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The African Heroines You Don’t Hear About

Born to poor parents in a coastal Kenyan village in the mid-1850s, Mekatilili wa Menza would rise to lead an army of women and men against British colonial rule. Exiled and imprisoned several times, the charismatic widow warrior once escaped and trekked 600 miles through forests to return to her people and revive their fight, leading to a major uprising in October 1914. Yet she’s largely forgotten, her story covered only in passing in Kenyan textbooks. Award-winning photographers Richard Allela from Kenya and Kureng Dapel from Nigeria are trying to change that, celebrating her with a first-of-its-kind animated photography project. Launched in 2017 as an online project, the images went viral, and a physical exhibition continues to move through art spaces, including at international platforms such as Alliance Française. They’re part of a growing band of young African animators and visual artists breaking with the hegemony of a male-dominated telling of the continent’s history to honor forgotten or ignored female heroes. They’re using the explosion of social media, increased access to technology, and the democratization of content-sharing on platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram to get past traditional media gatekeepers and reach audiences.