Teff: The Expressionist

Interview by Zakkiyyah Najeebah 

Since 2009, Teff has produced an engaging discipline around self-portraiture, visual work, and various creative projects that convey her multi-faceted interests. Teff uses her visual platform, TEFFFFFFFF as a way to further showcase content that conveys her personal ideas and concepts.

I discovered Teff’s thoughtfully curated images via social media a few years ago, and have been enthralled by her work since then. Teff’s use of color, composition, and thought is visually stunning (as is her style). As a black women who also practices self portraiture, photography, and art direction I felt it necessary to further connect with Teff about her practice and inspirations.  

PHOTO: TEFF

PHOTO: TEFF

ZN: From one photographic artist to another, I’m always intrigued by what draws other photographers to photograph. Everyone’s narrative and reach towards a photographic practice varies. I know that you engage with various creative practices, but what compelled you to exercise photography?

T: What I believe is most compelling, is Home. There is no agenda greater than Home.

I also create out of a commitment to learning and remembering. For me, these two work hand-in-hand. See, I moved from Nigeria at a young age. I remember: shortly before we left, my dad put together a little photo shoot (wow, the memory of it just moved me to tears). He had a photographer come to the house and take pictures of myself and my siblings. Our (maternal) grandfather came over to the house that day, so we got some photos with him as well. My uncle who stayed with us as a caregiver while my parents worked were in the photographs as well. We chose settings explicitly outside of the house. My dad was sure to have those images developed before we left so that we could have it along with us for our trip. At the time, we had no idea that it would be well over 10 years before we could return home. I try, so hard, to keep my memory clear. I try to piece together the rooms of my house, my grandparent’s house, my house in the village and all other familiar spaces clear in my head. They come and go, you know. Since then, I think, a part of me wanted very much to immortalise spaces that are dear to me. In middle school, every time I was near a camera, I was intrigued but could not fully fall into it because as may not be obvious, I am very, very shy. But as time passed and the need to document and preserve memories matured along with me.

I say that to say: I look at photography as a way to communicate with spaces; to communicate the past; to communicate with the past.

PHOTO: TEFF

PHOTO: TEFF

ZN: As an artist/creator, what elements of your personal experiences or beliefs influence your creative perspective and practice?

T: Culture, family, Love, upbringing. My culture has a huge part in why I choose to communicate creatively through photography for a number of reasons - self-portrait especially. For one, African women in photography (most creative fields, really) is a rarity. The idea of a person (a woman, no less) taking up photography (for reasons outside of financial gain) is particularly unheard of in my culture. I have been met with the strangest stares and questions each time I am seen photographing myself or raise my camera to capture an object/subject of interest. Certain family members absolutely can not wrap their head around the subjects I chose to focus on and why.

Z: Our team at Black Girl In Om really values creative practices as a means of wellness and self-care. How has your creative exploration contributed to your awareness of self and acceptance?

T: OH, WELL, DARLING, I COULD PEN A THOUSAND BOOKS.

Creativity, I believe, is self-care. I literally love to exhaust myself in the creative process. From self-portrait sessions that last up to  5-6 hours. Sometimes in the snow; sometimes in 100 degree weather; most times on an empty stomach. That sense of discipline that pours from truly committing to what you stand to learn and how that works to improve who you are/what you can offer, is so necessary - especially when referring to self-care.

PHOTO: TEFF

PHOTO: TEFF

ZN: I can definitely relate to your creative process and your commitment to discipline when it comes to your practice. Bless you! What advice or words would you share with other women who are navigating through their creative process, looking to balance discipline and self care?

T: Be mindful of how you approach growth. Take your time; if it's worth it, you will be patient. Be honest. The work demands it. When you reach clarity, bring others with you. Clarity craves company.