The Most Unforgettable Photos From Brooklyn's AfroPunk Festival
For Black folks, self-expression has always been political.
Black girls are disproportionately disciplined more harshly than their white peers for dress code violations in schools. Our natural hair is criminalized to the point of needing legislation to spell out that bias against it is unacceptable. Places where Black women can show up as ourselves, feel seen and affirmed — and have fun — are as critical to the culture as they are radical in this day and age.
And AfroPunk is nothing less. A weekend-long celebration of Black music, arts, culture and ideas, AfroPunk brought thousands of beautiful Black folks to Commodore Barry Park, in the historically Black neighborhood of Fort Greene Brooklyn. FKA Twigs took the stage, as did Jill Scott, Santigold, Leon Bridges among others. But the show going on in the crowd was just as eye-catching. Some attendees spend weeks planning elaborate outfits and hairstyles for the event. This year, two people melded both and wore outfits made out of hair.
“You get to be yourself at AfroPunk. Everybody gets to wear whatever they want and just be free,” one attendee, Alyssa, told InStyle from the Brooklyn festival. “The world is so boring,” her friend Khalid added. “We gotta do shit that isn’t the status quo. This is freedom. This is everyone just living their truth.”
That's exactly the vibe AfroPunk president and co-CEO Jocelyn Cooper is going for. “Ever since I was a little girl I knew I wanted to be involved in pushing culture forward, and music. When you put those two things together there comes a sense of freedom that we as Black people in this country in particular have not historically been able to have,” Cooper told InStyle.
Alongside the performers, AfroPunk also curates Solution Sessions, a live event series and podcast where Black activists and creatives like Ava Duvarney, Tarana Burke, and Nikole Hannah Jones come together to discuss themes like unapologetic Blackness and what it means to take up space. To go along with that, the theme of this year’s festival was “We see you.” Host Yves Jeffcoat explains the importance of this visibility:
“We do a lot of work constantly. That’s who we are as Black people. We’re about resisting. We’re about power. We’re about strength. We’re about building each other up. We’re about building community. We’re about thriving and surviving. All of those things are present here at AfroPunk. Having those experiences couched within this environment of Black celebration and love is political.”
With AfroPunk Cooper says she wanted to recreate the acceptance and freedom she felt at a historically Black college. “Black people deserve to have that feeling of freedom and joy which seems to be taken away from us on a daily basis,” she explains. “When you look at the ways Black people have been portrayed in the news media, that expression of joy becomes like a kick in the face.”
Jeffcoat added, “It feels affirming. It feels like I’m not alone. It feels like more than acceptance.” And that feeling is contagious. Experience the joy for yourself, with the photos ahead.