This book is essentially an exhibition catalogue for Nkanga’s exhibition in 2018 in Chicago and yet it is so much more. We have paintings, photos of the exhibition, photos of Nkanga’s performances, colour studies, sketches, roughs, all interspersed with poems from Omar Kholeif and short essays from Teju Cole,and all in dialogue with each other. Together they speak of the twisted relationship between the Western world and Africa, of exploitation, of violence. We move from economics, to geopolitics to ruptured bodies so fluidly. This book transcends the time it was made for, and moves beyond simply being an exhibition catalogue. It has become a practice manifesto for an incredible multi-disciplinary artist of our living times.
The Will To Change was a book that my partner’s best friend accidentally left in our house. I recall taking a picture of it and asking him if he wanted me to post it to his newly relocated home in Berlin, he told me I could keep it and read it myself. Up until then I had not known of bell Hooks, and this was my gentle way of falling into her world and her words. She has hugely inspired me since, and I feel wholly changed and loved by her words. I think if it wasn’t for this particular book, I would still struggle with my relationship with some of the men in my family, and I’d struggle to see the beauty of multi-generational family living. I owe her a lot.
I tell myself Waheed came about before the profligate use of pared back social media friendly poetry. So she’ll always be a true trailblazer in my heart. There is one poem in her collection that takes me to the bottom of the deepest ocean only to rise to the highest tip in an instant. I recall it regularly:
“islam. is still in my life.
we are old soulmates.
who could not work out the knots against skin.
who could not believe in each other. while believing in ourselves.
who could not make each other happy. without.
making each other a sadness.
were born to each other. and never fell in love.
we still sip tea.
share our hands.
every now and then.”
Mira Jacob is a journalist and writer who illustrates her complex conversations with her son in a pared back visual language. Photographic backdrops superimposed with character portraits that are mostly repeated across the book make space for the dialogue, the scenarios, the conversations; sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious. Mira Jacob showed me you can lay your heart out in the table and yet be big picture enough to be critically reflective; you can both be personal from your starting point but end up with astute social commentary that zooms out and moves beyond your own experiences.
Two years before I was set to publish my own book I met ZebaTalkhani who gave me a proof copy of her book My Past is a foreign Country. This was the biggest gift for me at the time: here was a Muslim author in London writing about her personal experiences in an open and honest way. She showed me it is possible, you can be true to your own experiences whilst honouring where you have come from and the struggles you have faced. Her book is tender and delicate yet quietly strong and courageous. I come back to it regularly.