Updated: Sep 9, 2020
The Understanding Love project is a collection of international conversations between African millennials from Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, UK and the US. The conversations explore how these millennials navigate romantic relationships and highlight differences and similarities of opinions that are primarily influenced by variations in culture, economy, society, socialisation and environment. The project features a four-part YouTube series, Instagram polls and private interviews with Africans aged 18-27.
My "shout outs" go to Mensa for endlessly listening to my project plans over the phone and to Yaw for being a constructive critic of everything I say and do.
I'd also like to acknowledge that this project came in a period where our timelines erupted in universal outrage over the murder of GEORGE FLOYD. Social media’s capture of Mr Floyd’s death further unearthed racism’s weighty wounds on black bodies and the need for temporary therapeutic escapes for traumatised black minds. Viewers of this project series agreed Understanding Love provided a light-hearted joyous escape for black burdened souls and because of this, I am grateful that my work provided comfort when comfort was and still is needed.
1. To educate, expose, and challenge project participants to alternative opinions thereby, highlighting the diversity of thoughts to viewers which further contends against the homogenisation of Africa and Africans.
2. To establish cross-cultural understandings of love and relationships amongst participants and non-participating viewers.
Watch the series trailer below to get a better understanding of the project series!
Understanding Love Series Trailer,
My expectations before the project
I expected to uncover deep-seated disparities in opinions between nationalities, genders, religions, classes and shades of melanin (colourism) as, they had once guided the course of spirited afternoon debates cradled between faded marigold walls in central Kemondo, Tanzania. Conversations of transactional relationships and the authenticity of love amongst millennials (like the one had in the video below) inspired this project (formerly titled The Cost of Love).
'Would you marry someone if they had no money?'
A spirited conversation amongst 7 work colleagues in Kemondo, Tanzania, November 2019.
My expectations narrowed between frangible male-ego sentiments of "she's a gold-digger" and other uncommitted femme narratives of the like. I imagined these marigold-marred sentiments to then ricochet against "men are trash" mantras and controversial justifications for frivolous finessing (financial trickery) as compensation for infidelity or for the acceptance of traditional gender roles.
Off-camera project interviews and Instagram polls
8 participants from Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe aged 21-26 took part in the project interviews. They were asked a series of questions, for example, their relationship status, sexual orientation and what is the purpose of romantic relationships? Should women shoot their shot? And are transactional relationships, good, bad, necessary or unnecessary?
(An answer to the last question is shown below)
A 25-year-old Tanzanian male’s views on transactional relationships and provider masculinity.
Interviewees were also given an opportunity to submit questions to other project participants.
Submitted questions included:
1. Is sex important in romantic relationships? (Which features in episode 3 of the UL series)
2. What are your relationship dealbreakers?
3. How do you know when you’ve met the one? (Which features in UL episode 2)
4. If you could only pick one, love or money, which one would you pick?
Prior to recording the Youtube Series, I took a range of interviewee submitted questions and questions I had prepared for the project as polls on Instagram to widen the scope of engagement. When asked 'is marriage the goal of romantic relationships?' 87% of poll participants said yes, explaining that they did not want to waste their time on short-lived relationships.
Interestingly, the 13% who answered no argued that marriage could be a desirable goal however, companionship and partnership are the ultimate goals of a romantic relationship (see poll conclusion collage below for more poll questions and results).
Instagram UL poll conclusion collage,
Also when asked 'would you marry outside of your race?’ 39% of pollers (who were all black) said no, revealing they wanted to avoid racist relatives and the tiresome task of teaching their partner about black cultures and racism towards black people. The 61% who voted yes argued other factors such as culture mattered more than race (see conclusions on interracial marriage poll below).
Instagram poll conclusions on 'would you marry outside of your race?' June 2020
The Understanding Love YouTube series
All Understanding Love episodes can be enjoyed on Narrating Africa’s YouTube channel. This four-part series features the following topics:
Episode 1: Are transactional relationships needed? Under which circumstances would you get a divorce?
This discussion on transactional relationships focuses particularly on Laura Stark’s (2017) definition of transactional intimacy, and not overemphasised narratives about transactional sex relating to sex workers and the transmission of HIV/AIDs in Africa. This episode explores the relevance of provider masculinity and domestic femininity as well as, hypothetical scenarios involving these gender performances when discussing infidelity in marriage and what it would take for the participants to end their marriages if their future spouses cheated.
UL Episode 1: Love + Transactional Relationships
Episode 2: Should women shoot their shot and why? Finding “the one” and have you planned out your love life?
This episode acknowledges (a) subverted traditional gender role expectations of women and men used when pursuing romance, (b) love-life goals vs reality, for example, wanting to be married by [insert age here] and (c) explores the concept of whether “the one” exists.
Episode 3: Sex, my partner wants surgery, and does it matter who makes more money in a relationship?
With recent social media star MISS RFABULOUS coming out to share her Brazilian Butt Lift regrets on Instagram last Sunday and on YouTube with her updated ‘REGRETS ON BBL’ video, the points (about loving yourself) made by Abigail in this episode stresses the importance of why more people need to discuss the realities of surgery publicly as, surgical ideals may not live up to their realities as explained by Miss Rfabulous. “[O]ur bodies are spaces to be lived in rather than to be consumed” quoted here by Chidera Eggerue popularly known as The Slumflower and creator of #SaggyBoobsMatter. Chidera is another advocate for the celebration of women's bodies in their diverse natural states.
UL Episode 3: Sex, Surgery + Who Makes More Money?
More conversations like the ones had in this episode, by Miss Rfabulous on Instagram and by Chidera are needed to combat oversaturated obsessions over images of thick-bodied women that stigmatise unthick or not-thick-enough bodies as incomplete and undesirable. In this episode, David argues patriarchy to be the fundamental reason behind increases in women seeking to undergo surgery.
Episode 4: Rape (#JusticeforUwa), race (interracial marriages) and baby mama drama (men following Future’s example).
Regarding the brutal rape and murder of Uwaila Omozuwa, a 22-year-old microbiology student at the University of Benin, very little has been said concerning the progress of the police investigation after the arrest of one suspect and identification of another. Both suspects were moved to Abuja Nigeria by the investigation team.
In this episode of UL the participants discuss (a) rape and rape apologist culture in relation to the case of Uwaila Omozuwa, (b) why men should stop agreeing with the US Rapper Future’s tweets and (c) if they would marry someone outside of their race.
TVC News Nigeria report on the rape and murder of Uwaila Omozuwa
Click here to watch all full episodes of the Understanding Love Series!
Don't forget to SUBSCRIBE to Narrating Africa’s YouTube Channel!
So, what’s next?
The Understanding Love project has highlighted many social, economic and cultural influences that affect how love and romance are understood by many people living in multiple parts of the world. My next participatory project will focus on one of the conversation topics in episode 1.
In the meantime, expect some art-centred articles and reviews from me in the next coming weeks.