London-based Nataal celebrates multidisciplinary African creativity. Its second annual edition, titled ‘Radical Wave’, continues the ‘Future Gaze’ that broke new ground in 2018.
Boasting nearly 400 pages, the magazine is jam-packed with content from across Africa and the global diaspora. The first section, titled ‘Upfronts’, profiles sixteen artists ranging from photographers, musicians, designers, models, to architects. I liked the mix of architecture and sustainability in a two-page spread on South African artist Porky Hefer’s ‘Namibian nest’ (above) in which the building material comes from nature: ‘things get dry and you get holes, then the rain comes, and bright green shoots come up and you use them to fix the holes.’ Though a one-off, it’s the kind of architecture that can and should be influencing the way we build for the future.
It can be hard to enjoy magazines about general culture – as there are so many genres and disciplines that come under that umbrella term. But through their multi-disciplinary approach the editors show how Africa can shape and influence culture globally, and successfully manage to make these diverse strands of culture cohere. They note that ‘the thread that ties many of these stories together is a spirit of collectivism; the belief that through shared voices, energy and activism, we all rise.’
A huge part of the magazine is fashion-focused and it does at times play into the kind of hyperbolic tones that we have come to expect from that industry, for example, ‘This South African fashion powerhouse is taking on the world’ (above). But it’s interesting to see BBZ, ‘London’s most exciting party people and curatorial collective’ rubbing up against the Festival Ogobagnan in Mali – worlds apart in terms of style and background but tied together nonetheless by their steadfast belief in expressing who they are.
Title pages are spacious and balance photographs with bold titles in a custom font by British Standard Type. But the design falters occasionally when the balance between space, image and words becomes trickier on feature pages – where the words give the images very little room to breathe, and the paragraphs come across as unnecessarily crammed in at times (above).
One of the magazine’s editorial strengths is its curiosity about the black experience and how that will translate into a future where tech rules. In a feature called ‘Digital Identities and Real Selves’ (below), Congolese philosopher VY Mudimbe is quoted as stating; ‘We know Africa as the contrast between what it is and what it could be.’
This is similar to the discourse around new digital experiences in magazines like NXS or Wired. It’s rare to see these questions being answered with black bodies in mind, though, and here the concept of Afrofuturism is explored through art and technology, and addresses important questions about identity and space for contemporary and future African experiences.
We also get political with Neneh Cherry, whose new album is ‘an expression of [her] right to be heard, to be present, and to embrace personal activism.’ Taking us through her illustrious career and cementing her status as a music legend, the interview forms a link between the new wave of contemporary African creativity claiming its rightful place on a global stage, and the struggle and innovative routes to get there.
Overall, Nataal manages to strike a balance between making a political point about the lack of visibility in mainstream culture for the people it features, whilst creating a beautiful, very readable magazine I’d want to revisit time and again.
Founder: Alassane Sy
Co-founder & creative director: Sara Hemming
Co-founder & editorial director: Helen Jennings
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