African Gods Instagram Filter Seeks to Connect Black American History to Ancient Roots

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A new project from agency Eleven is pairing ancient spirits with Instagram selfies in hopes of boosting a version of Black History Month that traces all the way back to antiquity.

The agency’s new Instagram filter superimposes the faces of various figures from the Yoruba religion and other traditional African cultures onto a user’s face before landing on a random match. It’s part of a project that also includes online art depicting various figures from African-American history as the deities—Rosa Parks is supreme goddess Nana Buluku, for instance—in an effort to draw connections between the American icons and ancestral folklore and spirituality.

Eleven copywriter Dotun Bello conceived and spearheaded the effort, which was inspired by his experience living in the United States after emigrating from Nigeria in 2015.

“It just felt like we needed a way to reestablish a connection that seems to have been lost,” Bello said. “When you think about how African Americans go through amazing shifts, and they have survived some of the most traumatic times in the world, these stories became like superhero stories to me.”

That superhero status is reflected in the art, by illustrator Martin Okonkwo, which depicts figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and W.E.B. Du Bois as muscle-bound warriors wielding battle axes and scepters and clad in ornate clothing. Others, like an ocean goddess take on Harriet Tubman and Maya Angelou cast as a love and sweet water deity, project airs of all-powerfulness.

Malcolm X as Aganju and Maya Angelou as Òshun

But Bello also wanted to add a personal element to the project to make the point that channeling these spirits isn’t exclusive to American heroes. He decided the best way of doing that was through an Instagram filter, tapping into a viral trend of elaborate custom graphics that match users with various characters or other pop culture items at random.


Bello hopes that the effort will add to an ongoing conversation about tracing ancestries throughout the African Diaspora. “The hope is that people will start to realize more than ever that they don’t really need to only listen to narratives or listen to storybooks. You can look at yourself and see the African in you,” Bello said.

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