“The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely” Is Rebirthing The Black Female In Toronto

Remember. Black women’s lives matter. Remember even when the media deflects this imperative truth.
Bright bulbs highlight centered figure.
Around some beige framed eight body-length mirrors, to steady beating of deep drum thumps, provocative movement begins, slow and fluid borne from dark ground. Cloaked in brown fabric mystery, the lone, ubiquitous protagonist shifts and exerts kinetics, both scandalous and sensual, risque and titillating.
The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely starts on a note, a savory piquant flavored note of rhythmic dance. Emphasis on the figure’s lower backside takes immediate heed, the lights reflecting on gesticulating the voluptuous curves, the predominant curves that symbolize both beauty and vulgarity. Ritualistic exertion ends. The exposed one woman show opens up its jaw full of clandestine shadows further, letting audience sink uncomfortably on the bitter taste of a boisterous affair between Ms. Lovely and a married man. They are reaping horrible benefits of the empty situationship- which many fall prey to its twisted complications promising nothing more than cataclysmic writhing and emotionless ecstasy.
“What are you doing?” Ms. Lovely’s mournful conscious asks. “What are you doing?”

Past and present shift from historical to contemporary decades. Humor and sincerity merge, American nostalgia mixed with innocent curiosity and churlish giddiness. Ms. Lovely is the wild church girl slowly seduced by seeds of scandalous eroticism, eagerly slipping into becoming potential victim early. In between Ms. Lovely blossoming in stereotypical chains, in between darkened corners dissolving face, Sarah Baartman, the original Venus Hottentot is inserted. Long ago, Baartman was a source of European entertainment, a human display, a human hostage holding colonist eyes of ridicule and fascination. After her death, she is still prisoner, her private organs touring for two hundred years. In a defiant recording, Baartman speaks in both scowling contempt and ferocious dignity to the ethnic beats of African diaspora. The regal figure majestically performs gratifying choreography meant to celebrate and personalize beautiful form.
Ngozi Paul, writer, performer, and creator of Da Kink in My Hair, delivers a mesmerizing soliloquy, riveting monologues, blending together light comedy and thought-provoking drama, rendering forth a poignant narrative that is tough and chewy like stout jerky. She gets to the heart of the matter, candid and honest, brave and tender. Questions are aroused, debating about the oppression of black women’s bodies, facial constructions, identities, journeys to womanhood sometimes brutally thrust in the aggressive flare of masculine violence. The colonial gaze has negatively impacted what reflections sistahs see in the bevel glass. Self love is key. Black women need to engage in more self love, more self indulgence. Baartman knows her worth and value, knows that though they take and take, stealing what is not naturally own– a definitive metaphor of exploitative cultural appropriation, she is queen of her internal throne, something no one else can own. Each time Paul graces stage to the honeyed timbre of Baartman’s vocalized spirit, Paul’s graceful steps and gestures are confident and celebratory.
d’bi young anikafrika (director and dramaturgist), Roger C. Jeffrey (choreographer and assistant director), Birgit Schreyer Duarte (dramaturgist), L’Oqenz and Waleed Abdulhamid (music collaboration), Jeannette Linton (costume designer), and of course Paul deserve all the kudos in the world for pulling off this commendable vision!

Just eighty minutes long at Factory Theatre Studios, The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely runs tonight at 7:15 PM, Saturday at 12:15 PM, and Sunday at 5:15 PM.

“Frida Kahlo’s Art, Garden, Life” Exhibit Is A Must See

I suggest to all my New York friends or those visiting the Big Apple this weekend to squeeze in some leisure time. Head out towards the Bronx for a highly recommended treat- the Frida Kahlo Exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens!
It was a wonderful dream come true to see more of my favorite painter’s works in person.  I applaud NYBG ‘s huge step in recreating Frida’s former house now turned museum. The time and effort in putting this beautiful exhibition together fills my heart with a joy that being in the rare presence of Frida could bring. I have only seen the painting at the National Women’s Gallery in D.C. and the one in MoMa.
Nothing prepared me fully for the breadth of Frida, of the awaiting expansion ready to cling to mind like an unforgotten perfume.
Inside the open space replica of Casa Azul, flowers and greenery native to Frida’s lively environment decorate along a wide pathway paved in splendid riches. It feels like a blessing to be an excited spectator, breathing such a welcoming air of wonder and delight. Her very essence, her very soul nurtured the fragrant bloom in the hot garden house where her native treasures blossomed around each awed visitor.  In one area, rests a mock Frida studio. Powders, empty painting medium jars, a palette, and mirrors rest on an old desk, showing a glimpse into the world of a truly gifted artist.
Honestly, my eyes watered throughout the whole entire journey.
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s art gallery houses fourteen works that illustrate Frida’s adoration of plants and her intricate mastery of rendering their forms. Poignancy, pain, sensuality, lust, hunger…. so many emotional and physical currents driving together. Thinly applied layers on the surface reveal such a direct opposition to the difficulties occurring in Frida’s life. From polio at a young age to the trolley accident to Diego Rivera, Frida always battled and triumphed over hardships, drawing and painting in only the way she knew how– with profound at times candid honesty.
Notable works remembered:

