The Instagram feed I created for Dr. Jane'a Johnson's Pan-African Aesthetics course was meant to do far more than to satisfy the prompt: I wanted it to be a summarization of my experiences in the class. I wanted it to begin with a cold read of the material, a simple literal summarization. That was my first takeaway from the course: an acknowledgement of what I was seeing, its origin, and its cultural purpose and relevance within my studies.
Sanlé Sory's The Young Music Lovers (Les Jeunes Mélomanes) helped me affix a more dynamic and critical lens towards black youth and the way they occupy space in a photo. The posture, expressions, and intensity of gaze all factor into the kind of emotions they evoke in the viewer. I wanted to find pictures of black youth and black creatives that utilized those factors in an active, purposeful way.
From there, I began to insert my emotional connections. I was, for a fact, looking at my people. Faces I could identify with and relate to on a different level than my other art history courses.
La Sape, as a concept, was one of the most interesting aspects of the course. I had previously known nothing about it, so I wanted to explore it with a long, descriptive passage on the third post, as a representation of the deep dive I did on my own. I chose to quote the article I mentioned directly, as it was a quote from an actual sapeur, not just an interviewer or a black creative who was on the outside looking in. I wanted to relate the experience of a practicing sapeur to my relevant photograph, where all the men seemed untied in more than just style, but in the way they carried themselves: a feature of La Sape that really demanded my attention and fueled my affection for the practice.
“The story of Noirewave, Africa’s pioneering punk movement,” an article in Huck magazine with text by Alexandra Genova and photography Kyle Weeks, was relevant to The Young Music Lovers in its highlighting black youth. Confidence and drive came across from a simple photograph: that energy alone seemed present in the two images that I chose that featured black youth. I also wanted pictures containing fashion that related to both Afrofuturism and traditional tribal African wear. I wanted to show the iconography and symbolism of these works, which I saw as analogies of the integration of the traditional motifs and the forced prevalence of Anglo-Saxon symbolism. The medium of Instagram didn’t really limit my project. To the contrary, I like the minimalistic interface and infinite description capabilities. Because of the white interface, I felt that I able to be more intentional with my choice of colors, and the monochrome of some photos was less glaringly obvious. I had never used Instagram in this way before, and I hope that I am assigned a similar project in the future.
Celeste Jackson is a sophomore at RISD, and developed this project for a 2021 course taught by Dr. Jane'a Johnson, Pan-African Aesthetics: Past, Present, Future.