What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
Mental health, the body and community are key—each requires commitment from us in order to thrive together on the planet. Art, education and spiritual practices can be good for mental health, but if the body doesn’t have clean air, water and food, adequate housing, medical care, security, etc., then there is little chance for that mind to be healthy in the community because the body is in constant survival mode. Cover the basics for all humanity, then we can move towards a healthy balance.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf’ by Ntozake Shange comes to mind because it is a choreopoem where the black/brown body is in crisis and movement and song.
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
She is tall, slim and muscular with a humanoid body that is completely impenetrable and elastic. Each limb can stretch out infinitely into any space that is oxygenated, including deep ocean, because she can breathe through each pore. Her perpetually perfect afro doubles as a helmet during high-speed motorcycle chases on Mars. Her signature jacket is mud cloth.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
I would first listen. After listening, I would suggest a book written by a female author from the same region or background as this person—something to return a sense of pride and love of oneself.
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
Yes, African writers and artists have unique perspectives on the leading issues: racism/colourism, colonialism, government corruption, gender, etc. But particular regard should be paid to artists who work from a place of African indigenous knowledge, because it is an important tool in finding our way through the current anthropocene epoch.
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
I support any discourse that moves us in a post-gendered direction, which is essentially a pre-colonial direction. Many African tribal groups determined gender differently from the rigid, European-imposed binaries that are present today. Malidoma Somé talks about this in his book ‘Ritual—Power Healing and Community’ with regard to the Dagara. Binyavanga Wainaina was an important figure on gender as well. LGBT and gender non-conforming people need to be seen and safe in order for us all to enjoy a return to the human being.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?
The poet reads too much poetry.
Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.
The poet still reads too much poetry.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
Art loves you and this too shall pass.
What is your vision for the Black Body?
A body that is able to see the source of all the world’s beauty in itself