An old acquaintance, Bart Deweer, wrote me today on LinkedIn inquiring about my whereabouts. Bart and I have known each since the early days of Facebook.
He had adopted a simpler life now and seemed rather pleased.
He wondered if I had done the same.
I contemplated answering honestly, I wondered if he really wanted to know or if it were all for formality sakes and only called for the simple – I’m fine, Thank you.
But I’m not fine so I decided to answer honestly.
I told him the simple life is good as long as it isn’t filled with resentment of an unfulfilled complicated life, like mine.
That I live mostly in Marrakech now. Sharing my time occasionally with New York. That I am thinking of moving to LA in 2019 to give myself a real chance at acting and auditioning.
That I’m battling some resentment over the abrupt end of Pop’Africana, (which he was a huge fan of, a dissolve I have not gotten over completely), of how slow and unsteady success has been for me. That I am totally unmotivated to continue working as a creative artist. And that I’m having a hard time being as passionate as I once were due to so many disruptions and disappointments.
He hasn’t answered. I’m sure it was a little too much to dump on him.
Still, I don’t I wish I’d opted for the less heavy, much expected “I’m fine, Thank you”.
Because I’m not fine.
I battle with moments of heavy resentment of my experience as an artist. I find myself wondering if creating and sharing more work is worth it and if so, how.
Creative Artists rely so much on patronage. We create personal bodies of works and build our books in hopes that it will open doors for us or inspire others to grant us opportunities – be it money making or creative growth.
If over 8 years of putting out bodies of visual work and engaging the public, I still cannot stand proud of much in the way of representation, steady flow of work or patronage, show or presentation opportunities or the kind of support that tells me working as a black artist has not been for naught. It’s dishonest to pretend this is ok. It isn’t. It shouldn’t be.
I have watched others come and rise and find myself feeling like a -die- trying type of artist, wondering when it will be my turn. Will it ever?
Some may find it hard to believe that in my over 8 years of putting forth visual work, I have had less than 7 paid work. 3 or 4 of which were not for creating work as an artist but to pose as a style muse and influencer.
It is even harder to believe that, the launch of a publication that inspired so many globally, (Pop’Africana was so big, it bought Lauryn Hill to see me), 4 issues in physical print, years of original content on the web, 97% of which I photographed, art directed and saw to fruition all with no funding did little to convince the world of my abilities as a visual artist.
That despite my visual work is my only claim to fame, no real opportunity is yet to be had – Not a chance to photograph or to art or creative direct.
Not wanting to rely solely on Pop’Africana, I forged on with personal work much of which remained in the realm of photography, in hopes that I would secure agency representation and a better chance at securing work. Nothing. All while my creative counterparts excelled.
Not wanting to give up, I added personal imaging to the mix, using myself as muse, shifting the focus from fashion photography to lifestyle with myself and my musings in focus – in comes a gig or two from fossil and the gap. I am elated. A small break, perhaps I can keep this going. I am advised to seek representation as an influencer. Despite the press consistently writing about my style, despite consistently seeking representation, no avail.
Unto using Instagram as world stage, after all, many are made here. I keep engaging, I actively analyze the interest generated from my Instagram. Was this what my audience wanted? that I serve as muse, or model? Are people only interested in my personal style? My wigs, my life in Marrakech, who made what I had on, will this help me garner the funds to sustain my creative work? If so, I’ll give it shot, Why not? 2 years go by, nothing.
Perhaps I need help securing the influencer deals? After all, I cannot do it all. But where are the talent agencies who represent women like me? Why is securing representation so hard if the girls I see represented have as many followers and engagement as I do. Girls, whom I am mentioned alongside in the press? Where are the agencies who will take a chance on a woman like me? Who will help broaden my reach and value?
I take a breath, I open myself to indie and contemporary brands. Why not? I’m hopeful it may end up being something. But not even these brands think to hire me to shoot or direct lookbooks as I thought. ( yes I have offered) Instead, I was stuck in a cycle of “here Oroma, do this free marketing work in exchange for a belt, a shoe, a bag until I was forced to address this very awful way to collaborate with creatives some months past.
A friend suggests maybe people do not know what service I provide as an artist.
I have had to hold back every desire in my body to scream. How could they not know what I do? If I created and shared imagery, clearly stately it is by me for a good number of years, how then do you know that I am the maker of the image? How then can you not imagine how I might be of service?
Now I am exhausted. I find myself screaming…How will I make it as an artist? How will I sustain my work? How do people not really know that I am photographing, creative directing and producing these images?
I do not want to appear the bitter angry black woman. So, I bite my mouth and wallow alone in my pain. In reality, however, the disappointments and lack of real growth are set up to make you just that.
It has made me wonder whom I wronged. It has made wonder if I am intentionally being blackballed. It has reminded me of my complexion and my stature. It has made me wonder if things would be easier if you were gay, fairer, curvier, dressed more vulgar. It has made clear the severity of the division amongst black women. It has shown me how power can be used to dis-include and oppress. It has shown me the power of nepotism and cliques. It has made wonder about my work. Does it truly escape people? Will it only serve as inspiration? Do I simply have bad luck?
When my creativity is all I have, you cannot imagine how heavy this has all been.
I made a recent move into performance because I have always wanted to act. (filmmakers and director take note)I even had the incredible honor of studying under Professor Lola Cohen at Lee Strasgberg institute for theater and film.
I am not expecting things to happen overnight of course so to move things along, I have been creating small and simple works of performance in film two or three of which I have shared with you including the release of my performance based book, Crushed Guava Leaves. I say this because I am often advised to create opportunities for myself – that it will move things along. But for as long as I have been an artist, it is all I have ever done – both for myself and for others. I have never stood still, waiting.
The problem is that these opportunities we artist make for ourselves are meant to drive interest that result in solid work, gigs and other opportunities very little of which I have seen in over 8 years.
When I look at my work put out vs opportunities received ratio, it is utterly grave. I sincerely wonder how I have survived.
Oh Wait, I’m not. I’m just dying quietly.
If I am to work as a style and image influencer, does it not help to have representation, where is that representation? Does it not help that brands pay to be promoted on my platform? Does it not make sense that those who say I inspire them also think of when opportunities arise? Where are those opportunities?
If I am to continue putting out images whether it’s in photographs or film, does it helps that there are for- hire opportunities to photograph or direct projects? Who is giving me these opportunities? If my work in performance is to grow, does it not help that I am granted the opportunity for presentation.
In short it simply all boils down to opportunity and the lack thereof.
Some claim I’ve lost my touch. Bitch, you wish.
I can assure you that your heart will still skip a beat should I release any manner of work my heart feels deeply about.
I’m just tired.
I’m just saddened by it all.
So, no, I really couldn’t say, I’m fine, thank you Bart.
Because I’m not fine, thank you.
Though my opportunities have been few, I do not want to appear ungrateful to the brands/person that has indeed taken a chance on me and provided me with an opportunity to earn a buck and to be a part of something. A major thank you to Fossil and the Gap for trusting my visual ability and reach. To Rodebjer, to Roger Vivier and Maryam Nassir Zedah for always giving me the space to sell my work. Thank you.
Someone just suggested I get a manager/strategist. Wellz, here I am. Mr/Mrs Manager/Mentor/Coach/strategist. Ready if you are.