The term “Afropean” was coined by David Byrne and Marie Daulne of Zap Mama in 1991. Since then, it has been claimed by many men and women, including artists, photographers, and writers. Johny Pitts is one of them. Born to a European mother and an African American father, he runs the online magazine afropean.com. He is also the author of Afropean: Notes from Black Europe, an essay on Afro-European identity, in which he traced Europeans of African descent across the continent: Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm, Moscow, Marseille, Lisbon… The book has already been translated into French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
The independent, bilingual French/English photography magazine The Eyes, founded in 2013, focuses its latest edition on Afropean identity. Every issue, The Eyes gives an artist or an expert carte blanche to curate the chosen theme. On this occasion, the task falls to Johny Pitts. “Afropean,” he writes in his introduction, “seemed like something I could use as an anchor, but not in a monolithic way — it had to be allowed to shift and evolve, functioning as the antithesis to the nationalist narrative, to its ethnic absolutism, and its rhetoric of blood and soil. It was to be a zone of fusion and blurring.”
This is what the latest issue is all about, a zone of fusion and blurring, plural identities, diverse visions of constantly evolving, self-questioning Afropean identity. Bringing together singular historical and contemporary photographs (Zineb Sedira, Marvin Bonheur, Bruno Boudjelal, Silvia Rossi, Délio Jasse…), seminal books, pioneering reviews, previously unpublished texts, and numerous musical references, Johny Pitts continues to explore Afropean identity, this time mainly through the prism of photography.
“I wanted to start this issue of The Eyes with Europe-based black photographers, without, however, isolating them … I present their work here in the same way as I present mine on Afropeanism: as a space of fusion and possibility.” The Eyes frames a timely, much-needed reflection at a time when Europe is turning in on itself and nationalistic resentments raise their ugly heads. While some try to freeze identities into monolithic blocks, Johny Pitts, The Eyes, and the various contributors to this issue open up new horizons.
By Sabyl Ghoussoub
Born in Paris in 1988 into a Lebanese family, Sabyl Ghoussoub is a writer, columnist and curator. His second novel, Beyrouth entre parenthèses [Beirut in Parentheses] was released by Antilope editions in August 2020.