Dynasty: The Peculiar Search for Totality

Artist Statement

“Dynasty: The Peculiar Search for Totality” is a photographic series that invites the viewer on an ancestral journey to freedom.  Through the lens of my camera, I seek to deconstruct the process of how one family fought to reclaim their liberation after one member was captured in Africa and sold into slavery in North America.  Each portrait uses augmented reality to enable each woman to tell her story using poetic prose that I penned for this series.

 A few years ago, I was inspired to do a portrait of the archetype “Mammy” to reclaim the image as someone that African Americans could be proud of.  The title of the piece is “Dada” which is Swahili for “sister”.  When I first started showing the image I immediately started getting questions from viewers on who “Dada” was and why I chose to feature this image as part of my series.  What I found is that older white women were delighted to see the image.  She was someone from their past that they knew.  They would say things like, “Oh my goodness!  She looks just like my mammy! I loved her so much!”  Alternatively, when black women saw the image they would have the opposite reaction.  Often times they would look at me and say things like, “Really sis?  Out of all the things you could photograph why would you choose this image?”  As I continued to share this image and have open dialogue around its meaning, I noticed a trend for such contrasting viewpoints between black and white women.  White women had one side of the story and black women had another side of the story.  White women had fond memories of Mammy because they had her with them all the time.  She was their caretaker.  On the contrary, black women didn’t have these same memories because they got what was leftover of Mammy.  Mammy was their Mother and it was only after she took care of her owner’s family that she was allowed to go home and care for her own family.  

As I continued to have very candid conversations around this image with viewers, they started asking very poignant questions about “Dada”.  They wanted to know who she was and where she came from.  They wanted to know everything about her.  Since I am a storyteller, I leaned into the challenge to fully answer all of these questions.  The result of this 2-year journey is “Dynasty: The Peculiar Search for Totality”. 

Although the characters are fictional, I wanted to honor my ancestors with this body of work, so I decided to work closely with a historian to help me tell their stories as honestly as I could.

I am also excited to bring my images to life using the Sanaa app.  Sanaa, Swahili for ‘Art’ or more specifically a “work of beauty” uses art and technology to bring art to life using augmented reality to create the user experience.

The History of The Dynasty

1783 - 1827 : Akofena

Akofena was of royal blood from the Ashanti tribe. A princess of the warrior clan, Akofena was wed to a Kenyan king for tribal alliances. She gave birth to Dada at age 17.

1800 - 1860 : Dada

Dada is the daughter of Akofena. Her name means “sister” in Swahili. At the age of 10, Dada was playing by the river one day when she was captured by a rival tribe and sold to British Europeans. She ended up enslaved in South Carolina. Raped at the age of 14 by her owner, she gave birth to Aba at the age of 15.

1815 - 1840 : Aba

Wawa Aba was Dada’s firstborn. Dada said that she was stubborn in childbirth, thus the name Wawa Aba, after the seed of the Wawa tree which is extremely hard. Aba was a rebel slave with one blue eye and one brown eye. Every time she looked in the mirror the blue eye reminded her of everything she hated. Aba’s owner wanted her as his sole possession and constantly raped her even though she was married. After Nunu was born he saw that she was not his child and immediately ordered Nunu’s father’s death. Aba snapped and later that night, grabbed her husband’s machete and gutted 13 heads of her owner’s cattle while everyone was sleeping. The next morning, when her owner learned of the massacre, he savagely beat her to death, leaving her 2-day-old baby an orphan.

1840 - 1901 : Nunu

Dada named Nunu two days after her mother was killed at the hands of her owner. Nyame Nnwu Na Mawu, which means “God never dies, so neither can I”, was the full name given to her in honor of her mother and father’s lives. Dada chose this name so that Nunu would always be reminded that though her parents had transitioned from the material world, they lived eternally through her. Dada taught Nunu about her great grandmother Akofena, the warrior of royal blood, and to be proud of her heritage. Nunu lived through the Emancipation of 1863 and became the first politically free woman of the Dynasty since her great-grandmother, Akofena.

1870 - 1972 : Fifi

Fifi was the first-born child of Nunu. During her lifetime, she witnessed the dynamic cultural shift between the expansive Black freedom of the Reconstruction Era and the repressive terrorism of Jim Crow. A graduate of Fisk University, she was the first in The Dynasty to attend college. There, she began following the philosophies of W.E.B. DuBois. Her array of life experiences from seeing the first Black Senators to the horrors of the Ku Klux Klan; and to acquire an academic degree, pushed her to raise her daughter, Kokou, to be self-sufficient and unapologetically free. Fifi whose name means Friday, was Akofena’s great-great-granddaughter.

1895 - 1995 : Kokou

Kokou was a radically free woman. She was a Garveyite who supported the “Africa for Africans” movement and was financially independent. She earned her living as a singer and piano player; performing regularly around town at various venues as the featured artist or with other musicians. Kokou (Wednesday) was Akofena’s great-great-great-granddaughter.

1930 - Present : Ashanti

Ashanti (1930-Present) is the 7th generation of the Dynasty. It is believed in many West African tribes, that she represents the reincarnation of her great-great-great-great grandmother Akofena. Ashanti was named after her family’s indigenous tribe and was a proud revolutionary in the Black Panther Party. She is the keeper of The Dynasty’s heirlooms and story.

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