Kenya Meon is a young creative based in Atlanta, Georgia.
She embarks on a journey of visual communication, using her eyes to capture what you could say, 'really matters'. We all are obsessed with capturing our daily morning coffee, acai bowls or even that 'outfit of the day' but looking at and through the lens of Meon's camera, you begin to notice everyday activities. That glimmer of light that slips through your blinds every morning, or your daily walk toward the underground/subway, her work shines a certain kind of light on people and things being ignored or taken for granted, creating a narrative that can vary, depending on how one chooses to interpret her images.
Besides being a photojournalist, she is also quite a bit of a writer herself, using words to make an impact on your mind and heart. Sometimes an image is not enough, but with words, we have over a million words to use and manipulate to our advantage. Below, Meon uses her words to paint a picture of the daily confrontation of denial and lack- we all seem to think we are not beautiful at some point in our lives but here, she reminds you that you are;
"You are beautiful and graceful in every way
Why does your face sulk in the dawn of May?
You should be flourishing
Moisture filled and light driven
That vibrancy in your eyes
Bless it to your mind
Make your self whole again
Who is Kenya Meon?
Kenya Meon is a 25 year old visionary from a small town with a severe case of wanderlust. Aside from that of course, I am a photographer, writer, and creative director.
Being a Georgia Peach (Atlanta), what are your thoughts on this city? Has it contributed to your creative journey?
Although I haven't been in Atlanta my entire life, (I’m originally from a small town about two hours from Atlanta), I do find myself referring to it as home. It’s definitely a city full of diversity and that’s one of the things that makes it so dear to me. It still has its Southern roots, but with so much influence coming in with those relocating from other cities its easy for Atlanta to maintain its charm.
Atlanta will always be a big part of my creative journey. Its my starting point and I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many amazing artists and creatives. Back in my hometown it was difficult for me to find myself both as a human being and as an artist. Nobody was on the creative wave and people rarely chose to be entrepreneurs. Often times that left me feeling outcasted. However, in Atlanta there are so many people in the same industry you get a sense of community and fulfillment for whatever it is that you do creatively.
What are your thoughts on categorization/labels in the creative industry? What category do you think you’re under?
I’ve always been a little peeved about categories and labels especially in the arts since its so subjective. I do think to that labels help those not so inclined in the arts to understand what it is that we do. Even though there are hundreds of photographers, writers, designers, etc. they are all individually special and sometimes that uniqueness could in fact fall into subsets. So I get it lol, but I’m not fond of being placed into one particular category. I find that putting a label on yourself could limit you from trying new things and maybe even hinder your progress in the long run. If I had to put myself in a category I think I’d fall somewhere in between lifestyle and documentary photography. I enjoy working in natural lighting/settings and I do find it more rewarding to capture moments as they happen in actuality rather than scenes that are staged.
What are you trying to portray through your work? Tell us what you are exploring through your images and words.
I think a big part of my work is to show photography in a way that it provokes a sense of higher understanding and in turn creates an avenue for conversations on difficult subjects. For instance in Atlanta, homelessness is at an all time high. Many times I find myself inclined to capture a moment in the life of one of Atlanta’s homeless population. Not to exploit them, but to allow the world to remember their face. In a time where our heads are constantly looking down at our palms and into our phone screens we may find it easy to ignore social and economic issues that remain present right in front of us.
I want to explore these issues through my lens. A lot of politics and opinions can be disputed for years and over time words begin to seem obsolete. Photographs will remain embedded into the minds of anyone who has viewed them. I want to make a big impact with mine.
What type of camera do you use?
I use a Canon Rebel T1i.
If you had the option of picking five words to describe your creative journey, what would they be?
If I could describe my creative journey in five words I’d use the words resilient, painful, uncomfortable, forbearing, and beautiful.
Having not taken photography as a degree at University, do you feel you would want to do that?
