Founder and creative director KK Obi and editorial director Emmanuel Balogun offer a glimpse inside issue 1
In 2017, in partnership with LNCC and Nataal, London-based stylist KK Obi concepted and published a limited edition zine called Boy.Brother.Friend. “The title came from a literal moment in my life where I was able to take portraits of and celebrate all the amazing people around me,” he explains. “Some of whom were friends, some of them are like brothers to me, with whom I have shared a lot and have shaped and inspired me in a lot of ways.” It was a heartfelt ode to a community which had accepted him and now held him tight for ten years. “As I grow and evolve, these same people are there guiding me and others towards the future,” he adds. Last week, Obi, alongside editorial director Emmanuel Balogun, took this sentiment further with the launch of issue 1 of Boy.Brother.Friend, the bi-annual print magazine.
Described as a space which “seeks to examine fashion, contemporary art, and theory through the guise of the male experience”, the mag itself is a chunky 200-page-plus journey, complete with three covers. Its features are guided by the overarching theme of ‘Discipline’, which unravels across five chapters; ‘Control’, ‘Community’, ‘Environment’, ‘Family’ and ‘Post-Visibility’. Inside readers will find interviews with Peckham-born actor Damson Idris and designer Kenneth Ize, fashion shoots by Hendrik Schneider, photoshoots from Campbell Addy and Mohamed Bourouissa, a look into the archives of sex activist and artist Ajamu X, poetry from Olusegun Romeo Ogun, and explorations of issues such as mental health and toxic behaviour. As a nod to its original incarnation, the issue’s final chapter, ‘Family’, rounds out with a visual portfolio celebrating young creatives. Alongside the digital publication, Obi and Balogun have launched Boy.Brother.Friend’s website, which will showcase a selection of artist commissions.
“We wanted to celebrate those that are not often seen in mainstream arenas but whose craft influence it, and those whose practices stand for what we believe to be something meaningful,” Obi says. “It’s important for myself and the publication’s contributors to write ourselves into history. Documenting ourselves, each other and the driving forces behind our work in a physical format is key.”
Below, Obi and Balogun speak on what readers can expect from Boy.Brother.Friend’s new era.
“It’s important for myself and the publication’s contributors to write ourselves into history” – KK Obi
It feels like you’ve laid the foundations of issue 1 with heart and community. How did you go about selecting who to include in this issue?
KK Obi and Emmanuel Balogun: It was important for us to welcome contributions and feature people within our community. Those we have known for some time and whose work we have experienced up close and personal. We wanted Issue 1 to amplify the hunger that drives the grind and genuine talent. We wanted to celebrate those that are not often seen in mainstream arenas but whose craft influence it, and those whose practices stand for what we believe to be something meaningful.
In your editor's letter, you mention that COVID-19 hit just before you went to print. Did this change anything that we now see in the mag?
KK Obi: We initially planned to release the publication as a print-only limited edition. Lockdown made an IRL event impossible because of the growing public health concerns and government restrictions. While it would’ve been ideal to get all of the contributors and supporters together to celebrate our work on Issue 1, releasing the publication as a digital edition has actually allowed us to share the magazine and its message with a much wider community – which we feel is actually way more essential, especially in these times.
How does the final product compare to the ideas you had when you first dreamed this up?
KK Obi: It’s been a journey and to be honest, we’re overwhelmed by the amount of support and response we’ve had from the contributors and the wider community. It gives us great encouragement and confidence in what we’re creating: the much-needed space for us by us.
One of the earliest features in the mag is a text from Shakeena Johnson. It’s a very personal but scathing address of black men – specifically a man who she loves who doesn’t love her back. Why did you decide to begin with this?
Emmanuel Balogun: It was important to let the reader know early on that we are not only seeking to represent how identity and personhood plays out for men within the diaspora, black or ethnic ethnicities, but we felt a responsibility to highlight some of the dilemmas, contradictions and repercussions that people have experienced when they’re in relationships with men from the diaspora, black or ethnic minority communities. Shakeena’s story does not belong to her alone, her words have great efficacy in healing; the text healed her heart through her process of writing and offers comfort to any reader that can relate to a similar heartbreak, pain or unjust rejection.
bell hooks’ voice is threaded throughout the issue – why did you decide to use her words?
Emmanuel Balogun: bell is a critical voice and has written so many significant texts on the topic of self-love and how to work towards a better love shared between black men and women. Puncturing the magazine with affirmations and empowering quotes from scholars including bell hooks, Cornel West, and Stuart Hall was our way of illustrating how we intended to contribute to and continue on their vital work…
Poetry also has a strong presence in the issue – what drew you to include so much of it?
Emmanuel Balogun: As a writer, I’m drawn to words… we wanted to seduce the reader into more reading. Lacing the publication with different types of writing, language, and approaches to lyricism was our way of giving the reader a number of ways to connect with or decode the images that were being presented to them. The poems in Issue 1 touch upon matters such as sexuality, hedonism, violence, death, homophobia, family, exclusion, and more. We wanted these issues to be confronted with and thought about. Poetry, with its multiple ways of reading, felt like the best approach.
Why did you choose ‘Discipline’ as its theme and how is that unpacked in the issue?
KK Obi and Emmanuel Balogun: We started from looking at structures within our personal lives. Taking into account the fact that most of the team and our contributors come from communities defined by either a first or second-generation migrant-status, we felt a duty to unpack how heritage informs self-actualisation, identity-making, and our respective practices. From several conversations between the team and our contributors we arrived at ‘Discipline’ and what it means in the context of control, community, family, environment, and post-visibility.
Through an interview with actor Damson Idris, he shares how his family and upbringing in Peckham served as his moral compass or mode of discipline.
Through cartographies of the black male psyche, a deep-dive into mental health, we learn how in certain cases state-run mental health institutions dismiss human rights and prescribe without an aim to get to the root of the problem. The piece raises questions of how inherited notions of masculinity and mental health need to be reframed and given new language.
‘Community’ and ‘Post-visibility’ will remain as important themes to our work going forward as we set ourselves with the task of bringing forth works and artists that had somehow fallen into a state of vacuum. Featuring the important work of Black LGBTQ arts and heritage organisation rukus!, artist Oladele Bamgboye and others in issue 1 forces readers to question why certain discourses and artist’s work did not persist and simply do not exist in public realms today.
As the publication is a tribute to our community we wanted to hone in the communities’ knowledge, celebrating their practices in ways that contextualises all the happenings around us and from their stance.
Can you tell us more about the digital platform that has launched?
KK Obi: The platform is an extension of the Boy.Brother.Friend universe where we’ll be inviting emerging and established voices to contribute and participate in the narrative. It’s not dedicated to film-only, however, the site was launched with films from Hendrik Schneider and a film by Alexander Ingham Brooke will be screened on the site throughout June.
When will we see issue 2?
KK Obi: It’s already in motion, please stay tuned…
What do you hope someone reading Boy.Brother.Friend might take away from it?
KK Obi: We hope that they see themselves within the words, stories, and pages of Issue 1 and the editions to follow.