Isabel Okoro Imagines a Black Utopia In Her Newest Work

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Earlier this year, I worked on a video project with my friends in Lagos called ‘Friends in Eternity (Sanity Sanctuary)’. I initially shelved the project but revisited it last month, hoping it could offer me a bit of comfort amidst the ongoing pandemic and another bout of black pain and grief being brought into stark relief.

Words and Photography by Isabel Okoro

Being black is hard.

So is being a woman and African in the diaspora.

Facing the very harsh reality that chaos is inevitable, both home and away, is hard.

In Nigeria, we’ve seen young women in Tina, Uwa & a 12 year old girl lose their lives and be abused, brutally & senselessly. There’s also an ongoing massacre in the Northern states coupled with the everlasting police brutality and misuse of power.

In Canada, a black woman Regis Korchinski-Paquet, was killed in police custody.

In America, we’ve seen the brutal deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, George Floyd, Nina Pop, Sean Reed, Tony McDade and countless others.

In the UK, they’ve announced that no further action will be taken regarding the death of Belly Mujinga.

Rest in peace to all the black lives we’ve lost and keep losing worldwide.

With all of this and more, where does one find a safe space to call home?

“Art is the only safe haven I know.”

Waking up everyday and seeing people who look like me being killed and discriminated against on a global scale is exhausting.

I’m usually very reserved because I don’t always know what to say… sometimes I don’t have anything to say at all because words fail. It’s all very suffocating and there’s nowhere to turn to except art. Listening to music, watching movies, writing… art is the only safe haven I know.

People often talk about how ‘good’ art should reflect our realities and speak to the times; I agree with this and respect all the black people doing so because it’s imperative that our narratives not be white-washed like always. At the same time, I also enjoy art that provides us with something to look forward to. That’s the kind of art I find myself making for the sake of my sanity.

I’ve spoken a bit about a space called Eternity which is a personal visualization of what black utopia looks like, and it’s named aptly as it exists as space to immortalize the people I love and who look like me.

“It is about creating a space for people who look like me to freely exist, create, play and love.”

With Eternity, the point is not to create baseless visualisations of an unachievable society, or to embark on a messianic search for solace in the unknown. The point is to make imagery that can invigorate egalitarian ideals while simultaneously showcasing the humanity of black people in ways that are so often stripped away from us. It is about creating a space for people who look like me to freely exist, create, play and love. It’s a space for us to enjoy the small stuff. For so long we’ve had to exist as spectacles and artefacts for the white gaze, but Eternity is about us.

At the same time, in the process of building these ideas through my art, I understand how far we are from any sort of Utopia and so to some people, it might seem pointless to even consider one. However, Alex Zamalin said something in his book ‘Black Utopia’ that I believe in – our dystopian post democratic political moment requires imaginative thoughts.

In order to free ourselves totally, we must be prepared to rebuild. Everything happening right now is necessary to the movement towards a better world and so are the dreams of what we wish to see and be a part of.

“I hoped it could offer me a bit of comfort amidst the ongoing pandemic and another bout of black pain and grief.”

In its final form, ‘Friends in Eternity (Sanity Sanctuary)’ serves as a brief introduction into my mind and a trailer of sorts into the world I’m building in there.

I’ve only just begun piecing together the foundations of Eternity, but I have a lot of ideas of where it could be heading and what could become of it.

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Isabel Okoro

Isabel Okoro is a Nigerian creative based between between Toronto, Ontario and Lagos, Nigeria. Her work has featured in publications like It's Nice That, WePresent and i-D.

2020-08-07T04:28:16+00:00Categories: Photography|Tags: , , , |