As an immigrant turned Nigerian-Canadian, I grew up without Black History Month. Because of this, I find myself having to redefine and reshape my interpretations of its importance each February. This year, I embraced the theme of recognizing the unrecognized, especially within my local Black community. At this point in time, that community exists within Carleton University — its students, clubs, events and most especially: its art.
A few weeks ago, I attended the BSPA Afrofuturism Conference, which allowed me to mingle with Black students from different programs and years. As I spoke to them and found their social media, I discovered that many were very artistic: expressing themselves through activities like poetry, art and photography. To my surprise, they were mostly underappreciated, a discovery that led to an urge to support them however I could. The next day, I went on the hunt for other artists and creatives that attend Carleton and discovered these five Black students who are incredibly talented at their craft.
Simone was one of the first people that I thought of when I decided to write this article. We have been in the same French class since our first semester, and even though we haven’t known each other for long, I was immediately taken by her beautiful pieces and capacity to create.
She is a first-year Journalism, Human Rights and Social Justice student from Brampton Ontario. Her artwork often takes the shape of a simplistic and cartoonish style expressed through digital art. As a Black woman, Simone chooses to make them the center of her work because her pieces act as an extension of her personal identity and worldview.
According to Simone, “Putting Black people at the center of that conversation and those artistic spaces is important because a lot of the time we don’t occupy that space.”
She interprets art as a form of language, whether it is being used to communicate one’s thoughts or illicit internal conversations in herself and those who consume it.
“I love that artistic tool [as] I am able to pick up a pencil or something and show who I am visually. I think that is so dope so fun and so beautiful.”
Teju is a second-year cognitive science major from St. Catharines Ontario who creates portraits using mediums that range from acrylic and oil paints to digital artwork. She was the recent winner of the Umoja Black History Month T-Shirt Design Contest.
When I asked Teju about her artistic inspirations, she explained it as a form of therapy.
“[Art] is a way for me to get out of my mind and put my emotions on paper. I am also inspired to represent Black people in a way that is not simply about Black pain and struggle through my art. I want to showcase the beauty of the Black community.”
Her piece “Royalty” is a great example of this as she highlights the beauty found in Nigerian culture in her portrayal of a Nigerian woman wearing a Gele.
Precious is a third-year Zambian-Canadian student in Global and International Studies (BGINS) with a specialization in Global Media and Communication. While she enjoys experimenting with diverse forms of media, she mostly focuses on the use of acrylic paint to create pop art-style portraits.
Precious’ main inspirations come from the distinct cultures and themes around her.
“This might be from various creative industries such as music or popular art styles. I [like] to represent my cultural background through my art and I am inspired by Afrocentric themes and culture. Whatever it may be, I simply enjoy the freedom of expression that comes with creating art.”
Her art Instagram also features celebrities and musicians such as Tems, Burna Boy and Kobe Bryant.
Taking a step back from the recognition of ‘traditional artists,’ I wanted to take the moment to highlight Oluchi Eze and her freelance photography. On a personal note, having Black people both in front of and behind the lens is so important to me because it is an art form that needs to be done in a certain way to properly portray our beauty. I discovered Oluchi after stumbling upon her Professional Headshot Session in collaboration with the Carleton University Human Rights Society.
Oluchi is a fifth-year Biomedical & Mechanical Engineering student and current president of the Carleton University Biomedical Engineering Society. Her work is usually in the form of portrait and event photography.
To get a better sense of her process, I spoke to Oluchi about what fuels her love for photography and why she chose it as a form of creative expression.
“As cheesy as it sounds, taking photos makes me feel genuinely happy. I feel exhilarated as I make mood boards on Pinterest, animated when I’m posing my subjects or moving around quickly to get the right shot at events, and I feel boundless when exploring the infinite ways to edit pictures while listening to my favourite tunes.”
Oluchi’s future goals involve becoming a professional photographer. As she moves towards it, she lives by this motto: “if you aren’t aspiring, you’re expiring.”
Taijah is an outstanding example of Black excellence at Carleton. I originally reached out to her to highlight her newest project: A children’s book called I Will Make a Difference. However, as I began speaking to her, she surprised me in a completely different way. As an aspiring writer myself, I felt that it was important to recognize her achievements as a form of showcasing creativity.
Taijah is a fifth-year student from Brampton, Ontario, currently pursuing a major in Law and an English minor. She is the founder and co-founder of two non-profits: Elevated Canada Inc and Blacks in Power, which focus on supporting the Canadian Black community.
Her book, I Will Make a Difference, is one she describes as “a children’s workbook [or] activity booklet that teaches youth about the difference they can make in the world.”
Taijah’s inspirations come from her urge to serve her community.
“I believe in making a long-lasting impact on every life I touch… If we continue to support youths and their dreams, so much greatness can come from it.”
I truly believe that all of these students are worth recognizing. Although I tried my best to articulate their thoughts surrounding their work and creative processes, it’s pretty clear that the talent speaks for itself. I hope that everyone reading will take the chance to support them by following their Instagram accounts and giving them the love they deserve. Even by highlighting these artists, I barely scratched the surface of Carleton’s well of Black talent.