Having ancestral lineage from the Caribbean Island of the Dominican Republic and growing up seeing the land’s African culture being denied brought me to create these images. The way we style ourselves is influenced by those who came before us and knowing that they’re always with us has become a form of healing for me. I wanted to carry that message in these photographs while highlighting the spirit and symbolism of our ancestral and African roots. I chose to shoot outside in order to show that nature is an essential part of our existence and for POC to relearn our past through family and ancestry. It all can help us navigate the present and continue building our dream of a future where oppression doesn’t exist.
Creating with RillyRil and her mother was special from the beginning, especially since we all are from the same island—so instantly we have this connection. We met through a mutual friend earlier this year during the community cleans-up and events that RillyRil organized. From then on, her mother was always present and I felt the energy that they carried with each other and through RillyRil’s music.
Adolescent Content: How do you express yourself?
RillyRil: I’m inspired by a lot of what I see just living in Brooklyn and having family from the Dominican Republic. My style is basically an outward expression of my story. I feel like I'm carrying this lineage with me mixed with how I want to express myself which isn’t exactly to the cultural standards but I feel like it's still with me and that’s what's beautiful about expression and style. I feel like it's a story, not just fabrics or beads, it’s an outward expression of my story that people can see when they see me.
Adolescent: What’s your ancestry lineage?
RillyRil: I have ancestors that are Taino, Afro-Latinx, and West Indian African.
Adolescent: How do you feel the connection with your ancestors?
RillyRil: I feel like it’s in my blood—it’s this energy that’s been passed down to me. Even though I don’t know much about my ancestors because of the oppression that our people have been through, I still feel it. It’s something I embrace mostly when I’m in nature, around people I love or making music.
Adolescent: Who inspires your style?
Elaine Hamilton: I’ve always been inspired by my grandmothers, Mama Elena and Mama Tata, and my aunts. I love wearing long skirts like I’m wearing today and pulling my hair back in a bun, very much so like my grandmother's. Growing up in Bushwick, I was very much influenced by hip-hop, Merengue, and Bachata. It was such a mix.
Adolescent: How did your upbringing affect your relationship with your children and their style?
Elaine: Growing up, my mother didn’t know how to do my hair. On my maternal side, the hair is very straight and there are no coils like we have on my father’s side—so my mother didn’t know how to manage my hair. With RillyRil, I took it upon myself to understand her hair—how to condition, braid, and treat it. It definitely took a village!
When it comes to RillyRil growing up, it was a challenge—she always had a different way of dressing, putting on makeup, and doing her hair. I definitely supported that, as I wanted her to be able to express herself and try to find herself by exploring different colors, styles, and types of music so she can find whatever her purpose is, whatever her passion is. That's how I wanted to guide her and support her.
photography/interview: Yaemi Matias (@souldreamin)
featuring: RILLYRIL (@r1llyr1l) & Elaine