Conscious Counsel: AnAkA, Founder of AKTIV8 Archive & Apothecary

 

I  had the pleasure of sitting down with my dear friend AnAkA to chat about their art practice centered around preserving ancestral wisdom. We talked by a trickling creek underneath a towering canopy of trees just a few blocks away from AnAkA’s family home in Portland while an unusual July rain passed through — the perfect environment for our conversation about finding healing in nature. AnAkA has photographed, directed, and produced videos for world class musicians (FKA Twigs, Kali Uchis) and brands (Levis, Vogue) all while staying grounded in documentary work that reflects personal relationships developed with each subject. AnAkA finds and celebrates community not just through a lens capture but through honest work in understanding, participation, and reciprocation. In this time of unrest AnAkA shares ancestral tools to build spaces of healing and resilience beyond the confines of our current reality. As a childhood friend I can attest to AnAkA’s natural gift of seeing beyond the surface of both people and society but I’d rather you’d hear from AnAkA directly: 

AnAkA: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. My father’s family is from the Augusta Georgia area, they are Black American Indigenous American of slave decent. My mom’s side is Quaker white American decent mostly from the Pennsylvania area. I was born as a dancer and dance lead me to photography and film because I had friends in dance companies who needed those services in high school. My friend Rahee Nerurkar let me borrow her camera. I borrowed her camera to make money. My parents told me: If you want new shoes you need to have your own money so I was like, OK! I started shooting senior portraits and weddings. 
Then I went to LA for school at USC and photography and film really became my main focus. I mostly collaborate with other artists because process really inspires me. People’s experiences and cultures inspire me. I am very passionate about preserving wisdom and the sacred elements of wisdom that come through art and culture so I studied ethnographic research as my major and minored in photo and film production. My art has taken me a lot of places. I really look up to people like Katherine Dunham and Zora Neale Hurston who were African American and travelled to learn more about their culture. I felt motivated to go to places like South Africa and Madagascar and parts of West and East Africa to to learn more about myself and my ancestors. I wanted to see what artists around the world were doing and help to document that. I don’t feel like a lot of us know what artists are doing and how they are creating, especially in the past because there was not much documentation. I am just trying to bridge that gap and help preserve our processes. I am also a descendant of  medicine people. My grandma I grew up with was a medicine woman so I am really interested in herbs and herbalism which has also led me to tattooing… I am just laughing because I am like… man I do so much.
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Grant: I think that is part of what is interesting about all that you do. Personally, I don’t see them as distinct elements because you effectively meld them into a cohesive practice. 
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AnAkA: I definitely try to make sure that my intention for this life stays direct. Even if you look at my birth chart it looks like an arrow — the way all the planets are connected. Even though I do a lot of different things they all fall under the intention of remembering ancestral practices that may have been erased or I feel need to be continued in my lineage.
Grant: I am reminded of a Wendell Berry quote: “One can see the artist’s role in this community as that of the rememberer.” Thats you in my mind! In terms of your interest in herbal medicine, when did you start exploring that and how has that reinforced other aspects of your creativity?
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AnAkA: I started making it a part of my daily practice, making tinctures and oils and tea blends mainly for myself. Spring 2019 is when I really got started as thats when I joined a program called Sacred Vibes Apothecary in Brooklyn. I joined because I knew that herbs would be a way for me to connect with myself and understand how to heal because as we are really seeing now the medical system is not really dependable… There is a lot of wisdom in how the medical system works but I don’t really think that for me personally and for my ancestors it has been a way for us to stay alive healthily to our highest ability. So I was really interested in herbs from an early age but I didn’t understand how intricately connected herbs are in our daily lives until I started really practicing with them. So I was learning how to make tinctures and oils since last spring and it has really changed my life in terms of how I treat myself on a daily basis. If I wake up and feel a certain way emotionally I understand that is also connected to my spirit and of course connected to my body. As a dancer I have always been someone who is very in tune with my body and very sensitive to how I feel. Even if my immune system is a little off I will feel it immediately and understand where it lives in my body most of the time. Knowing what herbs do and practicing with the herbs has been an amazing way to better connect with myself and to put into practice what elements of my life I want to achieve. 
