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First Look: This New Book Celebrates Women Photographers from the African Diaspora

'Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora' features 100 women photographers of African descent across the diaspora.

DIASPORA—The last book that celebrated black women photographers in all their glory was published 31 years ago. For these black women photographers and creators, that's 31 years too long.


Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora is the inaugural and commemorative book featuring 100 women photographers of African descent across the diaspora. A bi-annual journal will follow suit to represent a collective voice of women photographers of African descent; which will include photographic essays with in-depth interviews and essays that will analyze the work of four to five photographers.

Mfon is the brainchild of award winning documentary photographer, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn and critically acclaimed, award winning visual artist, Adama Delphine Fawundu. Crystal Whaley, Emmy award winning producer, is also the deputy editor. Through Mfon, all three women seek to fill a void and create a powerful collective of women photographers, journalists and scholars.

Check out a selection of images from the book and OkayAfrica's conversation with Barrayn on who Mfon was named after, why it's needed now and more below.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

OkayAfrica: Why is a compilation like Mfon needed now?

Laylah Amatullah Barrayn: There are women photographers of African descent who have been doing incredible work for many years now. I don't feel like we have gotten recognition. I don't think that we've been celebrated in the grand way that I think that we should. The last time there was an actual book on black women photographers was in 1986. This book will show what we are doing collectively across all genres and across all levels of experience.

I really wanted to make a statement and show an incredible list of 100 women of African descent creating amazing images and telling amazing narratives.

[oka-gallery]

OKA: What was your research process like for the inaugural book?

LAB: My co-editor [Adama Delphine Fawundu] and I are best friends and we've been wanting to do this book for 10 years. But we weren't able to get a publisher then, so last year we took the proposal that we did 10 years ago, we dusted it off and proposed it again to the Brooklyn Arts Counsel—and we got a small grant.

And I told her, "Let's do a hundred!" But she was said, "Oh, that's a little ambitious." Since we're both photographers, 100 women photographers weren't so out of reach. We know who our peers are, we know who our contemporaries are and we travel a lot to Europe and West Africa, so we are checking out what's happening anytime we travel.

OKA: Why did you name the book, "Mfon?"

LAB: The journal is named after an amazing photographer—Mfon Mmekutmfon Essien—who passed away before I got a chance to meet her. I was looking forward to meeting her, because she was in an exhibition that was called "Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers" at the Brooklyn Museum. It was a huge show, it was a big deal and she passed away just right before it opened—it was really devastating. When you walked through the exhibition her work was the first work you saw. It's a huge milestone in any photographers' career to be shown in the Brooklyn Museum, so I was always devastated by that. Soon after the exhibition opened, a lot of the photographers held a vigil for her and it was really beautiful. And she was loved, she had a lot of friends, she was a muse for and support for other photographers—you'll probably see her in other people's work. She was a real communal figure and I always thought about her wondered what her life could have been.

So I was just thinking, "I'm my sister's keeper." I want to bring all of my sisters with me with whatever I'm doing if I can. That's why I decided to name it after her and also with being photographers of African descent, she was Nigerian-American, so she represented continental Africa as well so it was perfect.

For more information on Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora and to pre-order, click the link here. A portion of the pre-order sales will contribute to the Mfon Legacy Grant, which will be awarded to emerging black women photographers of African descent.

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The Best African Memes of 2018

Laugh with us into 2019 with OkayAfrica's best African memes of 2018.

Meme culture has become a mainstay on these internet streets. It's essentially an alternate form of communicating, of commentary and of simple laughter. 2018 had its fair share of highs and lows, and young Africans continue to utilize memes to celebrate or to cope with the nonsense.

To reflect on the African memes that broke the internet this year, we tapped contributors and African meme tastemakers to list the best African memes of 2018.

Laugh away below.

