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Live Unchained: A Powerful Platform for Female Artists in the African Diaspora

Terrifying, strange and beautiful: how Live Unchained is helping shape the voice of the African diaspora.

Women of African descent have consistently challenged limited understandings of blackness, femininity, sexuality, and nationality. Still—too often—dominant media representations of black women across the African diaspora do not reflect the diversity of our perspectives, experiences, and even nations we come from, and languages we speak.

Live Unchained was born out of the desire to preserve, share, and honor the diverse voices and experiences of black women across continents, and it all started with one question: What does it mean to live unchained?

Women across the world use art as a tool to express their own radical truths despite the expectations or limitations others try to impose on us and have us conform to. It’s in that spirit that we created Live Unchained: an international arts media and events organization featuring works by women artists of African descent.

Live Unchained media includes our online magazine, where we’ve interviewed over 100 women artists from over 16 countries. Live Unchained events include art festivals, exhibits, concerts, film screenings, lectures and workshops. We also sponsor events relevant to diasporan communities. We recently joined MTV, Caribseek News and many other brands as an International Reggae Poster Contest media sponsor and previously hosted the sold-out film screening of Middle of Nowhere, the groundbreaking film by the first African-American woman to win Best Director at Sundance Film Festival.

Now, we’re embarking on our biggest project yet, an awards ceremony called "Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful." The title comes from a stanza from the poem, "For Women Who Are Difficult to Love" by London-based, Somali poet Warsan Shire:

You are terrifying and strange and beautiful
something, not everyone
knows how to love.

Personally, I found this poem very validating. Even the title read like an invitation to me, as if a wise soul was saying: “You who thinks you are so difficult to love, let me explain to you how special you are and why I want you to stop being so harsh with yourself.” After hearing the poem, I spread it like gospel because I knew so many people who could relate.

I chose the title, "Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful," because it reflects the qualities I continue to see in the women we’ve featured on Live Unchained—artists who are not easily categorized, with creative work neither safe, nor cliché. We have interviewed everyone from Afro-German musician, Noah Sow; Nigerian writer, Nnedi Okorafor; Jamaican painter, Oneika Russell; Kenyan graphic designer and curator, Jepchumba; Sierra Leonean photographer, Delphine Fawundu; and African American artists of various disciplines including Nina Chanel Abney, Kenya Robinson, Sam Vernon, and more. Across all these women’s work I’ve come to see that the layers, fire, and vulnerability we posses as women individually, and as members of an international community, are qualities to be celebrated. With Warsan's blessing and support, “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” will truly be a celebration.

The ceremony will be a lively fete with incredible performances, interactive creative experiences, an art exhibition and a special performance by Warsan. The award categories include the "Sunrise Award," "Sankofa Award," and several others that the Live Unchained community of supporters will help define.

We appreciate any contribution you can make to our “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” campaign at and are also open to partnering with organizations interested in helping us host Warsan. Your support helps us build community across the African diaspora and celebrate truly noteworthy artists.

Image by Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Art by Shantell Martin

Add contributing to the Live Unchained "Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful" campaign to your "To-Do" list here.

This project will be featured in GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good— our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.

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