So after years of pining over the melanin-heavy photos of AFROPUNK festival online and wishing that I had; 1), a Brooklyn residency. (So that I could stroll on over to the festival, then stroll on back to my apartment/house and pass out.) And 2), a fly outfit. (For the photos). I finally got myself together and actually made it to AFROPUNK, 2016 in New York City.
The annual celebration of black music, culture, fashion and activism takes place in Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park for a weekend. This just so happened to be about twenty minutes from where I was living; meaning the pass-out at the end was quick and easy and painless. Just as I’d always envisaged.
When I actually got to the festival around 4pm (it starts at midday and ends around 9pm all weekend) I was completely overwhelmed by all the fabulously outlandish fashion, super-huge ‘fros and unapologetic blackness. But like, overwhelmed in a really good way.
For someone who’s never felt particularly in touch with being black or mixed-race up until recently, I planned a trip to AFROPUNK 2016 with one thing in mind; soaking it all up.
And soak it up I did. The good vibes, (Thundercat, Kelela, Laura Mvula, Tyler The Creator, Ice Cube) the mind-bending hair and fashion inspo from every second woman in my peripheral vision and of course, the god-awful, overpriced festival food. This all made for one hella joyous affair. And even though AFROPUNK is in its infancy as a commercialised festival (it started charging in 2015), I loved it.
Activism at AFROPUNK 2016
But unlike other festivals I’ve been to, the pungent scent of activism hangs heavy in the air. (As it should at any cultural gathering of a socially marginalized roup, right?). But then again, not too heavy.
I mean, there is section of tents in a space called ‘Activism Row’, where groups like Black Lives Matter and others talk openly about their work and sign you up to their mailing lists – but you really have to go looking hard for it.
There aren’t people walking around professing their views with megaphones or lassoing you into their political tent and holding you ransom before you’re forced to fake (another) gmail account, but what with the current state of black America right now, you don’t have to search very hard for strong opinions either.
In-between crushing on Kelela and queuing for the portaloos, I went and spoke to (and photographed) some women at AFROPUNK 2016 asking them all the same question; what does being a black woman mean to you today?
Jennifer Johnson: “To me it means; brilliant, authentic, proud, unique. And personally, I wouldn’t want to be anything else.”
Brianna Davis: “Getting above and beyond the struggle and being powerful. And paving the way for other black women.”
Brea: “Being unapologetic. In life, in your personal endeavours, in everything.” Terri Hardin: “Being black is the way you feel and the way you grow up. My family is from St Louis, Missouri in the South, so we’re all black. Some people who don’t know what albinoism is are like ‘oh you’re not black enough by complexion’ but I’ll tell you now; I’m probably more African than a lot of them.”
Mykeyla: “Female blackness is so many things…in one word I guess: beauty. Knowledge is beautiful and our colour is beautiful, as well as the tones in our skin and the textures in our hair. It’s all beauty to me and it’s all inspiring. Blackness is beauty to me.”
Cee Stevenson: “Blackness means to me; God and liberation. It means constantly evolving and creating. Manifesting and living above the hate, discrimination and pressure.”
Jacqueline Myers: “Freedom. Spirituality. And not giving a fuck what other people think.”
Laetitia Donnet: “Just being accepting of yourself and loving yourself. I grew up in an all white community and it was hard, but now I don’t feel bad about myself.”
Have you been to AFROPUNK? What do you make of the vibe?