Since its founding in 2005 as an antidote to the whitewashed world of alternative music, Afropunk Festival has grown to become a no-holds-barred celebration of black culture, fearless fashion and artistic expression, with offshoots in cities including London, Paris, Atlanta, and Johannesburg.
The festival hit New York’s Brooklyn last weekend, with two days of electrifying performances – Sampha and Solange did a “Don’t Touch My Hair” duet, Princess Nokia got political and called out the “terrible” Donald Trump, and SZA cycled through her tracks (including “The Weekend” and “Supermodel”) with boundless energy.
Here, captured in portraits by photographer Hugo Scott, the day’s most individual and eye-catching attendees (as well as a few from director Spike Lee’s annual block party, also hosted that weekend in Brooklyn) open up about their stories, style, and why the festival is a vital space in today’s social and political landscape.
“I was born in Hartford, Connecticut but I have always had an attraction to New York – it’s full of people following their dreams and finding success, doing the things they love which is rare in Connecticut. I fit right in here without even trying.
This image was taken right in front of the box office at Afropunk on the second day after I ended up buying a fake ticket like a dweeb. I’m wearing a red bodysuit by MatteBrand with a pair of snakeskin Topshop boots I’m obsessed with. Three things made me choose this outfit: first off I look damn good in red! The second reason is that I was kind of hesitant to wear this because my stomach isn’t rock hard anymore like it has been the majority of my life and I’ve been a bit insecure about it – but I wanted to accept myself fully in this womanly body and say fuck it, so that’s what I did. Life’s too short to give a fuck about everything that doesn’t meet our expectations.
Third, knowing that a young black girl like me followed her dreams and started a successful brand is dope so I thought I could support her in that way even though I don’t know her personally. I just picked this out like 30 minutes before I made my way out. I don’t put a lot of time into getting dressed. I reflect what I’m wearing off of my mood that day. If I’m feeling edgy I’ll be in all black. If I’m feeling creative it’ll show in how I mix texture, patterns or match colours and so on. I’ve always had my head dug into fashion magazines as a youth so it’s also super fun for me, some of my biggest influences were fashion icons so I take pride in looking put together – it’s a characteristic of mine at this point.
“Black people don’t own a damn thing in this country and it’s refreshing having a place to go that embraces us just the way we are – loud, expressive, and colourful”
This was my third year at Afropunk, I had an amazing time. I’m super happy I was able to make Solange – her show was super inspirational. It’s a breath of fresh air to be around black and brown people unapologetically expressing themselves. I went with my boyfriend who designs clothes so it was a good opportunity to network for him. I also brought my cousin and little sister who has never experienced anything like it so I was happy to expose them to such culture.
Afropunk represents black people embracing their heritage and culture fearlessly. Yes, this one is for us. Honestly, events like this are important because black people don’t own a damn thing in this country and it’s refreshing having a place to go that embraces us just the way we are – loud, expressive, and colourful. We are such a beautiful people and not only does Afropunk embrace it celebrates it. We deserve that shit seeing how everything in society that pertains to beauty excludes us.
Luckily growing up in a Rastafarian household I was blessed with the opportunity of overstanding most things. As a kid, I knew that people would think my dreads were ugly and weird. but with a rich sense of African culture and history, I knew that I was just living in my most natural state of being. I was named after an African warrior queen so I’ve had a sense of power in my name and identified with being royal since I can remember and that’s where my confidence stems from. Also having an idol like Haile Selassie I knew that all things were possible living righteously and Godly and in me doing that I’m just being true to myself. My hair has been my biggest rebellion to western culture’s perception of beauty and one of the tools of my success. I’m a reminder to all people of what an empress is and looks like. I’d be nothing without my heritage and culture. It’s empowering knowing my worth and history didn’t start in slavery. I’m also a reminder of that.”
“I’m from Hartford Connecticut and I’m a big fan of Afropunk so I try to make it to New York every year to participate. NY is special to me because it’s the home of creativity and opportunity, nobody is really there to judge you – in fact, everyone pretty much minds their own business.
