Emma Dabiri: On My Culture Radar

The author and activist on Jordan Peele’s comedy, the art of Genieve Figgis and why Philosophy Tube is her YouTube channel of choice

Emma Dabiri: ‘The Playboy of the Western World is one of my all-time favourite plays’

Emma Dabiri: ‘The Playboy of the Western World is one of my all-time favourite plays’

 

Current favourite book

I’m only one chapter into Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, and I’m already gripped. It’s about a black girl in New York who babysits for a white mummy blogger. She’s accused of kidnapping the baby, and it unfolds from there. I’d not seen today’s real-life dynamics expressed in literature, so it’s exciting to see her tackle these themes and characters. One review made the point that it makes for uncomfortable reading, and if you feel like you’re being attacked in it, you probably are.

Comedian

Jordan Peele cut his teeth as a comedian before he made Get Out and Us, and I’m revisiting Key & Peele, the sketch show he made with Keegan-Michael Key, on YouTube. The humour is quite offbeat and dark, and there’s a lot of horror references. That blurring of horror and comedy appeals to me, like with The League of Gentlemen – though that hasn’t aged too well. 

Play/musical

I was just invited to the opening of Fairview at the Young Vic in London, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, but I wasn’t able to go because I couldn’t leave my baby. It’s about a family – I assume it’s a black American family judging by their names – who get together to celebrate the grandmother’s birthday. But my all-time favourite plays are The Playboy of the Western World by JM Synge and Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horsemen. 

Artist/designer

I just made a film for Christie’s, the auction house, where I chose four emerging contemporary artists, and the Irish painter Genieve Figgis was one. She paints typical subjects you’d see in 17th- and 18th-century oil paintings, but it’s mangled, so the people look macabre and cartoon-like. She rose to prominence when American artist Richard Prince saw her work on Twitter and brought her into the New York art scene. 

Also, Jennifer Nkiru is a London film-maker and a friend who’s just worked on a couple of Beyoncé videos. So she does high-profile stuff, but she’s also made films that look at the metaphysics of blackness, like Black to Techno and Rebirth Is Necessary. I love her filmmaking and the images she creates. She’s a masterful storyteller. 

Album

Olé by John Coltrane is old but a recent discovery for me. It’s so rich and full, and leaves you feeling stimulated and satisfied simultaneously. Plus, the album artwork is banging.

City

I recently went to Essaouira, Morocco as part of a fellowship. I wouldn’t have picked it, but it’s one of my favourite places now. It’s a medieval walled town, and design is in every last detail – I’d look at a keyhole and it would be a beautifully-created keyhole. It’s less homogenous than I was led to believe, and there’s a hippie vibe still present from the 1960s. Apparently it’s where Jimi Hendrix wrote Castles Made of Sand, so there’s lots of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia and a cafe. And the food there is gorgeous – the tagines in particular are divine. 

Gadget

Usually when you’re breastfeeding and need to express milk, you use these unwieldy contraptions that are noisy and cumbersome. But I’ve bought the Elvie Pump, which you pop into your bra and it silently extracts the milk for you – I can even wear it while I’m on TV. It’s a godsend for working mothers. 

Also, the Dyson Supersonic hairdryer has an Afro hair attachment. Until now, I couldn’t blowdry my hair because attachments wouldn’t work. For me, it’s revolutionary.

Social media profile

I’m currently into a YouTube channel called Philosophy Tube. It’s run by Oliver Thorn, who takes philosophical concepts and makes 30-minute entertaining videos that break them down for lay people. Because he’s an actor too, he plays lots of different characters within the lesson. He also takes contemporary issues like transphobia and racism and discusses them through a philosophy lens, which adds weightiness to the debate.

Emma Dabiri curates the Town Hall Session at the Where We Live festival. It takes place at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, on Saturday March 21st. See thisispopbaby.com 

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