Photos
Photo by Ejatu Shaw.

This Dreamy Photo Series Questions the Intersection of Being Black, British & Muslim

We catch up with Sierra Leonean-Guinean artist Ejatu Shaw's contemplative photo series.

Poly- is an honest and thought-provoking photo series that discerns the internal struggle many of us experience—making sense of our given identities while discovering who we truly are.

Ejatu Shaw, a 21-year-old multidisciplinary artist and architecture student at University of Edinburgh, is the brain behind the project. She flexes her various editing techniques to produce unique and impactful images that allow the viewer to intensely experience the thoughts and feelings of the subjects.


Shaw says she started Poly- when Reform The Funk asked her to explore her Black-British-Muslim identity.

"Made up of many different identities (British, Fulani, Muslim, West African—specifically Sierra Leonean and Guinean), the project made me realize that I often struggle to have a firm understanding of myself and my place in all the communities I belong to," she says.

"Poly- explores the conflict I have with my identity whenever I try to connect with my Fulani roots outside of the confinements of Islam (a religion that 99 percent of Fulani people follow), and my struggle and failure to meet both the religious and cultural requirements of my tribe due to my British identity and values."

The artist notes that throughout the project, she used polymeric materials, including plastic bags, cling film, plastic containers and trash bags, to highlight that her identity feels "synthetic and not true" to her.

"The properties of these materials mean they cannot easily be destroyed, the same way I cannot easily rid myself of Islam or my Fulani culture. Plastic cannot break itself down naturally, and instead pollutes our oceans and landscapes. Burning plastic releases toxic fumes," Shaw explains.

"Every time I try to reinvent my identity to suit my values, every time I try to break down the polymeric chain that is my cultural and religious upbringing, nothing but toxicity comes from it and I end up feeling as though I have no identity at all. Throughout the project, my mother and grandmother serve as reminders that the Fulani identity is the only identity I'll ever have both culturally and Islamically and I should never steer away from it."

Shaw says the crescent—a significant symbol in Islam—is in every photo to show Islam's continued presence in her life and identity. "Islam's influences extend beyond theology, affecting day to day cultural practices within the Fulani community."

Although the younger members in Shaw's community relate and connect with her conversation around this conflict of identity, she mentions that the older members, including her parents, interpret Poly- as an homage to her Fulani culture.

"However it is far from that," she says. "I am, in fact, in the process of questioning both my culture and religion, currently feeling myself depart from the two more and more."

Take a look at Poly- by clicking on the slideshow below, and keep up with Ejatu Shaw via her website and on Instagram.

Photo by Ejatu Shaw.

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

popular.

How Nigerian Streetwear Brand, Daltimore, is Rising To Celebrity Status

We spoke with founder and creative director David Omigie about expression through clothing and that #BBNaija pic.