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Gracieux Baraka. Image created in collaboration between the artist and Brooke Burton.

Portraiture, to me, is an exercise of challenging selfhood. This corner space which we occupy in order to survive in the world - the self, can be stifling and uncreative. For marginal people especially, the selfhood we exist in is often much smaller and limited.  

I view this art form as an attempt to make room for the liberated, beautiful, and transcendental aura of infinite expression that I believe is in myself, the subject, and the audience, despite the way we happen to exist in the world. There is infinitely more to all of us than what meets the eye. 

When I was contacted to photograph these portraits, I was burnt out and facing some personal grief. Rest was overdue. During this gap, I made it my objective to appreciate other people’s art. 

Some artists tend to see themselves as exclusively producers. In a competitive capitalist climate that values output above all else, we feel a bit lost when we have nothing to add, and we cease to be artists. But we are more than what we make; we also get to listen and discover. 

During my discovery phase, I found myself inspired by the works of 20th-century photographers like Malick Sidibé, Seydou Keïta, Jean Depara, and Meïssa Gaye. I absolutely adored their photos. They were intimate, regal, and Black. I was in love. 

This project came right on time for me and was an opportunity to pay respects to these newfound inspirations. 

I hope my photographs act as an ode, celebration, and meditation on Black beauty and Black creativity. I hope they can paint a portrait of how rich the culture of Africa and the Black Diaspora truly is. I am very grateful to be able to create again. My thanks to everyone who made this possible and thank you for being a witness.