I left London on a gloomy afternoon in October to travel Europe for five months, searching for the interplay between Black and European cultures, writes Afropean British writer, photographer and TV host Johny Pitts on his website The Afropean.I came in contact with Black French militants, German anarchists, an Egyptian nomad, Russian Nazis, Cape Verdean favelas, racist football hooligans, the Black Panther party and more, all telling me a tale of an alternative Europe not readily exported to the rest of the world. My journey lead me to the fringes, culturally and geographically, and also became an investigation into my own mixed-race identity. See Facebook.com/afropeans

Marcel Proust is quoted as saying 'the true act of discovery consists not of finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes'.  I thought of that on the day I left in search of 'Black Europe', on a cold October morning.  I wanted to do both at the same time though- see new places but also present an alternative view of them as that rarest of creatures- the Black European explorer.

Johny Pitts
@Johny Pitts: Johny Pitts in Moscow

And so I set out in search of a Europe that isn't always offered in the tourist literature of its great cities...London to Paris, Brussels then Amsterdam, Stockholm over to Moscow, Berlin down to Rome, across the Riviera to Marseilles, Madrid and Lisbon, strangely ending up back in Britain- Gibraltar, where Europe kisses Africa.

@Johny Pitts: Girl on a rainy day in London

Initially I imagined flaneuring my way around only taking photographs of cool Afropeans- those artists, musicians and fashionistas who had managed to find some sort of cultural coherence in their Black European identities and created what might be described as a kind of 'post post-colonial' aesthetic.  I wanted to find a diasporic unity that was as solid as African American culture and celebrate this coming together of cultures and races.  Whilst I certainly did find (and photograph) these people, I was naive to think I'd come back with a trendy little coffee table book which offered only a convenient view of Black people in Europe.

@Johny Pitts

Still, resisting cliched depictions that ghettoised or victimised the communities I visited, I let the people I met tell the story of the continent...from Belgian-Congolese artists to Egyptian nomads, Black French militants, Swedish musicians, German anarchists, racist football hooligans, Russian Nazis, Nigerian students and more.

@Johny Pitts: " Berlin. I visited the famous artist squat Tacheles which this month [September 2012]  lost it's long fought battle to stay open."

Often this meant being led to the figurative and literal periphery of societies, so in many ways my journey became a tour of the outskirts of Europe- the multicultural hinterlands...Clichy Sous Bois in Paris, Rinkeby in Stockholm, Cova Da Moura in Lisbon...

@Johny Pitts: "Last year [2012] I spent time in Lisbon, and visited the European Favela of 'Cova Da Moura', home to a large Cape Verdean community. Described as a 'no go' zone for police, I was lucky enough to be escorted by an ex resident. I saw poverty, and was threatened by a local gangster, but I also felt a strong community spirit and was introduced the beautiful Cape Verdean folk music 'Morna' in a small makeshift cafe."

Throughout my trip the Afro-Europe blog was one of the very few resources I had to help me navigate my way around, and became a second companion when I felt lost in the cold urban wilderness of Russia or the dangerous Banlieues of France. 

@Johny Pitts: Near Patrice Lumumba University — in Moscow, Moscow City.

And so here I am proud to share this introduction to my story and present some of my photographs before the travel narrative and photo essay is released next year as a book.  I felt it important to write and take pictures, trying to make images with my pen and tell stories with my camera, and let each one fill in what the other couldn't describe.

@Johny Pitts: "I spent five days alone in the Parisian banlieue of Clichy Sous Bois."

As the underlying cause of the project is to promote dialogue between various Black communities living in Europe, as well as with white Europeans who are curious about, or influenced by Black culture themselves, I invite people to join a Facebook community I set up when I started the book Facebook.com/afropeans here you will find more of my photographs, but also various imagery from other Afropean artists; music videos, art, and literature that tell their own story.

Johny Pitts, June 2013

Johny Pitts is a writer, photographer and TV host based in London.  Winner of a Decibel Penguin Prize for new writers, his short story "Audience" was included in the anthology 'The Map of Me' published by Penguin Books.  In 2012 he collaborated with author Caryl Phillips on 'A Bend in The River' -a project for the BBC/Arts Council run 'Space'.  in March 2013 he held his first international photography exhibition in Belgium as part of the 'What is Africa to Me Now?' conference at Liege university.  As a TV host he presented for MTV UK and ITV1, and can currently be seen on the BBC.

Video: A photo-montage from my travels around Europe looking at Afropean/ Black European culture. Joy Denalane's 'Vier Frauen' as a the soundtrack.

Source: Afro:Europe



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