Best of 2017: The Incredible Majesty of Kehinde Wiley’s “Trickster”

One of the best art gallery exhibit highlights of 2017 starred Kehinde Wiley’s impressive new paintings at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City.
The art loving visitor is firstly seduced inside near darkness, wandering around spacious grounds like a lost, hungry traveler in a forest field, the paintings playing storied trees planted on every wall. Clad in alluring mystery, these tremendous, cloak and dagger narratives were spaced apart with single, focused lights casting luminous brilliance upon celebrated contemporary black artists, some of the most compelling painters, photographers, sculptors, and multi-disciplinarians of this moment– Mickelene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Derrick Addams, and more. Each easily identified artist has become a fictionalized character straight out of a spine tingling Grimm, stripped of modernity, transformed into period costume, regal defiance vividly illustrated in their body language and facial expressions.

Art history buffs love talking about the specifics of hand direction. In the past, in paintings especially, viewers read images left to right, carefully paying close attention to what acts hands perform. Wiley’s articulated gestures took away oppressive authorship, allowing black bodies to become valiant protagonists more than lower class subjects. No longer slaves or props, Wiley’s myriad of friends appear like Caravaggio or Gentileschi figures, caught in vicious acts (in his portrait of painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye for example), surrounded in single light sources, either staring out through the canvas or turning away. He has Rashid Johnson’s hand on Sanford Biggers shoulder in a tender, bonding moment wearing matching flowing pink shirts, Wangechi Mutu wielding snakes like a sultry Medusa like goddess in a fetching blue toga dress and bounded braids, and Kerry James Marshall in an oval composition using his hands as an educator in three parts.

This elegant portrait of Carrie Mae Weems standing amongst rocky mountains and a picturesque desert sky landscape is a stunning achievement. Elaborate patterns and folds of her gold dress are remarkable, her jeweled hand in a powerful clutch, and her curled updo has queenly justice.

Wiley is a painter known for putting musicians, rappers, and other pioneers in his Art Noveau meets black realism pedestals. In “Trickster,” he includes his fellow black visual artist peers, this body of work a deeper close up of the black artist as the documentarian of the present. Each and every one of these people are creating the works the world needs to see and remember.

Best of 2017: Dreams Come True: Janet Jackson Concert At Wells Fargo

I attended two musical concerts this year– John Legend and Janet Jackson. I had incredible times at both. Janet, however, was a long old wish fulfilled on a chilly November night just days before flying out to Paris.

I have been a fan of Janet and her musically gifted family since childhood. Yet it was the baby girl of the Jackson’s whom I had loved so deeply, affectionately drawn to her strong lyricism, vocal range, dance moves, and iconic music videos.  As Mom would play out “Control” and “Rhythm Nation” cassette tapes over and over, my siblings and I would sing along and dance the way children danced to edgy guitar popping, foot stomping R&B meets rock and roll. It brings apart memories of my uncle, who passed away this November. He always called me, “Janet” and I hadn’t corrected him because I had such a strong connection to my favorite musician.

Janet’s “Unbreakable” tour started late 2015 to promote her newest album release and spread love to those who had admired her forever. For so many including me, this would be our first time seeing her live and the enthusiasm was wildly contagious. I bought the album, t-shirt, and concert ticket to Wells Fargo in Philly, super thrilled whilst reading excited fans’ concert reviews via social media.

Sadly, the tour was postponed. I was refunded, but very heartbroken for a while.

At fifty-one, Janet gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Then, she announced that the tour was resuming, that it would be renamed “The State of the World.”

Originally, I wanted to see her at the Boardwalk in New Jersey, but settled in on Wells Fargo in Philadelphia the sequel.

