‘Artwork is the language of the marginalized’: Pupil leaders on the origins of the Sankofa trend present

The Akan phrase ‘Sankofa’ means “it isn’t taboo to fetch what’s liable to being left behind.” Sankofa is usually depicted as a legendary fowl, with its neck turned backwards, even whereas it’s flying ahead. Naming the annual trend occasion after this image encapsulates the expertise of many individuals among the many Black and African diaspora at Princeton: the metaphorical back-turned neck offers them an opportunity to look again at and interact of their cultures, even whereas within the Orange Bubble.

The board leaders of the Sankofa Style Present Committee, Anastasia Achiaa ’25 and Max Diallo Jakobsen ’24, together with designer Ayinde Bradford ’24, sat down with The Day by day Princetonian to discuss the occasion.


The dialog under has been edited for size and readability.

The Day by day Princetonian: What’s the historical past behind the creation of the Sankofa Style Present?

Max Diallo Jakobsen: Sankofa emerged as a result of there have been college students that got here collectively and needed to create one thing, once more, to have a good time African designers at Princeton.

Anastasia Achiaa: Sankofa is a phrase within the Akan tribe, which interprets to “it isn’t taboo to fetch what’s liable to being left behind.” The phrase additionally refers back to the taking again and reclamation of our previous, which was the blueprint of making the style present.

Portrait of Anastasia Achiaa
Jean Shin / The Day by day Princetonian

DP: The overarching thought of Sankofa is preserved yearly. How does the committee resolve on the completely different themes to place out for the person reveals and are they tied to the concept of Sankofa?

AA: We consider Sankofa like we consider Coachella — it’s simply the occasion identify. Sankofa will without end be about trying again, reclaiming, shifting ahead, and adapting our tradition to our present surroundings.

MDJ: The idea of what the present stands for is this concept that earlier than taking a step ahead, we’ve got to know the place we come from — our heritage and why all of that issues.

Final yr, we got here up with the theme “Golden Hour” as a result of it’s one thing that’s being felt by, I feel, the complete Black and African group at Princeton proper now.


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“Golden Hour” is a political assertion. With Sankofa “Golden Hour,” we needed to say that the times of Africa being seen because the darkish continent, or being seen as someplace within the periphery, are over. It was our second within the solar.

DP: How did you get into designing for Sankofa?

Ayinde Bradford: A buddy of mine advised me about Sankofa. Stitching was a [COVID-19] pandemic pastime. I used to be all the time a painter and an artist, and trend was a medium of expression. At a sure level, the clothes that I needed wasn’t obtainable, so I made a decision to start out making garments. I used to be nervous, however thought that this may very well be a possibility to strive one thing that I’d have by no means, ever accomplished.

[The leaders] provided me to design, they usually have been undoubtedly very clear that I may do as a lot as I needed to, or as little as I needed to. I made a decision that this was the chance to strive it.

I used to be given the theme, which was “Golden Hour,” after which advised to run with it. Once I confirmed them concepts of what I used to be doing, they have been stunned by the sheer quantity of labor that I used to be going to do, alongside the truth that the entire items that I designed, I had by no means accomplished earlier than. They’d quite a lot of belief in what I used to be going to do.

Portrait of Bradford Mild
Jean Shin / The Day by day Princetonian

DP: What do you hope audiences will resonate with most?

AA: I feel yearly we problem ourselves to outdo our final, however as a lot as we are saying “We would like this yr to be our greatest yr,” it’s a clear slate. It’s [saying] “Okay, what’s going on in our diaspora now? How can we deliver happiness and celebration right here?”

That’s what we goal for the viewers to resonate with yearly — it isn’t only a present. It’s a communication of tradition, of faith, of battle, of affection, of peace, of each single emotion that our individuals really feel and have felt, and we wish to deliver all of it to you.

MDJ: At first, this occasion is a love letter to the African group at Princeton. Coming to Princeton as a Black and African pupil is horrifying, and all of us leaders main this wish to thank our group for being there for us.

Sankofa is a celebration of range. We would like all individuals of African descent to see one thing on that stage and be like, “Wow, that’s a reference to my tradition,” or “That’s the material that I grew up seeing round my house. That jogs my memory of my mom.”

DP: How did the viewers react to your work?

AB: I simply couldn’t think about the quantity of individuals coming as much as me on the finish saying “Your piece impressed me to strive one thing creative, or go into trend, or rethink their trend.” Extra significantly, I feel my items have impressed individuals to change into fashions and to see themselves on stage.

I feel there’s something to be stated about individuals realizing that they’re stunning in who they’re and what they seem like, no matter society requirements which might be oftentimes Eurocentric and unattainable. Having the ability to see Blackness in each type, with none alterations, permits them to really feel happy with who they’re, happy with their heritage, and happy with the group that’s round them.

DP: Is there anything you want to add?

MDJ: African trend is all about celebrating African historical past, tradition, and peoples, which has so usually been underrepresented and uncelebrated. [But] whereas Sankofa is an annual occasion, it isn’t the one time that college students at Princeton can interact with African arts, tradition, and specifically, trend.

My dream, sooner or later, is that after I go to an workplace and put on my African garments, it’s seen as equally formal, equally particular, and equally elevated.

DP: The place particularly did you search for design inspiration?

AB: Quite a lot of pictures and references, after which asking Black people who find themselves part of the diaspora, who I used to be designing for — a great quantity of the fashions and individuals who, for them, this wasn’t trend for a runway. This was a illustration of their tradition, of their nation, and of their tribe. I actually requested them, “Okay, what does this material imply? How is it used?”

But in addition, I didn’t wish to design issues that have been the identical as different designers who’ve that heritage. They’re representing themselves — I needed to symbolize myself.

DP: What’s the significance of Sankofa for the Black group?

AB: The Black group has all the time acknowledged its roots. However they’re reshaping it so each the previous and the long run are represented within the current. With the African diaspora being so large, the truth that we’re all the time recognizing our historical past and pulling it into what we do and shifting ahead with such progress amidst struggles is a crucial a part of our aesthetic and an necessary a part of what we do and why we do it.

AA: One in every of my favourite quotes is “Artwork is the language of the marginalized.” Being Black is about innovation and creativity, and people issues come from resiliency. To me, Sankofa is the definition of being Black: your previous, relying in your group, adapting. It’s a magnificence and an artwork. I really feel like Black individuals deal with life as a dance. It tells a narrative. As tacky because it sounds, even when the storms are coming your means, you’re going to have the ability to brace the whip as a result of your ancestors have. As a result of you may take a look at your previous and see how far your individuals have come.

Keeren Setokusumo is a Options workers author, Izzy Jacobson is a Options, Information, and Podcast workers author, and  Jean Shin is a contributing photographer for the Prince’. Please direct any correction requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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