One of the best things to me about being self taught is that I’m so open to experimenting. I’m not so fascinated with the rules of photography. Instead I just simply capture a photograph when I feel the impulse. The lighting may not be ideal or whatever the case may be, but I still took the chance. This often results in my best work. Any technical funky stuff I can just Google or Youtube. With all of that being said, I do think I’d be interested in studying dark room photography and film. I tried to teach myself film and it did not go so well no matter how many Youtube tutorials I watched haha. I think its sort of a sacred practice and the foundation of my craft.
Do you feel studying the art of photographs within a confined syllabus/module is the best way to express and explore one’s creativity?
I think that as with any syllabus or module you’d have pros and cons. On the positive side I think that going to university for photography or any art teaches you a lot of foundation, history, and technique. Is it all always going to be used once you get out there on your own? Absolutely not lol. I think some of the curriculum in art majors can be a little diluted in order to get a general grasp on such subjective topics. The fact that every artist is unique with respect to their own style seems to make it difficult to develop a solid set of courses that everyone will find beneficial. Another good thing about an art major is that they tend to prepare you for what its really like in that field of study. I majored in fashion and quickly realized that it wasn’t the industry for me.
Any long term plans? Where do you hope to see yourself in the next five to ten years?
Long term, I plan to be out exploring the world and publishing my work in various forms. I would also like to be more active within the community as far as volunteering with different organizations and figuring out how to spread the word about some of the great things a lot of them are doing. I’m also hoping that I get to collaborate with some of my favorite photographers and visual storytellers.
It's the age where our virtual reality is our new reality, and why not?
Throwing it back to the days of MSN IM's, Bebo, MySpace and even Skype? Those platforms were what I lived for, excluding that of MySpace because I attracted more middle aged men than I needed to in one life time. I remember faking my age to join these platforms because you had to be 18 and above.
We have progressed to a whole new level of socialising, 'txt' talk is really old news, haven't you heard of emoji's? or even better Kimoji's? I can literally say 'Hi, Bye, TTYL, and BRB' with emoji's. And for those of you that grace our feed with the early morning avocado on toast pictures, you have got your own emoji!!!
Now there are newer platforms such as, Instagram and within this there are Instagram stories and Instagram Live, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook which also includes its' own Messenger app, and Facebook Live as well as WhatsApp and what is known as a WhatsApp status, basically another door to upload a video of your walk to the supermarket and share it with your contacts and of course there is YouTube. These are just the raging platforms for our age, who knows what's coming next and the question is can we really keep up?
Not so long ago, I got a message from my younger sister telling me I have got 'fans' on her 'Finstagram', I paused for a second, thinking she obviously meant Instagram but I was the one in the wrong, there is such a thing as Finstagram. I had to laugh rhetorically and further ask more questions on what this is and it's purpose.
Now let me break down what a Finstagram is, for those who are in the dark, much like I was -- Finstagram is short for 'Fake Instagram'. This is an alternate account from your real/main one, where you have the freedom to be someone you cannot be on your real Instagram, you have a smaller social circle, less followers than Following,no theme or aesthetic to your feed and a lot of banter between your family, friends and other Finstagram accounts. To further complicate things, some individuals use this as an outlet to escape their 'reality' and the pressures of having to post that perfect morning Starbucks coffee (even if it tastes like shit), guilty is charged.
Think, an early morning selfie with your double chin angles and your eyes shut with a bit of drool on your side cheek just to give it that 'shazam'!!! Despite the whole point behind a Finstagram being a quiet place to express yourself, it has somehow turned into a trend, much like the Kardashians or having a dog. The sublimity of Finstagram is all lost because now that we all know we could gain access to a certain individuals alter-ego, the lust for this grows.
Now that I have cleared up the purpose of a Finstagram, I have no use for it. I might still be struggling with which 'flower-power' picture to grace my feed with, but trust me, I know I do not need a Finstagram to express myself. I do that enough on my stories and in Real life.
