Photos by Asia-Vinae “Preach” Palmer – The Spirit House: ‘The Spirit House is located at the intersection of St. Bernard Avenue, Gentilly Boulevard, and DeSaix Boulevard, historically known as the DeSaix Circle. John T. Scott, a nationally known artist, and Martin Payton, collaborated on this project. Their goal was to create a work that celebrates the contributions of unnamed African Americans who were instrumental in the cultural and physical development of New Orleans. “The Spirit House faces north, and as the sun rises, a shadow is cast on the west, the part of the world where Africans were forced to relocate via slavery. As the sun sets, the shadow migrates east, which represents returning the spirits back to their homeland.” [text by Avery Brewton]
FEATURED FASHIONS – AYA DESIGNS GLOBAL
Post Soundtrack – “i” Kendrick Lamar
DESIGNERS NOTE – AYA Designs Global – AYA Designs is 2 people, my kindred spirit friend (and so much more) Dana Leon-Lima and myself (Janese Brooks-Galathe). We are professional dancers and teaching artists in the Greater New Orleans area who teach Afro-Carribbean and Afro-Brazilian dance (ages 3+), and are also both Ifa practitioners which is visible in all of our works. We started AYA Designs because our school students needed costumes to perform and we wanted to wear African-inspired clothing to create conversations with our students. We taught ourselves how to design and sew clothing because of our students. When we would wear traditional African clothing, head wraps, dashikis, sokoto and lapas our students would always ask “why are you wearing that?, are you from Africa?, where can I buy clothes like that?”
I feel New Orleans is Lil Africa. Everything about New Orleans is African. Our designs definitely relate to New Orleans weather (lol). The colors in the fabric reflects New Orleans vibrant culture, dance, food, music, architecture and people. We love to visualize the elements (earth, water, air and fire) in the fabrics (which is one of the things I love about living in New Orleans is that you can experience all four elements in one day). Our designs are a BEAUTIFUL LOVE AFFAIR WITH NEW ORLEANS. We started here, we are inspired here, we built this business from the ground up and still building here, we make money and take risk here, AYA Designs is a product of Louisiana.
AYA Designs Global on Denisio Truitt – Harem Pants
The sokoto (“Shokoto”/harem) pants were inspired by Sango (Yoruba deity of fire, lightning and justice). They are also known as drummer pants. These pants symbolize the first chakra/ root chakra. A reminder to stay “cool down there,” a balanced foundation, safety and security.
AYA Designs Global on Mwende Katwiwa – Custom Romper
Mwende asked me to make a romper. She gave me complete artistic freedom with design and fabric. I Love everything about a woman’s body and I enjoy accentuating their curves. The Divine Feminine. Mwende’s shape and her beautiful skin tone inspired this piece.
Denisio Truitt: I incorporate African prints more than ever into my style since moving to New Orleans. Of course, like every good Liberian girl, I always had one or two ankara dresses somewhere in the back of my closet tucked behind hanger upon hanger of thrifted finds. But up until recently, wax prints and mud cloth really weren’t really my thing.
Perhaps the problem was that I didn’t really have a thing….and by thing, I mean personal style. In my late 20’s I named myself ‘Fashion Blogger’ which consisted of emulating the aesthetic of other “established” (read: white) fashion bloggers and then hating myself for not being able to pull it off. My twenties were filled with confusion and the impossible goal of “finding myself”, and my wardrobe reflected that. I can remember attending my first fashion week and sharing a room with a group of gorgeous women. I felt completely out of place. They were all so comfortable and confident in their style while I floundered with what was in my suitcase, cursing myself for not bringing this and hating myself for not losing enough weight to fit into that. I left with the realization that this was not the world I wanted to live in. I would never own a 700 dollar pair of shoes. I didn’t like feigning importance to unimpressed white faces just to slink my way into a fashion show. I didn’t want to strategize how I would get Essence mag or Vogue Italia to take my photo. And lastly I was FUCKING STARVING. I loved clothes and I loved making them and I even loved some of the shows I went to, but I knew that I needed to do this on my own terms. I left New York with the realization that the fashion blogging scene, though filled with people and things I loved, just wasn’t my thing.
Then came my dirty, dirty thirties. My metabolism slowed down, as did the frantic pace at which I was living life. My dysfunctional marriage ended. I moved into my aunt’s home and I grieved. And after my mourning period of crying non-stop for nearly a year, the uncertainty that plagued me in my twenties became a little less uncertain. It wasn’t completely gone, but it seemed distant, manageable. I felt brighter, more lighthearted. I no longer hid my eccentricities, I celebrated them.
Once again my style reflected my new state of being. I started wearing prints, mixing them, clashing them. Giving minuscule fucks about trends and more about what my personal harmony felt like. Sometimes it felt bold, bright, and loved sequence. Other times it was all denim. And many times it was oversized ankara shift dresses with plunging necklines and heels.
I think the drummer pants I am wearing in this post are a perfect analogy for my current state, which is probably why I chose them…. or rather they chose me. They are bright, versatile and the perfect intersection of traditional West African textile and silhouette and the modern black aesthetic. Several years later and 20lbs heavier I have returned to this blogging thing with a kindred soul I was blessed to meet here in New Orleans. Only this time we are dancing to the beat of our own drums.
…Okay, that last sentence was corny as shit but you get the point 🙂
Mwende Katwiwa: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” -William Shakespeare.
