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I AM Project


I AM - countering one-dimensional narratives about people of African descent in New Zealand using visual methodologies and participatory photography.


LOCATION: Studio One

(1 Ponsonby Road, Auckland)

DATE: 25 May 2016

TIME: 5:00PM – 8.00PM

On the 25th of May 2016, Studio One will be home to the ‘I AM’ photographic exhibition as part of Auckland Festival of Photography, Fringe Festival and the 2016 Africa Day celebrations. Aimed at deconstructing the one-dimensional narrative presented in the media, the ‘I AM’ project focuses the lens on what it means to be of African descent in New Zealand using photography and social media.

In the visual typography of Western media and entertainment the bodies of people of African descent have been and continue to be painted as a symbol of perversion, poverty, crime and shame. Studies reveal that others confront individuals from migrant and refugee backgrounds with ascriptions. These ascriptions are at times a result of one-dimensional media representation of the ‘other’ that result in interactions based on experiencing imagery that is heavily laden with stereotypes. As the prevalent of people of African descent living in New Zealand increases due to migration and birth, it becomes imperative to create stories that relate to the reality of those individuals.

Makanaka Tuwe, the Founder of Africa on My Sleeve and co-collaborator of the project believes full human representation of people from minority backgrounds is necessary to debunking stereotypes that hinder full community participation, enable social cohesiveness and adjusting to life in the New Zealand society.

“After conducting a literature review titled ‘Media Representation of People of African Descent’, in 2015, I established that there is a lack of action regarding how to counter the negative narratives presented in the media. Just as it is important to debunk the patterns of distortion and biased narratives represented by the media, it is also important to include the untold stories with consultation and involvement of the community to better enable their settlement into their new homes,” she says.

Executed in two components - social media and the gallery exhibition - the project will be a chance for the African community and New Zealand society to see the individual as an individual without the identity that has been perpetuated by mass media. Thus far, the social media aspect has involved members and allies of the African community sharing an image of them on social media holding a designed postcard with ‘I AM – I am that am so let me be’.

“With the emergence of digital and new technologies there are now more ways to exhibit and showcase cultural narratives. As a result of that one of the obvious choices to assisting with changing the narrative was social media that now in some sense also acts as an aspect of media due to its ability to disseminate messages. By creating an alternative to mainstream narratives and inviting members of the community to participate this has enabled the creation of stories by everyone having an input into how they are represented,” Tuwe adds.

The gallery exhibition will showcase 6-8 A3 framed photographs of members of the diverse community residing in Auckland, photographed by photographic artist Julia Glover in their homes or spaces that enable them to fully exist.

Julia Glover, Co-Founder of The Workshop and photographic artist for the exhibition believes it is not only important to listen and capture the untold stories, it is also important to ensure that in representing them, it is done with care.

“Through photographing members of the community, I have ensured that the individual is able to define how they want to be represented, tell their story and have control and ownership of their representation. The goal for me as a photographic artist has been to capture everyone in their full human dimension,” she says.

The exhibition will run from the 25th of May 2016 till the 18th of June 2016 at Studio One, Ponsonby Auckland.

Support for the ‘I AM’ project has been provided by ACOFI; Love, Cover, Protect; Julz Glover Photography; The Copy Centre and Africa on My Sleeve.

Photos from the social media aspect can be found here.

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