Rejoice Mawire spoke to rapper and photographer Aitina Fareed Cooke, better known as A.I. THE ANOMALY
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A.I.: As a teen I was part of the programme called YO Buffalo and YO stood for youth opportunity. It was right here in Buffalo on the East Side. It was a community centre that youth would go to. It pulled us out of spaces where we would get into trouble and unified youth from all over the city. Different gangs and different spaces of the city would come together and say we've got to quash this so we can learn and make some money. They gave us some great opportunities. I was able to learn about photography and development and there was something about that darkroom where I watched a piece of paper that I had a couple of items on, putting it through that chemical process and seeing images appear. This chemical was magical for me and I knew then I wanted to keep doing this. All through my high school period and young adulthood I kept that with me and the programme led me to CEPA gallery where I learnt about photography and they kept me around. They said hey, you're doing good at this. Why don't you become a teacher's assistant? Sure. And then I became a teacher. I became a photography teacher with CEPA gallery. They didn't know my story; they didn't know what I went through. Little did they know that that kept me surviving. I had a reason to get up in the morning, do something and I loved it.
So throughout my time I enjoyed the arts, I went to Buffalo State College, I went into journalism because I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted to be behind the camera. After a while I said I don't think I want to do this; I want to focus on English. Things change but still English, writing, journalism, photography, film. Every job I had was dealing with youth and developing programs and activities that could be alternatives to negative behaviour. Because I knew it worked for me. I am the result of individuals coming together saying we need to help these youth. So whatever they taught me I took that and put it into my work. Every organization I worked with, every company, every business I worked for I was trying to find ways to help youth understand their circumstances but develop a love for the arts so that they have a voice. Photography was always on the side; always that thing that I held in my pocket. I developed the business Get Fokus'd Productions and I said hey, how do you keep doing this? I did Get Fokus'd Productions for about seven years as a business on the side, working nine to five in another not for profit but about a year and a half ago I went full time and since then it's been amazing. It's been a freedom. Being able to carry this artistic space with me all throughout that time, I knew when I walked into that darkroom and learned about photography, I knew that that was going to be with me for the rest of my life. I just knew it because it rocked my world. It did something for me inside of myself.
Rejoice: Do you have maybe one technical tip for young people who like photography and think they might go into it? Or something that might apply to music and the arts in general?
A.I.: One thing that I usually say to people is, and I think you can translate this to life as well, as far as the camera is concerned, the camera is just the tool. The story is what I want to capture. It doesn't matter what camera you have; it can be the cheapest camera to the most expensive camera. It's the story that you want to capture. You want to try to pull the audience in; you want to have them feel. You want to utilise the senses, have them feel and be connected to the end result, to the image. So that can be translated to life. It doesn't matter what label you were given. It doesn't matter what cards you were dealt. It's all about what you do with it. You got birth, you got death and you got the dash in between. What are you going to do with that dash? What is your legacy going to be? It doesn't matter what size, shape you come in. It's all about what are you going to do on Earth to make some kind of a difference. Photography, film, the camera, the pen, the paper, the stage, the microphone - all of these things are just tools, tools that I'm using because I've been drawn to them. But at the end of the day I want to utilise it as my paintbrush to paint stories so that other people can feel something and maybe think of their life and figure out what is my paintbrush. What am I going to paint?
I'm in a space now of feeling good and feeling free, like I get it. It's beautiful because with Sever Threads I felt tied down and I was trying to be released. And because I was able to sever those threads through God I was able to step into a space where I felt free. This is my blank canvas and now I'm able to paint these portraits and each song is a blank canvas and I'm painting these stories. Now that I've been able to paint these stories and I feel free, I'm able to say how can I take all of me and tell stories and let these stories reflect other human beings? How can I connect humans together and allow people to see that yes, we have differences but we are similar. No matter where we come from, what background, what city, Eastside, Westside. What ties us together is this humanity. How can I translate that through music? I'm always writing, I'm always listening to music. I'm excited to see what happens. That thought, you know, how can I utilise all of me to create something impactful.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.