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The DIOP Circle V.5

 


Every Sunday, we publish a story from a member of the DIOP community. Because each and every one of you is on a journey and we're right there with you.

Writing for us this week is Vincent Smith. He is a photographer from Washington D.C. He likes Goldie for its evocative colors. And he's going tell us how exposure to African culture inspires him as an artist and a father. Vincent, if you please:

Growing up in post-Disco, pre-Crack East Orange, N.J. my Mom took me to a Presbyterian church with a congregation of mostly elderly White people and an influx of younger working class African-Americans.

Within a few years, as more African-Americans came to worship, more Whites left. Soon, there were none.

Before long, our church closed and the congregation merged with one that was predominantly African. Our new church was a blend of Africans, African-Americans, a handful of Caribbean people and one elderly White guy who kept up the maintenance.

The Africans were mostly from Ghana and Nigeria. It was quite a blend of people and it took a little getting used to. Singing old staid Presbyterian hymns, then over time more gospel, and soon making time for an African band to play. In one service you could hear: "Blessed Assurance", "His Eye Is On The Sparrow", and "Jesus I Love You.”

Every Sunday, there were these wonderful women in traditional African clothes- the colors! the patterns! heads wrapped in beautiful fabric, powerful shoulders carrying bold shawls ; joyous, vibrant and regal. Lawdamercy!

"The African Queen" wasn't on Turner Classic Movies, it was there in the pews with me on Sunday. The African-American men wore suits and ties but sometimes the African men would come in with their African finery draped around them with one shoulder and arm out. It was like worshipping with royalty.

Eight years later, I'm no longer at Howard University, but I'm falling in love with photography. I'm at Wing It, just off of U Street in northwest Washington D.C., talking with Pam, the owner. She’s Eritrean and she's extolling the virtues of being an African in America.

It was then it dawned on me that I'd never seen a photography project showcasing Africans in America. That’s how I began the "I Am A Rock: African Women in America" project, which has brought me in contact with more African women and their magnificent fashions.

I’m not sure where online I ran into DIOP but I dug it right away. I liked the idea of taking the traditional and tweaking it a bit. Even though I bought the first one during the winter, I knew come summer I'd strut around town with it on. As I stood there in the mirror with it on, a bit tight around my Buddha belly, I realized I couldn't pull it off without losing weight.

I decided to gift it to my son Ghabe. But would he want to wear it? The same slim, 6’2” seventeen year old who came to me one day and said, "Dad, I'm mixed" when he knew full well that both me and his Mom are light-skinned Black, both with both Black parents. I corrected him. Was he trolling me or was it something deeper?

I thought of that as I struggled to take the tight shirt off.

Taking a step back reminded me of why I started the "I Am A Rock: African Women in America" project in the first place: to juxtapose the African with the American; to show what the American Dream might look like as filtered through the lens of an African-American photographer with the subject being African women in America.

What does the United States of America look like to me as opposed to her (or an enterprising African inspired shirt company in America for that matter)?

How I felt about the U.S. and how I felt about Africa was something I wanted to explore. Because the only connection I have with Africa is so distant that I have no idea what part of Africa I may have descended from. Beyond my Mother and Father's southern Virginia roots, I am essentially cut off from my heritage.

Growing up a 70s and 80s kid the TV series "Roots" was a huge hit in the U.S. I remember watching it with my family. White kids in my mostly White private school jeering at me for being a descendant of slaves.

I don't think they realized how foolish that jeering was. After all I was right there with them in the same class, doing the same work.

Photographing African women in their African clothes against U.S. backgrounds seemed natural to me. I am African-American- both African and American, and I am neither African by birth nor fully American by value.

No matter, both are in my blood, my DNA. I felt an ever so natural gravitational pull to DIOP's shirts, that I have yet to fit, and shirts my son has yet to fully embrace.

But maybe, just maybe, we will both rectify those positions and find our way down the street, cameras in hand, struttin' with barbecue, in our new DIOP shirts. Until then, these photos of wonderful African women will have to abide.

- By Vincent Smith


The DIOP Circle V.5

 


Vincent Smith

Every Sunday, we publish a story from a member of the DIOP community. Because each and every one of you is on a journey and we're right there with you.

