In My Humble Opinion
1 year ago

E5 First Person Charlottesville - Marley Nichelle

Welcome to First Person Cville, the podcast. Marley Nichelle wanted to “create a narrative of liberation and healing for communities of blackness by showing them power through language and visual arts.” And they called the series: “No, We Are Not Oppressed.”

Charles Lewis: Welcome to First Person Cville, the podcast. I'm Charles Lewis, your host, and also the co-host of In My Humble Opinion, from 101.3 FM. One night—while visiting a friend in New York City—photographer Marley Nichelle had a weird dream. 

Marley Nichelle: In the dream it was this woman telling me that I was a messenger. She said, You got to send out the message. And I was like, What message? Like? What is she talking about?

CL: The next morning, Marley didn’t have much to do. So they started going through their harddrive, organizing old photos.  

Marley Nichelle: And as I was going through all my photos, I was like, while I. I really got some nice portraits of a lot of Black people like we are not opposed, like and that's when it hit me. I said, that's it. And I realized my whole career I have been creating work that surrounds things that are not oppressive. And that's the message. 

CL: Marley decided to put together a photo essay to capture that message—in Marley’s own words, they wanted to “create a narrative of liberation and healing for communities of blackness by showing them power through language and visual arts.” And they called the series: “No, We Are Not Oppressed.” 

Charles Lewis: How have you used your camera to self liberate as well as liberate others? Marley Nichelle: Through the stories I tell. As artists, it's our job to evoke emotions. I had to be taught that and not be afraid to. You know, tap to my emotions and how I'm feeling, because honestly, that is what helps me create the world. Liberating work is not just for people, it's for me too. And I feel like every artist should have a way to where they take their pain and trauma, their negatives, their bads, their pain, and make it something beautiful. It’s so important for me when I navigate through my emotions and my healing is like, how do I take these things and put it into art? And a lot of times when I have conversations with people just in Charlottesville, I hear, like I say, hearing people's stories is so heartbreaking and I'm so compassionate because I don't want people feeling that way. Like I don't want Black people here to feel like they can't thrive or they can't succeed because it's so oppressing. And it's like oppression is a mindset for real. It's really a mindset. Llike, when I realized that, I was like, okay, I feel like the easiest way to help people is through art. And I hate that my work only pertains, like a lot of people do tell me like, you only do work for Black people. I your work is just around like, so run around Black people only like why don't you, you know, have it diverse? And I'd be like, because this is a real life reality of my life. Like this is how I was raised, this is how I grew up. This is all I know. HBCU life, all of those things, like just being around blackness is all I know. I don't want to change that because I benefited from that. Like, I can go anywhere and know that I belong, especially with a camera, you know, and I want to just show other Black people, that too. And you can go anywhere and belong. And I get to tell those stories behind my lens, and that's why I create those liberating stories. And that to me is, is empowering because it's like, yes, figure it out. Charles Lewis: Now when you have you would people considered oppression In Charlottesville. How has it been different than what oppression may look like in the Gullah Geechee community? Marley Nichelle: You know, this is why I always encourage people to leave away from home, because you get to see a different perspective of oppression. And when you live in Gullah culture, we really are self-sufficient culture like, land is important to us. Surviving is like we don't depend on anybody. You know. To provide for us. We just do we have a do it ourselves mentality. And so being raised like that and coming here, like a lot of times I would look at Black people and be like, Well, why don't you just do it yourself? And some people will get offended by, you know, like, and I wasn't I, I wasn't meaning it in like a just like a negative way. I was really trying to say, like, you can do it yourself. You know? And I realized a lot of people around here don't hear that a lot. It's really a big thing and coming here. Seeing people being gentrified, like displaced and living in the standard that they live in and stuff in Charlottesville was really triggering for me because I'd never seen a thing like that. And so I had to be there here seeing like, okay, Black people here, they're losing their land here to just like they're losing their land in the Gullah Geechee corridor. But I also see how we continue to stick together, you know, because we look at it from a cultural perspective. We want to keep the culture going. My Gullah community raised me to be and to show Black people, No, we're not oppressed. Like we can do this if we want to. There's power within ourselves. So I feel like we have similar issues from a racial perspective, but it's still different culturally. It's just different culturally. I'm trying to connect Gullah culture, show the similarities in Gullah culture in a lot of way, but use my culture because it's a liberating and rebellious culture. I'm using that through the No We Are Not Oppressed series by documenting these different Black and brown people from different cultures of blackness to show diversity. Because a lot of Black people don't know that within blackness we're diverse. They think everybody Black, we all are the same. And it's not that's not what it is. And so, No We Are Not Oppressed shows the differences in our cultures within blackness, while also showing that we too still belong, although that we are culturally different. Charles Lewis: Now, speaking of which: culture, land. You recently took a trip to Ghana to take pictures of the experience and work to translate it back here in Charlottesville. So can you share more about that work, including like, what does oppression look and feel like in that space? Marley Nichelle: So the experience that was my second return to Ghana and the first time I went, it was…I had just gotten into photography and I was actually learning how to…I'm self-taught. So like I teach myself how to take pictures. Really for real. And I was just like, Well, I'm going practice. And when I did, I was like, okay, this is a different vibe. But the second time I went as an actual professional photographer, like mastering the knowledge of photography. And this time it was different because I actually had a different eye vision and I could like literally feel the oppressiveness within Ghana, not through not through race, but politically. I do feel like there's a big disconnect between Africans and African-Americans. Our realities are always displayed through the media in such dangerous ways to where a lot of Africans look at it like we're ungrateful and, you know, we are spoiled and we don’t…and I understand where they're coming from, from their circumstances and them not having the resources that we do. But then I also look at our reality, too, and I have to sometimes tell them it's the same because of politics. And once I started recognizing that deeply more going to Ghana, like my second return, I was able to like communicate with other Ghanaians by learning like I just haven't how I did here when I moved here just getting to know the community. I did the same thing when I went to Ghana. Like I'm not here to just vacation and have a good time. I'm here to learn. Like, what knowledge can I take back home to help? Or how can we reconnect to, like, just hear each other's stories? That trip really showed me the importance of connecting with Africans and Africans connecting with Black Americans and how we can just together figure out a way to like show each other and hear each other's stories. Because both perspectives, honestly, when it comes to the transatlantic slave trade, are valid. It's not just Black people in America. It's not just our trauma it’s Africans trauma too right, and we have to listen to each other.

Charles Lewis [00:05:59]Like, what does it look like to to navigate, quote unquote, oppression for you as a Black person who's openly part of the LGBTQIA-plus community? [8.7s] Marley Nichelle: Oh, that's that is a really good question, because I have never felt oppression from a racial perspective, but I've always felt it from being queer within the community, though. And that's the community of blackness. And then for me, like I've been queer my whole life, so trying to even grow up and understand it was kind of hard. And so me now, though, in the space that I am, you know, through, I'm really big on healing, like that's why I created the No We Are Not Oppressed to be a narrative of healing, to show perfection in imperfection. A lot of people may not believe it because I don't carry it. But I do feel pressure sometimes in certain situations, especially being queer. But I never try to show it because it's I feel like I can overcome it. It's just navigating, trying to figure out how to overcome it, to be able to be like an example for the next person. Charles Lewis: What advice would you give a young person who wants to work at this intersection of photography and social justice? Marley Nichelle For real for real the best advice I could ever give a younger person is to never think too deep into it and to always stay true to yourself when it comes to your beliefs, what you feel, what you stand in, and always give yourself room to grow. [19.1s] [00:26:36]Everything is is…I tell people it's a process. And even though four years seems like a short amount of time to do a lot of things with my photography, for me, it feels longer because. I put in a lot of work. And when I say that, like I want people to really understand like that is the key to success and being able to like take risks and and believe in yourself and confident and not expect “Yes” every time. Know how to navigate when being told no, because it can be hard. Like I told people I would like. I get so upset when I get so No for a grant. It feels so sad. You know what I'm saying is like, oh my gosh, I really want to do this. But it's just, you know, a part of life you have to figure out and navigate, you know, your way to to get to where you want to go. And for people who are young, like if you're a young, give yourself some grace. You've got a lot of time to really grow and really grow and see your art have a purpose in everything you do and just be intentional in it like. Don't be afraid of what the world sees. And just like dream big. CL: You can find Marley’s “No, We Are Not Oppressed” photo essay at vinegar hill magazine dot com. Their portfolio is on Instagram at: marleys creative world We want to hear your story and tell the story of our community together. Share your perspective with First Person Cville at The First Person Cville podcast is a production of Charlottesville Inclusive Media. It's hosted by me, Charles Lewis, and the In My Humble Opinion Talk Show. Like what you hear? Subscribe and follow us at This episode was produced by Kelly Jones. Music for this episode came from Epidemic Sound. IMHO music was from God Vamps by Miguel and Morse with NYC bangers on production.