This was my second Afropunk and I went with my beautiful girlfriend – the lady in red. The image was captured at the box office – we were having a hard time getting in the festival. I’m wearing a Bruce Lee t-shirt that I hand painted and some pants I got from an H&M in Cali. I didn’t really plan the outfit, as going to Afropunk was kind of a last minute thing.
Clothes play a huge role in my self-expression. I’m currently starting up a clothing brand and all I want is to express black people. Our condition, our likes and dislikes. From poor to rich – I want my people to express themselves with my clothes so the outside world understands what it is we are going through.
“I’m starting a clothing brand and all I want is to express black people. I want my people to express themselves with my clothes so the world understands what we are going through”
To me, Afropunk means being unapologetically black. Every day we have to hold ourselves back a little, just so we can fit into society and won’t be judged or cast out. That’s why Afropunk is so important, it shows the world our African culture that we portray so effortlessly.
My heritage has done nothing but empower me. From the scrumptious cooked food to the hard working elders before me, I have felt nothing but pride in myself and my people. However, as I did research on African culture and dug deeper into our history, I found that we are much greater and powerful than what I thought before.
I realised that no matter where you are from, the skin complexion or accent – we are all African. I remember being young and when you were called African it was looked at as an insult, so a lot of people grew up believing that. To this day you can still find people like that and I think it’s horrible, we must embrace ourselves no matter what and accept our greatness that was disguised to be a downfall.”
“My name is Kayla Muldrow but I go by Eleven. I’m from Newark New Jersey originally but I currently attend Cooper Union in Manhattan, so I live here now. New York is special to me because it connects you with people all over the world and it’s alive every hour of the day and night.
What made me choose the outfit I wore was an impulsive need to be chaotic. I thrive and enjoy chaos, it’s an art form to me. I wanted to overwhelm both myself and the viewer as much as I could with my low budget. I planned the foundation of my outfit, which was the pants and the platforms, and then everything else was little details that came and found me.
“The blackness that I have has instilled in me an unwithering funkiness so that no matter where I go I’m captivating and I am a sight”
This year makes my third year attending Afropunk. For me, Afropunk represents a black heaven. It is a paradise for oppressed and silenced souls to indulge creatively and artistically in any and everything. It’s more than just a festival, it’s a community, a movement, an experience. My heritage and my identity have always been things that have empowered me. As a black girl from the ‘hood’, I feel like I have an incredible sense of humour, my mouth is full of slang, I’m not afraid to talk to anyone, I can appreciate places and events where people are happy, and I can handle tougher and sadder people too. You can handle seeing both sides of the world. And the blackness that I have has instilled in me an unwithering funkiness so that no matter where I go I’m captivating and I am a sight.”
“I was born in Burkina Faso but I moved to New York with my mother and younger brother for a better education and opportunities. I love the diversity of the city – you can find people from all over the world. People of different cultures and identities all in one spot.
This image was taken in Commodore Barry Park. I’m wearing one of my own designs that I created for class but decided to wear it to Afropunk because it was a deconstructed thrifted oversized t-shirt that is now a two piece. The clothes I wear are to make people feel a way. A good way. I want people to see my outfits and think ‘this reminds me of .....’ or ‘omg this such a look.’ I’m always wearing bold colours to show how I feel or what I wish to feel.
“Events like Afropunk are important because they give us a place to be ourselves”
This was not my first time at Afropunk. It was really festive and full of happiness, I came by myself but met some friends there. It’s is a place of creativity, colour, adventure in the mind of others, beautiful music, and diversity all coming together. Events like Afropunk are important because they give us a place to be ourselves. To be free with what we choose to wear, what music we want to listen to, to support our brothers and sisters’ businesses, and most of all to celebrate us.
My heritage and identity have always been something that empowered me on the inside but it was a journey to let it out for others to be empowered by too.”