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My name is Vayunamu and I write and take pictures. I’m from Abuja, Nigeria, and I currently live in California where I work at a nonprofit and as a freelance photojournalist.
I have to admit that I have a hard time creating lately. I’ve had some internal struggles to overcome and the recent period of political and therefore mental unrest made it significantly harder to put out work. In the first week of the Black Lives Matter protests, the best thing I could do was take care of myself as each day went by. I couldn’t stomach social media, talk less of creating content to share with the world. Still, I felt an internal pressure to share my thoughts, to do what is required of artists in times like this. I had to pick myself up and heal fast (I wish it could happen another way but this is how it is) so I could attend protests and connect with that energy. As a Black woman, I felt like I HAD to go outside and participate in the protests but I also had to as an artist.
This photo was one of many I took at one of the protests but it stayed with me because it ties a lot of things together for me personally and politically. The woman pictured saw that I was shooting, positioned herself in my line of sight, and posed for me— she saw me and I saw her. It was a moment for us that speaks to Black sisterhood and the support, care, and love that is characteristic of our community.
After we’ve seen what has happened to protestors in Ferguson and others, protecting the identity of protestors these days is so important. That is why I love that this photo came out the way it did because it hides her identity. Even though she willingly posed for me, the cause is more crucial than a photo op—we’ve learned that it is about life and death for Black people to be in the streets. I have a responsibility as a Black artist to be aware of what exactly is happening in our movement for justice and what it is costing us. I have a responsibility to do my work out of a place of knowledge of what this means for all of us and here, that meant protecting my fellow Black woman.
I titled this ‘For Africa’ because of her hat was another point of connection for us. Black Lives Matter is an international struggle. It is a global fight to regain the honor and value that the first humans of the earth have lost. A Nigerian photojournalist living in San Diego taking this photo of a Black woman I don’t know with Africa on her hat shows that those roots we share are important and will always call us back.