16 May 2016

I AM – not your stereotypical African!

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 16 May 2016

The first thing Makanaka Tuwe is asked when she goes out is if she can twerk.

There's also surprise that she can speak English, questions about whether there are cars back in her country, and use of the N-word.

"I think my favourite one has to be, so what are you like with your dad?" she says.

"It's almost like I come from a single parent home, or me and my dad have a tough relationship, but it's not like that, my dad's one of my best friends."

Makanaka moved to New Zealand from Zimbabwe when she was ten, and like other migrants and former refugee Africans in New Zealand, she is tired of Africans being painted in the media as symbols of perversion, poverty, crime and shame.

She says she is blessed in a sense that she doesn't normally find herself in a space where she is made to feel vulnerable or attacked but not everyone else has that luxury.

"All these stereotypes about the black family, about black love, about who you are as a person, your education, it's almost like everything that you do in life is met with that stereotype."

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"I try every single day to have something on me that represents Africa." Makanaka Tuwe shows off her earrings. Photo: RNZ/Lynda Chanwai-Earle

As New Zealand's population of Africans increases so does the desire to create stories that relate to their realities.

Makanaka and photographer Julia Glover are behind the project I AM which focuses the camera lens on what it means to be African without the stereotype.

Makanaka Tuwe and Julia Glover

Makanake Tuwe (left) and Julia Glover (right) say it is imperative to create stories that relate to the reality of people of African descent. Photo: RNZ/Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Allowing people to open and feel comfortable in front of the lens was a challenge for Julia who is half Brazilian and half Kiwi.

"It can be a frightening thing to have a camera right in your face," she says.

"[So] it's about capturing them in their environment and really where they want to be."

Initially, the project was going to be called obscurity, to reflect the obscured identities of Africans in New Zealand but both Makanaka and Julia decided to take it in a lighter direction.

"Most of the narratives out there in the media about people of African descent are very dark, either you're from a poor migrant background or you're from this whole sexualised black-American culture," says Makanaka.

The end result is an attempt to create a powerful narrative that lets the subjects take ownership of their identity and say I am this or I am that.

The I AM exhibition opens at Studio One in Ponsonby during the global celebration of Africa Day and runs from May 26 - June 16 2016.

More about Makanaka's work can be found here.

The full track at the end of the audio is used with the permission of the artist Raizabiza and can be found here.