What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
It’s tragic that the words ‘Black Bodies’ always trigger the lyrics of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ in my head. ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ is a recognition of the relationship between our physical and mental selves and the significance of a balance in that relationship from a historical perspective considering our traditional ontologies, and also from a contemporary perspective considering the politics and social issues revolving around blackness today.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
I believe queer writers have explored the Black Body the best. In our communities, queer people have seen their right to existence and the validity of their experiences questioned the most; and they often answer through their literature, exploring all that exists between the highs of sensuality and the lows of oppression. Brittle Paper initiatives, ‘An Anthology of Queer Art Vol.1 & Vol.2,’ are seminal in the way they have created a platform for safe discussions on black bodies in Nigeria and a template for further conversations on other issues.
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
I’m a disciple of Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism, so we have to represent the different corners of the continent. Firstly, we represent West Africa by blessing our alien with thick, 4C Hair that can shape-shift to create multiple identities. Then East Africa by giving our alien a heavy serving of superhuman speed/endurance with a sprinkle of forehead. North Africa with impermeable skin, as a shout out to generations of women across the region that fought and survived independence wars, revolutions and patriarchal societies. Also some itty-bitty FUPA because FUPA saves lives.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
Adichie’s ‘Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.’
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
Absolutely. The internet has democratised access to publication a lot more, so it’s much easier for Africans to be the representation they seek, to write the diverse stories they want told, and to centre our own narratives. There is no longer a need for foreign interpreters of African maladies.
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
My favourite voice is easily Fakhrriyyah Hashim (@FakhuusHashim). The method with which she shook tables with #ArewaMeToo and her social media reportage during the recent elections – talking it and then walking it – were masterclasses in activism. Also, a special shout out to Dr. Wunpini Mohammed (@wunpini_fm) who is very educative on the gender discourse in Ghana. What I find enviable about both women is the intersectionality of their views. Their opinions are never without considerations of the necessary context regarding history, religion, class or ethnicity, which are often overlooked especially when speaking from a position of privilege.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?
Akwaeke Emezi’s ‘Freshwater’ centres the narrative on the affected without questioning the validity of that narrative, which is important for me because issues surrounding mental health usually emanate from some sort of self-doubt.
Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why
Jagua Nana as a man. I’d love to see more stories about a carefree man who is really just trying to chop life with sugar-mummies and girlfriends while catching nuts and getting paid for it.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
Firstly, your thoughts, emotions and experiences are valid. And secondly, finding safe communities to travel with is often better than journeying alone.
What is your vision for the Black Body?
Unquestioned. Unhated. Unfetishised. Loved.