Ashanti Dinah was born in Barranquilla (on the Caribbean coast of Colombia) and is an Afro-Colombian activist, poet and teacher. Her research has focused on analysing how some literary works by Afro-Latin American writers challenge the institutional and monological code of imperial language and respond to racism and other forms of oppression by deploying a kind of aesthetic maroonage.
Ashanti Dinah's training has been in languages and literature and in 2021 she started as a doctoral candidate at Harvard University. She has published a collection of poems, Las semillas del Muntú (The seeds of Muntú, 2019) and has another unpublished one, Alfabeto de una mujer raíz (Alphabet of a root woman). Her poems have been translated into Portuguese, English and Bulgarian, and have won several awards, including the Benkos Biohó Award (Bogotá, 2016).
Ashanti Dinah's collaboration with CARLA consists of a long contribution to the project blog and participation in online events on art, anti-racism and affection. For this exhibition, she worked with CARLA researcher Carlos Correa and Afro-Colombian artist Wilson Borja to produce illustrations and animations of three of her poems from Las semillas del Muntú. The poems (reproduced in English translation below) and illustrations touch on Afro spirituality and ancestry, affirming Afro epistemologies in the context of anti-racist literature and struggles.
These poems tap into the ancestral past, evoking the presence of generations of the dead in the texture of our dreams and bodies, in the skies and in the soil, in what we eat and the rhythms of our movements. The ancestors here are linked firmly to Africa and the African diaspora with references to a Nganga priest, moforibale (a greeting to African deities), patakí (an Afro-Cuban religious story) and Olokun (a Yoruba goddess); and with the mention of enslavement and of language liberated from the stocks and the whip.
A sense of the rhizomic networks and movements of the diaspora is conveyed by images of nests, mosses and mangroves, constellations of feathers, fronds, crevices, fragments, rustling of leaves and cats hunting crepuscular glintings that dance in the hands of an ancestress.
The illustrations by Wilson Borja dramatise the tension between ancestry and diaspora that is evident in the poems. On the one hand, ancestral roots are symbolised in the ceiba tree, the racialised human body - hands, hand prints, a face, a female form - and the Afro-Cuban religious symbols (circles and crosses). On the other hand, endlessly diasporic proliferation is conveyed in images of multiplying fronds, intermeshed with exploding Afro hair, fishes in motion, visual fragmentation and disjuncture.
The poems and the illustrations together form a powerful affirmation of African diasporic spirituality and ancestral connection, alongside a celebration of the endless disjunctures and multiplications that mark the African experience in the Americas.