Does anyone suffer from social media labels? because I do. There isn't one Instagram page that doesn't say "Travel blogger", "Food blogger", "Fashion blogger", "Make-up Artist" and oooh, how could I forget this,"Photographer".
Owning a camera makes you a photographer, cooking makes you a food blogger all of a sudden, and knowing how to contour elevates us to the position of Make-Up artist. I refuse to go into the 'Travel and Fashion blogger' groupies because owning one pair of Gucci loafers or visiting Australia does not make you an expert at this.
Don't get me wrong, there are actual talented individuals out there who are genuinely working hard to create and inspire, while there are those that have decided a YouTube channel with views gives them a taste of fame.
With all this going on, I am still trying to figure out which platform to post my stories on; Instagram or Snapchat? What filter best emphasises the dinner I'm about to have at Wagamama and why-o-why, isn't there a flamingo emoji when I need one?? *whispers* "First world problems"
Black is a colour to most,
Black is a Race to politicians,
Black is grotesque to the ignorant,
Black is beauty to my Motherland, and
Black is an identity to me!!!
Just as the cliché movie title, "50 Shades of Grey" suggests variation in colour, I believe there are more than 50 shades of black.
Black as an identity is more than just the skin, it goes all the way back to historical events such as slavery and social exclusion. Being black means embracing what historical activities have been stigmatised to the word black, over-coming the brutal behaviour directed toward our ancestors (Nelson Mandela) and what they went through, constantly fighting to be seen as the norm, rather than 'the other'.
The norm being the white race, mostly Europeans and 'the other' being Africans, African Americans, Asians, Arabs...etc.
I got asked a question, and I was surprised by my response -- "If you had to choose one, which would it be; Are you a woman or Black?" Bear in mind that if you asked a white woman, her response will be "woman". Of course, my instinct said Black, despite being proud of my womanhood. It is this feeling of having to constantly feel like I must defend my race before my gender that saddens me. Another reason is, the term feminism has lost all it's meaning when it is overly popularised on T-shirts to gain financial income. Now I am not saying some of the motives behind the production of such clothing is not good, but with the mass production and Instagram filtered posts that have the "We should all be feminists" shirt has lead to a lost translation of what being a Feminist is.
When majority of White people think of us 'Black' individuals, an idea of increased crime rate comes to mind, you think of gang fights and aggressive behaviours. Oh, and let's not forget the silly 'tatted up' bodies, grills and gold chains big enough to imprison someone. I do acknowledge that some of these stereotypes are based on what has been seen, but the ignorance of what a Black person is, seems to constantly re-surface. Another stigmatised term when thinking of black is the monkey and/or ape -- The BET's series, "Being Mary Jane" shines light on what being an "Ugly Black Woman" can be, in an interview on 'Talk Back with fictional character Elizabeth Foy and Mary-Jane, played by Gabrielle Union. Another encounter is a white man calling Mary-Jane a "Black Bitch" (Season 2, Episode 9) furthering identifying her as a monkey "...Because you look like a monkey, an ugly BLACK MONKEY".
So what exactly is black?
Africa is a developing continent, even more so in the fashion industry, so it is hard not to recognise talent when it surfaces - I present The Iwade.Brand, formerly known as 'The Line-Up Brand X K.A.E', a Nigerian born clothing brand that shows off the raw talent of its country's creatives.
It seems like the creative industry is something that is inescapable, as much as society tries to put it under the category of being a 'hobby'. Keisha Eromosele, who is the creative director of this brand started off studying Computer Science and somehow just couldn't keep her hands off the fabric.
The Iwade.Brand shows off precision and attention to the body's silhouette. Focusing on shoulder blades, neck lines and most importantly, comfort!!! The Iwade brands aesthetic is one that keeps it classy with a bit of sassy, not too boring but enough prints to keep the eyes lusting for more. Enough said. Here is a Q&A with the mind behind this brand:
1. What is ‘The Iwade brand? And what brought about this name?
I changed the name of the brand because it represents where I am from and in the past this is exactly what I wanted to achieve. I included initials, "IWADÉ" is Eweade which is my name. It means "I did not fall" so I also see it as a great message to base a brand on. Unlike the other options I had, this didn't take time to come up with.