For example in 2019 I was still dealing with a lot of self confidence issues and was starting to be in more open relationships which of course deals with learning about yourself in terms of learning what makes you feel jealous, what makes you feel open and what makes you feel closed. I was becoming more sexually active than I had been in a couple years so that also was interesting for my mental and spiritual health. I was going through a lot of transitions emotionally mentally and spiritual so my body was showing me different things about myself and herbs were helping me understand that. The thing about herbs is that it is kind of like getting to know another person. Once you start practicing with an herb, the more you learn how that particular plant interacts with you. It has been a good way for me to help myself shape-shift into my highest purpose and into my highest self. I want to be able be healthy and to not have a perception that I need outside help in order to be healthy. I think herbs help us remember that all we really need is our own intuition and our own wisdom in order to heal ourselves. So that is how it has been intricately a part of my life… I don’t like to bring up this quote although I think it is applicable right now — we are born alone and we do technically die alone. We are never actually fully alone though, the herbs help me remember that… The herbs are a physical representation of ancestral knowledge that helps me remember my ancestors’ wisdom and the wisdom of my body and how my body just be knowin before by head knows. Our bodies know how to react to food before we understand what our digestive system does. Trusting the systems and the cycles of the world has been a really good healing practice.
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Grant: It can speak to the connection of self care and resiliency. You can find these herbs and grow them yourself or just walk around your neighborhood and find them.
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AnAkA: Yeah, for me it has been about reclaiming a sustainable way of living. Even though we grew up in the Pacific Northwest and sustainability was a buzzword at our school, when I first started with the herbs in 2019 I was realizing that parts of my life practice weren’t sustainable. Like, what I was buying to feel healthy or how I ingested food to feel healthy. Using herbs as a way to calm my nervous system and feel calm is a way of reclaiming my power against the corporations and other systems that aren’t really there for our sustainable purpose or intention.
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Grant: It supports you and you have been building a community, giving away tinctures via AKTIV8 (pronounced Activate).
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AnAkA: I was really excited to start my herbal process at Sacred Vibes Apothecary because it already was a built in community of herbalists… especially in a city like New York I didn’t think I would have a way to communicate with the Earth very deeply. So it was cool to have that portal opened and know there are a bunch of herbalists no matter where you are; and there are people who are in tune with the earth, know how to communicate with her and how to nourish her and how to nourish yourself. It is naturally nourishing to be with herbs so you just automatically attract people who are also nourishing.
I only opened my apothecary to the public in April technically. That has been really cool. As the herbs bring healing, those that need the healing come through.
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Grant: In terms of cannabis being an herb, and probably the most misunderstood of medicinal plants, how does that play into healing and what is your personal relationship to that? 
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Anaka: To me cannabis is a way of life in the way that all herbs to me are a way of life. In terms of achieving spiritual, mental and physical health with the aid of nature I feel that cannabis is a big aid to achieve balance and to achieve balance of perception. If you look at the history of Rastas I think thats the perfect way to think about cannabis for me. They literally use it as a medicine for a daily practice to stay in tune with God and their higher purpose and because society doesn’t want you to stay in tune with God and your higher purpose, they’d rather you just keep working for them like slaves, I see why the system rejected the Rastas and continues to reject people who are more in tune with themselves. Because when you are more in tune with yourself, you see that actually as long as you have the food, and the water and everything clean around you then you don’t need to keep working for people who are thirsty for money. 
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Grant: It is a threat to the status quo.
