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The Layers They See - this is worldtown

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The Layers They See

By Aniqa Rahman

Co-written and edited by Glamma Kimaiyo

Over the next few months, we will be featuring the projects from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. The Layers They See by Aniqa Rahman is the final in the series.

Preservation, 2018 Model/Artist: Glamma Kimaiyo Photography By Aniqa Rahman

A colleague of mine once confided in me that she did not like to be asked about her background or nationality. She explained to me that, given the current geopolitical climate, people tended to politicize her Middle Eastern identity; and those judgements made her feel uneasy. “The Layers They See” is a photography series that explores identities; and how we view ourselves, in comparison to how we are perceived by others.

Initially my project was focused on how traditional Indigenous beadwork/embroidery is used as a powerful storytelling medium. But, after conducting the interview, my focus shifted to intersectionalities and the complexity of identity-politics, as expressed through art.

Recruiting artists was a nearly impossible task, consequently getting this project off the ground was no easy feat. In fact, the underwhelming response to my call-outs nearly forced me to abandon this topic altogether. I quickly realized that when it came to sharing personal stories and artwork a lot of people were fearful of being taken out of context and therefore apprehensive about participating. Needless to say, I am humbled and grateful that I found someone willing to discuss such personal and sensitive subject matter.

I was fortunate enough to collaborate with Glamma Kimaiyo, an interdisciplinary Toronto-based artist of Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous ancestry. Glamma’s insistence on exploring every facet of her creativity, and not limiting herself, has made her fiercely talented in a multitude of mediums, including: audio engineering/production, singing /songwriting, deejaying, spoken word poetry, jewelry and clothing design/construction to name a few. Among all of Glamma’s artistic endeavours, the one which most connects her to her indigeneity is her beadwork; and I wanted to know more about her perspectives.

(Left) Hidden Layer I, 2018 (Right) Surface Layer II, 2018 Model/Artist: Glamma Kimaiyo Photography by Aniqa Rahman

On Saturday May 19th, 2018, I met Glamma at a friend’s studio apartment. I remember being quite anxious at that time. I wasn’t sure how the interview would go.  Nonetheless, Glamma’s entrance and her upbeat personality before and during the interview made the process fun and engaging.

In speaking with Glamma, I became increasingly aware of the pervasiveness of white supremacy, and the diverse ways it manifests within various ethnic groups. During our exchange, my eyes were opened to the ways that covert racism homogenizes melanated people and attempts to relegate them to oppressively generic categories.

One negative impact of this, that Glamma herself admitted to experiencing, is the conditioned behaviour of, ‘not going out of her way to mention her complete ancestry’. For when she does, the inquirer almost always professes that she absolutely, “doesn’t look Native!”

So in fact, Glamma plainly admits that societal ‘norms’ have conditioned her to offer the abridged version of her background; a coping mechanism developed in order to avoid being scrutinized, belittled or interrogated.  Compared to her Indigenous and European multi-racial counterparts, who tend to be wholeheartedly and instantly accepted by the mainstream and Indigenous communities alike, race politics has made her assertion as a native woman a conundrum to those narrow minds that ask, ‘How can a Black woman be Indigenous?’

Intertwine, 2018 Beaded Necklace by Glamma Kimaiyo Photography by Aniqa Rahman

Following our conversation I realized that, to tell or not to tell becomes a double-edged sword.  Glamma, for the most part, chooses to navigate her identity outside of the gaze.

Her private explorations of traditional crafts and teachings at  beading circles learning from various ‘aunties’ over the years connects her to this part of her heritage.

Through her patient and meticulous construction, she believes that she honours the legacy of her ancestors and harnesses the healing properties of the metaphysical world. More important than people’s perceptions, she spreads “good medicine” through her beadwork.

The process was never an easy one —  as an artist myself, I had to develop a piece which best describes my style and aesthetics of work while still maintaining the integrity of Glamma’s story. The practice that I never want to conform to as a media-maker is to generalize and take a narrative out of context — a practice that we continue to see in mainstream media.

I was able to break the story down through creative writing process on race and intersectional identities.

There are layers which people see.
Individuals which identify you based on your dominant racial features or appearance.

There are layers which people don’t see, but only oneself sees.
Individuals who are unaware of your ethnic background, and only you are aware of.

The layers which are hidden, and which only surfaces when called upon.
Individuals who question your ethnicity, when you disclose your identity.

After writing and reviewing this process, I chose to use long exposure photography and light painting technique to capture or symbolize the layers of Glamma’s identities. Even though some may think it is too literal, I felt this process best described my creativity and would do justice to the artwork. Like Glamma, I felt inspired by the darkness, by the colour scheme and craftsmanship, and had to exercise my patience when it came to capturing or recording these images. One major connection that I found between Glamma and I is that we both love utilizing traditional methods to practice our craft, hence why I recorded the images via camera as opposed to manipulating and putting all these images together in photoshop.

After interviewing Glamma, I realized how much the power of storytelling can enable  people to create remarkable projects. Her stories serve as a great inspiration that have challenged me to further explore photography as a medium. Even though the story behind this project is not about myself per se; as an artist, I can empathize with and relate to many topics which she elaborated on, including how one perceives their own identity. I want people to know that as an artist, I want to bring certain stories to life and I intend to do so through visual narrative. There are stories that need to be told, there are conversations that need to happen, and there are more genuine artworks that need to be created.

 


Aniqa Rahman is a recent University of Toronto graduate, where she earned her Honours Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She owes much of her success in life to not only her family, friends, and mentors, but also to Community Arts which has been an integral part of her healing process as well as growth towards her individuality. Raised in a diverse neighbourhood in Scarborough, Aniqa has been immersed in the Arts since 2013. She participated in ArtStarts’ Sew What?!, East Music and Project Management with Scarborough Arts, We are Lawrence Avenue with Cultural Hotspot and UforChange photography classes.

It was at UforChange where she found her passion for photography and began developing her own style.; In the past few years Aniqa has managed to acquire notable clients, win Juror’s choice, and gain recognition from Toronto Star and UofT Magazine for her photographic Arts. She has a huge admiration for capturing multicultural festivals as well as Toronto’s fashion scene, and has gone on to shoot events such as African Fashion Week Toronto, St. Jamestown Festival, Multicultural Canada Day 2015, and Fashion Arts Toronto ( |FAT|). Her goal is to further develop her photography skills; she believes learning is for life and with that brings joy into her Art.