Down By The River – Who Are the Noirlinians?

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Denisio and Mwende / Our Closet

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Noirlinians is an AfroFashion blog exploring the complex relationship between culture, clothing & identity in the diaspora. Featuring Liberian artist and designer Denisio Truitt of DOPEciety and poet and organizer Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, the idea for the blog emerged after a fast friendship developed between the two based on their African heritage and artistic interests.

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After discovering their mutual interest of African inspired fashion and writing played a role in the formation and expression of their identities, the idea for a blog steeped in exploring this process through photo and text was born. Early on, both artists recognized the particular feeling of “home” New Orleans held for them in the diaspora and came up with the name “Noirlinians” to pay homage to the city that they see as ‘the most African city in the U.S.’ Noirlinians is as much an exploration of self as it is about space and the idea of finding your past in your present.

Noirlinians features written and photography based blog posts with locations of significance to Black and African people in New Orleans chosen by that week’s photographer. Clothing and jewelry modeled for each shoot will either be from “Our Closet” with items directly from the artist’s wardrobes or “Noirlinians Featured Fashions” where the artists, in collaboration with local clothing designers, will showcase African inspired clothing and jewelry that match the weekly theme. Noirlinians regularly publishes posts with photos as well as text by the founders delving deeper into a story brought about by the week’s theme. From time to time, we will feature a special “#NoirliniansStreetStyle” post by New Orleans based photographer Patrick Melon that will involved street interviews with New Orleanians about the story behind their clothing and the “Africaness” of the city.

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DENISIO TRUITT

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Fulani Earrings, a gift from my sisterfriend Alex. Smirk, a gift from retainer-filled awkward teenage years.

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Tunic is from Noor (located in the French Quarter). Shoes were bought on the cheap from a friend who used to sell vintage and now works for Nylon Mag. Legs are from 10 years of ballet + high school track and field.

 

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Purse was found in a thrift store in Maryland. Sanskrit Bracelet was from an African street vendor in DC. Shell Bracelet was a birthday gift from a friend.

Denisio Truitt, Founder and Creative Mind Behind DOPEciety:

I felt my whole self the day I arrived  to live in New Orleans. Felt the weight of my body pulling through thick wet curtains of unrelenting heat. The movement felt slower, more purposed, no longer the jaunty strut of a 20 something trying to prove her worth but rather a 30 something divorcee full from living an entire lifetime and on her second helping. Felt the deja vu in the accents that sounded like my mother’s kin – short e’s and throaty o’s and words that trailed off into the sticky air. Recognized my ancestor’s night sky skin, high cheekbones, well-defined shoulders and eyes full of pain – and joy – and hard living in the bodies of strangers. Witnessed women balance heavy loads atop their heads as though they were at market in Monrovia. For a second generation African who spent the majority of her life in a country that never truly felt like home, there are parts of New Orleans that feel more home, more African than I’ve ever felt outside of family gatherings. Its as though there is a concentrated energy, an undiluted ancestral essence that has remain preserved here despite (continued) efforts to wipe it out.

New Orleans is the first city I’ve chosen. My life circumstances have caused me to float about like driftwood but this place I chose without a second thought. And my life has been nothing but second third and fourth thoughts. New Orleans for me is a beautiful, haunted, resilient, difficult, complex place. It’s not something that can be put in a box, or summed up in flowery language. And its HARD, hard in a way that is familiar to some Africans as life. New Orleans is something I am still learning about. Just when I think I’ve grab ahold of it it slips from my hand. But I’m willing to stay, listen and learn about my new home from the native daughters and sons of this very special place.

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MWENDE KATWIWA

Hat: My brother’s Classics Zoot Fedora Hat that he wore to prom and I swiped last time I was home Sunglasses: From one of my friends Isa. To be honest, I have one pair of sunglasses that are prescription otherwise I don’t much wear sunglasses because I don’t see well without my specs so if I wear them then its blurry and dark and nobody likes that Suspenders: From some thrift store. Remnants of my high school days when my friends called me “Mwenders In Suspenders” amongst other things… Necklace: From a pile of tangled jewelry my friend gave to me because she didn’t have time to look through it. Patience is a virtue and beneficial for your wardrobe sometimes Earrings: Got them in a goody bag at an event that was thrown at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans.

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Jeans: someone left them in my room (I honestly have no idea who! Don’t ask Akeem Martin but I return clothes left in my house!) and after a while my body just developed a relationship with them I could no longer deny Shoes: Got them in Kenya last time I was back home. I love the simple design, means I can wear them with anything but if you look close you peep you the swag details Body: By Pringles and Samosas.

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Rings: THUMB: Handmade by a 14 year old from Atlanta! Got it at a festival a couple of years ago, wish Instagram was live back then INDEX FINGER: Got this ring from a Kenyan vendor at Jazzfest. He gave me that hometown discount too on a bunch of rings…HOLLLLAAAA RING FINGER: Not sure where this ring came from, but I got it because I started a collection of handmade jewelry with Black stones. Get at me if you sell some.

Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa : Poet, Host, Organizer, Youth Worker …

My momma told me New Orleans reminded her of home. She told me of the roosters strutting like kings on dirt roads around the city, of the sweltering heat and the beaded sweat on the smiling familiar faces of midnight’s children that sometimes spoke in a tongue she couldn’t always hear but seemed to understand. Still…I never knew exactly what she meant when she said it reminded her of home. Wasn’t sure if it was because she never went further into it (she can be short/mysterious like that sometimes), or because I didn’t really know what home felt like, and I didn’t want to admit that if she told me, I still might not understand. Home has always felt like a feeling of longing. Of unknowing. A thing others easily talked about like the familiar taste of a home cooked meal taken from the family cookbook. It sat on my tongue like the hollow memory of something I once tasted but had long since lost the words for and didn’t have a recipe to remember.

I don’t know if I lost it or if it was taken from me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back or if I’ll recognize it and want it if I do. Sometimes I wonder if I ever lost it in the first place or if I lost myself.

I’m 23 years old.
I’m 23 years young.
I’m 23 years of searching.

Since coming to New Orleans I’ve started to unpack alot of what it means to be an immigrant and claim home in a country I mostly grew up in, but is still so foreign to me. I know how much of my willingness to finally do so has to do with how familiar New Orleans seems even though I’d never been here before I moved here right after high school. You know how sometimes you’re in a random place feeling alone and you see someone and know immediately they’re Kenyan (don’t ask me how…it just happens. and it always happens) so you strike up a conversation and an hour later you’re having chai and chapati at one of your houses?  New Orleans felt like that familiar face when I couldn’t recognize anything around me, even myself. Outside of physical space, it’s been a quicksand journey for me to find home within my body and be comfortable in it after a lifetime of what friend and fellow African immigrant and artist Rebecca Mwase once beautifully described in her work “Looking At A Broad” as being “an immigrant in my own body“.

I’m still not sure exactly what home is both in body and location, and New Orleans is a hard place in a hard time to explore such hard things, but I’ve never learned so much from a new place that somehow never quite felt new. A place that has made learning feel like remembering. A place that welcomed me as a Noirlinian, but challenges me to explore what it means to finally feel like I may have come close to this thing called home in a place where so many have been denied it in a way that is eerily familiar to the stories I hear about my grandparents displacement during colonialism. I’m learning that familiar doesn’t always mean good. But I’m still learning, still loving and still looking for this thing called home.

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Noirlinians is a love story by two wandering Daughters of the African diaspora 

Follow us on Instagram & Twitter: @Noirlinians
Like Us on Facebook

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-Photos by Isa Sloan, Mwende Katwiwa, and Denisio Truitt-

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