Kamnelechukwu Obasi is a magnificent storyteller whose mediums include poetry, photography, and filmmaking. Through these art forms, she has addressed themes such as mental health, body positivity, and toxic masculinity in a largely patriarchal society like Nigeria.
I interviewed her on behalf of Forcreativegirls community, we discussed her creative journey, how she handles impostor syndrome and the inspiration behind her online community for creatives.
Lydia Ume: Can you walk us through your story and career journey into being a Creative?
Hey!!!!! My creative journey is an unconventional blend that came as a result of trauma. I am forever stuck between being grateful for it and screaming hell no I never deserved any of this. I am a self-taught documentary photographer and storyteller which came as a result of trying to find my voice after the trauma happened – because I lost my physical voice for 8 months and knew that if I didn’t speak up I was going to die. Photography gave me my voice back and I have been on that path since then.
Did you have a eureka moment when you realized you were going into the arts instead of a career in computer science?
I like to joke that I got my certificate for my mother because I had always wanted to be a lawyer and she vehemently refused, it wasn’t so much of a eureka moment for me because I had always grown up seeking out creative endeavors and self-expression, don’t get me wrong I am pretty badass at coding and being a geek – I would rather be an artist because that’s what fuels my drive to live.
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I am learning to live beyond fear by living through it, and in the process learning to turn fury at my own limitations into some more creative energy. I realize that if I wait until I am no longer afraid to act, write, speak, be, I’ll be sending messages on a Ouija board, cryptic complaints from the other side, When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less important whether or not I am unafraid. Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals Portrait of Sobara ©2017 #soulseeker #fearnot #audrelorde #cancer #portraitmaker #blackandwhite #monochromatic #depressiondiaries #portraitphotography #portraiture #canon50mm #50mm #canon #dslr #storyteller #everydayafrica #visualstories #visualsoflife #photography #photographersofinstagram #livelife #blackandwhitephotography #babygirl #visualartist
Has your educational background in science influenced your art?
Honestly, I would say it isn’t a major influence but what I do know is that having a background in sciences helped me navigate the digital world and helped my drive in learning certain programs which I use for my visual storytelling today- like Adobe Premiere and Lightroom. When I was in school, those programs were foreign to me and I literally had a headache whenever I opened them up but now I am proficient in them and it’s a huge part of my work.
What are the challenges you’ve faced on your creative journey?
Creative anxiety in the shape of Self-doubt and a crippling amount of fear. The truth is most of the time I am always steadily asking myself if I even know what I am doing half of the time. Will people like it? Will they judge me? Is this good enough? Will they want to pay for this? But what I have realized is whenever I start to doubt myself I am probably doing something like looking and comparing my journey to someone else’s and I just meditate and sit still. Dealing with fear is a bit trickier but this is what I say to myself “Fear is how you learn faith” and it doesn’t cripple me so much.
Have you dealt with impostor syndrome? How do you handle it?
I do believe that every person who is undertaking a creative endeavor would experience this at one point in their career. However, for me it still is a struggle to believe that I do know how to do all these things especially when I have no background in art, but what helped me was realizing that “I deserve to be here as much as the next person” and the sudden realization that one day I was going to die and I could sit and mope around waiting for death or go create magical things.
In dismantling stereotypes and the struggle for gender equality, we often ignore what breeds toxic masculinity. What inspired you to document the male body?
My sole aim in this world is to pour so much light into it. The concept of gender has always confused me – still does. However, I do feel that women have been done a great injustice in this life – it almost feels like being born with PTSD and not even knowing what trauma you are even dealing with. Yet I insist that patriarchy doesn’t just affect women, it does affect men too in varying degrees, and toxic masculinity is just one of the ways in which it manifests – in the sense that it boxes them into a role that strips them of being human. My inspiration to document the male body was seeing how a lot of the men in my life suffered as a result of being unable to be human.
