The MAHOGANY” photography project began towards the end of 2016. For us, the name MAHOGANY” metaphorically described black women being a natural substance and holding a high value of ourselves from within and onto others. The aim is to allow black people to know our worth through African history and the art of creativity.
It is important to me, through the series, for black people to feel empowered in who we are today and where we come from historically. Every MAHOGANY” series uses symbolism and resources as a form of expression to highlight both our physical features and mental power of strength and intelligence. These resources include nature, music, clothing, anatomy and knowledge. In this way I wish to inspire fellow black people and future generations to believe in harmony and power within the African and Caribbean community.
“It was essential we presented how diverse and multi-faceted African culture is throughout the creative process”
The main aim for MAHOGANY”3 was to show the beauty and uniqueness of African culture and capture what makes the continent so special. As we all know, Africa is liable to many stereotypes and, depending on who you speak to, it can either be positive or negative. But, when Africa is mentioned in discussions, it tends to be talked about as one big country where every person has the same ways of living.
On the contrary, Africa is one of the largest continents in the world with thousands of ethnic cultures practiced on a daily basis. It was essential we presented how diverse and multi-faceted African culture is throughout the creative process, and this prevented us from depicting generalised stereotypes. We, therefore, decided on four distinct themes for MAHOGANY”3: the East African Bride, West African Music, Tropical and Unity.
Focusing on the Maasai tribe, who mainly reside in Kenya, we were obsessed with the bright vibrant colours of their garments and heavy use of jewellery which characterised their cultural dressing.
A huge source of pride within the Maasai culture is their great warriors, so we were aware recreating their look would have to portray strength and power. Hence the strong head shots against a black backdrop, which also highlights the intricate styling details of the jewellery used.
The sweet sounds of West Africa was a key theme when depicting West African culture. Originating from Sierra Leone myself, I personally understand how important music is to a West African household. Our music is infamous and it was important to show that during this segment of the project.
We hired musical instruments from bellperc.com, choosing particularly the Djun Djun bass drums and the Bougarabou drums. The feel and mood of the shoot gives homage to the legendary Afrobeats musician Fela Kuti during the highlight of his career in the 1970’s. We also focused on the traditional clothing in West Africa, taking inspiration from The Akans, who originate in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and The Bariba people in Benin.
We also gave homage to Nubians originating in Egypt and Sudan as well Wodaabe warriors in West and Central Africa. Both cultures are famously known for their eccentric use of feathers and beads. All of which were elements we definitely had to include in MAHOGANY”3
We, as black people, are one of the most diverse people in this world. You can see that in our food, music, dressing, languages, cultural practices, and so on. Although we are spread all over the globe, we are still part of the African Diaspora. Union between black people is so important and always has been.
As MAHOGANY”3 is mainly rooted in celebrating and empowering black women, we chose to focus on the unity of our sisters for this shoot in particular. But the element of unity can be seen throughout the project where our models, who individually represent different cultural backgrounds, can be seen embracing and holding each other.
Photographer: Natasha Vernal
Creative Director and Stylist: Maureen Kargbo
MUA: AJ Beauty Bar
Models: Edna Konadu, Eleanor Moyo, Esther Agunloye, Racquel Russell, John Cromwell, Khayda Simon, Lamine Matty, Tahn Cambridge