Discussing cultural identity, dosage gender boundaries and the fashion industry with Dejah Naya.
The stereotype of the black male has been discussed and stigmatized for the better part of modern history, be it in the media, in the streets or in the movies. To open up frank, honest dialogues regarding mental health or simply emotional well-being often leads to eye-rolls, mocking memes and group chat screenshots. Despite this, as the young and creative begin to grow and flourish in the age of the internet, endless opportunities (and yes, perhaps a heightened sense of self-worth and belief in their attributes) a new set of faces step forward to challenge perceptions many believe to be the only truth with regards to the gender roles we play today and in the future.
Meet Dejah. A twenty-one year old photographer and creative director studying in London. With mixed heritage, (Indian, white and Spanish) she is just one of the determined stars of tomorrow passionate about exploring generations searching for their roots and their cultural identities in a Western world. Citing South Asian women as her biggest inspiration, (take a look at her project with Simran Randhawa) she claims, “they are so unrepresented in fashion, and most of the time they are treated as a trend. They keep pushing forward in some of the most beautiful and creative ways I’ve ever seen.”
One of her latest projects however, and the concept that drew me to her is entitled “Tender Rude Boy.” A compilation of images and a short film depicting male model, Shaquille Keith as the sensitive artist he is. (Hey Shaq!) Her aim was to highlight the issue that it’s okay and beautiful for straight black men to be a little feminine. The concept translates as just that. Biting roses with his teeth, ornate costume jewels in his ears and an open smile, the project is beautifully executed with its purpose clear and proud for all to see.
When I sat down with Shaq to discuss the acceptance of the sensitive black man in wider society – not just the fashion industry he explained, “There’s more to people just opening up, let alone men. Experiences may not allow people to open up and that’s fine. What needs to happen is more respect for other people’s feelings and acceptance and support when they do choose to open up. Some people like to share on a wider platform, some people prefer not to. In my experience I have found there isn’t a lot of tolerance for people who are able to discuss how they feel, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
Looking forward into fashion, I asked Shaq about how we need to build each other up. Be it through women shooting men and showcasing a female perspective or through men allowing women to rise up in occupations so dominated by the man. “You ever seen the women in the creative scene? Amazing! They have some of the best ideas and some of the best creative direction. I feel that a lot of men feel intimidated but they shouldn’t.”
So where does that leave us today? For every positive movement, unfortunately there is still reluctance to breaking these barriers down. Whether it’s women doing bits in creative roles once tightly controlled by men, or allowing the next generation of boys to feel like they can be as open or as sensitive as suits them and that is perfectly fine.
Neither Dejah, myself or anyone else with an opinion to express and the means of doing so expects a sense of oversharing or false feelings. The point is expressing as much or as little you feel is right for you and in knowing that it will be met with genuine care and support. It’s about being sure of yourself both emotionally and in many ways professionally and that is a message that spans creatives, genders and generations.
“Regardless of gender or race, if you have confidence in your craft, you should never feel shaken by those beneath you who need a helping hand to get up.” – Shaq.
Written by Jasmine