‘Creating To Survive’ in the African Diaspora : an interview with Kaozara, Sistren and Zodwa Nyoni
On Thursday 30th November, the English department presented an exciting and dynamic event called ‘Creating to Survive’, exploring and celebrating art and expression in the African diaspora whilst challenging the notion of the ‘diasporic everyday’ in contemporary society. The event included discussion, spoken word from Kaozara and art. The members of the panel discussion were the afro-queer collective Sistren who host talks and podcasts, poet and playwright Zodwa Nyoni and PhD student and former LUU Education Officer Melz. The event also showcased art from Zacc Lockhard, Cassandra Joseph and Tomi Olopade.
After the popularity of Decolonise My Curriculum, Why Is My Curriculum White? and the success of numerous events exploring black identity during Black History Month like ‘Black Masculinity: Shape up, Man up!’, there has been a growing demand for events that explore the experiences and indemnity of people of colour and therefore the event was much welcomed. It had a very large turnout, with the organisers having to change the room to accommodate the numbers of people wanting to attend. It was widely praised with many hoping to have more like it.
“…a spoken-word poetry performance by Kaozara which examined themes of diasporic identity, speaking in one’s mother tongue, and racism…”
One audience member praised the event, stating that ‘the event was very insightful, they spoke about many issues that aren’t regularly spoken about in academic spaces and just having a space targeted at the diasporic community is rare. It’s nice to have a place to converse about ideas around identity, blackness’.
It opened with an introduction from Jodie Smith, the events host and brainchild and followed by a spoken-word poetry performance by Kaozara which examined themes of diasporic identity, speaking in one’s mother tongue, and racism. Her performances were met with an incredible round of applause and positive reviews and speaking to her before the event, Kaozara answered a few questions about art and expression in the African diaspora:
How important is art and expression, in your opinion, to the UK black community and the African diaspora in particular?
It’s very important. Art and expression are fundamental to many African countries traditions; the singing, dancing, drumming and rhythm as well as oral tradition and important art forms that celebrate and inspire many aspects of their lives. As many in the black community are the first generation in Britain, this gives them something tangible to identify with and hold onto.
Would you say that it is a matter of survival?
To some extent, as I previously said, it can be something to hold on to and therefore when all else fails, when you are feeling lost and alone, it is something that no one take away from you, and that can often be the thing that people use as a pillar in difficult times.
“…Often, I get diaspora blues, as I can sometimes feel stuck in the middle of many cultures, can often feel lost, with a desire to have a strong rooted connection…”
How has being part of the African diaspora influenced your art?
It influences my art a lot. Often, I get diaspora blues, as I can sometimes feel stuck in the middle of many cultures, can often feel lost, with a desire to have a strong rooted connection. My many identities are expressed in my art: Nigerian, American, Italian… I’m so such more than just one identity.
In addition, speaking on the panel was, Sistren. They talked about the ‘new black renaissance’ and how we are entering an unstoppable era of transformative, powerful black artistry. They said that there is an emergence of diasporic art and expression and that it is important that black people keep creating and setting trends.
How important is being part of the African diasporic community to your art?
It is essential, in the sense that, without it, I can’t fully recognise who I am. When I create, I remember women that came before me who were: artists, healers, cooks, nurses etc. They were powerful and I’m creating from that place of remembrance and it’s constantly informing what I’m creating.
“…[Sistren] talked about the ‘new black renaissance’ and how we are entering an unstoppable era of transformative, powerful black artistry…”
Zodwa Nyoni, who had written plays such as Ode to Leeds and Carnival Chronicles, graced the audience with many insights from her experience in the art industry and also answered similar questions about art and expression in the diasporic community:
How important is art and expression, in the black community/ diasporic community?
Extremely important, if you gravitate towards the arts, often it becomes a space where you can be who you truly are and find your voice – your authentic self.
Do you see art/expression in the diasporic community as a matter of survival?
For a lot of people, it is. If you’re an artist and that is your mode of expression – whatever that art form is – it can be very freeing for you. For some people, just having a group of friends that are likeminded, whether be in artistry, gender or race – that can be your safe space to talk openly, to feel accepted and understood, which can be life saving for some people.
How does being within the African diaspora influence your art? If at all?
It is the basis of my identity, I’m first generation, therefore I’m closely linked a culture outside of Britain and both cultures have influenced the way that I think, exist, the work that I write and I could never separate from that. It is not just an identity that was handed down to me, it is one that I live, it makes up who I am.
[Images: Catherine Morton-Abuah]