Akwaeke Emezi: Love Letters to Art

December 2, 2022

Nearly 2 years ago, in the thick of the pandemic, I drafted a casual but personal note to myself on how enlivening and integral the arts are. I wrote of how reserves of genius, talent, and effort go into creating the narratives we see, hear, and most importantly, feel. Art is important and should be funded, nurtured and supported. Art consumption is a sensory experience and it’s such an exciting world. I’ve plucked up the courage and fumbled my way into words to write this article, a mere reminder of art as functional and necessary to human life.

The art life dichotomy is fascinating. They’re indefinite and derivative of each other. Like lovers fated to find their way back to one another, it’s almost impossible to separate the two. Art, in its far-reaching expanse is unending proof of that. Across the summer, in a haze of exhausted breaths and lyrical healing while also trying to get back on track with my reading challenge (5 books away!), I decided to return to a specific author. Akwaeke Emezi stands out to me for a multitude of reasons and in 2 months, I read several of their works. Theirs is an incredible talent and and an important element of their work is their use of art.

In February, Bitter was published. The novel serves as a prequel to their 2019 YA novel, Pet. It tells the story of the revolution that led to Pet’s utopian landscape. A key facet of both stories is art as life. The art in both Pet and Bitter are living creatures brought to life by a thirst. Akwaeke writes of their undeniable need to right the wrongs of society, to bring to light what was done in the dark. Titular character Bitter creates works that are a culmination of her feelings, emotions, and the time in which her work was produced. More importantly, her art is not one dimensional but purposeful. Simply put, her art is functional.

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty takes on similar themes through a slightly different approach. In the latter, art is responsive. Feyi’s installation is contextualised not only by her grief and relationships but shines a light on the path from loss to life. Akwaeke writes of art as an active participant in life. Much like Akwaeke themselves, art exists in the liminal, beyond binaries and rigid lines. Their work then is not solely, and does not have to be a reflection of oneself but more so a center point in the intersection of continuous venn diagrams. 

Beyond the portrayal of art in their written works is their art itself. Emezi is often described as a generalist, a testament to their ability to traverse multiple landscapes. Theirs is an astute ability to combine art mediums, a talent for combining the language of multiple worlds and merging them into one. It’s awe-inspiring to know how vast the stretch of art is, its existing forms and mediums. Its place in the personal, the political, contextualised by the time it exists in as a time capsule of events and memories. An ode to emotions, to feelings, a gateway to expression, liberation, identity, a backbone of communities. To function without art is to function live without intent.