Paintings:

Portrait of Luther Burbank
Fruits of the Earth
Two Nudes in a Forest
Self Portrait with Necklace of Thorns
Sun and Life
Still Life with Parrot and Fruit

Lithograph: 
The Miscarriage 

 

On the fourth floor, artist-in-residence, Humberto Spindola’s Los Fridas is a three dimensional sculpture depicting one of Frida’s most famous paintings. Tinted tissue paper is his primary medium.

“The garments are displayed on seated dress forms crafted from reeds that have been molded into human forms.”

Overall, NYBG does Frida justice. It’s an amazing landscape to revel in. To take comfort in the paradise of flowers and love and allow an intense longing burst forth the seams.
Also before leaving the gift shop features books, paper dolls, souvenirs, t-shirts, purses and more. Find something for that Frida Kahlo lover in your life. Me for example. Just kidding…..
Anyways, please go see the exhibit and explore the gardens. Frida will make your imagination soar high above tragedy and rest in the twisted madness of luscious fruits and wild flowers.

In My Element With Thomas, Wiley, & Basquiat

Time spent in New York last Thursday proved to be a necessary tool to rev up dying artistic fuel. It was nice to escape the MFA struggle for a whole day. Despite windiness and slight chill, journey started towards Jack Shainman to see Hank Willis Thomas’s “Unbranded: 1915-2015: A Century of White Women” taking up both 524 W. 24th Street and 520 W. 20th Street locations.

Thomas is someone I am familiar with. He showed a few pieces of another Unbranded series at the Art Academy of Cincinnati’s Convergys Gallery and gave a lecture on what exactly ‘unbranding’ stood for, how it came to be. Yet somehow, for reasons unknown, I lost track of keeping up with him and other contemporaries. I realize more than ever that if one does not keep track of the art world, especially the black art world, they fall behind. Art is a train that does not stop moving. It waits for no one.
But one does catch up.

Thankfully, force reinvigorated last fall when seeing “Question Bridge” at Fabric Workshop Museum, text gouache paintings at Studio Harlem, listening to his talk alongside Leslie Hewitt at Studio Harlem, and reading his award winning Aperture book. The book starts off on an emotionally guttural tragedy- loss of an innocent, promising black life and impact of that loss on those left mourning including the artist himself. That very intimate pain widens into an expressive emergence, instigating complex conversations about race, stereotypes, and black identity in advertising. Politics of creating a visual campaign that markets more oppressive chain shackling than anything else. They try to erase negative connotations of ugly, violent history, make it out to be sugary sweet like cake frosting, but it can never be glazed over. Never.

Weeks ago, I presented a short powerpoint on Thomas’s work. Someone asked, “did he get permission to use these images? I wonder how Reebok felt.” I just said, “that is not the point.”

Thomas is not setting out to hurt agencies. He is stripping these agencies of their intentions, stripping them of their power, getting down to the nitty gritty barest essentials of what they’re conveying, what they’re promoting.
And it ain’t all good.

Now also from Studio Harlem, I am reminded of some 3,300 Jet Magazine Black Beauty of the Month light skin, brown skin, dark skin, thin, thick, voluptuous ladies and how male gaze attraction shifts in Thomas’s current exhibit. A century of white women. 100 years. Waves spoken in such high volume context. For one, the perception of beauty today stays stuck on European ideal. The caliber, the epitome is a bullet that strikes everywhere on television, commercials, department store magazine covers, cosmetic spreads, film industry. How can minority compete? The ratio is vast, seemingly an impossible niche to break into. Mold is set on a specific ideal, a specific woman. A white woman. Cream of the crop, the angel, the pure beloved angel.
Thomas’s first image in 1915 centers on ebony skinned Cream of Wheat mascot smiling and appeasing to two white women.

