Many times when a crisis occurs, most of us feel powerless. How do we survive? How do we lend our voice? Will our voices matter or create change? The advantage of the technological times that we live in is that anyone can draw attention to an issue that is dear to their heart. If done right, awareness can galvanize a group of people, tribe, and a Nation to not be silent and fuel the change they need to see.
Even though Agnes Ashi (who goes by “Aggie”) lives in the U.S, her true home will always be Cameroon. Her love for her people and her land, seeing horrific visuals, and speaking to extended family moved her to do something about the on-going Anglophone Crisis. As a Creative whose expression explodes through the use of hair, Aggie has released a visual project to raise awareness to the annihilation of her people.
Below is a slightly edited interview of Aggie Ashi by Ayoo Africa Editor; Sheba Kereere
Why is this issue important to you?
“It’s (Cameroon) a place I call home. When you have lived somewhere for a good portion of your life and you have all the formative years in that space, it will forever be considered home. I watched some of the videos that were going around of the things going on in my Country, and I could understand the language. It’s one thing to watch a video of a war going on, and it’s another when you identify it as your own. You recognize that that is the cry of your people that are your own, and it hits deeper.”
Are you from the Anglophone or Francophone part of Cameroon?
“I am Anglophone, and I grew up in Bamenda.”
How long as far as you know, has the crisis been going on? Do you have any direct stories of anyone who has been affected?
“For as long as I can remember. When I was in Cameroon, even though I was younger, there was tension. I still have a lot of family back home, and there are times I am speaking with family and abruptly, there will be gun fire and they have to take cover. It seems to have become an established routine. I don’t know if it has become normalized. There are days that they are not allowed to go to the market, to school, or go about their everyday life.”
Why go the creative route to highlight the crisis?
“I am creative, and I am an artist. When things are in my heart, I express it through my art. Picking a creative route was the most effective way to communicate exactly what I was feeling.”
How did the idea start? Briefly share the process.
‘It had been on my heart for a minute. Every few months when something hit the news it was like, “This is really happening and people are really dying.” I wanted to say or do something about it. I just did not know how. I started putting together a Mood Board with some pictures and wrote about what I wanted to express. It was in my phone for about six months, until there was a killing of students last year. They were really young, and they were shot at school. I then felt it was time to get the project done.
What do you want to communicate with this project ?
“I wanted it to be beautiful and to communicate restriction. There is a lot of beauty in Cameroon and this crisis is holding us back. I want people to be aware of what is going on, and to raise awareness. I was also intentional about working with Cameroonians. I worked with a Photographer named Ornelle Chimi and Gloria Penka was my Muse.”
What action do you want people to take after seeing your project?
“I want them to be aware. I want this issue to be talked about. I want it to register in people’s minds that this is not okay. It is to raise awareness, and depending on who you are, you can choose what to do with your awareness.”
You have highlighted the beauty within your people, that is surrounded by the sadness of this crisis. What is your hope for Cameroon?
“I want to see us healed in a very wholesome way. I think Cameroon is a very beautiful Country. We have a specific climate that produces unique fruits and vegetables and a rich culture. I think that once we can get to a point where we can heal, we can start enjoying our Country.”
How do you think this healing process should start?
“I would start with the people. We all need to see ourselves as Cameroonian. We should be aware and have empathy for one another. Starting there would extend into healing.”