Part of a collection of poems, visuals and stories centring on African identity and the fashioning of fragility and Blackness.
Interdisciplinary poet Julianknxx wants to write what he calls a “history from below”, making work that dismantles elitist historical, political and sociological narratives through a movement towards a “new moral imagination”.
Bringing together poetry, music and film, he aims to look past the obvious to engage with his subjects through close observation. “My goal is to inspire those who see my work to look more carefully at the world around them”, he explains, “to discover beauty through the lens of a black light.”
In Praise Of Still Boys is a reexamination of the artist’s childhood growing up in Sierra Leone through the lives and experiences of young boys living and growing next to the blue waters of the Atlantic ocean.
The piece draws inspiration both from Barry Jenkins’ 2016 adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue and this 1982 quote from Richard Pryor regarding a visit to Kenya: “So I went to the motherland; it was so beautiful. Just seeing black people in charge of everything. I’m talking about from the wino to the President. It was black. Blue-black. Original black. The kind of black where you go, “Black!”.
From these points of reference Julianknoxx retells the story of his childhood with a blue tint, reflecting on a relationship with the place of his birth cut short by political upheaval. Growing up in Freetown until the age of nine, the poet and his family were forced to flee the country to escape the violence of the Sierra Leone civil war.
Having spent the majority of the rest of his life in London, In Praise Of Still Boys sees the poet looking back to Freetown across the Atlantic Ocean. Twin histories of suffering converge in the colour blue, which for Julianknxx evokes a nostalgia for the waters he was forced to leave, the same waters that claimed the lives of more than a million enslaved Africans as they were transported to the Americas hundred of years earlier.
The visual poem also transports us back through the poet’s past with the inclusion of Krio, an English-based creole spoken mainly in Sierra Leone. The piece begins with the words of his mother, as she relates the story of the poets birth in the language of his ancestors, an oral history of himself. Krio is said to be derived from the Yoruba phrase “a kiri yo” which means “we go-about-aimlessly satisfied”. The nomadic roots of this language casts an ironic light on the poet’s own uprooted origins.
Using his own story, Julianknxx embraces the imperfections fundamental to his own personal history, exploring how the physical and political landscapes of his past inform his present. With In Praise Of Still Boys he imagines a space in which young Sierra Leoneans can try to write their own stories into global history. Expressing local worldviews, the film meditates on change, fate, and everyday magic. Visually anchored by the image of the Atlantic Ocean, the poem explores the relationship between Freetown, the Middle Passage, and the African diaspora.
In Praise Of Still Boys is one part of a larger body of work that will be exhibited at 180 The Strand in the spring of 2021. For more information about Julianknxx and his work, you can follow him on Instagram.