Appropriation & Afropunk Johannesburg:
A Double Edged Lens
Words & Photography by Anaka
(I'm posting this late and on my own website because two publications failed to fulfill their sides of my contract. I am tired of being disrespected by these companies that claim to care about the culture but are too ignorant to publish real content. No more culture vultures 2018.)
Of African descent; relating to Africa.
A worthless person; a criminal or a thug; a music genre reportedly triggered by the sound of Peruvian Protopunk band Los Saicos in the 1960s. (Of course music is always ahead of its time in relation to how it is categorized.)
to take something for one’s own use; to claim as one’s own (without permission).
Afropunk Joburg felt like an overdue homecoming from a distant relative. Ever since the festival became a business in 2015 (under organization by Matthew Morgan and Jocelyn Cooper), it expanded beyond its humble Brooklyn foundation. From London to Paris to Atlanta, Afropunk creates space for black artists to play among a community of black supporters.
What was it like when Afropunk first came to Johannesburg, a place full of both Western and African influence?
Despite no natural water sources nearby, Johannesburg is the biggest city in South Africa as a result of when it was colonized as a gold mining hub. Within the first ten years of an Australian colonizer mining the gold in 1886, Johannesburg’s population exploded. People flocked from Europe, South Africa and beyond to get a share of the gold. Tension between the Dutch government, the British and the local people over resources resulted in the Boer War from 1899-1902, when Africans and Afrikaans were put into concentration camps by Australian and British troops. After the British took control, they instituted the Apartheid system. During this time many native South Africans were enslaved to mine gold. Joburg is still the place to hustle in order to make a "better life" within these (familiar) empty promises of capitalism for the black body.
Hosting Afropunk Johannesburg at Constitution Hill was definitely a purposeful clash. Holding space for black people to flourish in peace--on land that used to be a prison--is a powerful placement. Unlike any other Afropunk, cultures and languages that have endured attempts of erasure were represented in their land of origin through organic expressions of fashion and music.
Before Afropunk took place in Johannesburg, a large percentage of festival goers could not fully represent their African fashion choices because they are descendants of the slave trade. I fit within this category, as a Black American severed from my lineage. Because of this evolving identity dilemma, I came to Afropunk Johannesburg in order to document how people represented their cultures through fashion, and how appropriation existed respectfully.
My generation has done significant work raising awareness of the negative effects of appropriation: the rumor of high fashion lines using “urban tie caps” (AKA du rags) simply could not fly in 2017. Never forget the long, long history of Western fashion brands stealing from African clans: the Maasai people of Kenya recently raised awareness of how their culture is consistently exploited in the fashion industry. In these situations, appropriation is a violence that does not credit nor give respect to its inspiration. But is appropriation always an insult?
When I revealed I was American while wearing my hair wrapped, a Xhosa man told me I was “trying too hard to be black.” What does this mean, though, an African man telling a Black American woman they are trying too hard to be (re)connected to the continent? Although I do not know my direct roots, can I respectfully appropriate where I am generally descended from?
It seems that whoever holds a form of Afro-identity has the fluidity and ability to accept whichever elements vibrate with them. So many of us in the world are of African descent and choose to express this in infinite ways. Yet, our identities are often created for us based on how we are connected to Africa, while we are also recreating the image on individual levels. The sense of belonging to the prefix “Afro” can be mediated not just by myself on an individual level but also accepted as a hybrid on a global scale.
What is the difference between Black Americans appropriating Africa and Africans appropriating Africa (in this case, in fashion and music)?
How are Afro-people of the diaspora, severed from their lineage, evolving the universal image of Africa, and is this beneficial or detrimental to the unique cultures that deserve to be highlighted?
If we take Johannesburg Afropunk as a creative case study, how are Africans in Westernized countries evolving their cultural image through fashion and music?
These are questions I ask to open dialogue along with these photos of festival goers and performance artists whose fashion and music represented Africa, the West and their own creations that mixed the two. This was a festival different from any other Afropunk: a moment when Africans announced to the world how they continue to be the source of world-wide Afro-inspiration.
Thank you to everyone who let me reflect their light as a Black American photographer on my quest of self-reflection. I provide a dual-lens of appreciation and learning as I seek more connection to my roots. Your knowledge of self is important.
Edited by Chaze Matakala