September 23, 2015

Art Blogger of the Week: Sokari Ekine in Haiti and beyond

When I discovered the blog Black Looks by Sokari Ekine I was disappointed: I arrived too late. Black Looks stopped just a year ago, in August 2014, and had been going on since 2004. The damn thing about it was that for the first time I encountered a blog that covered gender issues, human rights, and also art. I tried the "about" section and found out that, fortunately, Sokari Ekine is still kicking. Her new blog on Tumblr focusses on her own artistic work. That doesn't prevent it from being a critical story, maybe not so much with words this time, but with images. Sokari Ekine's activist engagement shows also in her books. She is the co-editor of African Awakenings (2011) and Queer African Reader (2012). And she is the editor of SMS Uprising: Mobile Phone Activism in Africa, this already in 2010, which I find quite visionary. If you want to hear Sokari Ekine's voice you can check out her interviews on Sound Cloud

Art scene
"I’m not sure what comprises an ‘art scene’.  My life over the past 15 years has been a nomadic one, and it’s  only a year since I unpacked my ‘stuff'’ from storage.  I no longer think in terms of home as a physical place but somewhere else - if I’m happy then maybe that's home!  Nonetheless, I recently got to know a few local artists from across the Caribbean: filmmakers, photographers, curators.  So I guess I can now say I’m a part of  a loose network of a small group who have come together to share  a vision of truth telling our histories and cultures - old stories and seeking out new untold stories, gems of our heritage as African descendants in the Diaspora." 

"I started blogging back in June 2004 with my blog Black Looks which ran for ten years. I wrote with the aim of challenging the various negative narratives of Africa, which write us as victims or dependents without agency or authenticity.   Initially, my focus was broad covering Queer/LGBTI issues, gender, migration, and country specific coverage on Nigeria, the DRC and Sudan. It was a steep learning curve.  However, as more African bloggers joined the blogosphere, I  narrowed my focus to LGBTI, Gender, Literature, Haiti and the Niger Delta.

In the early days of blogging, I was part of two small blogging communities, one of African women blogging, and the other a group of radical feminists in the US and elsewhere.  It was intense at times with homophobic and misogynist harassment.  By 2007 the blogging scene across the continent began to change with more women and bloggers covering single issues.   Finally in 2014, after ten years, I decided to end Black Looks.  I had begun to move in a new direction with a new focus on creative work particularly photography which I was taking more seriously.   Also, I could no longer continue to produce the level of writing necessary to keep Black Looks going.  I  wanted to start afresh. 

In May 2014, I created a new website that includes my photography, a blog and links to my podcasts via Sound Cloud, Tumblr and of course Black Looks archive remains." 

"Like many people I’ve  been taking photos most of my adult life.  However, I’m  new to photography in the sense that I now have the desire to create something with aesthetic qualities and to present a visual narrative rather than a textual one. The biggest change I guess is the relationship I have with the images, particularly people.  I’ve never been the kind of person who jumps into other people’s spaces nor am I particularly sociable and this carries through to my making photos. It takes me a while until I feel confident in my knowing. This is probably why I’m not very adept at street photography. I’m not comfortable with my photo being captured in this way so why would I want to do that to someone else unless they overtly consented, which sometimes people do, but sometimes they don't.  Sometimes like when I make eye contact with a stranger on the street, a smile or an arbitrary acknowledgment, and then I feel ok but it can be a little creepy.  In Haiti I nearly always ask and in most cases people are comfortable with that. 

Photography is a new direction in my life and expertise is not a word I would use. Experience seems more appropriate and in my case I’ve started on a new journey that a combination of creativity and spirituality  - a new way of seeing and feeling which I try to express through my work particularly the series “Haitian Vodou: - A Visual Narrative”.  The series is a narrative documentary that celebrates Haitian Vodou as a site of spirituality, resistance, decolonization, and community.   It aims to shift the gaze from representations that depict Vodoun as something negative to the presentation of a truthful narrative: one in which Vodouisants engage with a consciousness and spirituality that celebrates our humanity rather than focusing on a set of prescribed  normative identities.   The work explores the dance, song, possession, drumming, aesthetics and ritual of Vodou. It has been a personal and a  nourishing journey that has a multidimensional force stretching far into the past and into the future. 

So in answer to your question on added perspective ‘to my art’ I would say that through photography and my intimate engagement with Vodou ‘ "an introspection into the unknown*” has been a way for me to express the freedom of an unbound imagination."

"No, I don’t have any plans to monetize my blog.  I would love to sell some prints where the proceeds would be shared equally together with the individual or community involved.   The hardest aspect of my photography has been raising the funds to carry out the necessary work.  Jetting into Haiti or anywhere for that matter for a one or two weeks photo shoot with some background reading is not how I work.  I spent almost two years observing and learning about Vodoun and eventually becoming an initiate before I began taking photos.  Things cannot be hurried, and I’m learning, at last to be patient." 


  1. Well done for paying tribute to the inspiring work of Sokari Ekine

  2. Thousands african "brothers" were also chosen nomadic lives