I’ve decided that every month I’m going to structure one post celebrating a Black creative whose work I find to be particularly innovative, interesting or inspiring. This post, for November, is about Cecile Emeke’s YouTube series called Strolling. The, now 25-year-old, British-Jamaican filmmaker from London, first started created the web series in 2014. From then, videos have been posted up until 2016 as the artist expanded her filming across Europe and then out to America and the Caribbean. I first discovered her work by chance whilst I was living in Barcelona.
Strolling is a series of videos in which young Black people discuss issues affecting them in their everyday life. The camera tracks these individuals as they inhabit or stroll through their respective cities. The idea behind the series was born out of the organic conversations which Emeke began to document and share, and this is reflected in the relaxed yet intimate style of each short piece. In an interview in the NY Times she stated that:
‘There are a lot of reasons I decided to make “Strolling,” but ultimately, I wanted to create a safe space for the global black diaspora to talk about issues important to us.’
Space and identity are linked intrinsically as the act of walking through or inhabiting the cities converges with the reality of what it feels like to live and ultimately belong in these spaces as a Black person. Issues from religion, gentrification and queerness, to mental health, the queen and chicken are all discussed in an in-depth yet conversational style. The first videos are set in London and comprise the largest collection of 13 episodes each lasting around 10-15 minutes. Yet Emeke has branched out internationally, interviewing people in the USA, France (Flâner), The Netherlands (Wandelen), Italy (Passeggiando) and most recently a video filmed in Jamaica last year. By successfully expanding her project in and outside of Europe, the young Black artist has managed to internationalise Black voices and dispel the idea that Black history and culture stems only from America, the Caribbean and Africa. African-American history is so often wrongly equated with Black History as an umbrella term meaning that, for many, growing up and developing your own identity can be problematic. As Fanta (@littleglissant) expresses in Flâner ep2:
‘I know more about what happened in America during slavery than I know about French history (on slavery) … this is our history. If we don’t know what happened, then we don’t know why we are here’
Yet, Strolling spotlights those voices and experiences that may have previously been ignored, even within the Black community itself. I, for one, have learnt a lot from watching the videos set in Italy or the Netherlands. By connecting the dots of an international black community, the collection not only promotes individual identities but also creates a collective solidarity on issues affecting Black people globally. The emphasis is clearly on intra-communal discussion and connection as she foregrounds marginalised voices.
By financing the project using only Crowdfunding, Cecile has also avoided mainstream methods of funding her work; this ultimately gives her, and the people she films, full agency and control. I think this is why the series feels so raw and un-manipulated. Most importantly, Strolling has been created by and for Black people; this in turn helps construct a counter-current from the array of media outlets who profit from Black culture and portray the experiences of Black people through a white lens. Ownership of the Black narrative and experience is so important in a time where cultural appropriation is still rife.
For me, the collection is grounded in diversity; it deconstructs the homogeneous Black identity – portraying Black people as nuanced individuals, stemming from all over the world. The stories and opinions of her subjects will resonate with Black viewers and be educational for those unaware of such issues. One of my favourite videos follows Abraham (@abefeels) in Hackney, London. He discusses a range of topics from the notion of ‘great’ Britain to his opinions on reparations, but the bit that I love is when he so eloquently and almost poetically tells us why he’s a Black male feminist:
‘…when you’re white you don’t walk around thinking how many things can I do today and how many things can’t I do today because of the colour of my skin, but you do when you’re black…that’s the thing that made me think, how many times did I wake up thinking ‘I’m a man. What can’t I do today because I’m a man?’ Then I thought about the reverse… well of course women must think about that…’
Personally, I have never found a collection of work that resonates so much with me both in showing the reality of being young Black and British, and inspiring me to educate myself more on the experiences of the international Black diaspora. The series is undoubtedly centred on Blackness but importantly is not confined to society’s ideal of what this is meant to be. Black sameness does not exist and the Strolling series is a perfect celebration of the richness and diversity of Black voices and experiences, destroying the myth of the homogeneous Black identity.