I walked through set stage feeling some kind of way. An inner war to be frank. The gallery is clean and immaculate. Each white matted, white framed image without logo, hung moderate inches apart to give viewers minutes to compartmentalize fragmented thoughts. Allow breathing before moving forward to next stimulating visual narrative. I was made aware of both “my invisibility” and “my presence.” My presence was that stereotypical role, that role of propping the white woman, not staining her pedestal.
Emotions ran chaotic. First, the sense of empathy for white women being trapped in fountain of youthfulness, strict thinness, fine boned features, and dismemberment. The varied sexual references– frequent phallic metaphor popping up at least once or twice a decade. I sighed and internally huffed, “man! White women have it rough with men being at the helm of advertising. They purposely omit white women’s intelligence, their contributions to society. They’re more than just objects!”
That empathy soon transformed into scorn over the elitism, the standard and injustice. The erasure of minority, of the beauty in a minority. Circumstances of living in the now. White women are championed. They are championed above all. They are seen as trophies, as the highest honor. They are even allowed to say and do anything to hurt black people, black women/black transgender women– emotionally, psychologically, psychically. Anything. And they still receive excuses. They still receive a wave of compassion. I think about Paula Deen’s “n” word usage. Giuliana Rancic disrespecting Zendaya Coleman’s locs, but loving locs on white women. Cosmopolitan Magazine making black models symbolize “dead trends” while white women were “the best.” White women musicians making blackness their own, but not saying a thing about real life black injustice. I remember a white woman personally emailing one of the best black Twitter voices, saying she couldn’t help being born into privilege and shouldn’t be shamed or apologetic about it. There are a host of other comments, other wrongdoings white women reveal that are ignorant yet swept away under guise of forced apology. I also think about myself. I cannot help thinking about how impossible it is to ignore that I’m the sole black woman in my MFA program. Out of forty plus students of mostly white women. I feel the constant nagging insecurity of singling myself out. I cannot stop the shame growing at painting, drawing or photographing black women’s experience and being that person in a group critique showing that black women’s experience work. There is always dead silence. Until I crack a joke. The jokes make them comfortable. Talking about serious black women’s experiences they cannot relate to are not.

I love Kehinde Wiley. Always loved him. No one is teaching how to paint brown flesh here. The need is so desperate. It rages in my mind like a gnawing uncontrollable itch. One can make so many self portraits, but still yearn to study other kinds of brown flesh tones. One way is to investigate how others are. Wiley is one. It isn’t just entertainment celebrities that he paints, he finds strangers off the street and they sit for him. Maybe it’s time I do this too.
Naturally, suspended in the state of semantics, I began juxtaposing Thomas’s unveiling America’s brutal, manipulative obsession with white women to Wiley’s glorious room of celebrating black women. Wiley’s large scale, highly realistic painted goddesses are suspended in a sea of bright colored flowers and sophisticated curled vines. Seemingly birthed from these elaborate environments, robust ripened seeds emerge fresh from Eden gardens, already knowing their worth, their purpose. Special designed lace embroidered dresses flow and drape over suspended forms, curved, regal elegance. Desirable queens spoke wisdom, courage, worth, especially those confronting viewers with focused outer stare. I saw great majestic beauty so profound, so utterly moving that it was impossible to leave them. Each woman struck a vital cord.
I know the security guard wondered, “why is she still here? It’s been thirty minutes now.”
Well, why would I leave? I have never seen us painted on a huge grand scale. Not in one room. Not in such ornate frames. The spectacle was so grand and rich, I felt like a millionaire.
Call him over dramatic. Call him too showy. Call him kitschy even. I don’t care. I quite admire the propping of the black experience, of appropriating old history paintings by Jacques Louis-David and even Artemia Gentileschi into something that we all can understand and appreciate. Take notice. Applaud. I mean c’mon. He put Michael Jackson on a horse. The King of Pop! The King of Pop on a horse.
The end.

