What Black History Month Means To This Creative Stylist | SLMan
@MOHAMMEDBLAKK
Mohammed Osumanu – aka Mohammed Blakk – is an artist, entrepreneur and activist from Ghana who has been recognised throughout the British fashion industry – most notably by model Adwoa Aboah – for championing traditional African clothing and culture throughout his work. He is also a contributor to Beyoncé’s visual album, Black Is King. In recognition of Black History Month, SLMan sat down with Mohammed to find out what it means to him...

Tell us a bit about yourself, Mohammed…

“I’m a fashion stylist, visual artist and a creative entrepreneur, and have worked with brands such as Afro Native and Future Culture. I’ve been creating things since I was a child but, professionally, everything started for me seven years ago and it has been an amazing ride so far.”

How did you get involved in Beyoncé’s Black Is King? 

“It was through a great friend of mine Sharifah Issaka, who had been contracted to produce the film's Ghanaian episode. She asked if I could be the body painter for the set and mark out some last-minute locations for the shoot. It was a pretty special experience for me, both professionally and personally. When I look back, I’m very proud that I was part of something so important to people in the black community.”

What does Black History Month mean to you?

“Here in Ghana, we are almost always in tune with the past in one way or another, so to me every day feels like a ‘Black History Month’. In many ways, I can relate to my ancestors, who were forced into slavery, through the oppression and struggles we face. I’m incredibly grateful for those who stood their ground and fought their way towards racial equality, so we can enjoy it today as a birth right. There’s still a long way to go in terms of true equality, but we must honour the past and give thanks to those people. For me ‘Black History Month’ is a true celebration – a celebration of how far we have come as a people, and an appreciation for those who have paved the way for the current generation of Ghanaians.”

Here in Ghana, we are almost always in tune with the past in one way or another, so to me every day feels like a ‘Black History Month’.
@MOHAMMEDBLAKK

In light of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, how is this year different?

“The movement undoubtedly highlighted widespread racism and police brutality around the world but, for many black people, it’s something we have been living with our whole lives. I hope there will be a different approach this year, but I’m sceptical as to whether real change will happen. We need to tackle systemic racism once and for all, and while BLM has been incredibly important in highlighting this, ultimately change needs to come from the top. Governments around the world need to take legislative action once and for all. 

“During last year’s Black History Month, I created the NkrumahSzn merchandise for the Afro Native streetwear brand featuring @AdwoaAboah as part of Ghana’s ‘year of return’ (an initiative set up by our government to encourage investment into the country). People in my industry have a cultural responsibility to actively champion Black History Month and elevate black voices to the wider world.”

Why is it important for non-black people to acknowledge and celebrate Black History Month?

“The celebration and acknowledgement of black people is essential for everyone. While it’s a time to celebrate black culture, it’s also an important time to highlight systemic racism and make steps to try and tackle it head on. Everyone has a part to play. Through this, people can unlearn their unconscious bias towards race and take steps to co-exist with all races peacefully. Through this coexistence, we can begin to facilitate lasting solutions to tackle racism. We must simultaneously acknowledge and celebrate black people to create awareness, and foster empathy for the black experience.”

How can non-black people be allies?

“You can't be an ally to something or someone you don’t know or respect. You must connect to black culture through an unprejudiced experience of it – from music and food, to fashion and architecture. Through genuine moments of experience, you become an ally to the black community. Remember, it is not the responsibility of a black person to educate you on black history, you must educate yourself. There are countless ways you can do this, but one of the best is to seek out literature from black authors – if you read one thing this Black History Month, make it All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes by Maya Angelou.” 

The celebration and acknowledgement of black people is essential for everyone. While it’s a time to celebrate black culture, it’s also an important time to highlight systemic racism and make steps to try and tackle it head on.
@MOHAMMEDBLAKK

Within the fashion industry, have you seen any changes in light of #BLM?  

“In fashion, the movement has been incredibly influential. Black people have become more united since BLM, and it seems as though the fashion industry is finally listening to those voices. Social media has played a huge role in this and, in Ghana, fashion houses and companies are looking for ways to improve diversity within their brands. Everything can be improved, not just in Ghana's fashion space but in the entire art scene as well. Right now, there’s an intensity that’s exciting – there’s more pressure than ever for fashion creatives to pave the way for future generations. Individually, we should be supporting black-owned businesses and fashion brands, as well as signing petitions against those who aren’t doing enough. For me, creating art based on the black experience is one way I can help further the movement here in Ghana.”

Within the black community, who has influenced you in your life and career? 

“There are two people who have been very influential. First is my older brother Moh Awudu – he is a graffiti powerhouse creating some amazing artwork in our country right now. Secondly, Pharrell Williams has been a huge influence on my career to date – the way he approaches his work with so much energy and savviness is incredible.”

What advice would you give to young black people trying to get into the fashion industry? 

“You need to understand that having to venture into the art and fashion industry comes with pressure and scrutiny, from friends and family, and others within the business who might try and talk you out of your passion and talents. You must stand your ground and never compromise on what you truly believe in. This advice has really helped me in my career and it should do the same for someone else who might be in my situation someday.”

 

Follow Mohammed Blakk on Instagram

INSPIRATION CREDITS: Instagram.com/MohammedBlakk
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