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Seven books by PoC creatives that offer escapism during the panoramic

Road-tested easy reads and photo books for your last brain cell to enjoy.

03 Mar 2021

Starting an article without mentioning the panoramic is difficult. It is relentless: our minds are fried, suffering from cabin fever and screen time burn out. You know it, we don’t have to tell you. But what is novel is being given the antidote to your malaise. 

Recently there have been a whole host of books that connect you to a sense of community and escapism against the odds. Reaching for them made me feel more connected to the voices and experiences of people of colour either through their personal stories, artistic triumphs, or their images.

However, we’ve road-tested some easy reads you can dip in and out of and hand-picked a selection of them so revel in them and restore your own sense of wonder.

Black Futures by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

When it’s not hijacked by influencers and trolls, social media is a breeding ground for collaboration and conversation. Black Futures is the amalgamation of curators, Drew and Wortham’s need to chronicle contemporary Black culture after a Twitter exchange back in 2015. Fast forward five years and 2020 saw the 500-plus-page book that serves as an encyclopaedic guide on the overlooked nuances of Black culture and people. Black Futures spotlights past, present and future Black pain, wonder and rage. 

The intentionally non-linear format refrains from being burdensome in its content, mimicking the way we use the internet to communicate, and translating that experience onto its pages. Partitioned only by a practical color-coding system, the book weaves long-read essays and interviews with memes, screenshots, and works of art. It includes contributions from Solange Knowles, an ode to Sandra Bland, a text on trans visibility by activist Raquel Willis and marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s explanation on how black people are affected by ocean justice – each of these were my personal favourites. Black Futures offers hope without discounting trauma, an “invitation to imagine”, and a place where both rest and anger can co-exist.

Get your copy of Black Futures.

Through My Lens by Mahaneela

Photographer Mahneela (who has previously shot a cover for one of gal-dem‘s print issues) has spent her recent years living in London, Johannesburg and the US, and a symptom of her travel bug is that her debut photobook is a visceral love letter to the countries, cultures and perspectives she has experienced and how these translate to her own identity.

Touching on themes of diasporic connection and identity through her archival and newer imageworks, Mahaneela’s lens focalises “black & brown joy above all”. Faces that she rarely saw between glossy covers. It’s a stunning journey of self-discovery with a written accompaniment Perspective, and a visual feast. 

Get your copy of Through My Lens

Him + His by Helene Selam Kleih

Him + His is a 500-page labour of love, an anthology of visual and written contributions exploring what identity means to men, by me. Featuring over 120 contributions, the multi-media anthology caters to those affected by the stigma of mental health and heteronormative tropes of masculinity. Ultimately in curating this book, I wanted to create a community where the focus is on prevention through creativity, rather than medication alone or performative acts of wellness. The aim is to “treat the root before the rot”. 

Self-published by Prosperitee Press, Him + His demonstrates the power of vulnerability and how that can be articulated through unfiltered expressionL poetry, illustrations, a skeleton of a screenplay, short films, essays and articles. Him + His is more than paper, it is a network and a platform to express yourself honestly, however how dark. The reflective cover mirrors the reader’s own face symbolising the fragility of maintaining facades, while blank inserts lend space to create your own piece over this lockdown. 

The anthology reads as intentionally loose, and with no contents page or order, it leaves contributions and the mental states they were created in uncategorized and open to interpretation. It threads together the experiences of people from all walks of life, understanding how the intersections of identities overlap and the nuances of mental health treatment within different communities. All proceeds from current sales are going to connecting black people with black practitioners offering free therapy and resources.

Get your copy of Him+His.

Belly Full by Riaz Philips

Self-published by photographer and writer Riaz Philips, Belly Full chronicles Riaz’s journey around the country, uncovering nostalgic age-old family recipes alongside fresh portraits of those running the shop at present. The Caribbean cookbook that reads more like an archival anthology, spotlighting the best eateries the UK has to offer – and not limited to the foodie, the colourful book leads us through the histories of those who migrated to the UK. The Caribbean, despite its homogenous standing in the UK, is explored in all its nuances while Belly Full delves into what links s and differentiates each cuisine. It’s a delightful snapshot into the people of the islands, and just how their cultures are deciphered in the UK – executed in a reassuringly digestible way fit for both the newbie and old-timer. 