It was the most surreal Monday night, sitting in the 100 section, not too far away from the stage, waiting for an iconic queen. Lights went dark. On the screens were the names of victims killed by police, female voice reciting them. Janet came out in a long black duster with black attire underneath and flaming red ponytail, on the prolific beats of “Knowledge,” the lyrics flashing the giant projectors. Through my own loud screams, my eyes watered and my chin quivered. I couldn’t believe I was present and so was she.
“The Knowledge” turned into “State of the World” which then transitioned into a killer dance workout of “Burn It Up” featuring video cameo of another amazing artist, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot. “Nasty” came to play and everyone screamed and hollered, including me. It was such a vital statement considering the current political climate, a boost shot for all women.
Other jams such as “Miss You Much,” “Alright,” “Control,” “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “The Pleasure Principle,” “Escapade,” “All Nite (Don’t Stop)”, “Love Will Never Do (Without You), and “Got Til It’s Gone” were highlighted. I absolutely loved the choreography on the latter. Ageism is no factor to this incredible talent!  She can still dance as if the 1980’s and 1990’s never left. Just jaw dropping!
Her background dancers were also top notch, ranging in ages, body shapes, genders, and ethnicities, taking their skills to the floor with Janet looking on with pride and joy.
Songs took on a deeper, autobiographical charge as Janet serenaded her Oscar nominated ballad “Together Again.” At the end of this precious melody, she lifted her head and mic to the air, quietly speaking, “until we see each other again, Mike.” In “What About,” a powerful uptempo with alternative rock edge, her dancers enacted violent domestic abuse situations through improvisational movements as she struggled through singing the cords, even pausing at times to get through raw, poignant lyrics.
“That was me!” She cried out, sobbing and running off the stage.
The entire audience felt her pain, utterly touched by emotional display.

Tenderheaded: Tranquility In the Light

Time pauses, stilling for a moment, letting its invisible lungs ingest surroundings. The exhale is deep and long, dispensing into the air, losing battle in this beguiling light—the light that houses unconstrained spirits, these spirits yearning for peace and rest.

At Renaissance Society, Jennifer Packer’s Tenderheaded suite of new paintings are scattered about, their parted in-between a carefully planned placement on pristine white walls basked in sunglow. This interior almost mirrors a church without stained glass prisms, but heavy presence of angelic interference is as undeniably arresting as the small painting of an officer in blue. Quiet, dreamy space is a mecca, a holy brevity of repeated polygon walls with rectangular windows admitting sun rays to mingle with Packer’s paintings. This set stage for the viewer, whose eyes have been persuaded to swallow propelling energetic forces of warm, affectionate colors and thoughtfully considered brush outs.

Piece by piece lies an intriguing revelation of explorative color combinations eccentrically placed such as an energetic yellow and fiery engine red compete with brown and charged green in one large painting, complex hues and saturation arousing a profoundly muted purpose. Brush strokes play between lushly applied paint, absent paint and raw canvas, balancing the eyes’ need to rest and focus overall narrative. For example, flowers almost burst from the canvas, yet refrain, their impressive beauty a thing of string lines and voluptuous shapes vibrating intimately.

“Tenderheaded” has a complicated history in black hair culture:

A hairdresser asks the young lady, “are you tenderheaded?”

In other words, she meant, “can you handle the amount of pain that I am about to inflict on your scalp? And if you are tenderheaded, I will be gentle.”

Often, if one said no, a pain like no other would be unleashed, the incessant tugging on fragile hair strands, the angry flickering of a pesky wide tooth comb, and the neck feels stretched back a thousand centuries, this excruciating sacrifice in the face of ingrained beauty. This was a secret between the sitter and the hairdresser, an inheritance passed down, to bravely take brutal battle, intuitively knowing that it would pass and loveliness would take steed.

However, Packer teases another perception, taking apart this familiar language, conceiving a sophisticated olive branch to cling upon. Singular narratives interwoven in these ghostly surfaces, painted with such gentle affection and care, her signature movement, the figures and their environments are important, but also the state of humanity, of feeling authentic and present, to be fully alive in a with hinted descriptive objects that hold sentimental value to the sitter. In another painting, a golden yellow cast portrait, is a radiantly glowing Venus, off centered, the glow seeming to wrap around her, a softly magical essence that wraps around her figure, the typewriter, and flowers behind her. She embodies words of Meg Henson Scales’ profound essay, Tenderheaded, or Rejecting the Legacy of Being Able to Take It, especially tracing along lines:

“Strongblackwoman’s most striking characteristics are her gross displays of endurance and the absence of personal agenda. The strongblackwoman lives for (and sometimes through) others, and is culturally valued in direct proportion to her personal sacrifice. Strongblackwoman are the astronauts, the most right stuff of American martyrdom.

