Top picks for the Women of the World (WOW) Festival, Southbank Centre, London

The Southbank Centre annual Women of the World (WOW) Festival starts tomorrow and it’s set to be a really great experience. Celebrating the formidable strength and inventiveness of women, it will feature music performances, films, comedy, theatre, poetry, as well as a three-day conference dealing with debates, talks, workshops, networking and mentoring opportunities.

Afri-love Highlights:

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If sisterhood is imperative

Reflection

I wrote this post around 3 years ago, for my blog, Pandemonium Today. In celebration of Afri-love's Women's Week, I'm sharing it here. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on sisterhood.

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Movements often peter out when their goal is seen to be achieved. Then there are those movements that die prematurely or go into an indefinite hibernation long before serious gains are made. Is it frustration and fatigue? Is it an ingenuous illusion of success?

When I learned of the term “feminism”, it seemed to me a relic from the past rather than an ideology that was relevant to my life. Indeed there are critiques of feminism that question its relevance to millions of women. Do movements deteriorate because they fail to engage all of those who they claim to represent?

Or is it something as simple as an issue of language? Call it “feminism” and one may see it as something dated and distant and riddled with a questionable manner and intent. Consider it instead as “sisterhood” and it is irrefutably a part of life. It ceases to be a movement and becomes, as breathing is, an extension of being.

Sisterhood
Defined as… the feeling of kinship with and closeness to a group of women or ALL WOMEN
Congenial relationship or companionship among women; mutual female esteem, concern, support, etc.An association, society, or community of women linked by a common interest, religion, or trade…

“Linked by a common interest” – like being a woman? Like often being made to feel like some man’s property? It always strikes me that in the Swahili language, women are married and men marry. Men who are seen to be dictated by their wives are always taunted – is it you who married her or she who married you! Such banter is usually harmless jest but, I have always found it difficult to disregard the oppressive connotations of the concept.

On one hand there are debates with mothers. Mothers wondering why Mrs. So-and-So hasn’t yet had children. The likes of me suggesting that maybe she doesn’t want children. Mothers protesting, of course she wants children! That is what is expected of women – that is their defining role. On the other hand, some mothers insist that their daughters never get married for the sake of it and that they take advantage of all the opportunities the mothers didn’t have.

My mother sometimes laments her youth where her father invested more in the education of his sons because his daughters would no doubt get married and have husbands to provide for them, thus making the necessity for things like university degrees irrelevant. Forget about the fact that women can have careers! Ironically, these same daughters would in later life turn out to show more concern (in heart and in action) over their parent’s welfare. I think my grandfather did come to appreciate the prejudice of his ways. I remember sitting in his room when I was much younger – listening to him proudly telling me stories of his Harvard days and encouraging me to read hard and do well so that I too could one day grace the halls of that revered institution.

And all this talk was successful – I grew up believing myself free of the limits that my mothers were expected to silently accept. But I am often reminded that this is still not the norm, regardless of generation. While in Tanzania a recent while ago, a vociferous cousin of mine took it upon herself to criticize my every action as if to demonstrate (implicitly and explicitly) my lack of “womanly” domestic skills. I could have chosen to ‘behave’ in the ‘proper’ way but my stubbornness would not let me be an accomplice to my own suppression. When I was younger, my resistance was more vocal but easier to dismiss by virtue of my age! Now I am dismissed as having been influenced by foreign values and having lost touch with the way things are done. It makes me wonder why, when there is solidarity on so many levels, there are still narrow avenues where sisterhood ceases to breathe? And I wonder, can there be true solidarity before consciousness?

“Women need other women.
Men need men too but it’s not the same.”— my friend’s high school teacher who first got her thinking about feminism.

