Black is Gold

In recent months, I’ve been extremely critical of Corporate America, as has Black Twitter, for the stereotypical and defaming representations of African and African American women in advertising campaigns. Deserving immediate attention, majority of the visual artifacts and frameworks I’ve produced in studio this semester has been an attempt to address this unethical design issue, among others that are dear to my heart. I’ll share a synopsis of my semester’s work in future Yes& blog posts. For now, let’s take this moment to celebrate some African beauty.

As scrolled down my facebook timeline a week ago, I came across a CNN article that had been shared by one of my favorite design anthropologist, Dr. Dori Tunstall, Dean of Design at Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto, Canada. She captioned the article, “Do you know who Mnyazi wa Menza (Mekatilili) is? Beautiful photography to help you find out.” I thought to myself, “nope, never heard of her, but I sure would like to be informed of her legacy.” Thus, I happily shared the article on my timeline with the caption “Priceless,” for later read.

In summary,  Mnyazi wa Menza is Kenyan female icon who is celebrated for her unprecedented stand against European colonists in the early 1900s. Photographers Rich Allela and Kureng Dape immortalized the Kenyan icon for her heroic actions in a series of photographs that  recreated the life of  Mekatilili. I was delighted to read a positive news article about a beloved African Queen as I admired the priceless, picture-perfect work of art by Rich and Kureng.

Here are my favorite photographs from the article. Captions credit: Munachim Amah, CNN.

Mnyazi wa Menza a.k.a Mekatilili was a strong woman known for her fierceness and resistance of colonial rule in Kenya. This photography project represents her life in the Giriama region of Kenya where she lived from the1840s to 1924, according to local sources.
In this reimagination, a fearless Mekatilili is pictured readying for battle, defying the age-long patriarchal norms in Kenyan (and generally, African) societies. Women were not known to be headstrong during that time, but Mekatilili could not be silent about the colonial oppression in her community. While celebrating her achievements, Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation, described her as the “mad woman who rattled the British.
According to local media reports, Mekatilili was renowned for her dancing. She performed the native kifudu dance (a dance reserved for funeral ceremonies) from town to town, and she used this dance to attract a large following and support for her cause. Some Kenyans still refer to Mekatilili as “the widow who beat the British through ecstatic dance.”
She vehemently stood against British conscription of Giriama men to fight in the World War I and rallied her community to resist British colonial rule, which put her at loggerheads with the colonial masters, who sent her on exile.
In October 1913, Mekatilili was banished from her community for her fearlessness and outright confrontation of British colonial masters (according to the Daily Nation). […] But she returned five years later and did not back down. Mekatilili continued speaking out against repressive colonial policies and ordinances. She refused to be deterred by anyone or any policy.