GOING BACK TO MY ROOTS (self-portrait series: 1-6), 2020
Digital Photos: Nikon 750D
"Self portraits are harder to take when you don’t feel like you have anything to offer. These photos come from a season of self isolation during the pandemic. Staying home like everyone else gave me the time and space to reflect on how I view myself.
The self portraits show me sitting in front of a simple backdrop with leaves and sticks on the ground which give an illusion that I’m in a forest or a garden. The leaves and branches represent the connection to myself, which comes from going back to my roots and accepting who I am. Accepting my body, from stretch marks to cellulitis, the permanent dark circles and lines under my eyes, and my stubborn hair that has found beauty with cornrow braids.
To me, accepting myself, my body, and my hair, comes when I’ve deeply rooted myself with self-love. Acceptance doesn’t come from comparing myself with others, but comparing myself to my own lineage. It’s understanding where I come from and celebrating myself and my ancestors."
VERONICA ELIZABETH THOMAS in conversation with REDEAT WONDEMU
THOMAS: Is there a moment, or series of moments, you can recall from childhood, that has shaped the ways in which you engage with your hair?
WONDEMU: The moments I remember the most with my hair as a kid is how I had to have this kind of butter applied to my hair as a deep moisturizer at least once a month, and I remember disliking it so much. The butter is an Ethiopian traditional hair moisturizer called Keebea, and my mom or aunt would part my hair and apply a good chunk of it and I’d have to keep it on for hours. It smelled really bad and I hated the ritual. I can’t say for sure, but that was my first memory with my hair and I remember how unpleasant it felt to have my hair managed. It took stinky butter, an endless amount of shampoo & conditioner, perm, hot-combs, and tight braids to control it over the years. And I can say that those were all unpleasant practices.
THOMAS: PEASY is an homage to Black womxnhood. What does honoring your Blackness and womxn-ness in your everyday rituals look like?
WONDEMU: Blackness is not static nor is being a woman. Honoring my blackness and womxn-ness is fluid. I have to adapt to the changes and often remind myself to forgive myself. I think of it as a whimsical state of constant change. If you’re willing to adapt to the changes, you can accept being a black woman in a world that doesn’t always support you. Every day I have to allow myself to accept limitations, uncertainties, and that every season offers its unique beauty. My everyday ritual is accepting who I am and being ok with who I am and who I am becoming.
THOMAS: In what ways does your practice elevate your intention?
WONDEMU: My intention is peace of mind. Everything I do or practice has to lead to my peace of mind. These days what gives me peace of mind is anything I can enjoy doing. I enjoy the process instead of the result. So, whether it's doing my hair, practicing self-care, cooking, or taking self-portraits, I try to make sure I enjoy the process of doing those things instead of holding my breath and hurrying to the finish line. So, my practice is enjoying the process not only the result.
THOMAS: PEASY asks its audience to look beyond the imagery and into the soul of what it means to be a Black womxn - what does being a Black womxn mean / feel like to you?
WONDEMU: Being black womxn means I have to explain myself three times to be understood. From my name to my looks, it garners unsolicited questions. It at times feels like I’m swimming upstream. I’ve realized and accepted that if I want something, it seldom comes easy. I have to work harder, smarter, and better than anyone else. These resistances have also been a blessing in disguise because it’s what makes me, me. It’s made me more resilient, practice patience, and brush off my disappointment, get up, and try again. It takes decades for some people to learn those lessons. Being black means being at peace with myself and with others and that feeling is amazing.
THOMAS: Is there any message, feeling or intention you wish to communicate about your experience of Black womxnhood?
WONDEMU: Sometimes we do the wrong things with the right intention. Your intentions need your time, patience, and forgiveness especially when they result in failure. Allow time and experience to be your teacher.