September: Artist Of The Month – Nicole Rafiki

It’s that time again. Another artist for you all to get to know a little bit better and, this time again, it’s another black woman photographer: Nicole Rafiki. Last month I had Teff Theory as my AOTM and if you haven’t had the chance to read the informal interview with her, you can do so here.

Nicole Rafiki

As it is with everything to do with me these days, it seems, I stumbled across Rafiki’s photography via Instagram. The social media has added more and more visual artists to my knowledge bank so I can’t complain. Seeing black women do the things I wish I could do — that is being a visual artist — is an increasing incentive for me to shine a light on them and their work. I got into contact with Rafiki and she was thankfully up for answering my questions, extensively might I add, and provided some beautiful pictures. Rafiki is based in Norway which I thought to be particularly interesting as I’ve been hard pressed to find black artists based in Nordic countries.  If you’ve read my previous AOTM posts, you should already know what the first question is about to be; It’s a vital question to truly see how the artists view themselves hence why I always ask how they would introduce themselves to others especially if they knew nothing about them. The same question was posed to Rafiki and she went on to say:

I am a journalist turned creative. The shift happened gradually as I discovered that I am more interested in telling stories through photography and writing.  I recently started a coffee table book called YPPE (it’s an old norse (Viking) word meaning something like “to show off”). My magazine tells stories of up and coming creatives all over the world. I am so happy that my very first photo exhibition “Descendants” will be showcased in my city of Oslo. Descendants is inspired by the UN International decade for people of African descent, which I think more people should know about.
Image courtesy of Nicole Rafiki.
Rafiki is one of the many who decided to pursue their desire and hers was of telling stories, as she put it, through photography. Now, I’m going to assume we’ve all picked up a camera. In this age of digital technology where phones are primarily advertised for the camera quality, there’s hardly any escaping it if not on purpose. But, for a photographer, a camera is beyond what it may be to non-photographers. For Rafiki, it gives her the ability to capture and retell stories, so I asked if she could recall the first time she picked up a camera and what that felt like for her:
I can´t remember the first time I picked up a camera, but I remember the first time I shot some editorial images for my story about underaged sex workers in a Congolese diamond mining village. It just made me feel like exploring the art of visual storytelling because words alone could not express what I was trying to tell.
Straight off, one can tell that Rafiki is somewhat a humanitarian. So I wondered, had she not entered the creative industry and ventured on to do photography, what sort of career would she have taken on. She went on to say:
I have done many different things before I discovered my creative side. I used to work with humanitarian organizations and I even started my own in 2013. I have been a teacher and a regular corporate girl. Sometimes we´ve got to settle for what life offers and that´s okay too, but right now I´m doing what I love and loving what I do.
Unsurprising as it is, it truly speaks to Rafiki’s intrinsic kind and helpful nature. Not just for the aspect of working within humanitarian organizations, but it takes a special kind of patience and care – one that I lack – to also be a teacher, be it momentarily.
Image courtesy of Nicole Rafiki.
Image courtesy of Nicole Rafiki.
Rafiki provided 5 black photographers she draws inspiration from which is homework for me and you to check out.

Malick Sidibe, Seydou Keïta, Nneka Iwunna Ezemezue, Kelvin Yule, and JD Okhai Ojeikere.

Sidenote: Nigerians’ are truly out here dominating every industry. When will the Government begin to harness the talents? … I digress.
Image courtesy of Nicol Rafiki.
Rafiki is moved by passion first and foremost before anything else. This is one of the things she mentions when asked what advice she’d give to budding/amateur photographers:
I personally do everything that I do for my own sake first and everybody else second. When you do something from the heart and constantly work to improve, it will show. Money is just an accessory. You should never do any creative work for the sake of it. It´s love first, passion second and money way back there somewhere. That’s my conviction.
I try to live by the mantra of putting myself first – being more ‘selfish’. At the end of the day, you have to suffer the consequences so why not make the decisions you want to make — as long as it’s not inflicting any harm on others — and lead the life you want. It’s incredibly cliche I know, and I really don’t understand this person I’ve found myself becoming but do what you love. ‘Everybody else is second.’

Thanks for reading. See you next month!

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