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Living is political- Susan Sontag. The more I look into this whole Toxic Masculinity thing as is the thing I am currently trying to unlearn my role in the whole thing as well, I keep coming up on questions about our brothers who are forced to look, act or feel a certain way because sometimes what they call “normal” could save your life. I sat with my Friend Chris briefly to catch up and he was wearing a cap as usual because this hair has landed him in trouble a couple of times. What is your take on this? Do you think it’s improper for our men to wear their hair out or is this hair as a political statement and a reclaiming of our identities only for women?! Leave me a comment. Audio is from a short film from the series Defining Beauty by Nowness #blacklivesmatter #blackhairmovement #nappyhair #nappilyeverafter #experimentalfilm #documentaryfilmmaker
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Innocence is a very fleeting thing. The transformation between boyish glee and the idea of what being an African man is ensures that one is stripped of expression of any sort. From my ongoing project- Egbela enweghi’ ifu. Full text and work is up on my website. Link in bio. #africantradition #photojournalist #everydayafrica #magnumphotofrapher #creativestorytelling #toxicmasculinity #documentaryphotography
Are there ways your creative expressions (poetry, photography, and filmmaking) intersect with each other?
I like to think that they intersect at some point. Being that I like to be identified as a storyteller first- every other thing is just a medium through which my stories come to life.
As a creative, do you have a daily routine or ritual that enhances your productivity as a creative woman?
Meditation, Prayer and turning my notifications off all the time – my creative process is chaotic and my brain most times is a war zone, meditating at least 20mins every day helps keep my anxiety in check and prayer helps keep me grounded and helps me understand that I really am not alone. I recently learned that I get really antsy when I get notifications so I turned them off and only check my messages when I want to and that has really helped curb my self-induced pressure to be this person who everyone says always shows up for them which is always at my own expense.
Your poetry in Brave reads like a manifesto; a call for women to take charge of space, to just be and it also raised the symbol of the body as home. What is home to you?
Home is this body that has graciously carried me for years even when I hated it and sought for a resting place in other people’s bodies – and my friend Itiola Jones wrote a poem which she sent to me recently and she said “Home is wherever memory takes mercy on me” and I couldn’t agree more.
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EKE My Grandmother always spoke of how her chi left her lonely singing sad songs about gods who disguised themselves as men my god, what gods? she held them by the tongue and dragged them through the market place her body aching with undefeated body parts She whistled her victory into the night. the next morning we found her dead. ORIE our bodies are already filled with open festering sores our mouths filled with silence, trying hard to swallow other peoples misery Do not waste your words trying to shove every idea of god down my throat Swallow Binge Throw up Rinse Repeat. We are sick to death AFOR We still know nothing. We are tired of asking our mothers why they want us to faith? We are living testimonies of prayers answered. but we still know nothing. which of the gods answered? NKWO We have survived an invasion of hungry mouths. We found a way to teach each other Joy. We found a way to bleed and not die. We know the color of grief. We have discovered ways to make madness appear normal. We found a way to be more deliberate, more potent, more present do we scare you? my god, i ask again what god?
You recently kick-started a community for creatives, what inspired this move?
The creative cheerleader was borne out of a desire to spread joy, being a young adult can sometimes be very draining and gut-wrenching. Last year I moved back to Lagos and I felt so tiny and disoriented and alone, I was self-harming and was so sad all the time. Early this year I decided that I hated who I was and all the work I was creating and decided to take control of my life – if I had safe spaces where I could go to or someone telling me it was ok, it would have made that transition easier.
What advice do you have for women and girls venturing into the creative sector?
Be your Self- whoever that is and if you have no idea who that person is- take time out and sit with yourself and get to know you better. Because self-awareness is going to ensure you create from a most authentic place. Authenticity and vulnerability will save your life.
How can brands that need your services get in touch with you?
I can be reached on Instagram @kamnelechukwu or Via email firstname.lastname@example.org or my website kamnelechukwuobasi.com.
Lydia Ume is an M.A student in Literature. She identifies as a Feminist and dreams of a world where gender equality and diversity are embraced. When she’s not curled up with a book she blogs at http://badlybehavedlady.wordpress.com and tweets at Lily_notflower.