What does Ake Festival theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
In Africa in recent times, the black body has endured so much torture, violence and discrimination on matters regarded as ‘sensitive’ and ‘unAfrican’. From denying LGBT rights to the alarming cases of femicide in Kenya, rape and sexual harassment in South Africa and Nigeria – which are not properly addressed because they are sensitive. In Nigeria, the violations on black bodies are numerous, ranging from the daily ‘reminder’ of ‘imperfect’ skin colour, body type to bodies being cut (FGM), sold at a young age (child marriage), groped (sexual harassment) and domestically and sexually violated, to just mention a few. But there remains little or no focus on how these affect mental wellbeing. After all, mental health is only for ‘mad people’.
The theme is to understand the dynamics of the African body and the violation it faces; demystify myths and misconceptions; teaching history to help make what is perceived as ‘unAfrican’ become normal, because it really is. This theme, to me, will change narratives and stereotypes.
What African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
‘Black is the Body’ by Emily Bernard.
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
My African femme fatale would be strong, intelligent, dazzlingly beautiful, warm in her personality, yet daring in her aura. She would be a goddess whose roots run deep, to the time our female ancestors were seen as brave, strong warriors, and charming.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison.
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
Yes. They are shaping narratives and exploring the truth about our history, people, culture, belief system; and painfully uncovering the deeply rooted injustices and patriarchal systems that plaque our continent and infringe on the rights of black people in general. They serve in a space where religion and the media shroud the truth with so much lies and deceit.
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health. Which African novels will you reference?
‘I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying’ by Bassey Ikpi [nonfiction], ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; ‘Freshwater’ by Akwaeke Emezi.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
- Mental health is not for ‘mad people’. It is basically your psychological and emotional wellbeing. Already in our clime, Lagos traffic to be specific, poor economic situation in Nigeria, unemployment, school stress, light and everyday lifestyle challenge our mental health. We all sometimes have days we feel gloomy. And it is perfectly okay to speak to someone about it.
- If you live with mental health, speak up. If you know someone who does, communicate with them, listen and do not be judgemental.
What is your vision for the Black Body?
My vision is for the black body to be free from all oppression, discrimination, torture, deaths by gun violence and become an embodiment of freedom, respect, love and everything beautiful.