First published in 2017, the community cookbook is on its second edition, and has proved popular among a generation of Caribbean’s who are adamant at uncovering, learning and preserving traditions that their great grandparents brought over. Riaz even provides us with the Likkle Caribbean Cookbook, perfect as a gift or to glance at before you cook, the 20-page A5 cookbook features a dozen classic Caribbean recipes from Riaz’s own mother – you can finally perfect your Ackee and Saltfish. 

Riaz understands the importance of food in the heritage of any region and last year curated and created Community Comfort, a digital e-cookbook featuring 100 British cooks from migrant backgrounds. Using our want for comfort food during the first lockdown, Riaz also fundraised for the Majonzi fund, supporting bereaved healthcare colleagues and families of Black, Asian & Ethnic minority victims of Covid-19 – and as of last month has raised nearly £50,000!

Get your copy of Belly Full.

Me+Mine by Alexandra Leese

Someone once told me, “when you hate your body you are going out of your way to make your house uncomfortable,” and it is precisely this universal sentiment of discomfort that photographer Alexandra Leese is hoping to derail with the 92-page zine Me+Mine

Capturing 44 women from all around the world via webcam as they pose nude in their own homes, Leese showcases the difficulty and vulnerability in self-love. “Loving our bodies is not as simple as it sounds when we are still finding a home within us,” she writes. Leese started the project last April, in the UK’s first lockdown, as a way to reconnect with a community and empower women from all walks of life, explaining that it was like “us sending nudes to ourselves”. Proceeds from the zine will be split across three charities: Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, Trans Law Centre, and Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre UK, which were selected with the women featured in Me+Mine.

Get your copy of Me+Mine.

New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent edited by Margaret Busby

More than 25 years ago, Margaret Busby’s renowned Daughters of Africa was published and heralded as “a vital document of lost history”. This counterpart volume is a modern take, calling on the abundance of knowledge, skill and range of more than 200 contributors and spanning a plethora of genres from autobiography, memoir, letters, short stories, novels, poetry, drama, humour, essays and speeches. British Ghanaian Margaret Busby was Britain’s youngest and first black female book publisher in the 1960s, and through the seminal anthology New Daughters of Africa, has brought together the words and spirits of writers from the African diaspora – Nigeria to Antigua to the USA – to epitomize a universal sisterhood sharing both the joy of writing and the obstacles of gender, race and class. Arranged chronologically, we move from historically overlooked authors to today’s most popular contemporaries, with household names like Malorie Blackman, Zadie Smith and Andrea Stuart among the roster.

Get your copy of New Daughters of Africa.

Boy.Brother.Friend by KK Obi and Emmanuel Balogun

Boy.Brother.Friend is an elaborate and extensive examination of “fashion, contemporary art, and theory through the guise of the male experience”, an intimate foray into the lives and livelihood of those working within and around fashion and art, featuring a roster of names from designers Kenneth Ize, Mowalola and ASAI to legendary photographer Liz Johnson Artur and stylist Ib Kamara.

Granted this is a magazine, but at 250 pages, the bi-annual print reads and feels weighty. Conceptualised by creative director KK Obi and editorial director Emmanuel Balogun, Issue 1 examines the theme of Discipline, which unravels over five chapters: Control, Community, Environment, Family and Post-Visibility

 The iconic work of Mohamed Bourouissa sits alongside essays on toxic masculinity, men’s mental health and archives of sex activist and artist Ajamu X, reinstating Boy.Brother.Friend’s overarching mission of “destabilising inherited notions of masculinity, race, gender, the precariousness of sexuality, and the challenges posed by being with and being a male”. Affirmations and quotes from scholars such as bell hooks, Cornel West, and Stuart Hall pepper the magazine, embedding a clear ethos for the future of the platform and how it intends to amplify experiences within diaspora communities. Paying homage to family and its birth in 2017, the print culminates in a visual portfolio celebrating creatives akin to a yearbook, and with a choice of two striking covers featuring Peckham-born actor Damson Idris or French model, Omar Ceesay, Boy. Brother. Friend is a gorgeous coffee table staple.

Get your copy of Boy.Brother.Friend.