XXXXXX || a conversation with Mimi Mutesa by yasmin belkhyr 05.15.2018
What initially brought you to photography & what has kept you coming back?
I initially started photography because my father had a DSLR that he never used. I liked to play around with it, until I realized that I enjoyed telling stories through images. That's what kept bringing me back; the ability to tell stories.
Who are the artists — visual, literary, sonic, etc — that shape your work?
One of the people that shape my work is @temicoker. He's a brilliant photographer that makes me think about how I use color in my pictures. He's graphic designs also inspired me to get more into photoshop and illustrator which has been a great journey. There's plenty of other communities I've been able to be a part of like OkayAfrica, and Afropunk, and seeing the work they put out is also really inspiring to me. I'm still finding my feet in the industry, so I'm inspired by everyone.
I love the unbridled celebration of black joy in your work. How do you nurture your joy?
It's really an amazing thing because growing up in Uganda, and Kenya, and Congo and Zimbabwe shaped me in ways I wouldn't realize until I moved to America. So, I guess I nurture it by remembering those experiences and giving them new life in my pictures. It makes me happy to see people love my odes to the motherland, so seeing that also brings me joy.
In your gorgeous series Sunlight is My Favorite Color, you describe how important sisterhood, and particularly, African sisterhood, is to you — you mention the delight in watching “sisters capturing the parts of each other they find most beautiful and showing them to each other and the world” and wanting the series to “feel light in every sense of the word” — can you speak further on this? How does family (however you define it) influence your creative eye?
I've never really thought about how my immediate family has influenced my creative eye. But when I think about it, my dad has always encouraged the artist in me, and my mom probably gave me her creative gene. My chosen family however, my girlfriends, influence me on a day-to-day basis. The way they style their afros or braids, the bold head wraps they choose to wear, it all makes me want to document them in their African glory everyday. They make me so proud to be an African sister, and I think that's the feeling that fuels a lot of my work. I want to showcase the beauty I feel so that everyone else can feel it too.
In Sunlight is My Favorite Color, you also mention starting with questions and leaving with more — though it may never feel straightforward, what do you hope to answer with your work, both internally and to the world?
I just really want people to see that there is no monolith to black beauty. I think that right now, that's what I really want, especially black women, whether they are in front of the camera or the content creators. Its certainly a concept I'm learning for myself every day.
I’m interested in your process; for your Black Boy Joy project, you mention spontaneously walking up to strangers and asking to include them in your project. How do you decide when and where to take a photo?
Sadly, my artistic process mimics the way I approach homework assignments. I usually just give myself a deadline to execute something and despite having ample time to get it done, wind up waiting for the last week to do the bulk of it. But I like it that way. Its always a much more intense artistic experience than it would have otherwise been which I like.
What are your obsessions and how do they inform your creative work?
For the most part, I see work by other people I look up to in the industry, and I obsess over recreating a certain look. My voice still finds its way into the piece, but I just focus on perfecting the techniques.
What do you hold sacred?
Sometimes, not a whole lot. Other times, way too much. But above all, self love. For me that means, love for my blackness, love for my womanhood, love for my artistry; loving first and foremost the multitudes that make my whole existence work.
Do you have any new projects in the works? & what are you most excited for in the next few months?
I honestly can't say! I'm juggling lots of things at the moment, but there's a lot of projects on the back burner. I just need to get to them.