Black In The Day
How do you rewrite history? For British-born Nigerian Tania Nwachukwu it started with a scanner. Tania is co-founder of Black in the Day, an organisation that aims to re-claim the lives and experiences of Black people in the UK through crowd-sourcing images from family archives to piece together the neglected portrait of Black lives in Britain over the years. She also happens to be an accomplished dancer, actor, and poet. We sat down with the talented 25 year old and talked about the power of nostalgia, Andre 3000, and speaking out.
There’s a damaging rhetoric that women can’t ‘have it all’ or pursue interests in more than one field, have you ever felt pressure (from yourself or others) to pick and choose in regard to all your creative projects and performing?
I definitely feel like I’m supposed to choose, all the time. That pressure comes from all over. People used to tell me that in order to be successful, I should focus on one thing only - and maybe they’re right. But I’ve accepted that I really can’t choose between acting, dancing, writing poetry and (more recently) working on Black in the Day so now I’m just doing it all. Sometimes it is difficult to pursue all my interests simultaneously because naturally something gets less attention, but that’s the risk I’m taking. I might be doing it wrong but at the moment I’m really content.
How do you find time to pursue so many diverse interests?
I’ve learnt to become a lot more economic with my time. The ability to be selfish and how to say no to people without feeling guilty are skills I’ve had to teach myself. I used to dedicate a lot of time to friends and didn’t realise how that meant less time for me and doing the things I need to do to get to where I want to be. I’m still learning how to balance everything.
Tell us about your work as a performer . . .
I’ve been performing for as long as I can remember. My parents founded a cultural African dance group called Adanta when I was 4 or 5. So my childhood was spent on the road performing in front of audiences across the UK on most weekends, while other kids my age were at home watching Saturday night television. Performing is second nature. I love being on stage. Storytelling and sharing are at the core of everything I do. That’s what drives me to perform. If I’m not able to tell a story or share a moment, then I’m not fulfilled.
When did you start writing and develop as a poet? Were there any poets or lyricists who were particularly formative for you?
I started writing when I was in primary school. It was one of the things I was gifted at; I got praised a lot for my writing so naturally I took to it. I got started as a poet by accident. I was trying to get over a breakup and wrote about it. My friend encouraged me to perform the poem at an event and it was a snowball effect from there. I didn’t grow up wanting to become a poet and wouldn’t have imagined it would play such a huge part in my life. It was just something I liked and was good at doing. I think I really considered myself a poet when I joined Barbican Young Poets. It was the first time I was surrounded by people who loved writing and made it feel like a space I could inhabit. A lot of my peers have been formative for me. Their many different, distinct voices are ones I didn’t have access to growing up. They write as they talk, write what they know, take simple moments and make them beautiful. I think hip-hop also helped shape how I approach storytelling. Andre 3000 is my favourite rapper of all time and really got me thinking about the infinite possibilities words have.
You’re also part of the wonderful poetry collective Octavia who recently performed at the Southbank Centre. What was that like? How did you originally get involved?
I am so lucky to be part of the Octavia family. I look forward to our sessions. Rachel Long is a G for creating a space for WoC poets. We love each other genuinely and we care for each other’s wellbeing. That’s the most important thing. We ask how each other’s days have been. We listen. We love. We laugh and then we write. Performing at the Southbank was great. I’m always pleasantly surprised when we fill out a space like the Clore Ballroom and have the audience hooked on our every word. It’s usually very noisy on weekends, but as soon as we touch the mic? Silence.
Who inspires you and your work? Is there anyone you look up to?
My peers inspire my work. I’m lucky to be around young Black British people who care about their community and the way their actions can help change the world. My friends are poets, art directors, actors, writers, radio hosts, singers, curators, teachers, designers, doctors and more, so it’s difficult to be around them and not feel inspired.
How did Black in the Day first come about?
Black in the Day is a submission based photo archive documenting the lives and experiences of Black people in the UK over the decades. It started when Jojo (my co-founder) and I were talking about our parent’s throwback photos from the 80s and 90s. We discussed the importance of archiving and telling our own stories and wondered how we could do that on a larger scale. I think our generation is really invested in defining what it means to be Black British/Black in Britain and taking control of how we’re seen. With Black in the Day we’re contributing by sourcing and preserving images of the people who came before us.
How has social media impacted the way you’ve implemented the project?
Social Media has helped our project so much! We basically have the world at our fingertips and have been able to reach people beyond our own personal networks. I think people gravitate towards the project because of its nostalgic element and also the importance of what we’re doing.
Do you find the project has created a strange kind of nostalgia? Can nostalgia be useful?
In a way yes. I think one of the most notable things our project has enabled is intergenerational conversations. We’ve sat down with grandparents and their grandchildren as they’ve gone through their photo albums and the grandchildren always come away from it learning something new about their family history and who their grandparents/parents were before their time.
We’re probably all guilty of having hundreds of files of photos that sit unloved and un-looked at in our computers. When you take a photo now are you more conscious about recording and documenting things for the future? Has working on the project impact the way you go about documenting your own life?
I would say it’s the other way round actually. The way I document my own life has actually impacted the way we go about the project. I’ve always been conscious of the idea of documentation and whenever I take photos or videos, I always have future Tania in mind. I always think about how lucky I am that my Mum has loads of pictures from her teens and twenties. I love going through her photo albums and seeing her and her mates looking swaggy and enjoying their best life. If I have children, I would want for them to be able to have that same feeling. To be able to see who their mother was before she became their mother.
How do you go about selecting which images to feature for Black in the Day?
We have a weekly hashtag called #ThrowblackThursday where we post a picture from our archive on all our socials. We select images for many different reasons. Sometimes it’s because the caption is touching, the colour theory pops, or because the Thursday coincides with an occasion like Valentine’s Day or Carnival. It’s an opportunity for us to choose an image to draw people’s interest in our project, to make them want to find out more and hopefully submit pictures of their own.
What are your hopes for the future of Black in the Day? We’ve heard an exhibition is planned . . .
So many things! The beauty of the project is that there’s scope to do so many things and so many collaborations. We’re open to working with anyone. So far we’ve worked with the Tate, ICA, V&A Museum and Gal-Dem. We’re currently working on a Scanning Social tour, taking our event to cities outside London. Our archive has to be representative of the whole country. An exhibition is in the works, definitely. But for now our focus is on growing the archive and getting people engaged with what we’re doing.
What are you looking forward to in 2017?
This year I’m looking forward to doing more things that scare me. I’m looking forward to travelling more. I’m looking forward to seeing where BITD grows to, how many people we can reach, how many images we can source. I’m looking forward to more love, more life and more opportunities for personal growth. Oh - and I’m looking forward to Notting Hill Carnival because it’ll be my first time playing mas (wearing a costume). I’m talking bra, feathers and sequins. So excited!
What drives you?
Love drives me. Honestly. I think that’s it. As much as it’s making me cringe to give such a cliché answer, it’s true. I love all the things I do and that makes it ten times easier to do all the late nights, and make certain sacrifices. When you love something, you put it before yourself.
Learn more about Black in the Day here. Follow Tania on twitter @gwehgweh1