Category Archives: Live Unchained

“Art is the Battery”: Delphine Diallo Discusses Her Photography and the Magic of Spirit

Magic Photo Studio, Delphine Diallo

“We’ve been influenced by the pessimistic vision of photojournalism, and the obsessive, perfect fashion aesthetic…These images are still in my mind, printed in my subconscious. It is time to transcend them.” –Delphine Diallo

Delphine Diallo transcends the status quo in photography by simply following her spirit.  Trusting it led her to Senegal–her father’s homeland, Indi–the little girl that became her muse, and dipping herself in blue after being inspired by the film Avatar.

Delphine was born in Paris and currently lives in New York where she has continued to work as a photographer, graphic designer, illustrator and filmmaker among other creative ventures. After graduating with distinction from the Académie Charpentier School of Visual Art in 1999, she worked as a graphic designer and animator for several musicians, including Coldplay, Smashing Pumpkins, and Manu Chao.

In speaking with Delphine about her background, travels and views on art and style, we learned that her major influences are love and spirit.

Indi, Delphine's Muse and Mona Lisa, Delphine Diallo

Avatar, Delphine Diallo

How does your background influence your work?
Being mixed and having an African dad and a French mom makes me realize that I might have something different to express. Also, working in the music industry with great artists inspires me to create artwork that is personal and very emotional. It helps me to take a risk and be totally free–to open my mind about a different vision of the world.

Some say art is like a window into themselves and the world. Do you agree?
Yes it is… art is a reflection of my thoughts, my beliefs, my fear, my love about the world. I have direct connection with the world… it is like a fluid, where media influences become secondary and where your mind is feeling every single moment of your life and translates to your own vision through photography. This vision becomes the part of your real world and you are able to build a strong link with the world around you.

Photography allows me to develop images that transcend stereotypes in a world that consistently perpetuates a singular attitude as to what is deemed beautiful.

"Monica" and "Azza" from the Queen of New York series by Delphine Diallo

What does art allow you to discover about yourself and others?
Art is the key to live in a better world if you know how to use it.  Art has opened my mind to understand how as an individual you can contribute to improve others life too.  I became more tolerant, less selfish, giving myself the freedom to understand the other and discover that without your friends and family, you won’t be inspired.

Can you tell us about how Africa came to be a recurring theme in your work?
Africa is the first place where I was inspired. In this land, no one is running and people take time to share and stay in family. I’m inspired because of the nature, light, people, colors, wildlife…everything about Africa is inspiring. It has a pureness of the beauty of the moment.  A natural moment is unique, like a magic chemical, instant. My pictures are raw and full of natural emotion.

"Dream Life" from the Renaissance Series by Delphine Diallo

You created a body of work called “Renaissance,” which captures images from your trip to Senegal? Can you share with us what you learned from your experience in Senegal and what you wanted to capture in pieces inspired by that trip?
I FLEW to Saint-Louis, Senegal, land of her ancestors, in search of Something permanent. “Renaissance” is the body of work that resulted from this trip. It is a series of stories in which the protagonists are heroes of ancient tales, where beauty and violence coexist on parallel planes, the one reflected and made possible only by the other. The men and women featured in “Renaissance” are spiritually strong, beautiful, full of life, and proud despite life’s cruelty. In “The Beautiful Ones,” Anta, an eleven-year-old girl appears frequently in the photographs, symbolizing youthful strength, potential and innocence not yet lost. Khady Kebe & Loli, two seventeen year olds represent young ladies full of life, joy, and (perhaps naïve) hope for a better future. Kine Diop is a twenty eight-year-old who represents the proud African queen, symbolic of maturity and serenity in the face of hardship. My work is often autobiographical and these women are me at various stages of my own life. The images encountered are filled with weakness and suffering. “The Goats” depicts tranquility and slaughter, innocence as well as a supreme vulnerability culminating in death. “Le Boucher” is the story of a slayer, one who carves food from the dead to sustain life. He represents the cycle of life – destruction, distress, and the raw violence of reality in balance with life-sustaining nourishment and renewal. metaphorically, “Le Boucher” also represents a broken heart cut in pieces. The flesh is dead and from this carcass the spirit is reborn.

"Universal Magazine" and "Superstar" by Delphine Diallo

"Oulofs" from the Magic Photo Studio Series by Delphine Diallo

Could you talk about the use of collage and layering in your art? What draws you to merge photography and other mediums as seen in your collection “Magic Photo Studio”?
Photography is a process that can be reproduced and copied. I was trying to find a way to do something unique, so… I was definitely interested in drawing on top of it. The purpose of “magic photo studio” was to create a strong link with my family that i just discovered.  It was also a powerful message about giving love through photography to the one who makes your life beautiful.