 

History, Diaspora, & Political Smorgasbord In NYC

Black History/Herstory is not over just because twenty eight day month passes at midnight. Stories go on each day. Stories of life and death. Of people making history before February 1st and after February 28th. Us vegans, artists, writers, performers, creators of every waking hour not only vow continuance of to making our dreams come true, but that of others thirsting for eye opening change and awareness- awareness of creativity, health, and strength. We must engage our minds and hearts with nourishing truth and beauty within ourselves. Then we shall see a light that shines so bright.
On this final day of short month granted to celebrating African descended ancestry, I share Thursday’s overwhelming haze of glorious endeavors. A challenge to visit three museums seated in different parts of NYC, I met goals to fruition, determined to see what was set out to be seen. It was a most esteemed journey granting influential discoveries and a new crop of artists all over the globe branching out and sharing origin complexities. They’ve widened the meaning of art- tying creative vision with anthropology, science, and narrative together. Sewed origin threads remain stagnant in my mind, flowing with a fluid poignancy gratifying thoughts and dreams.
I got to New York City at 1:20 PM on Thursday. Missed the earlier bus and would have been there three hours prior. Still, nothing stopped determination to visit three museums. Three. Three before the clock struck 11:10 PM. If I missed the 11:10 Megabus, I would be stuck in chilly NYC until 6AM. Then again, they do have a 24 hour Starbucks/Sephora so….

I tried the new coconut milk by the way. The perfect afternoon lightning bolt to get my feet ready for a lot of moving. Whilst sipping, I mapped out my intended destinations starting with New York Historical Society Museum, then New Museum, and finally ending at Studio Harlem.

It is a challenge being an artist, knowing that MET is across the street, seducing good intentions. I ignored the little voice and came right inside New York’s Historical Society, a place filled with New York history. I learned that slavery was abolished here long before Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. Yet the grisly details of violent deaths of a people seen equivalent to animals, sometimes less so, hurt me like a cut that never goes away.

Miniature watercolor portraits of former Haitian born slave Pierre Touissant and his wife Juliette Noel. Artist Anthony Meucci, famous for rendering George Washington and so forth painted these little treasures. That means they were well worth cementing into history. Their distinguished, quality clothing showcases their esteem and privilege after being freed in NYC. At 42, Touissant is profiting big as a hairdresser, but eventually began sharing the wealth, becoming a major philanthropist alongside his Mrs.

Second floor awaited. Having seen Ava DuVernay’s Academy Award winning film a few times, I can honestly say that Stephen Somerstein’s long vaulted Selma photographs fulfilled excited expectation. It was like being behind the scenes of documented black and white footage the end of DuVeray’s film hinted. Here in varied sizes, untitled images of people united for justice and equality. A great leader and his legion of devoted followers of all races, economic backgrounds, religion, and creed walking along promised land, singing and praising, hoping that “we shall overcome.” Sights were wonderful to behold and treasure.

Directions are confusing instructions on Google. I had to stop inside a gas station where the man said two streets upwards to Bowery Street. Yet two streets upward I found Blick Art Supplies. An employee indicated that it was two blocks east. Yes! At near four PM, among thrift shops and furniture stores bringing life to old, dated construction, I found ship floating over New Museum. Founded by the late remarkable Marcia Tucker in 1977, a wonderful woman highlighted in the !Woman Art Revolution documentary, I was enthusiastic to spend time in the latest exhibit promising to be epic and profound.

Fifty one artists from twenty seven different countries embody five floors of gallery space. Diversity and culture have been a celebrating part of New Museum’s incredible history, a definitive mastery unlike most NYC museums celebrating male dominance. Here many are joined together in an amazing, unprecedented world that is both overwhelming and majestic. One feels like a small seed implanted in the richest soil and engaging art quenches curiosity and thirst for unknown. This exhibit engages viewers to perform more than typical tasks of deciphering art visually. We are encouraged to read, to listen, to feel. These notions are not entirely new, but it establishes a connection between the digital age of now, of being thrown so much information and having difficulty translating which deserves to be absorbed into broadening human mind.
Some unphotographed highlights includes Oliver Laric’s compelling video Untitled metaphoric morphism animation. Images of characters familiar and otherwise shift and form from human to creature repeating and transforming roles of heroism and emotional layers. Daniel Steegman Mangrene’s virtual reality, Phantom (kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) places viewers in false dimension of a beguiling forest setting. We must trust intuition as well as hold created imagery into highest regard. Under the glasses, our eyes look up, down, and all around. So captivating to be suspended in a space whilst also having to simultaneously pay attention to true predicament. I must have bumped into walls several times.  It was well worth seeing how art, science, and technology continued this teasing bridge. Definitely a fantastic must see!

