An interview of a young lady recounting the peak of the beauty of Ethiopian women over the last 100 years has recently surfaced on the web and evoked comments of thousands of fans on social networks. Karen Maniraho, the young woman in the video, is a Burundian currently residing in the US.
Akeza.net approached her.
Akeza.net: Who is Karen Maniraho?
Karen: I’m a researcher for Cut Video as well as an aspiring writer interested in stories of the black and African diaspora.
Akeza.net: How did you find yourself doing research for Cut videos?
Karen: After my Global Health Corps fellowship in Burundi, my friend and fellow researcher at Cut Video, Katherine, reached out to me and recommended that I consider the opportunity to research for the Ethiopia video. I’m a big fan of the series and was really excited to contribute, especially for their first video from an African country.
Akeza.net: What are your ties with fashion world in general?
Karen: Beyond being inspired by African fashion designers and creatives, I’m fascinated by the intersection of history and representation. What I keep learning through my research and from talking to local and diaspora bloggers is how much beauty can be a response to our environments. There is so much to learn by seeing the ways we present ourselves over the years.
Akeza.net: How hard is it making research for such a video? what are the challenges?
Karen: I think the most important thing for me is to avoid telling a single story of beauty. When I started my research for Ethiopia, so many articles focused on poverty, famine, war. And this single story of despair so often applies to many other African countries. But there is so much more going on: innovative women that weren’t celebrated in the past, inspiring fashion designers, generations of artists, writers, filmmakers, historians, etc. that didn’t make it into mainstream news. These are the people and stories that need to be talked about more.
Also, beauty ideals often privilege certain races, ethnicities, economic classes. One of the thrills of researching beauty and history comes with learning about the incredibly rich diversity of each country. But we recognize there are certainly some limitations to creating a video for any country’s history of beauty. One beauty subculture could even have a documentary produced and it wouldn’t fully capture how many narratives there may be to discuss. For me, it’s essential to be aware of this as you try and start the conversation.
My biggest hope for viewers of the series is that people will learn something from watching the video and feel inspired to research more on their own and learn more about the country’s history and alternative narratives of beauty. I think the “Behind the Research” videos that accompany the time lapse videos are a great opportunity for viewers to see what the researcher decided to focus on and hear some of the challenges that came with trying to research the country.
Akeza.net: Can you help us reconstitute your academic career?
Karen: I studied at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA. While there, I was very interested in race, gender, international development, and social justice issues.
Akeza.net: The first video for which you did research is trending. How do you feel about it?
Karen: It was so exciting to see our Ethiopia video trending. The response was overwhelming! I tried keeping up with so many comments and suggestions from viewers, particularly Ethiopian viewers. It made me so motivated to keep progressing as a researcher in future videos.
Interview by Landry MUGISHA