Writing for us this week is Vincent Smith. He is a photographer from Washington D.C. He likes Goldie for its evocative colors. And he's going tell us how exposure to African culture inspires him as an artist and a father. Vincent, if you please:

Growing up in post-Disco, pre-Crack East Orange, N.J. my Mom took me to a Presbyterian church with a congregation of mostly elderly White people and an influx of younger working class African-Americans.

Within a few years, as more African-Americans came to worship, more Whites left. Soon, there were none.

Before long, our church closed and the congregation merged with one that was predominantly African. Our new church was a blend of Africans, African-Americans, a handful of Caribbean people and one elderly White guy who kept up the maintenance.

The Africans were mostly from Ghana and Nigeria. It was quite a blend of people and it took a little getting used to. Singing old staid Presbyterian hymns, then over time more gospel, and soon making time for an African band to play. In one service you could hear: "Blessed Assurance", "His Eye Is On The Sparrow", and "Jesus I Love You.”


Every Sunday, there were these wonderful women in traditional African clothes- the colors! the patterns! heads wrapped in beautiful fabric, powerful shoulders carrying bold shawls ; joyous, vibrant and regal. Lawdamercy!

"The African Queen" wasn't on Turner Classic Movies, it was there in the pews with me on Sunday. The African-American men wore suits and ties but sometimes the African men would come in with their African finery draped around them with one shoulder and arm out. It was like worshipping with royalty.

Eight years later, I'm no longer at Howard University, but I'm falling in love with photography. I'm at Wing It, just off of U Street in northwest Washington D.C., talking with Pam, the owner. She’s Eritrean and she's extolling the virtues of being an African in America.

It was then it dawned on me that I'd never seen a photography project showcasing Africans in America. That’s how I began the "I Am A Rock: African Women in America" project, which has brought me in contact with more African women and their magnificent fashions.

I’m not sure where online I ran into DIOP but I dug it right away. I liked the idea of taking the traditional and tweaking it a bit. Even though I bought the first one during the winter, I knew come summer I'd strut around town with it on. As I stood there in the mirror with it on, a bit tight around my Buddha belly, I realized I couldn't pull it off without losing weight.

I decided to gift it to my son Ghabe. But would he want to wear it? The same slim, 6’2” seventeen year old who came to me one day and said, "Dad, I'm mixed" when he knew full well that both me and his Mom are light-skinned Black, both with both Black parents. I corrected him. Was he trolling me or was it something deeper?

I thought of that as I struggled to take the tight shirt off.

Taking a step back reminded me of why I started the "I Am A Rock: African Women in America" project in the first place: to juxtapose the African with the American; to show what the American Dream might look like as filtered through the lens of an African-American photographer with the subject being African women in America.

What does the United States of America look like to me as opposed to her (or an enterprising African inspired shirt company in America for that matter)?

How I felt about the U.S. and how I felt about Africa was something I wanted to explore. Because the only connection I have with Africa is so distant that I have no idea what part of Africa I may have descended from. Beyond my Mother and Father's southern Virginia roots, I am essentially cut off from my heritage.


Growing up a 70s and 80s kid the TV series "Roots" was a huge hit in the U.S. I remember watching it with my family.

White kids in my mostly White private school jeering at me for being a descendant of slaves.

I don't think they realized how foolish that jeering was. After all I was right there with them in the same class, doing the same work.

Photographing African women in their African clothes against U.S. backgrounds seemed natural to me. I am African-American- both African and American, and I am neither African by birth nor fully American by value. No matter, both are in my blood, my DNA.

I felt an ever so natural gravitational pull to DIOP's shirts, that I have yet to fit, and shirts my son has yet to fully embrace. But maybe, just maybe, we will both rectify those positions and find our way down the street, cameras in hand, struttin' with barbecue, in our new DIOP shirts. Until then, these photos of wonderful African women will have to abide.


By Vincent Smith

 

See more of Vincent's work at www.vlsphoto.com and email vincent@vlsphoto.com if you'd like to collaborate with him.

If you have questions or would like to share a story of yours, please reply directly to this email.


See more of Vincent's work at www.vlsphoto.com and email vincent@vlsphoto.com if you'd like to collaborate with him.

If you have questions or would like to share a story of yours, please reply directly to this email.