You once said your art reflects “spirituality and lots of love.” Can you say more about that? Would you consider yourself spiritually grounded and do you think that helps your art?
Being spiritual is sometimes something that you have in yourself since you are born.  Let’s just say that for me, I was already with strong spirit but I didn’t know what it was. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s like having a lot of energy and feeling and not knowing how to use and control it for a long time. The maturity and experience help you to channel this power and transform it through art. Love, love is the key.  It is hard to love yourself and be confident but that’s the first part, to be able to embrace your spirit.

Art is the battery, a meditative process to connect with yourself… you will believe I am crazy… but I think we should be able to be educated this way. Our wisdom and connection to the planet have been lost growing up in the 21st century.

What does living unchained mean to you?
I am, and my life is a journey to discover everyday what I’m going to become–with no fear.

Follow more of Delphine’s art, thoughts and musings on her blog, http://delphinediallo.wordpress.com/, and visit her professional site at http://www.delphinediawdiallo.com/.

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“Afri-Love is a feeling”: Lulu Kitololo Discusses Her Vision, Art and Life Unchained

Imagine all who are inspirited by Africa – all whose lives and hearts have been touched by the spirit of the continent – sharing their passion through collaboration, in the name of mutual empowerment. –Lulu Kitololo

Illustration by Lulu Kitololo

Lulu Kitololo is a self-defined “ideamonger,” using painting, graphic design, illustration, writing and workshops, to tell stories that honor the beauty in women, Africa, life and nature. Lulu is creator of the Afri-love blog, which explores the connections between creativity, self-love and growth for Africans and those inspired by the continent. The blog features commentary, interviews, resources and reviews on art and culture.

Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Lulu moved to New York to earn a BFA in Communications Design from Pratt Institute. After working there as an advertising Art Director, she moved to the UK to pursue a Master’s in African Studies at the University of London.

Can you tell us about Afri-love?

Afri-love is a feeling. I remember being this really opinionated, patriotic kid, before I even really knew anything … about anything! When I left Kenya to pursue higher education in the US, I gained an even greater interest in where I came from. I was constantly meeting Africans, from all over the continent, and I observed that, diverse as our homelands were, there was so much we had in common. Especially, a love for the lands that were so much a part of us, no matter where we happened to be.

Design by Lulu Kitololo


Last year, I finally gave a name to that strong feeling and created an online space to express it, to share it with others and to collect all the expressions of it that I could find. I like to think of the website as a community for creativity and passion for Africans and all those who identify with or have an affinity for the continent.

Essentially, it’s a blog where you can find African and African-inspired art, design, literature and more. One of my favorite aspects is the interviews. I’ve had the opportunity to profile some amazing people who are living their passions and who are inspired by and devoted to Africa.

The vision of love you describe on Afri-Love is beautiful.  You say:

Imagine Africans who love who they are, as they are, and so love each other and the environment that nurtures them. Confident and assertive, they are engaged in charting their growth and celebrating success as defined on their own terms.

Imagine all who are inspirited by Africa – all whose lives and hearts have been touched by the spirit of the continent – sharing their passion through collaboration, in the name of mutual empowerment.

What compelled you to write this as you did?

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Dreaming Through Art: Our Conversation with Daisy Giles


I aim to explore the beautifully natural and the stunningly fantastical…to express things that are inexpressible in words, which only live on the tips of tongues, in the subconscious, and in dreams of suppressed purposes and identities. –Daisy Giles

Live Unchained had the pleasure to speak with painter Daisy Giles, who studies and creates art in Minnesota. An admitted Harry Potter fan, she recognizes the magical in everyday life and translates that into vibrant, fantastical and beautiful paintings. We discussed her art, creative process, and inspirations.

Photo of Daisy Giles by Gyasi Jones

Can you tell us a little about your artistic background?
How did you become interested in art and why?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. My mother’s and my paintings cover the walls in our home (and my father’s office). My mom always loved to paint, as did both of her brothers and her own mother, so I suppose you could say its in my blood. Art was always a hobby for me however, and it wasn’t until taking some elective art courses at the University of Minnesota that I was opened up to the idea that I could pursue art as a career. I am incredibly thankful to my parents for always being supportive in this interest – my father bringing home stacks of recycled paper from his job for me to draw, my parents’ paying for private and community art classes when I was younger, building special storage in their basement for my artwork, and most recently – providing me with financial support that enabled me to quit my job so as to spend more time on the my art as I complete my BFA program. I am incredibly and eternally grateful to them for supporting my passion.

