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Photo by Ngadi Smart.

Spotlight: Artist, Ngadi Smart, Captures Black Sensuality, Sexuality & Culture Through Striking Photography

In her new series, "Latitude," the Sierra Leonean artist explores the rich indigenous culture in Grand-Bassam, Côte d'Ivoire through the lens of fashion.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists and more who are producing vibrant, original work. In our latest piece, we spotlight the art of Ngadi Smart, a Sierra Leonean photographer visual artist and illustrator based between Côte d'Ivoire and London. View images from her latest series "Latitude," and read more about the inspirations behind her work. Keep up with Smart via her website and on Instagram.


How did your latest photography series come about?

My latest photography series was a story I shot for Atmos Magazine's second issue, entitled Latitude, a story based on the many facets of the word. More than just a system for mapping the world, latitude also means "freedom of action or choice." Atmos Magazine asked me to capture the meaning of "latitude" in my culture, through the lens of fashion. In keeping with the magazine's mission, we were conscious of our environmental impact: only local models & designers, materials and fabrics were used, with an eco-responsible vision. I chose to shoot in Grand-Bassam, Côte d'Ivoire's old French-colonial seaside town which was once the nation's capital, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's filled with arresting, 19th and 20th-century architectural ruins. It embodies—on the one hand—colonial architecture and town planning, based on the principles of functionalism and adaptations to climatic conditions, and—on the other hand—a community of the N'zima people, which demonstrates the permanency of indigenous cultures, despite a serious environmental issue affecting it: coastal erosion.

What would you say are the central themes in your work?
My photography work has long been focused on how people self-identify and choose to present themselves in front of the lens. As of late, my interest has been documenting Black sensuality, sexuality, and African culture through an African lens and point of view. I want to show as many representations of African people, and what it means to be African, as I can.

Can you talk about a particular moment or a turning point in your life that made you want to pursue art or a creative path?

I have always been a creative and have always been creating art. I would say what pushed me into taking photography seriously was quitting my job in 2014 and starting a photo and illustration blog in Toronto, where I would shoot and draw strangers I met or acquaintances in the comfort of their homes. I'm always so surprised and grateful that so many people let me into their intimacy, That really started my focus on the topic of the presentation of one's self, when facing the lens.

See more of Smart's work below.

Photo by Ngadi Smart

Photo by Ngadi Smart

Photo by Ngadi Smart

Photo by Ngadi Smart

Photo by Ngadi Smart

Photo by Ngadi Smart

Photo by Ngadi Smart

Photo by Ngadi Smart

Music
Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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