Getting ready to embark on some trips and experience some mundane and spectacular beauty. I’ve been looking at this picture of my mother a lot, because it failed in a lot of areas technically and I want to recreate it now that I’ll see her in a few days. However, I realized maybe I should let it go. I’ll be prepared to make photographs but will trust the moment, instead of the preconceived notion of a good image. Everything right now is exactly how it should be, and everything tomorrow will be exactly as it should be. This is the mental process I’m going through to understand what is surfacing in my work as a creator of embodied and represented experiences, words and images of the Afro-feminine Diaspora. La bruja ya llegó.
Also on my mind, this Mercury Retrograde is serving some tough love. Mercury is in Gemini also, which is good for movement but makes us feel ungrounded, especially us ruled by Mercury (Gems and Virgos, I have special love for you). Taking time to re-evaluate patterns, let go of fear and routine, and create a new future. Giving only what I can give and respecting boundaries. Facing the ugly and beautiful truth. Praising the Creator for this new day, and the possibility of making something that I didn’t expect with His/Her/Their help.
Dr. Angelou, I cannot be sad that you have passed today. I feel immense joy that you have lived a life with arms wide open, taking it by the reins and never ceasing to do what you needed and wanted to do. You were on my mind this morning, and I didn’t know why. A voice told me to go take some classes in Spanish, French or Portuguese, because that’s what Maya Angelou would do. Then I thought I should put a picture of you up in my office next to the one of Billie Holiday, since I needed visual reminders of actualized talent as much as wasted ones. Like other renaissance people, I read your books and felt that, finally, someone had put into words what we’ve felt in our hearts, but the world says is crazy, too much, or impossible.
"I have a theory that nobody understands talent any more than we understand electricity. So I think we’ve done a real disservice to young people by telling them, “Oh, you be careful. You’ll be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.” It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I think you can be a jack-of-all-trades and a mistress-of-all-trades. If you study it, and you put reasonable intelligence and reasonable energy, reasonable electricity to it, you can do that." - Maya Angelou, quoted from Smithsonian.com
This title contains the link to coverage by the Windy City Times of the Drag and Burlesque Werkshops I helped to plan with JRV Majesty Productions and SAIC’s Student Programming Board. We provided these workshops to give more historical and cultural context to the two performance art forms and also allow deeply personal narratives of Chicago-based artists to be woven into our ongoing conversations about LGBTQ rights at the school. The events were very well attended and an opportunity to engage the local community in a meaningful and substantial way in our annual program the Drag and Burlesque Ball. I hope to create more opportunities for this type of collaboration in the future.
Since transitioning from a student to a practicing artist with a job within a prestigious institution like SAIC, I’ve been working very hard to create safe spaces where folks can explore their identity at the same time as their artistic practice. I’m continuously inspired by the resilience and solidarity of our local arts communities, particularly queer collectives and other typically marginalized groups in Chicago. Additionally, the students at SAIC have also taught me so much about moving beyond tolerance and inclusion to celebration and community.
Many of my photographs are now incredibly mundane - pictures of black people lounging, relaxing, doing nothing but existing in real time. However, I have not lost the desire to portray a spectacle, to get lost in the stereotypes that persist in representations of black women that I also love to enact and perform, but even more, to consider style and the artifice of adornment as substance. Old habits die hard.
Today, this piece is Keïta and Sherman Had a Baby (2014). Tomorrow, the title may be any of the following:
Passing for a Leopard
You can’t see me, fool
Imitation of Life
The Domestication Effect
Dionysius, the Dying God
For My Grandma Who Passed for White, then Stopped
Living a Lie is a Poor Substitute
Jeremiah 13:23: Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
Fuck you, I like leopard
50 Shades of Slay (Courtesy of Danielle Rennalls)
I’ve just accepted a new position at SAIC: Director of Student Affairs for Diversity and Inclusion. I’ll be able to form and implement school-wide diversity initiatives and continue on my path as a greedy artist. I don’t take the responsibility lightly, and I hope to effect change and create further opportunities for more underrepresented artists, while also mindfully expanding my studio practice.
I’ve updated my bio on my site, as not only this new title seems important, but my background as a DJ, curator, and independent researcher does as well. I’ve realized that they all feed into how I look at the archive, how I consider community when shooting and performing, and why I feel no commitment to one particular medium but to a rigorous exploration of several at once.
The “artist-as-curator/scholar/administrator” phenomenon really speaks to my experience; I was never interested in one way of exploring the ideas and concepts that underpin my practice. Several of the students I work with call me the “Beyonce of the Art World” since I have a Renaissance woman approach to art making and living. I’ve always strongly felt that my relationship to music and poetry impacted my research and photography, as well as the day jobs I chose. In my work at SAIC, I’ve been able to create events around misrepresented and underrepresented ideas and people, which in my opinion are often the most important of our time. They indicate the complexity of being a human being: our attempts to define our interiority and subjectivity within a broader society and culture over which we have differing levels of control. It’s been difficult, satisfying work that has led me to a richer engagement with the world around me.