 

If we consider Tenderheadedness as a paradigm for self-worth in black girlhood, we can perhaps understand something more of what makes American black women so specifically disparaged from within and without.”

 

Packer’s work explores both women and men, these secluded queens and kings of their specific domains, respectfully rendered, in control of their ethreal environments, marginalized bodies existing in mysterious suspensefulness.

Mesmerizing flowers too hold an arousing metaphor, an adjacency to living with a purpose beyond physical beauty, well past the branch of still life study. These paintings feel like extensions of the human body, ruffled by gently conveyed leaves and spirited petals, a beguiling softness that is just as undeniably expressive as the figures.

A Cheeseburger And Waffle Affair At Brasserie Lola WIth An Eiffel Tower Cameo

At Brasserie Lola, a very popular vegan spot for dinner, comes a yummy, fulfilling meal of a juicy, succulent seitan burger topped with amazing vegan cheese and all the fixings. The salad was massaged with a tasty dressing and the fries were crispy, hot, and seasoned well.

This burger was hands down one of the best vegan burgers that I have ever tasted. Even when it started falling out its moist, chewy sesame seeded bun, I dug into the bits with leafy salad, finding the whole experience all the more irresistible.

The Eiffel Tower was supposedly a sixteen minute walk from the restaurant, but as usual, this lady walks in the wrong direction. I seemed to be strolling around forever (an hour to be exact) when I spotted a blue light moving around in a circle. Moments later, I was stunned to see the sparkling colored lights beaming elegantly from the top of the Eiffel Tower like glittering jewels. I followed and followed the sight, greatly aroused by the magnetic power the majestic iron lattice sculpture had over me. Thus, a little before one a.m., I took a selfie and stared at the elegant work of Stephen Sauvestre, Maurice Koechlin, and Emile Nougeur.

Vegan Mofo Post #21: The Vegan Jawn of the Dead Halloween Themed Pop Up

On a dreary Sunday, it rained an endless miserable symphony. Still, I wasn’t going to pass up a vegan pop up, especially celebrating my favorite holiday– Halloween. I took the train and walked in the downpour, entering The Rotunda located in West Philadelphia. Inside was a lively contagious enthrall of dressed vendors and guests, a scary music soundtrack that included Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and lots of food samples. I purchased a $1 raffle ticket (no one called so no big loss). I tried yummy coconut jerky and admired spooky character mugs. I almost, almost got a Frida Kahlo or Jean-Michel Basquiat mug.
My favorite lady, Barb of Gone Pie was setting up. I ordered treats for my friends and I. Kindly, she let me park my wet umbrella in her area while I stalked off to look around the cobwebs and pumpkins. The Food Duo’s Carmella and Carlo were decked out in costumes. From their V Marks the Shop, I bought the infamous Miss Rachel’s Pantry’s Pub Cheese (cannot wait to try it!!!) and Europe’s dairy free favorite cheese brand Violife in the mozzarella flavored block.
Overall, I had such a blast. Looking forward to the holiday pop up!

Just a piece of my Halloween costume for tomorrow. Heehee. Thank you to the amazing ladies of Light Beings Healing Company for this gorgeous crystal flower crown. I also received a vile of beautiful smelling water. Then again, I might wear this every day.

Vegan Mofo Post #13: Putting Fair Trade Chocolate In Painting

I have a great stash of chocolate just to enjoy for this beautiful birthday month– delicious gifts to myself of course. In the meantime, when I’m not devouring my tempestuous abundance, lately the chocolate bars have been incorporated into painting practice.

