Meditations is an ongoing photo series using portraiture to illustrate observations about society.
"Jungle fever" is an exploration of the hyper-sexualisation of the Black male form, inspired by my own numerous experiences of sexual harassment and assault by white people. The green background represents the wilderness. The imagined habitat of Black bodies through a colonial lens. The red hand (rather than white) signifies that: whilst the strata of race was created by Europeans, everyone in a globalised world participates in hegemony. Where red represents devilishness, the choice is an acknowledgement that we are all susceptible to emboldening the evils of racism. In my own life I can think of instances where I have internalised the messaging that I exist solely as a sexual entity and acted accordingly.
It's difficult to imagine oneself as a boyfriend, husband or father when the media depictions you see of yourself are solely as an object. Throughout my adolescence I’ve seen more videos of Black men being killed in the streets, than I have of them playing with their children at birthday parties. It feels redundant investing in emotionally meaningful relationships, when you’re subconsciously assuming you’re doing to die randomly before a happy future materialises anyway.
But it’s too simple to place blame solely on circumstance. Internalising these ideas without critique makes us suspicious of people who genuinely see us as complete human beings in the first place. Then dehumanisation becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. My hope is that opening these dialogues will challenge us as Black men to see ourselves as more, and really consider how we interact with the world.
When I was interning at the United Nations I was part of an enlightening zoom conference with then president of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta. I have always proud to be Cameroonian, Nigerian and Guyanese. As I’ve got older I’ve wondered if this is a misguided protest, against the denigration of being raised in a fundamentally racist country.
Africa was composed of tribal regions pre-colonialism. Countries and nations are *created* to dictate who *owns* resources, a symptom of capitalism. The same ideology responsible for the destruction of Africa for centuries. So being “proud” to be part of a nation feels conflicting.
With that said, I will always cheer Cameroon on at the football because we’re sick .
Blue pill, red pill
As part of a BBC outreach programme I recently gave a talk to some secondary school students about my career and founding and running Sludge Mag. During the briefing we were warned to circumvent questions about Andrew Tate. It really struck me that he was influential enough amongst children that age, for the producers to have to say that.
But I also think individualising misogyny to boogeyman figures is counter productive. It creates the myth that once a public figure is "taken down" the problem is solved. The popularity of grifters who exploit masculine fragility and subsequent backlash against them doesn't address the legitimate systemic issues men face in the modern world. If we don't assess why people are disillusioned in the first place, there's going to continue to be a conveyor belt of people who can exploit that desperation and confusion for profit. To the detriment of literally everyone. Dialogue about life through a "blue pill, red pill" dichotomy isn't nuanced enough for the modern world and young men deserve better. Going forward Sludge Mag has some projects that will contribute a bit more to conversation...
This image represents the precarious nature of Black life across the globe. In Europe and the Americas, racialised people suffer institutional threats to life ranging from police brutality to access to healthcare.
In the U.K. at the time of writing Black mothers have a 400% higher birth mortality rate than their white counterparts. During my own birth it was only my Nana's intervention in demanding an emergency caesarian that saved me from death of disability. Despite my mother's umbilical cord being wrapped around my throat restricting my ability to be born safely, the Doctor assured my mother "everything was fine" on the basis that the "wideness of African women's hips" meant I would surely have ample room to come out.
It's a strange feeling knowing that there will probably be no consequences for the perpetuators, if your life is taken from state negligence or violence. Equally the scars of colonialism across Africa mean that simply "returning home" isn't a guarantee of an equitable life either.
The hanging sword bears reference to Abel Meerepol's poem Strange Fruit later interpolated into song by Billie Holliday, Nina Simone and sampled by Kanye West on Blood On The Leaves. The poem is a response to the lynchings that took place in southern states, where Black bodies would swing from trees like fruit.
The smiling model in the image belies the apathy and compartmentalisation necessary to exist as Black people constantly under the weight of history and the threat of the present.
Broadcast is a commentary on the sensationalised way social debates are presented to the British public via chat shows. The point of discourse should be to stimulate and educate. Sadly this isn’t what TV producers are paid for. TV producers' jobs are to gain viewers and clicks so that they can charge higher tariffs to advertisers. They do this by hiring inflammatory populist presenters to play on the public's anxieties. Then they either posit them against the most extreme representatives of marginalised communities, so that the entire community seems unreasonable. Or when an educated rational person is chosen, they get shouted down or if they are Black - told that if they don't like an element of British society they should leave the country.