I was born Mwende Kalondu Katwiwa on July 22nd, 1991*, but it’s taken me until recently to come into my name. For most of my life until I moved to New Orleans, people knew me as K.K. (my initials). In elementary school, I went by Kalondu, but that quickly changed because I was teased for my name and accent (‘Kalondike Bar’ was a playground favorite for the bullies. As was just repeating everything I said in a mock ‘African’ accent). It was especially hard having my name when everyone else in my immediate family had a Eurocentric name in addition to their Kenyan names**. I remember thinking early on that I would be more liked and accepted if I could just get rid of the weight of my name which threatened to drown me in my own self loathing. At some point, my brother nicknamed me K.K., and I insisted everyone call me that to the point where new people thought my given name was ‘Kaykay’.
K.K. was a young Black woman who played ball, wrote fire poems, and generally threw all of her fucks from the highest cliff before entering any situation. K.K. was self confident. She could sit and take shit from any and everybody and still come out the other side without a scratch. She wore Phatfarm shoes and oversized Southpole shirts paired with jeans so tight they could’ve been painted on (and mind you this was also the era of the giant belt buckle built into stretchy jeans-pants). She wore her hair in gold and black extensions (yes I said gold not blonde…gold like King Midas touched every damn braid on my head). K.K. was a young adult who came running out of the maze of her childhood ready to be accepted at any cost, even if that cost was herself.
For most of my life, I hid behind those two letters, only allowing palatable parts of myself out to gain more acceptance. With the embracing of the name K.K. came the rejection of any ‘African’ parts of myself extending from my name, to rejecting ‘African’ patterns and clothing, to the deliberate loss of my accent. I thankfully never got the chance to truly reject my Kenyan heritage because I grew up in a community of Kenyans and other Black immigrants here in the states, but for the most part, I did my best to tuck my Kenyan heritage into spaces smaller than the period between the two letters I claimed as my entire being.
When I got to high school, I joined a program called the Minority Students Achievement Network (MSAN). The high school that I went to was made up of a good number of different cultural groups and we had staff of color who took the time to create safe spaces for us to grow in our self identification and self understanding as youth (and for some, immigrants) of color (Shoutout to our dean Ms. Custard and her pineapple upside down cake). One such teacher, Ms. Mafi, asked us one day to do an exercise where we shared with the MSAN group of a truth about ourselves that we’d never shared. When it got to me, I blurted out how much I hated the name ‘K.K.’ and how I wished people would just take the time to call me by my name. It surprised everyone in the room, including myself, but in that moment, I realized how much I had associated my own name with my experiences of shame surrounding my heritage. I started going by Kalondu to that group of people. It wasn’t until I graduated and moved to New Orleans that I started going by Mwende, and even then, it was not a conscious decision to reclaim my name. I was in an AmeriCorps program, and on the first day of work when they called out (read: butchered) my name. When they asked if there was something I preferred to be called instead, I made forcefully said no, that Mwende was my name and that if people were to demand my time, attention and service, the least I would do is demand they pronounce my name correctly (and to be clear, this is an everyday struggle to make this demand. I see people look at my name and still call me Wendy, Wanda, Wendell, Monday, Wednesday, One Day, Someday etc. The other day my friend brought up with frustration a discussion on names and immigrants/their children not going by their traditional names and I responded with “I went by KK from like 4th grade to 11th grade because I was so tired of always being the immediately identifiable other, especially as a kid . It’s hard out here when your name is not easily assimilated into American mouths . To this day 80% of the people in my life STILL mispronounce my name. At this point though I’ve learned to decipher when people are withholding my identity from me with their laziness and when they are just human beings who grew up in different cultures , and speaking different languages so their mouths actually can’t say my name the way it was meant to be said in my native tongue so some things gotta give).
So what’s in a name? For most of my life Mwende meant nothing to me. My parents have told me before that I could have been named Esther, but I can’t imagine Esther Katwiwa growing up to become the same kind of woman as Mwende Katwiwa. Becoming Mwende was a journey I had to take to start reclaiming other parts of myself. It is my daily reminder that my complete existence has never been as simple as I or others have tried to nickname me into.
I realized not long ago that that I spent so much of my life trying to hide my heritage and make myself palatable that I almost allowed myself and my spirit to be consumed whole. I know there are parts to me that I will never be able to gain back because of this, but I also know there are parts of myself and I have not yet even begun to explore because K.K. and Kalondu were not ready to do so. K.K. was the tomboy in her brother’s hand me downs who needed to take the time to find out how to woman in her own way. Kalondu was the girl who wore cut up graphic tees, skinny jeans and shaved her head one day in the bathroom because she was tired of being everything but herself. Mwende is the 23 year old womyn with uneven locks that often sports a mini afro at the base who has been accused from time to time of pattern abuse, but still wakes up and makes an effort to be unapologetically herself, even when she is often unsure of what that is or will look like the next day.
*Or so my parents tell me…my birth certificate is stamped for 1994 and I just have this sneaking suspicion they found me in a spacepod in a sugarcane field, Clark Kent style, and just gave me a birthday and are waiting for the right time to tell me of my cosmic roots…
**My dad was a boss and decided one day he wasn’t rocking with his European name so technically now we both keep it 100
Noirlinians is a love story by two wandering Daughters of the African diaspora