As a British Nigerian working in the creative industries, Mary Ojidu knows firsthand how barriers into artistic fields begin early on for people of color. “One thing I found in communities of different ethnicities and groups is traditional roles are really focused on,” she tells us. “For example, in the Nigerian community, there’s heavy focus on doctors, lawyers and engineers—that’s what people feel comfortable pursuing. Sometimes that has to do with people’s parents and family dynamics, which is understandable, but then there’s a lack of knowledge of different potential industries people can get involved in.” When it comes to the arts, film or editorial, where diversity is still an issue, this initial lack of knowledge can make breaking into the field even harder.
That’s why Ojidu—along with her friends who also previously ran Sukeban Magazine: Ipsa Dhariwal, Bonita Darkoh and Yuki Haze—created Ajifa, an independent platform created by people of color to spearhead inclusion within creative industries. The digital space (which launched this month) leverages insight from its own creative team as well as its community of artists to inspire and educate burgeoning professionals. Transparency and honesty are two of Ajifa’s pillars and something the team has in spades.
“It’s really important to have an authentic space and the way it can be authentic is if it’s by us, because we understand each other. We understand our experiences,” continues Ojidu. As she tells us, the current landscape of representation is not only disingenuous but can also be outright manipulative: “There’s such a lack of spaces for creatives of color, where it’s not just tokenism or a quota that people are filling or a trend of whatever culture is in fashion at the moment. For example, Black women are involved with a certain brand for a certain kind of style that they’re working with at the time and then next year, it’s out of style and they’re all gone. A lot of creative people of color get taken advantage of in different spaces.”
To equip and empower the next generation of creatives of color, the platform shares personal and collective knowledge about different facets of different industries. Upon visiting the site, Ajifa’s futuristic silver logo spins, alluding to the team’s mission to change the future of arts and publishing. The site is then divided into four corners—Gallery, Spotlight, Journal and Cinema—where work from an ever-evolving amount of mediums are highlighted.
The Gallery, for instance, showcases visual arts, be it photography, fine art, fashion editorials and more. Here, Ojidu explains, “there is no limit. You can expect to see a good range of different art forms.” On the other hand, in Journal, the site champions written viewpoints from around the diaspora. Like a collective diary of personal and cultural stories, the essays in Journal share meaningful, unique perspectives. Their very first Journal entry “Nanny, Neo-colonialism & Jamaica,” traces bauxite mining’s effect on Jamaica’s environment.
In Spotlight, transparent interviews with different professionals in varying industries unpack what it’s like to be creative for work, find success and navigate the field. The first Spotlight piece, “In conversation with Mattaniah Aytenfsu,” does so within the world of new media art. Aytenfsu “is a UX engineer who works at YouTube and Google,” Ojidu shares. “She’s a Black woman and she’s young and it’s cool to hear her experience as a software engineer.” For Ajifa’s readers—who are predominately young, in high school or thinking about starting university—these interviews are vital resources that help them chart their own path. As the platform’s CEO continues, “People have changed their mind about what they want to do at university and people are learning code because they’ve seen the kind of work she does. We want to facilitate that curiosity. We want to let people in on it so they can take part.”
While Spotlight fosters young creative people of color with education, Cinema does so through inspiration, as it doubles as a database of short films from directors of various ethnicities. “We hadn’t seen a space that was purely dedicated to showing short films by people of color. Filmmaking is another form of storytelling. We want to collate a good range of creative work and give people access to that,” says Ojidu.
By dividing themselves into four components, Ajifa allows themselves to showcase anything creative-related, offering a full-service experience for hopeful artists. Their name means “silver” in the Ígálá language of Nigeria, another thoughtful touch that reflects the platform’s dedication to celebrating heritage and culture.
“We are hoping to be quite disruptive,” laughs Ojidu, relaying how Ajifa hopes to shake up the creative industries. With their genuine convictions and fluid nature, there’s no doubt Ajifa will do so in a fun, heartfelt way.
Images courtesy of Ajifa