Laylah Amatullah Barrayn
The work of photographer and documentarian Laylah Amatullah Barrayn always centers African women. From celebrating photographers of African descent in her projects to highlighting how it has been used as a tool to shape the perception of African women, the curator is using her skillset to add context to history.
Recently, she collaborated with author and art collector Catherine McKinley in “Aunty! African Women in the Frame, 1870 to the Present,” a project that unfurls the legacy of African womanhood and agency through the lens of the development of photographic art on the continent. Aunty as a titular framework for the collection is equal parts reverence, exploration, and reclamation of the word, often used endearingly but laden with racial undertones of the past.
A photographer since the 1990s (her first assignment was the Million Woman March in Philadelphia), Barrayn—a pan-Africanist whose family is several generations out of the continent—is also the co-author of “MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora,” (“It’s the first book of it’s kind since the 1980s,” she tells OkayAfrica). “Publishing the work of emerging photographers who are documenting their peers, and thus, documenting popular culture has been a privilege for me,” she says. “It is an invaluable educational experience to support the dynamic voices and perspectives of youth culture. We should listen more and incorporate the youth in any committee or planning projects. I believe there is foresight in youth perspectives that is ripe with innovation and resolution.”