Photo and story by Daniel Stewart
We collaborated this week with Chicago-based photographer Daniel Stewart who chose to spotlight the impact story of Imani Love – a young poet and communal inspiration leading the charge against racial injustice.
“An artist’s duty is to reflect the times…and at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when everyday is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but to be involved.” – Nina Simone
When hearing this quote, I can’t help but visualize Imani Love. As a poet, she uses her artistry to raise awareness and stir up necessary discussion on current social injustices. “I use my writing as a mirror. To reflect on not only myself, but my emotions and the world around me”, says Imani. A lot of her work talks about institutionalized violence, police brutality, and the present effects of post-colonial trauma. “Writing about how these things affect me and the communities I’m in, is a kind of necessary therapy.”
While poetry is Imani’s preferred form of expression, she often uses other art forms to get her message across. “I think that as a young person, I’m privileged with opportunities to share my thoughts with my peers, especially because of social media, so i see it as social responsibility to use whatever platforms I have, to talk about things that affect my communities, and are really important to me.”
In February of this year, Imani and I collaborated on a photo project entitled, “Erosion”. This series depicts white society’s often lustful appropriation of a black woman’s body. “There are these blatant robberies of culture that are taken and made trendy and conglomerated by white society,” Imani stated in our interview with the Huff Post.
“Erosion” shows the sheer discomfort black women face when their features are fetishized. Love said it takes an emotional toll when black women constantly see synthetic attributes meant to mimic their natural bodies being uplifted while their natural bodies are ridiculed.
This project was meant to shine a light on this problem, but Imani wants to ensure that it’s also empowering for women. “It’s a celebration of all types of black women and black women’s bodies who do go through this experience,” Love said. “You don’t have to just have confidence in your body because all these other people want to appropriate your features. You can have confidence in your body because you are amazing people.” This project has embodied how we, as young people, can push for change.
Four months later, “Erosion” has over 350,000 views and 3000+ retweets on twitter alone. The project also received 14,000 reblogs on Tumblr and coverage from several media outlets, like The Huffington Post and Aplus.com.
When working on her poetry, you’ll typically find Imani in one of two places. Either she’ll be in her room, or at her favorite park. “My room is like a sanctuary to me, it allows me to get into my thoughts and offers me a place of solace when I’m getting my writing done.” Imani said, “But at the same time, it can feel a little confining.” When that happens, Imani often leaves her dorm and walks to the park. It gives her the same feeling of sanctuary that her room gives, but also the freedom of being in a wide open space.
“Being somewhere quiet and peaceful really fuels my writing process. Nothing’s worse than not being able to hear my own thoughts.” Imani’s process is fairly straightforward — she free writes her thoughts until there’s nothing left.
Honestly, watching Imani perform is always a pleasure. To see the love she has for her artistry mixed with the raw emotion she pours into her work, all put into her performances, is mesmerizing to say the least. “Before performing, I get really anxious. Like, the perfect mix of excitement and nervousness. Performing is an exchange between me and my audience, I want to give them everything I have.” she states. However, from the outside looking in, you wouldn’t see a trace of “nervous” on her. You see nothing but confidence and pure joy.
When performing, Imani isn’t afraid to leave it all on the stage. She uses her pen as an extension of her heart and true emotions. It’s for these reasons, that Imani has a tattoo of her favorite pen on her arm. “My tattoo serves as a reminder of all the reasons why I write. I write for sanity, sanctity, growth, my lineage and for revolution.” Imani truly wears her heart on her sleeve.
“Moving forward, I’ll be working on holding myself back less. Sometimes I get scared to let myself move into new mediums, but there is nothing worse for an artist than being content. This year I want to create and complete my second poetry collection.” says Imani. “When I was working on my first collection, ‘And Then The Church Said’ I loved having that internal pressure on myself to always be creating towards a specific goal. But besides that, I really just plan on growing as much as possible as an artist, creating more spaces for art and activism to collide, and having those conversations that we as a society need to make change.”
Imani is an artist that I look up to. She has a certain drive and ambition to do better, that I personally think is a gift. If she has taught me anything, It’s to remain humble, yet ambitious. Never settle and always look for ways to grow as a person and as an artist. Most importantly, create work that you’re passionate about and always aim to stir up conversation for social impact.