What opportunities are there for solidarity as a catalyst to greater consciousness, collective consciousness as well as personal? Women throughout history and across geographies have found ways, often through their everyday activities and obligations, to carve out spaces for some sisterhood solidarity. They have managed, through this congregation, to taste a morsel of freedom within their servings of captivity. Take for example the ‘Quilt Code’ in 19th century North America where slave women allegedly used quilt designs to send messages about when and how to escape to freedom. Even if these stories are more legend than truth, quilting has still served to build, reassemble, restore and express.  Discussing these quilts, Susan Bernick asserts that “women’s art forms can be experienced as a source of strength, joy, expression and as an affirmative badge of pride.”

Yet the struggle continues to maintain these spaces – these minutes of liberation. I am reminded of a story (legend?) I was told about some NGO activity in a village somewhere in the less economically developed world. The women in this village would walk miles everyday to go and fetch water. The NGO workers thus decided that what the village needed a well but once built were confused as to why the women were unhappy with it! They came to find, when they finally actually communicated with the women, that the women’s daily walks had been their only opportunities for release (from their husbands and domestic duties) and communion with each other. Now that the well was at their doorsteps, they no longer had an excuse to get away! The NGO workers had believed they were doing the women a favour but had not taken a moment to actually consult with the women on their needs. 

So let’s talk about women’s solutions to women’s problems.

What if sisterhood was imperative?
If sisterhood were imperative, there would be greater unity among oppressed and disadvantaged people because cutting across their differences would be the common experience of being a woman and all the implications of this in our still male-dominated world. If sisterhood were mandatory this status quo would be interrogated in every second of every day. If sisterhood was compulsory, we would think before slanderous speech about each other – think about why it is so easy to do this, think about WHY we do it and come up with an alternative constructive language. If sisterhood were compulsory, we would transcend other people’s images of ourselves. 

If sisterhood was the norm, men wouldn’t flinch and feel uncomfortable or threatened when reading this, or think it that has nothing to do with them.

If sisterhood were imperative we would guide each other to our self-actualisation.

Imperative for what?! Imperative for what?!

Have you (and here I’m talking exclusively to the women) ever been in the company of amazing, intelligent, funny, positive women and felt the warmth of utter resonance? Have you come to such a situation with preconceived notions, with your guard up just WAITING for someone to act in the less-than-positive way that you expect? … and it never happens? Instead, you find yourself getting to know people for who they truly are and discover that they are truly beautiful and interesting and capable of enriching your life. Have you ever ran to your sisters for solace when you thought there was nobody who could understand you or what you were going through. Have you ever communicated the world to your sister through a simple glance and when she wrapped her arms around you the silent dialogue was whole? I COULD get even more sentimental than this (and what would be the matter?). I see it quite simply:

If sisterhood IS, then sisterhood is imperative.

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*Thanks to the sisters who shared their experiences and knowledge with me ☺

Other sisterly things…
For Coloured Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf: a great play (‘choreopoem’ is what author Ntozake Shange calls it), and now movie too, that reinforces just how common many of our experiences as women actually are.

The L Word: a great TV series where men only get the occasional supporting role and as a result you don’t really think about them that much. A show that opens up a world of opportunities (in many ways)!!!

Women of the World (WOW) Arts Fair tomorrow, London UK

WOW-Arts-Fair-Asilia-design

International Women's Day is tomorrow and to celebrate, Old Spitalfield Market in London is holding a Women of the World (WOW) Arts Fair. Female artists and craftspeople from around the world will be exhibiting their wares. There will also be a sales and trading training workshop and an appearance by Mel B, of Spice Girls fame. More details here.

Flyer design by Asilia (more images here).

Quote of Women’s Week

Alice-Walker-In-Search-of-Our-Mothers-Gardens
"But please remember, especially in these times of group-think and the right-on chorus, that no person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended. Or who belittles in any fashion the gifts you labour so to bring into the world."

Alice Walker, In Search of our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose

Who better than Alice Walker to kick-off Women's Week! How to describe her work? Many would say feminist, activist etc. … but I think ultimately, her work celebrates humanity in all of it's complex, layered, conflicted, hypocritical, beautiful, disturbing, amazing glory. That often involves talking about what a lot of other people don't talk about and it is there that I have found myself reflected in her work. As a woman, as a black woman, as an artist, as a seeker, as a complicated human being.