This latest project combines glorious splendor of dark and brown skin tones that were featured in Shonda Rhimes produced Shakespearean show, Still Star Crossed, which had sadly been canceled over the summer. Lashana Lynch, the actress who played strong, brazen, independent lead, Lady Rosalind Capulet is in every painting. I wasn’t super invested in the characters. I purely thought about their time, slavery, and chocolate, desperately trying to bridge this romantic period with contemporary plights about the damaging industry that barbarically exploits children, children and adults who have never tasted chocolate, but carry deep seated scars from having to pick the seeds that make it.

In progress painting of Prince Escalus and Lady Rosaline Capulet with the Nib Mor cherry bar. I was obsessed with this mentioned (never shown rendezvous) of the young lad and the beautiful lady caught by his father in the stables. Thus, I painted what could have happened– with a cherry bar included.

Vegan Mofo Post #17: Macaroni With Butternut Squash & Avocado

The Libra days are leaving and the feeling leaves bittersweet sentiments. We have this last full week of October and next week is Halloween. I still haven’t found the perfect green skirt for my mermaid “fin,” but I’m sure to be close.
Also, I have been having the most wonderful time volunteering at the Philadelphia Film Festival. Just saw Greta Gerwig’s first directed film, “Ladybird.” It’s so sad, profound, and excellent.

 

My friend canceled on the Paris trip. I am planning to go solo, staying at a popular hostel (we were going to split rent on an apartment), purchasing a 4-day Paris Pass, and mapping out my itinerary. Although not in October, these well-crafted plans are another belated birthday treat for me, a gift before the year is out. I think it’s imperative to please wanderlust every once in a while, especially if manageable.
Today’s recipe is one of happiness and pleasure. Not a true kind of mac n cheese. There’s no soaked nuts, no nutritional yeast,, no dairy free cheese. Just the simple enjoyment of seasonal butternut squash puree and avocado becoming friends in a pretty bowl.
Macaroni With Butternut Squash & Avocado Ingredients and Preparation

1 1/2 cup macaroni
1 15 oz can Farmer’s Market Organic Butternut Squash Puree
1/4 cup almond milk (or any other dairy free milk alternative)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 avocado, ripened
basil leaves to garnish
Bac N Bits (optional)

Prepare macaroni to package directions.
Drain and place macaroni back on stove, adding butternut squash puree, salt, turmeric, garlic, and black pepper.
Stir together, heating for 7-10 minutes while preventing macaroni from sticking to the pot.
Pour some mac into a bowl and top with avocado, basil, and bac n bits.

Vegan Mofo Post #5: Spring Break In Toronto Part Three

This is a reflection of one travel regret of 2017: Toronto, a place I miss. I didn’t have enough time to squeeze this in. Next year is a promise.

It remains the only Canadian province I’ve visited thus far, having spent a day or weeks during winter, spring, and summer. Their casual summer breezes are heavily reminiscent of Philly’s pleasant autumn temperatures. Of course, summer was my favorite of the three experiences—warm, gorgeous weather made for great long walks along Bloor Street. For today, I focus back on a splendid March, enjoying fashionable sights and sounds, eating mouthwatering food alongside most amazing friend for company. I am so lucky to have an amazing second family to “come home” to.

Before we were granted the full on shared meal enjoyment, our waitress gave us all hot towels to clean our hands. Thankfully, my friends wanted to eat the vegetarian platter which includes split pea curry in two ways, collard greens, red and golden beets, black lentils, red lentils, and pan fried green beans with carrots. It was such a beautiful, extravagant way of eating, folding up thin, bubbled bread, piecing it off, scooping up different dishes. The food is gorgeous and flavorful.

Vegan Beauty Travel Essentials

Before I headed out for a special three day trip to Chicago in guise of self pampering (food, art, and sight seeing), a few solid deals squeezed themselves into the beauty portion of my carry on bag. Alongside usual components ($3.99 mini bottles of Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Shampoo and Conditioner reused often) and Desert Essence 100% Jojoba Oil ($6.99), these other vegan skin treasures (at great value) were much needed and appreciated.

I’m thankful for the conveniently located Marshall’s, Whole Foods Market, and Ulta Beauty spread around downtown Philly. Discounted prices and sales come and go. It’s imperative to be on the lookout for awesome steals. Marshall’s always has a bunch of cruelty free vegan products in all their departments (hair, body, and facial skin care) and often I find a new brand to love through this inspection.