Mette by Daisy Giles. Oil on Panel.

Of your art, you’ve said:
In my work, I aim to explore the beautifully natural and the stunningly fantastical…My work is meant to express things that are inexpressible in words, which only live on the tips of tongues, in the subconscious, and in dreams of suppressed purposes and identities.

Can you say a little about what you mean by this? How did you come to be committed to this purpose?
Guilty pleasure and embarrassing admission: I am a Harry Potter fanatic. I love the Twilight series, I love fairy tales and folktales, I love campfires and spooky stories, and I love the idea that there is hidden magic all around me. I also am very interested in showcasing the beauty in things and people as they are: round bellies, soft bodies, wild hair, and humped backs. I feel like I am constantly painting portraits of myself, be it how I feel or how I want to feel.

The relationship between these two interests is what I am most concerned with exploring. I like the tension it creates when these two ideas collide. I think that there is something magical in every one of my paintings, something hidden and secret, something private, but something powerful nonetheless. I like playing with the simple situation of a beautiful and natural woman, pot bellied and relaxed, with the implausible situation of her hair growing three feet past her head and branching out to become a resting place for nearby birds. I like creating images of things that aren’t actual possible but that I wish were possible and that somehow feel like they could be. I think that these feelings are ones that many women can relate too, but that they perhaps can’t quite put their finger on and can’t quite define. When I am creating images, its always to express a feeling or an idea that I feel cannot ever be fully expressed in words.

Pomi's Roses by Daisy Giles. Oil on Canvas.

We’re sure it differs from piece to piece, but in general, can you share what the creative process and inspiration has been like for your portraits and your new series, Roses? How would you describe the aesthetic of these pieces?
The works in Roses, like all of my final works, begin with sketches, sketches, sketches. I let myself daydream and sometimes I let myself sleep. I like to create environments unto themselves, where my subjects are able to ponder whatever they so desire in solitude. Roses was no different from my Trees & Birds collection, in that I wanted to create these fictional locations, however in Roses, I really wanted the focus to be much more on the environment and on that seclusion than on the subject. So, rather than use the sparse open spaces that I created in my previous series, I came up with this concept of flowers crowding and encasing someone. I always begin my sketches with an overwhelming feeling (or some times multiple feelings) that I want to come across and then I go from there.

Who are some of your artistic inspirations?
Kara Walker is a huge inspiration. Her work literally gives me chills. I think I am so enamored with her work because she is able to walk that line of fantasy and the barely plausible so well. Her large-scale installations allow her to place the person viewing her work into her created environment and further heighten the tension created by the dark and violent images she creates. I admire her ability to create extremely beautiful and delicate images that are at the same time so heavy, so disgusting, and so off-putting. Mark Ryden greatly inspires me for similar reasons, although these tensions are expressed very differently in his work. I sometimes spend hours browsing his website and I absolutely never become bored with his highly detailed and romantic surrealism.

Ms. Paris by Daisy Giles. Oil on Panel.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I am constantly working on new and different projects. I like to keep it moving so that I am never bored with what I am working on and so that I always have five different things I can work on at once. However, I am currently most excited about my first portrait project. I have always drawn and painted commissioned portraits for those that would like them, but the portraits in this current project are created completely on my own terms. I am using real people and their real personalities for inspiration. (-Big thanks to my good friends who didn’t put up a fight when I begged them to model for me!) I have so far completed three of these life-size portraits and I have four others in progress. It is a new direction that I am very excited about.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?
Living unchained can mean many things, but to me, it means following your gifts and your passions without fear. The fear of failure can be overwhelming at times and I fall victim to it as easily as does anyone else, but it is important to me to not let that fear paralyze myself from action. I plan to give my art everything that I have and I’ll know then that I tried. The worst case scenario is that I never make it big, but I do know I will have created some beautiful things along the way and that’s okay with me.

Join Daisy’s e-mail list here http://daisygiles.com/contact.html to get the latest on her shows, exhibitions, new work, and publications.

Please vote Live Unchained. Let’s show up, show out and shut it down!