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The Black Women Who Made Big Strides in France in 2018

Yes, this was a bad year for many reasons, but we can still celebrate the black women who rose to prominence

Back in 2015, a group of Black women activists appeared in the French media: les afrofems. They were and still are, fighting against police brutality, for better inclusion in the media and to destroy harmful sexual stereotypes surrounding black women among other worthy goals. Since then, more influential Black women have gained a bigger representation in the media. And, even better, some of the afrofems activists, like Laura Nsafou and Amandine Gay, have made films and written books to bring more diversity to the entertainment industry.

2018 has, in many ways, been a year where black women made strides in France, at least in terms of culture. From winning Nobel prizes, to having best selling books and being on top of the charts, Black French women have showed that, no matter how much France wants to keep them under the radar, they're making moves. And, no matter the tragedies and terrible events that have shaped the year, it is something worth celebrating.

France's New Queen of Pop Music

We begin with Aya Nakamura, France's new queen of pop music. Her song Djadja was a summer hit. Everyone from Rihanna, to the French football team who successfully won their second world cup, sang it. Her sophomore album "Nakamura" has been certified gold in France and is still on top of the charts. She is the first French singer to have a number one album in the Netherlands since Edith Piaf in 1961. The last time a black woman was as visible in pop music was in 2004, with Lynsha's single "Hommes...Femmes".

Nakamura has received a huge backlash, mostly due to misogynoir—misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles. From a French presenter butchering her African first name despite the fact that he can easily pronounce words like "Aliagas", to online trolls calling her ugly and manly when a picture of her wearing no makeup surfaced, to people complaining that she is bringing down the quality of the entire French pop music industry, Nakamura responds to her critics gracefully. Her music is not groundbreaking but her album is full of catchy songs with lyrics using French slang she masters so well that she came up with her own words like "en catchana" (aka doggy style sex). And most importantly, many black girls and women can finally see someone like them in the media getting the success she deserves.

The Nobel Prize Winner

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Another Black French woman has broken records this year: the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé who won the Alternative Nobel Prize, a prize meant to replace the Nobel Prize in Literature, after the scandal that the Swedish Academy of Literature faced last year. Condé wrote her first novel at only 11 years old and has been prolific ever since. A former professor of French literature at Columbia University, she has published more than 20 books since the 1970s, exploring the complex relationships within the African diaspora. "Segu", her most famous novel, is about the impact of the slave trade and Abrahamic religion on the Bambara empire in Mali in the 19th century. Condé's work is radical and she remains committed to writing feminist texts exploring the link between gender, race and class, as well as exploring the impact of colonialism. Condé is a pillar of Caribbean literature and it's taken long enough for her work has been acknowledged by the Nobel prize committee.

The Children's Books Writers

From Comme un Million de Papillon Noir

And finally, 2018 has been the year where France's children's literature industry has finally understood how important, for the public, writers and publishers, being inclusive and diverse was. From Laura Nsafou's Comme un Million de Papillon Noir, a best selling book about a young black girl learning to love her natural hair which sold more than 6000 copies, to Neiba Je-sais-tout: Un Portable dans le Cartable, the second book of Madina Guissé published this year after a successful crowdfunding campaign, there are more and more children's and young adult books with non white protagonists. In France, there are still no stats about how diversity is doing, but in America, in 2017, only 7 percent of writers of children's literature were either Black, Latino or Native American.

There's still much to accomplish in France for the Black community to have better representation in the media, politics and all walks of life, but important strides have been accomplished this year, and it make me hopeful for what 2019 and the following years have in store.

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J Hus Has Been Sentenced to Eight Months in Jail for Knife Possession

The rapper has been convicted following an arrest in June.

Gambian-Biritish grime rapper J Hus has been sentenced to eight months in prison for knife possesion, reports BBC News.

The artist, neé Momodou Jallow, was arrested in Stratford London in June when police pulled him over near a shopping center, claming that they smelled cannabis. Police officers asked Hus if he was carrying anything illegal, to which the rapper admitted that he had a 10cm folding knife in his possession. When asked why, he responded: "You know, it's Westfield."

Hus pleaded guilty at a hearing in October after initially pleading not guilty.

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