For the airport, however, some items were over the three ounce rule, but managed to pass through security.

Thank heaven.

A Few Vegan Beauty Essentials:

Pacifica’s Purify Coconut Water Cleansing Wipes, $6 (was on sale 2/$6 at Whole Foods Market)– I love the pleasant smell of coconut as soft, bubbled foam cloths glide onto face in circular motion, gently removing dirt and oil.

Valentina’s Naturals Hydraboost Toning Mist With White Tea & Hibiscus Extracts, $22 ($4.99 at Marshall’s)– A light toner spray and mild touch down to give skin a dewy, refreshed appearance, especially a savior for those with dry skin.

Pacifica’s Dreamy Youth Day and Night Face Cream, $16.00 (was on sale $9.99 at Whole Foods Market)– My morning moisturizer leaves a pleasant, non-greasy vibrancy, leaving face and throat even and smooth.

Sukin’s Super Greens Facial Recovery Serum, $18.95 ($7.99 at Marshall’s)– I use this at night to have beautiful skin by morning. Just a small bit goes a long way.

Aura Cacia Rejuvenating Moroccan Argan Oil, $6.99 at Whole Foods Market– Perfect for skin and hair, this versatile beauty weapon gives dry strands life, bringing healthy moisture and shiny gloss.

Schmidt’s Lavender + Sage Deodorant, $8.99 ($3.99 at Marshall’s)– Lovely fragrance that isn’t artificial, stays on long, and absorbs wetness even when you’re at your most active. I walked all over the city and didn’t break armpit sweat once.

Olivia’s Oil Pulling Mouthwash, $10 ($4.99 at Marshall’s)– Swish and swish for 5-10 minutes to get rid of toxins inside the mouth. Requires patience, but listening to five minute songs and looking at your goofy mirror reflection helps pass the time.

Playing the Tourist

I had a splendid three days in majestic Chicago. Warm, pleasing weather (despite a mild morning Wednesday morning rain) added beneficial enjoyment to a city of profound art and historic skyscrapers. I walked almost everywhere and rode trains, taking in the majestic nature. I met up with former PAFA alums, including a classmate and explored highlights through their eyes. Plus, I ate a marvelous dinner with a fellow black woman vegan Twitter friend. My trip wasn’t purely secluded mini vacation, but a time to fully interact and engage with people, to truly get to know them further. For that to happen among industrial backgrounds, famous landmarks, and delicious food (okay, there were bad food experiences, but I’ll get to that later), made my short visit amazingly wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for better company.

It took hours to find my temporal resting place. This wasn’t the first instance of Google Maps steering me in the incorrect direction. Once my phone eventually bid me adieu, dying in the middle of my panic, I had a moment of sitting on the ground, watching the sun threaten to fall below horizon, leaving me a stranded mess on the other side of my location, Yes, I was almost half an hour away, having walked the opposite direction. A policewoman geared into the correct way. Her companion asked if I wanted to call a taxi. Of course not. Twenty minutes is nothing. I found my location, drank the free water, rested my head on a Frida Kahlo pillow, and smiled my relief.

Inside Trip Advisor’s Top Museum (love the independent film inspired insignia), you’ll find famous works like Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon At the Island of Grand Jatte,” Edward Hopper’s late night diner special “Nighthawks,” and Grant Wood’s iconic Midwestern “American Gothic.” However, if you’re like me, you would appreciate works by Beauford Delaney, Gabrielle Munter, and Cauleen Smith.

Marc Chagall continued. So as we sat in front of the gorgeous piece of art, I had charged my dying phone between two computers– an artwork installation of some sort. I turned around for a moment, chatting with my friend. When I looked back, a man was holding onto my phone, clutching it while scrolling with the computer mouse. I had to let him know that the phone was mine, that it needed to be charged. He apologized and set it down. He and his companion leave, but not before the next couple sit down and shout, “Sir, you’ve forgotten your phone!” It was downright hysterical. I suppose that the better solution would have been to charge at a nearby café.