I made the decision pretty quick cause it felt so right! Still does, went to a few of my friends to ask for opinions which is the usual thing for me and they all loved the idea.
2. Briefly tell us what inspires your designs?
My designs are pretty much inspired by everything like I said. I am not limited to what gives me inspiration. I try and have an open mind whenever I am working on designs for a client or the brand and sometimes this might mean getting inspired by and learning from my environment, watching an old 70’s show, literally or picking things from previous styles or designs to get what I want.
3. I think it is safe to say your collection leans toward the basics, i.e. The off-shoulder body-fitted dresses and the turtle neck body-suits. Do you think you might go toward the extravagant side? More Red-carpet glamour?
Yes, definitely. I always say I would not sell anything I wouldn’t wear myself and my personal style leans towards the simple dresses and body suits. I love it when the main features of my designs get people staring, especially at how the outfit falls and fits and it’s not so much about the bold/bright colour or the extravagance of the style. It is much easier to style something simple, which is why the ready-made clothes fall under the “simple” category. However, for custom made pieces, I do tend to move away from the basics and try something new for the clients. I have worked on a few dinner outfits so far and would love to do more extravagant and red carpet worthy designs.
4. It is remarkable that all these pieces are made in NIGERIA, what made you decide this? Is that a marketing strategy and is it paying off?
Honestly, I just had a better chance of getting the clothes made in Nigeria at the time but then I decided to put it out there as a ‘made in Nigeria’ brand because I felt like a lot of us go out of our way to order out of the country. Most Nigerians might be encouraged to try out one of their own. When I thought about it at first, it was to make the statement that “Nigerians can do these things too!!!”, we don’t necessarily need to go out to get them. I mean we have the choice, but it shouldn’t be because we don’t think we can do the same. So, what wasn’t an intentional marketing strategy ended up working as one and worked out well.
5. Who is ‘The Iwade.Brand individual? Is it both Sexes? [Male and Female] Or just aimed at one Sex?
The Line-up caters to both sexes. Currently we only sell female clothes but I am working on releasing the male pieces sometime this year.
6. Do you have a small creative team or is this just all you?
I wouldn’t exactly call them a team they are more of family. I work on the designs and select the materials then my mum who has been in the fashion business for over 25 years makes the clothes. I have only had one shoot which was what I used to kick-start the brand. My sisters (Lisa and Mya Eromosele) and friends (Taiwo Ogundipe and Moyin Orimoloye) were my models. They all took time out to meet with me at the studio. My first and only shoot for the brand was with photographer, Austin Usen (@nehroo), we hadn’t met before then but he understood my vision and what I wanted to give.
Now when it comes to advertisement, I cannot stress how important this was. The rest of my friends played a huge role when it came to promoting the brand. They posted on every social media platform available and purchased items without me asking them. They went out of their way to ensure we got the word out. So, you see I cannot really call them a “team” that kind of sounds like they are obligated to do these things but they just did it to help. I might model the clothes sometimes or promote myself but the people around me really deserve the credit.
7. It’s only been 2-3 months since you launched the brand and you have hit over 200 followers on Instagram, does this make you proud?
Yes, it does!! I am very grateful to God for how far the brand has come in just 2 months. I feel really blessed to be able to put my designs out there and have people acknowledge it.
8. Do you have plans for ‘The Iwade Brand’ for the near future?
I am currently working on the spring/summer 2017 collection. It will be coming out soon so I have a lot of things to put in place.
There's a new girl in town, and it's the BIOLOGICAL WOMAN.
As Timberlake once said [or sang rather], "I'm bringing sexy back" and that's exactly what I intended on doing with this shoot.