As well as being bad television this has a human cost. It only takes one viewer thrust into a rabid fury by what they've watched to commit an atrocity. Between 2013 and 2022 the House of Commons library reported hate crimes in Britain rose by 268%. When you pair economic turmoil and people's natural fear of the unfamiliar, with the villainising of marginalised groups - this is what happens.
"Mother Tongue" is an exploration of the cultural importance of languages. The inability to speak one’s native tribal language is a barrier to feelings authentically part of the community. The importance of language in national identity is understood globally and historically. The destruction of language has been used as an instrument of colonialism for centuries with slaves masters mixing up tribes to dilute any shared cultural practices. In Canada in 2021 over 1300 unmarked graves of indigenous children were found across the grounds of their infamous Residential Schools. The schools were instruments of British colonialism where indigenous children were forcibly sent and prohibited from using their native languages, amongst other forms of cultural genocide.
In Britain when people reference World War 2, one of the most common tropes is imagining the consequence of us all speaking German had the axis won. From a young age hearing this in school, I always found the prospect inconsequential since I was a Black person speaking English anyway. I never understood why it mattered which coloniser language I spoke. Trying to reconnect with my culture in adulthood has been made harder by language. In Cameroon not speaking French makes the country harder to navigate. When I wear Cameroon football tops in public other Cameroonians excitedly try and engage me in French. It is odd feeling inauthentically Cameroonian because I do not speak a different European language. I will always remember overhearing my father saying something in Bakweri and asking what it meant in English. His response of “there’s no equivalent because England isn’t Cameroon” was an eye-opener that languages are different because they denote different understandings of the world.
Personally having found success as a writer, language confuses the experience. I am often praised for a mastery of a language that isn’t even mine. In verbal conversation I often feel unable to convey my true feelings and I wonder if it’s because English doesn’t facilitate my world view properly. By extension most of my work doesn’t feel “mine” so much as “the best thing I can build with the wrong toolkit”.
Mummy’s boy (self portrait)
This self portrait is a celebration of the unique relationship Black men share with their mothers. Throughout my career photographing entertainers and athletes one of the most consistent motivating factors for highly successful young Black men is wanting to better their mother’s circumstances. I think this is because Black boyhood in the west is characterised a unique hostility from every institution you face. From school exclusion rates to policing there’s a violent adultification that means the only person to treat you with unconditional affection and humanity is your mother. As you grow up there’s a yearning to repay this and also counter the disrespect Black women tend to face in the outside world.
By contrast, part of the job of Black fatherhood is toughening up sons to deal with what awaits outside the house, which though necessary, strains the relationship. The space between Black mothers and sons to just be a child and cared for with no wider sociopolitical context feels really exclusive and has been explored across countless songs. Tupac - Dear Mama, Kanye West - Hey Mama, Jay Z - Smile, Digga D - Mummy’s One Son, Fela Kuti - Coffin For Head of State, Andre 3000 - Look Ma No Hands and so the list goes on.
Lost In The Sauce
Cameroonian musician Francis Bebey’s 1982 song The Coffee Cola Song is a playful indictment of Western colonial attitudes to traditional African society. Its jovial pan-flute melody might be recognisable to Western audience due to Arcade Fire sampling it on their track Everything Now. The opening verse:
They believe we are wild, man, they believe we are wild
Just because we don't use any money, and we drink no coffee cola
But if you could go and see how they live
Then, you discover how savage they are, so much wilder than we
reflects how communities' unwillingness to adopt the West’s obsession with consumerism, is seen as proof enough that they are uncivilised. Bebey holds up a mirror and suggests that a society based on consumption is more uncouth.
Personally visiting Cameroon only a couple of times and decades later, it was interesting to see how much the country aspires to emulate Western society. Sometimes at the expense of addressing more pressing challenges. I vividly remember driving on what could only generously be described as a dirt road, to arrive at a flashy mall that looked like it had been plucked out of the United States. Its shops were mostly empty, I assume because not many people could afford the high ticket items. More disturbingly, on the way to a newly built luxury hotel I saw a dead body lying in the street. They looked younger than me. None of this is to criticise Cameroon. Its natural to internalise a worldview forcibly essentialised by colonialism. But growing up in England and always have crates of Coca Cola bought for communal gatherings at the family house suggests that this indoctrination is very far reaching.