feature: visual artist airich talks about her afrofuturistic and raw style

October 20, 2014

My name is AiRich. According to the people who surround me, my photography can work safely in the category of “afrofuturism”. This has mainly to do with the style, the spiritual aspects that others link to my work. I see this as a great compliment, because my style was first developed by an optimistic philosophy that whatever is inside of me can come out. I welcome it, as it is an expression and reflection of my lifestyle, taste, who I am and how I see the world. One of the most recognizable landmarks in my work is that I only make use of Black models, whom in the first instance are not the ideal beauty image requirements in western photography. My approach is conceptual and in the opposite direction, of western photography. Often with a specific story [traditional and non-traditional] or message that I want to say the story is often in the expression, the styling or setting. Most times the story alone is a non-theatrical physical positioning of the model. Whatever comes out, it is always and expression of the culture, myth and reality of the Black people’s truth.

By AiRich, AFROPUNK Contributor *

I was born and raised in Amsterdam [Netherlands]. I am a young artist who is active as a portrait photographer, a creator of short videos and animation videos. In one word: Visual Artist. My journey as a Visual Artist began quite early in my life. My mother, [poet, visual artist] and my father [illustrator, sculptor ] have put together a world of which I am the eldest daughter of 7 children. The combination of the two is the first reason why artistic talent flows through my veins. As a little girl, I learned early on about the many aspects of art. Mostly taught through practice and not too much theory, my parents directed my appreciation for art. My siblings and I were all encouraged to use the elements around our home and local environment to materialize our ideas. As a child, I enjoyed myself and knew no different. I was encouraged to explore my fascination for colors as I was diagnosed at infancy to have been color-blind. I explored this fascination as my parents instructed and made a liar out of those doctors who said it was impossible for me to recognize bright colors. These so-called unrecognizable bright colors have become a signature feature in my work.

Another great package in my luggage is awareness of my “I,” which makes me, me: my roots, my people in the “then” and “now”, my contribution to it and how important it is. I know my history. My mother made sure that information was passed on to my siblings and I.
Quite young, I recited many rebellious recorded poems by Mutabaruka . I can recall singing “Babylon system is a vampire” by Bob Marley at the age five. Thanks to my mother, I knew that Africa was much more than a skinny Ethiopian baby with flies in his eye. The imagery of our origins produced by the Western world imposes a frightening notion that we [Africans in the diaspora] should be grateful for slavery, as if slavery happened just in time to escaped ”black Africa”. With much love and appreciation for my mother, I know Africa is our royal home.

Now back to my luggage. In addition to my education at home (where no school can match), I attended two schools which influenced my art. The first school was called IVKO. At IVKO I studied four years of art known from the Western perspective. At this institution I discovered my love for video and sound. My second influence in an academic setting was that of a Media College of Amsterdam where I studied Audio-Visual design and Animation. Attending this four-year program introduced me to the world of media and all of her demons. At the time I had no aspirations as photographer nor any with photography. I always found it fascinating, but it seemed like something out of my ability. During my school years I had no interest in photography, because of all the theory and “technical stuff”. That was until I started practicing. After my school years on my own and in my own way I began to explore photography. Within a year’s time, I found that there had actually been a photographer inside of me all along. I like to compare myself to many music artists who are not able to read music; this applies to me in film and photography.

In addition, my style is quite raw. Eliminating the usage of filters and tools that remove pimples, blemishes and body-fat. I let my work clearly show that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. With two halogen construction lights, a simple linen background, a jar of my mother’s clay and an assortment of improvised costumes from my wardrobe, I transform “everyday black kids” into works of art. My process is true to the sense of making do with what you have. Apart from the different models, I have several muses including myself. I do not see myself as a model. However, sometimes I am the only person in my environment who can best portray the ideas I have . In this way, I have become my own muse.

Surprisingly at first, my photography attracted the attention of many people in my community. Some of course see me as a joke. I’ve experienced the uproars of “ Who’s this little black chick that claims to be an artist? What does she know about art? With the most confidence I respond through my Art. Then all the meowing stops. I have made an effort to make my competence evident in all the materials I produce. As a young artist I have to make it clear that my visual art is not the product of a hobby, and that the work is more than just a combination of vividly colored pictures. I have something to say and this is the medium that I use. I am an independent artist and this is my way of surviving in this world. I could not do anything else and to be true to myself, I do not want to.

* AiRich [Pronounced I-RICH]