Photo By Joshua Gonzalez | Interview By Ashley Thompson
Former AADS Major and Photographer Extraordinaire
The Department of African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) is proud of our students, current and former! AADS graduates are in careers throughout the world, ranging from working for the Black Chamber of Commerce in Austin to positions within government, higher education, and even sports, our AADS alumni are taking the world by storm! We're beginning this series with our lens on Hakeem Ademola Adewumi, a photographer, visual storyteller and AADS Fall 2014 alumnus currently living in Austin, Texas. Hakeem is a social documentary fine-art photographer who most enjoys capturing fleeting moments. His work is dedicated to examining the human experience and is meant to creatively convey the everyday emotions we confront. Check out what Hakeem is doing...
AADS: While attending UT-Austin, what made you choose to major in African and African Diaspora Studies?
Hakeem: My first semester at UT was filled with so much uncertainty that I was not sure if I was the best fit at the institution. I enrolled in a couple of Black Studies courses as elective options, never anticipating declaring the major. I had my eyes set on majoring in Photojournalism, but there was something unique about finding myself within Black studies classrooms that made me feel visible and appreciated. I never fully unpacked my emotions around being a Black student at UT simply because I did not have the language. Black Studies gave me the language, self-awareness, and critical analysis to be unapologetically Black. So I was like “Yeah, where do I sign up?”
AADS: In what ways has Black Studies allowed you to bridge the gap between scholarly and artistic work?
Hakeem: Black Studies gave me the opportunity to figure out how I wanted my work to "change the world." It sharpened my critical thinking skills and pushed me to be authentic and intentional when creating my work.
AADS: How has the knowledge you’ve gained from Black Studies impacted your work and personal life?
Hakeem: The biggest impact on my work came through the department’s faculty-led study abroad programs to Bluefields, Nicaragua, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the time it was just an opportunity to “see the world,” but I soon realized that AADS carries its scholarship and activism outside of the classroom and into the community. I wanted to do that in an artistic way. I co-created a travelling photography exhibit that features various cultures and stories that we’ve experienced throughout the African diaspora. Our work was recently covered in a PBS art documentary, and it reminded me that this work is important and needed at the table.
Personally, I am still unpacking what it means to be a child of the African diaspora; my father is Nigerian and my mother is Black American, so there are times when I feel like I have to negotiate one ethnicity over the other. These partnerships are largely unexplored, and our country does a great disservice by lumping blackness into one category that leaves no room for interrogation. So I choose to interrogate that.
AADS: In what ways has AADS contributed to your understanding of identity (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) and how have you been able to utilize that knowledge in your life?
Hakeem: One word: Intersectionality. The idea that I exist within various social categorizations that work collectively to uphold a system that was designed to destroy me in the beginning. I learned how to identify racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, class discrimination, and xenophobia. It’s inherently made me more conscious, ‘woke,’ but it has also made me more confident. AADS gave me the tools to create work that illustrates how we must work collectively to create environments that are truly inclusive.
AADS: In what ways has Black Studies prepared you to navigate society and the workforce?
Hakeem: Black Studies made me conscious of everything around me. Everything. Systems of oppression would go unchecked if we did not have rigorous scholarship and activism to carry out this knowledge. I try to take this understanding into the workplace and also transfer the practice of critical thinking to my job needs.
AADS: If you were to give any advice/wisdom to current AADS students, what would that be?
Hakeem: Networking is fundamental to growing as a professional Black millennial in any industry. Every Black Studies professor knows somebody that knows somebody else that you should know. Make it a point to build relationships with them and create a mutual relationship of trust and mentorship. Black faculty and staff are also included in the idea of ‘Black community’ at UT; don’t sleep on ‘em.
Photos from Hakeem's Shoot
Want To Be Featured?
If you are an AFR alum and would like to be featured in our Alummi Spotlight Series, we'd love to hear from you! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know you're interested! We'll contact you with further information on scheduling a meeting (either in person, Skype, or phone). Your feature will be posted online, blasted via the AADS social media platforms, and a poster will be printed and placed on the door of the Advising Office. We want to show off your accomplishments!