Her work reminds me that I am special, significant and interesting, just the way I am. It is with this same affirmation in mind that I have chosen today's quote. A reminder that we are all wonderful the way we are and that nobody should ever succeed in convincing us otherwise. Nor should we give them opportunity to try!

Here's to a fantastic week spent remembering our beauty and strength.

PS There are some truly beautiful photos of Alice Walker here.
PPS
In Search of our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose is a great Women's Week read. It is a collection of essays celebrating women's stories and spirituality through the ages, their culture and their strength. From continent to continent and generation to generation, she explores the thread linking women writers through history. 

Week in review and celebrating sisterhood

I'm really excited about International Women's Day next week.

There are never too many opportunities for us (women and men) to celebrate sisterhood and the women in our lives. Let me warn you, it's going to be women's WEEK on the blog, with posts on fashion, thoughts and reflections on sisterhood, exciting events, literature etc. I've been so swamped with work lately that my posting frequency has been less than desired but, there's no greater inspiration to amp it up than to celebrate women and being a woman. So, watch this space!

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On the lookout: London via Lagos!

London-via-Lagos-Asilia-teaser

And speaking of watching this space, here is an early warning about a fantastic season of plays coming to London's Oval House Theatre this Spring. London via Lagos is a celebration of new British-Nigerian playwrighting.

From the streets of Hackney to the English countryside; from the mansions of the Lagos elite to the oil pipelines of Northern Nigeria, three remarkable plays burst with the stories of the diaspora. Londoners in Lagos, Lagotians in London; Afropolitans, Africans and Europeans – a heady mix of characters and stories revealing our inter-connected world. 

Presented by Oval House Theatre, BEcreative and Spora Stories, the festival celebrates the work of three African-heritage, UK-based, world-class playwrights: Ade Solanke, Arinze Kene and Lydia Adetunji. We (Asilia) have the great pleasure of working with them all to design the promotional material for the festival (such as the teaser flyer seen above). I'll be unveiling more of the work as we draw closer to Spring and sharing with you as well, the playwrights talking about their passion and inspiration.

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Last week on the blog

Nancie-Mwai-railway-shoot

Here is a recap, in case you missed anything:

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Thanks as always for taking the time to read and to share comments, facebook appreciation and tweet love. Remember, you can also get blog updates as well as extra links, ideas, news and info via facebook (afriloveblog) and twitter (@afrilove).

Have a great week everybody, be proud and be inspired!

Lulu x

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Image courtesy Nancie Mwai. Styling by Nancie, photography by Emukule Ekirapa (more images and full shoot credits here).

 

TGIF! Ghana Independence Day

M3NSA-No.-1-Mango-Street

I'm gonna need some help from my Ghanaian readers today. I posted about Ghana's Independence Day last July (marking the date the Republic was declared), and this Sunday marks the day that independence was declared, 53 years ago. My question is, which date do Ghanaians celebrate more? Or is it a case of different celebratory rituals for each occasion?

I've decided to contribute to the celebration with a round-up of a few of my favourite Ghana-related posts and a musical treat from the colourful Wanlov the Kubolor. Enjoy all and, happy happy Independence Day to my Ghanaian peeps!

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Interview with fashion stylist & blogger, Nancie Mwai

Nancie-Mwai-picnic

Nancie Mwai is a young woman who's out to revolutionize Kenya's fashion industry. Her fashion blog, The Fashion Notebook, is a journal that includes: her inspiration; on-shoot sneak-peeks and post-shoot results; DIY tips and; much more. I'm currently most enjoying her own fashion adventures, e.g. what to do when you have to unexpectedly stay the night somewhere and are an outfit short – aka the chips funga outfit!

Aside from an entertaining and stylish blog, with recognition far and wide (including being featured on the MTV Style website), I'm excited to share this interview with Nancie because she's demonstrating again the rewards of following your passion. When I was growing up in Kenya, I didn't even know that being a fashion stylist was a career option, let alone being one in Kenya. Pave that way Nancie!

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