The British Sierra Leonean artist’s new project is a search to connect the diaspora experience to ideas of home


“Two Sim is a conversation between a British-African and Africa,” explains Henry Jay Kamara of his latest photographic series, which centres on the artist’s search to understand what it means to be an African in the diaspora. Born and raised in London, Kamara describes how he couldn’t relate to the way his parents grew up as young people in Sierra Leone. “For much of my childhood I struggled to connect with them as I felt their lives were so far detached from my experiences. Ironically, it wasn’t until I moved to the Netherlands for a year that I became more intrigued by their story and my connection to Africa.”

The increased distance from his childhood home ignited his desire to get closer to his roots and he booked a trip back to Freetown, his second ever visit to his family’s homeland. Thus begun this series, the title of which refers to a popular slang phrase that describes the duality in identity for those who are of diaspora to the nation. It means two sim cards or two homes; it means you come and go.

The project not only captures his response to Sierra Leone, which included a visit to his father’s village and an encounter with fellow creative Oloya, it also includes images of his trip to Ethiopia, where he travelled to Harar, Awessa and Adidas Ababa. It’s here that Kamara observed manifestation of the ‘African dream’. “The term refers to the notion that Africans have not acquired an accurate depiction of an African dream and therefore strive to achieve the only dream they know of, the American dream,” Kamara says. He noticed an obsession with western products and symbols, such as handmade logos on motorbikes of the famous Nike tick. Now viewed as a whole, Two Sim has become a visual representation of Kamara’s own desire to find himself. “It’s an effort to better understand the mechanisms that make up my sense of ‘I’ in this world.”

“Two Sim is an effort to better understand the mechanisms that make up my sense of ‘I’ in this world”

Kamara initially studied English and creative writing at university. He then bought a camera to enhance his ability to tell the narratives he was inspired by. His passion for photography soon eclipsed his writing, but with both skills Kamara aims to make the invisible visible. He’s since become occupied with trying to challenge the negative perceptions of Africa. “I want to use my art to help redefine the continent’s representation. Primarily, those of us who live in the West encounter Africa only through the myths and stereotypes which we interact with in the media.”

Of course, those in the African diaspora are not the only ones who are drawn to explore their heritage. After his recent exhibition of Two Sim in Amsterdam, which also included a film and soundtrack in collaboration with polymath artist Duval Timothy, he found that his work spoke to a more universal desire for community and kinship. “Someone explained to me that my journey back to Sierra Leone encouraged them to do the same and explore their cultural heritage in Iran. To me this was the greatest recognition I could receive because it goes further than being about Africa, it’s about connecting with others and moving forward.”

Words Katie de Klee

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Published on 09/08/2018