And it's totally free
It's Black History Month, and there is a genuine buzz in the air around the first ever Black Girl Festival, set to take place on October 29.
Curated by Paula Akpan, co-founder of the I'm Tired project and gal-dem's social media editor, and Nicole Crentsil, creator of Unmasked Women, an exhibition which explored the black British female experience in relation to mental health, the festival is vital in the current climate. Its aim is to be a one of a kind celebration which recognises that being a black girl in the UK is both a beautiful and hard thing. Tickets sold out within a week and they're expecting over 300 guests to their Shoreditch venue. There's now a waiting list.
As put by Akpan: “This is needed because black British women are never truly celebrated for just existing in a world that places us at the bottom of the heap. It's so important to acknowledge the unique struggle that black women face in terms of misogynoir while living in a country where people think racism doesn't exist.”
Misogynoir is the combination of racism and sexism levelled at black women, meaning, for instance, that black girls are often viewed as being less innocent that their white peers. It's a topic that will likely be explored in more depth by BBZ London, who will host a workshop on gender and sexuality at the fest. Other planned activites are a live scanning social from Black in the Day, and a panel on the natural hair movement. There will also be a market place, selling the work of black women such as illustrator Olivia Twist, artist DorcasCreates, artisan afro beauty brand The Afro Hair & Skin Co. and zines from SWEET THANG and gal-dem.
“We've essentially invited everyone we're massive fans of and have purchased from before,” says Akpan. “When we're not running around organising on the day, you can catch me in the marketplace getting my life.”
Although there are other black-led festivals and events that take place in the UK, like Afropunk, Decolonise Fest and Black Girl Picnic, this is undoubtedly the first festival of this scale to happen in the whole of the country. “This entire project is based on the thrill we both felt attending Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talk at WOW Southbank Centre earlier this year,” says Crentsil. “It was directly programmed after Angela Davis and I had never seen the Southbank Centre so full of beautiful black women. The energy was electric, exciting and represents the magic we talk about when we shout 'Black Girl Magic'.”
The other thing that sets the project apart is its aim for complete inclusivness. The event is totally free, supported by crowdfunding and sponsorships. “By providing platforms for conversations on gender and sexuality, mental health and black girls in school we will facilitate an intersectional and intergenerational dialogue within the black community,” says Crentsil. “We find that many black girl events are targeted to heterosexual able bodied women and girls. We want to create an event that acknowledges ALL black British women, or self-identifying women, into our space. How could we celebrate us without celebrating all of us?”
The name of the festival reflects their aim to encourage younger black girls to join the conversation around blackness in the UK. “Throughout the planning of this day, while the day is for all ages, we've really tried to focus on what we would've loved to have around when we were younger such as conversations around natural hair, identifying as other then 'heterosexual' and 'cis' within the black community and talking about mental health in relation to blackness,” says Akpan. But, the fesitval is fully intergenerational. By celebrating black British women, past present and future, they're hoping to begin a conversation about what it means to be a black woman now, and what it could mean in the future.
And why should we make sure we turn up and support their ongoing crowdfunder? Crentsil says: “As a community, it's so important to continue to support each others growth whether it be through events, businesses or simply just sharing content on social media. Paula and I regularly support and attend black-led events because we think its pivotal for networking with other black businesses but also supporting their business growth by buying black.”
If the bubbliness and enthusiasm of the pair are anything to go by, Black Girl Festival is going to be a lot of fun.
Get in touch with Black Girl Festival via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them @blackgirlfest
Photography @hirobjones / Rob Jones