Osaro Azams

Words and portrait by Ellen Tannam

Osaro Azams is a 26-year-old Dublin-based activist and performer. She's the founder of the Fried Plantains Collective, intended to create space for artists from the African diaspora and LGBTQ people of colour.

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I’m Osaro/Yemi. I've been here for 14 years and finally got citizenship a month ago which means I haven’t been allowed leave this country in 14 years. It means I can’t vote for anything so equal marriage and Repeal the 8th have been really hard on me because I’m a woman who’s gay who cannot vote for these things.

I’m originally from Nigeria, moved around Europe here and there with my family, but we’re all based here the last 14 years.

I hated Ireland when I first came because being the only black girl besides your sister in a white Irish school was really intimidating.

I’m so happy that the younger generation has a much more multicultural background, it’s just chilling with your friends and not freaking out about that part of your identity too much. They’re even more radical than I was at their age, about LGBT and race stuff.

Why did you set up Fried Plantains?

I felt like there were so many events made by white people, like a black rap night where the audiences are mostly white, because they haven’t gone to Moore Street or direct provision centres and actually gotten the black community involved. So, Fried Plantains is an organisation headed by a black lesbian woman for other black women and men in the country. 

It’s for my own mental health, so putting all that energy and anger into ‘let’s put on an event’ rather than ranting online.

 

What do you think are the biggest issues facing the African diaspora at the moment?

Direct provision, obviously. Appropriation - you can’t put on a black rap night and films about black people as if we are animals in a zoo. Like, African drumming lessons and NGOs, like where are the black staff in your organisations, your community work, festivals where you’re going to put on exhibitions about these people? And I think people get that when I say, ‘you’re not going to put on a feminist night with just a bunch of white men panellists, that would be torn down - but it’s ok to have black related event with absolutely no black people in it'. 

Marginalised communities are rarely given voice and are often pushed to the side, whether it’s the gay/queer scene ostracising women. A lot of people can’t afford to create that space to use their own voice and talk about their own lives.

How has the response been so far to the events?

Really good. I’m really happy. The first one I did was a screening of Born In Flames. One woman said she found it really good and soulful, and that made me feel really good, because that’s the kind of thing that you see in the States or the UK, lesbian things or black things. Whereas here a lot of the time it’s White Guys Doing Things. It was really cool to see black women taking charge and owning their space.

Who are your inspirations for your art and your community activism?

Let’s see, ARN (Anti Racism Network) run by a friend, Luke Bhuka. It was his own project years ago that’s still going on now, and at the time I found it so inspiring and amazing. Before then I felt like my identity wasn’t mine anymore, it was what others decided to put on for me. So seeing him making it build over the years has been really deadly.

Niamh Beirne (co-founder of PettyCash), definitely inspired me to grow and be less shy when performing because I find her stuff so cosy and welcome and open.

Mixed Race Irish was another inspiration for me doing FP, this lady Rosemary Adaser co-founded it, an older mixed race Irish lady who lives in England because of the trauma she experienced here in Ireland being the only mixed race kid in her little country village.

What's the idea behind Black Rhymes Matter (an upcoming event part of Lingo Festival)? 

Wherever in the world, marginalised people are still going to experience oppression. It’s not just women in the United States that experience sexism, and the same goes for racism. I wanted to tie in to the #blacklivesmatter movement so Irish black people living in Dublin can talk about their own experiences of racism.

In Ireland, people experience racism see whether it’s direct provision, being barred from voting so your body isn’t seen as a vessel in this country, people being deported, people having the n word shouted at them in the streets or whispered behind their backs walking home. It’s not a fun feeling. 

 

It's free entry for those in Direct Provision - why was this important for you?

People in DP are legally suppressed, if you don’t have food or clothing you won’t be freaking out about what Foucault or some feminist person said in college - you’re going to be like ‘I need clothes and food’.  You’re on 20 quid a week, like it's no life.

Activism and organising can be draining. What do you do to take care of yourself?

Hang out with friends, get tea with them. Less ranting online, more meeting up with people. Talking about whatever issue it is, going out clubbing with friends.

I just say do cosy activism, and that means different things to everyone.

 If you want to go to that protest that one time then do it, yeah for me I go with friends and we do it our own way. If you find you are uncomfortable step back and leave it because you’re no good to anyone if you’re stressed. That’s what protest is, you do things your own way and give your cause a voice. I keep it cosy and talk things out with friends in real life. 

Black Rhymes Matter is on Sunday October 23rd at the Clockwork Door, Wellington Quay as part of Lingo Festival. Doors are at 5pm and entry is €7. Free admission for asylum seekers.