As always, we need your love and support. It only takes 30 seconds to vote Live Unchained

We are in a competition to win seed money to develop our initiative as a non-profit organization. We’ve already developed a business plan, preliminary board of directors and short and long-term goals. We are ready to take our project to the next level and do justice to a project of this scope and importance. So, this competition is right on time.

Please vote for Live Unchained here: http://we.ideascale.com/a/dtd/Global-Arts-Media-Initiative-for-Women-of-African-Descent/101969-12001

You simply need to register (don’t worry you won’t receive a ton of annoying e-mails) and then click “I Agree” next to our project. You have to maker sure you click “I Agree”–some people simply clicked “Like” thinking they voted, but if you don’t see your name, the vote didn’t count.

Also, please leave comments explaining why you support Live Unchained. We appreciate everything we’ve seen so far =)

Come April, we’ll all be winners. Now, it’s time to show up, show out and shut it down! Please take 30 seconds to vote Live Unchained now.

“When you know better, you do better.”–Maya Angelou

2010 has been a trip in every sense of the word.

As with 2009 we “smiled, laughed, made mistakes, networked, re-grouped, danced, wore bright colors, traveled, repeated mistakes, wrote poetry, video-chatted, got our hopes up, proof-read, got angry, read a lot, made time, received much love, learned about the Diaspora, strained our eyes, made ends meet” etc.

With all of its challenges, blessings and surprises (pleasant and unpleasant) 2010 has been good to us.

A year later, what I am most proud of is that we learned from these experiences.  As a force, Live Unchained is older, wiser and don’t-take-no-messier =) Now, it’s time to do better because we know better.

As we continue to take the time to listen to our readers, prepare and learn for the future of this initiative, we are confident that 2011 will not only be better, but our best year.

Thank you to everyone who supported us throughout 2010.  We appreciate all of your love.

Living Unchained is a Journey

Guest post by Felicia Montgomery

Felicia Montgomery dedicates her life to connecting communities through creative communications as a non-profit fundraising and communications expert, social entrepreneur and multi-media producer. She resides in Washington, DC and blogs, tweets, and speaks on issues ranging from philanthropy and social business to race and human rights. Contact her or follow her musings at http://twiter.com/4socialgood or http://www.linkedin.com/in/feliciamontgomery.

When I learned of Live Unchained and its focus on women of African descent, I think the image was rather literal in my head. Since the end of slavery, we have been living in a sense, unchained.

Yet, I thought it was rather interesting to explore that thought, that question of “are we truly living unchained?” If so, how are we achieving that? What factors inhibit our ability to live unchained? And, what sparks the desire for some to go down a different path that varies from the strict social construct of the black woman living in the Americas.

I’m proud that there are projects like Live Unchained that seek to provide a spotlight on so many black women living in the nexus of creativity, activism, entrepreneurship, technology and communications. I definitely put myself in that category.

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Dreams are the realest things in life…

They are so serious, powerful and unstoppable.

Dreams never simply go from our minds to multi-millions; everyone goes through a transition period. I recently had a lesson about this, which also explained that some of us get lost in the transition phase–times when we experience a series of challenges and slow-motion progress and begin to think that the closest we’ll get to our dreams is the fantasy. Transition can feel like torture.

Harlem Renaissance artist Georgia Douglas Johnson captures this feeling well in, “My Little Dreams.”

I’m folding up my little dreams

Within my heart tonight,

And praying I may soon forget

The torture of their sight.

For time’s deft fingers scroll my brow

With fell relentless art—

I’m folding up my little dreams

Tonight, within my heart.

This poem is just as sad as it is universal. It reminds me of another lesson. Imagine your dream as a $100 dollar bill. If you had folded and unfolded it a million times, it would be wrinkled, but it would still be worth $100. I thought many of my dreams wouldn’t become realities because I had second-guessed or made too many mistakes. Truth is, every noted artist (I said artist and not star), is just someone who survived the transition periods of hopelessness to keep their hearts open.

We at Live Unchained, as with many of our friends, are in a transition/grinding/working-like-the-rent-is-due phase right now. We try to remember that life has its cycles and transition periods do end. They were meant to end. As Lauryn Hill sang: “After winter, must come spring, change it comes eventually…Tomorrow our seeds will grow.” But, before breaking the record for first-week sales for a female artist and winning five grammies for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill sang and lost at the Apollo.

But, she made it through the transition. And, of course, Lauryn has had her challenges, like we all do, but she comes through with beautiful pieces to share.

Dreams are the realest things in life. Live Unchained.