Hair Braided Schemes: The Mini Pictorial Journal

The Natural Hair Journey section will be updated some day. Until then, there is always the main page to have a chat.

December 6, 2014

Before heading to Toronto, had to search long and hard for a place. Had a “princess” idea in mind. I discovered Vixen Hair Studio on Instagram. Enjoyed beautiful featured natural styles and customer satisfaction. The location was convenient for me. A plus. All the ladies were kind and fashionable. Jill Scott and Erykah Badu played their soul food tunes.
FYI: My hair must really love this length. It has been this way for years and years. So…..

 

January 14, 2015

Hair styled in Dayton “country,” photographed in Philly PAFA studio.
Went a place I hated. A place where natural hair is despised and ridiculed. It was close by. Had no idea what happened to my beloved Lynette– an awesome understanding woman who embraced and catered to my hair creativity. The “pain” of this dismal substitute place was only an hour or so. Plus I still appreciated her efforts. Braiding is a talent wished to attain.
On the way out, a charming girl by the door commended the style. As did whom I miss most right now…

 

January 28, 2015

Bun was let go. Dumped. Didn’t get to call or send me a sentimental note.
Maybe next time.
Take down was lovely though. I had oiled it every few days. Braids just unsifted through fingers like silky coarse amazement. Unveiled spirally spirals sparkled with glistening sheen and soft thickness. Long ago, I would have hated this condition. I love it so much. So much that I shall write a book of romantic letters to my hair. Lord Byron would be jealous.

 

January 29, 2015

Visited Vixen’s Hair Studio again this morning. I love and appreciate gentle hair combing. Scalp massages don’t hurt either. Although adoring this new ‘do, anticipating another eventual shape up. Girl needs a fresh trim. Then hopefully we’ll resume a productive, healthy growth with our favorite oils– Jamaican Black Castor, coconut, olive, and Argan. Want ear muff length bad. That amount of fluffy goodness will warm tender, exposed ears. Cannot wait to kiss hats and scarves goodbye.

AfroVeganChick Hits Harlem And It Punches Back With Glitter Dusted History

I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Always. I knew that even with my scribble scrabble. As I grew up, maturing and nurturing passionate craft, it was the Harlem Renaissance lighting hot fire in junior high creativity. I had to learn on cultural artist ancestors on my own. Rogue style. In school, Michelangelo, Rafael, Da Vinci, and Picasso filled our minds and canvases. Frida Kahlo for me too. I love Frida. At the library I fell in love with Augusta Savage, William H. Johnson, Romare Bearden, Palmer Hayden, Wallace Thurman, Countee Cullen, and others. Currently reading Zora Neale Hursten– a sharp, brilliant mind robbed of Pulitzer. Painting, drawing, sculpture, literature, music, and everything enriched me. Everything. Back then. Now. I cannot stop being taught.

So I came to Harlem on Saturday, enchanted thoughts in mind. I had no idea that 2 or 3 train wouldn’t be running and got lost along the way (thanks Google Maps and construction!). Eventually I figured it out. I walked down W. 125th Street with splendid urban romanticism and desires to fill sketchbook. Visceral inspiration surrounded lukewarm winter. Not too cold for exploration. Although there are chains like Starbucks and McDonald’s, fairy tale length hair extension stores next to African braiding and barber shops, promises are kept rooted on Malcolm Luther King Jr and African Streets. It was bewildering to be nestled in the comforts of diaspora. Imagine periods of divine desperation to find paper, clay, or instrument to unleash talented prowess from within.
Apollo. Still known for it’s Amateur Night. Started so many careers like Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, The Jackson 5, Mariah Carey, and  Lauryn Hill. Risque comedians like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. Headliners like the Staple Sisters, Mahalia Jackson (amazing voice!!!),  Stan Getz (was Astrud Gilberto with him ever?!), and Ray Charles. It’s definitely a place enriched in history. So happy that it’s one that still stands.
It’s exciting to have Titus Kaphar as a visiting critic this semester. Yes, I’ll miss Abigail Deville. She was engaging, humorous, and understanding. Lots of ideas. Lots. I had my second visit with Titus last Friday. First time we met, I was a Post Baccalaureate student struggling with painting. Realism or abstract. Realism or abstract. Instructors wanted me to either paint academically (with trained proficiency after all it’s an academia college) or go completely abstract- collaging if need be. I have since shifted towards watercolor and weird sculpture. He was surprised. I am too in a way. I love painting. Love it. Always have.