of The New York Times on January 16, 2019

Kenyans Are Furious at the New York Times for Posting Photos of Terrorist Victims

After the the deadly attack on Tuesday, many are accusing the American newspaper of having a double standard on which dead bodies they allow into the paper

Is the New York Times guilty of a double standard when it comes to publishing images of dead bodies?

Kenyans, and others fed up with the coverage, took to social media in the hundreds to denounce a Times article that included an image of victims of Tuesday's Nairobi terrorist attack, bloodied from bullets, and lying hunched over their laptops, dead.

It has cause enough debate online to where the Times' incoming East Africa Bureau chief Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura felt the need to explain their photo policy, which is to show the dead only if their faces cannot be seen in the image. The photo in question fits the policy as the faces are facing away from the camera. She would later apologize before posting the official policy to her Twitter account. The photo remains up.

The Times' official response, as those tend to do online, has only created more anger. But unlike many unruly Twitter mobs, those responding to the official statement have a rather coherent message—"you wouldn't do this with photos of the American dead."

Some of the responses to the Times' official statement.

In a response to the controversy from the Poynter Institute, a typically astute observer of journalistic practice in the United States, they run through the typical American journalism school approach to publishing photos that might shock or offend. They write:

Should the Times have run the photo?
There is no easy answer.
The first question any news organization must ask when deciding to publish violent images is: WHY show it?
In other words, what is the news value? Does the public need to see such an image to fully grasp what happened? Does the public need to see such a photo to confirm or disprove the official account of the events?
An argument could be made that a writer's words could accurately describe the scene without being as disturbing as the image. In addition, when it comes to an act of terrorism, might publishing such a photo actually advance the cause of the terrorists, showing the damage they caused, thus fueling dread and panic?
Also this: The photo on the Times website came without warning. As a reader, you didn't know you were going to see a photo of dead people until you actually saw it.
Those are arguments to not run such a photo or, at least, warn readers of its graphic content.

While it's a fine analysis of when to show a violent image, it misses the central issue at play for those aggrieved by the Times' posting—that the American news-gaze values certain lives differently. Black, brown, foreign, poor—American journalism organizations, including the New York Times, cannot escape a base ethnocentrism in their coverage. It's so embedded into how these institutions operate, and the gap in understanding is so wide, that to much of the world, the Times' official response is laughably wrong at first glance.

"We take the same approach wherever in the world something like this happens--balancing the need for sensitivity and respect with our mission of showing the reality of these events"

And while there are examples from the Times that complicate this feeling, like these images of the dead in the terrorist attack in Nice, France, it doesn't discount the wider and correct feeling that the white victims of American mass shootings are treated differently than their African counterparts. And while there are complicated and systematic reasons for this which will always make discussing it difficult, to simply deny that different standards exist, does not increase the Times' credibility with Kenyans or the newspaper's growing online audience which will only become more vocal about how they're portrayed.

Falz 'Moral Instruction'

The 10 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

The best music of the week featuring Falz, King Monada, Zlatan, Yemi Alade and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our Best Music of the Week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow OkayAfrica on Spotify and Apple Music to get immediate updates every week and read about some of our selections ahead.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox