'When they shine, we all shine'
Melat Nigussie is an impressively sobering figure. Raised in an auspicious environment – her parents were both teachers in Ethiopia – her eagerness to learn and grow is the trait that has most defined her. As project coordinator of the project Next Generation, Please! at the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR), her focus is on bringing people, artists and politicians together to move the European narrative forward through art. She is also one of the authors of Zwart, an anthology of Afropean writers from the lowlands, as well as the co-founder of the Afro-centric publishing platform Market FiftyFour; indeed, her preoccupations with decolonisation and issues faced by the African diaspora make hers not just an interesting voice to hear, but a timely and important one above all else. Nigussie wanted to be featured with Jadon, with whom she hosts the podcast Grand Fresh, because she truly believes in the power of peers, and believes we’re all in this together.
Interview conducted for our 20-something issue of June 2018
What's your speciality?
I don’t know if I have one speciality per se. I still find it difficult to call myself a writer so I just say that I write sometimes. If I had to say one speciality, I would just say I’m eager to learn and grow. This love for learning was entrenched in me by my parents, who were both educators in Ethiopia.
How do people know you?
As one of the authors of Zwart, an anthology of Afropean writers from the Lowlands, and perhaps as a project coordinator of Next Generation, Please!, which brings together young people, artists and politicians to write a new chapter in the European story through art. In the past as a co-founder of Belgian Renaissance, a collective that creatively empowers young African diaspora youth through art(making).
As long as my beliefs are solid, I can resist the temptation to conform
What are you working on?
I co-founded Market FiftyFour with Marthe van der Wolf. It’s an online platform publishing and marketing affordable audio and e-books in African languages, for stories written by African writers for an African audience both on the continent and in the diaspora. The lack of available and limited access to new books in African languages means millions of Africans will never be exposed to new African literature and thousands of African storytellers will never be discovered. We wanted to change that. Also, there is Grand Fresh, a podcast I started with my dear friend Jadon Adams, an American living in Brussels. We talk about city life, blackness, decolonisation and mostly just our admiration and love for each other.
Do you have an exhibition soon?
Next Generation, Please! just had its exhibition in May, but will come back next year again, also in May.
What will the second part of 2018 bring you?
Next Generation, Please! in BOZAR will return for a third edition, so I’ll be working on that. I also hope to bring our business MarketFiftyFour and our podcast to another level.
Do you think it is important to have a good social entourage?
Yes, absolutely. My inner circle is solid and is there for me when I need them. They are my everything.
How did peers influence your life?
I think there’s pressure on young people today to constantly be working, and progressing. If you haven’t done it all by the time you’ve reached 30, then you’re basically a failure. That’s why I’m very hesitant towards lists like these as well, because it’s not only celebrating our achievements, it’s also celebrating youth. Society has a weird obsession with young people, and youth in general. This capitalist society we live in tends to pit people against each other and turn us into competitors. Especially if you’re part of a marginalised part of society. I try to fight that by constantly being in awe of what my peers have achieved, and by celebrating and supporting their work. When they shine, we all shine.
Who has most influenced you in life?
My mother, always.
I think there’s pressure on young people today to constantly be working, and progressing
Do you experience peers more like a positive or a negative phenomenon?
Positive, absolutely. Peers are inspiring and enlightening.
Do you feel the need to conform to those around you?
We all feel the need to conform sometimes. But the most important thing for me is to stay true to myself, and to my principles. As long as my beliefs are solid, I can resist the temptation to conform.
Do you regret any time you’ve given in to peer pressure?
No, everything is a lesson.
Is there anyone in your scene who needs more attention?
Heleen Debeuckelaere, the queen herself.