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AnAkA: Exactly. All herbs in that way are revolutionary because they do, like we were saying, promote sovereignty of life, and they promote a sustainable life. But I think cannabis is a big promotion of sovereignty of mind and perception and also spiritual awareness. Cannabis has really helped me personally understand my purpose and understand I am always a source of creation. Even if 100 of my ideas are stolen I still have a million more. It also goes to the idea of do we want to live in an abundance mindset or do we want to live in a world of scarcity? Being trained to think of the world as one of scarcity because a certain amount of people want to keep making money is not sustainable. Cannabis helps me tune into my abundance mindset and helps me tune into my calmness. It helps my anxiety. Growing up in cities and consistently feeling like we need to be work work working… it hurts the nervous system over time. Having a real deep relationship with cannabis has helped me aid my nervous system health and I want to find a way for it to be accessible to my people more healthily and outside of capitalism… I want to free all the prisoners who just wanted to share the wealth. There are so many people who are in prison right now for having a little bit on them just because they are Black and now there are whole dispensaries that are making so much money right now. That is the part of cannabis that makes me angry. I hope the relationship between money and nature will become less violent. Because even just buying herbs online, like medicinal herbs that are not cannabis — I still feel some type of way doing that but also will make sure I support a company that I feel is doing it with the right energy. Everything is about energy for me and that is also where cannabis comes in — it lifts all the veils of energy. If you are smoking with a person who isn’t taking care of themselves and you share the same J you are gonna pick up their energy. And those are things I had to learn about spirit and force fields and magic with cannabis. Cannabis has shown me that my force field is precious and my energy is precious and I should always focus on keeping it in a high vibration. 
The more we realize that and work from a space from creation and wanting our babies to be healthy and surrounded by people doing positive things and loving themselves. I think cannabis is a perfect way of loving yourself. It is a perfect way of mastering loving yourself and accepting all of your flaws. I remember when I first smoking cannabis I would fall and still spill things you know… in those moments at first i would be so negative towards myself like I am so clumsy or embarrassed and now when I do it it is an offering… I’m like whooo! I am a human. Why not! I have always, especially ever since I moved to California, I have always been around artists and artists love cannabis and I think we love cannabis because it just helps us create but it also helps us connect with ourselves. 
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Grant: There is definitely a path between connecting more deeply to ourselves and connecting more deeply with others. How does the creation of community factor into the work you are currently focused on? 
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AnAkA: I am passionate about creating space for community. A big part about my future practice is about bringing people together in healthy ways. No matter where you are from, people love to come together in celebration and to come together in grief and grieving is also very important. I just read an article by Sobonfu Somé, the way that we process grief in the future will greatly affect us as a society. Right now is a perfect time to tap into how we process grief. I would love to create visuals that will support a sense of community to help us mourn. Id like to create gatherings of communities that can be a space of meditation for grief and reverence for our ancestors and people who are passing and can be a space of celebration at the same time. I am seeing myself sharing music and movement in portal moments that run for maybe an hour or two. Seeing that growing into being able to curate other artists and musicians to create healing portals. I’d love for that to grow into festival sized portals of healing and building temples of healing. A lot of my ideas surround building temples of healing, such as building birth centers, incorporating herbs and the practice of creation in a communal space. Here in Oregon I have some sisters who are mothers or are pregnant who would love to have a space where we know we can be pregnant and give birth safely. One thing I love about our generation is that there are a lot of doulas, midwives and herbalists - people who are returning to the practice of home births. I am really passionate about finding a way for us to build housing around that idea of creating centers where people can safely give birth at home and in community. I am passionate about housing right now in general because we are going through an eviction crisis and it will only get worse for people in cities. People are going to need to move out of cities and find communes. We must find ways to build more coops where people are investing in their home space in a city together. I am looking to ways to gather us together sustainably. 
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Grant: In terms of sustainability and tools to build community, we have talked before about cobb housing. It feels like a  universal and ancient technology that has been consistently used across every culture. It has also had a resurgence here in the Pacific Northwest it seems. 
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AnAkA: It definitely has been resurgence and I love that you said ancient technology cause that is definitely how it feels. Even the person we've been talking to out here is a cobb master who calls himself an artists first. He is more of a sculptural artist that ended up using cobb as his medium. I think it would be awesome to have more communities that are looking at how they build their communities like that, considering it as an art form and how that in of itself can further build community. 
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Grant: There is great desire and potential for answers and solutions for systemic issues right now. Looking at things like herbalism and cobb are both things we know how to do and they are basically free. Here you are as a rememberer using these traditions as a stepping stone for the future and bringing that full circle. 
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AnAkA: Thats a perfect way to sum it up. Every time I feel connected to a practice it is ancient but also futuristic. The more in tune we are with the elements the more in tune we are with ourselves and our community. (The rain started pouring at this moment) Shout out to the rain!