The M(N)STRY: Phillis Wheatley and Fugitive Imagination


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What happens when an enslaved person is given the tools to express her desire for freedom after being captured? When a young child taken from Senegal to Boston and renamed after the slave ship on which she was brought is then taught to read and write in not her own language and history, but in the language and history of Europeans? You get what the first black person to publish a book of poetry in America, Phillis Wheatley, wrote in “On Imagination.” Written a few years before she was granted her freedom, her poem, filled with allusions to Greek mythology and personifying Imagination as if it is a goddess of fertile creativity, is reminiscent of Fred Moten’s concept of the “fantasy in the hold.” This dream or possibility of movement while still in bondage, while still held back where you currently are. But also the tensions between exploration in a ship (whether on water or space) to other places and being shipped as a commodity. Is it the awe of coming to a new world, or is it violent abduction? Maybe both, like being raptured by a god common in Greco-Roman myths.

Wheatley’s poem portrays Imagination as a powerfully creative guiding spirit that breaks boundaries and hybridizes a particular experience of the world with the alien world it encounters to discover new meaning. Her use of Winter throughout the poem clearly shows her awareness of oppression of her mobility as an enslaved person and imagination is her muse for liberation. At a time (she wrote it in 1773) when Enlightenment principles taught that reason, often attributes to white, hetero-masculine power, governed over all other faculties of human expression, Wheatley celebrates the Imagination as a feminine, fertile power moving as part of a spacecraft traveling beyond limits placed on it. In the quote above and the rest of the same stanza (From star to star the mental optics rove,/Measure the skies, and range the realms above./There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,/Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.), she describes Imagination exploring beyond the sky to different stars and even different worlds in what she calls, “the mental optics.” Remember this is 1773 and she is an enslaved black woman and yet she is imagining traveling in a spaceship. If that isn’t Afrofuturistic and the mind of a Black speculative writer, I don’t know what is.

Imagination, like her, is a genius in bondage and struggles to be free. Imagination was what allowed Wheatley to see and be aware of the fullness of the cosmos and through which she could envision new spaces.

Below is the complete poem:

 

On Imagination

Continue reading The M(N)STRY: Phillis Wheatley and Fugitive Imagination

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Moving on the Wires: Book Release!


Greetings!

I have some great news to share with you! I will be publishing my chapbook, Lucy’s Bone Scrolls: The Black Speculative Mystery School, in August!

The book is a collection of poetry inspired by the 2015 Afrofuturism Conference at The New School and the Black Magic: AfroPasts/AfroFutures exhibitionThree Legged Elephant’s (who will be publishing my book) founder Malcolm Boyd and I will be hosting a book release/author showcase event at Jamaica Performing Arts Center on August 17th from 6:30pm-8:30pm. If you are in the NYC area, I hope you can join us!

To rsvp, either go to the event’s Eventbrite page or Facebook page.

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Astro-Caribbean: Return


The last post for Caribbean Heritage Month is a mix between Space:Queens and Art of This World segments, featuring three visual artists whose work I’ve seen in Queens — Reginald Rosseau and his exhibition, Unmasked — Embodiment of Spirits, at Seed Capital Cafe; Nari Ward and his G.O.A.T., Again exhibition at Socrates Sculpture Park, and Fritz St. Jean who lives in the southeast Queens area and whose daughter I met a few months ago at the Queens Council on the Arts grant awardees ceremony.

Reginald Rosseau

“Reginald “Big Art” Rousseau is a Haitian-born and Harlem-made working artist whose artworks are generating a lot of buzz, in the hood and beyond. In addition, he is the founder of the Reginald “Big Art” Rousseau: Harlem Art Projects, a creative space located in a funky storefront which serves as part working art studio, part art gallery and part retail art store, for him to create, promote, exhibit and sell his artworks. The creative space also serves a physical space to connect with the community, collectors, curators as well as galleries.

His artistic style, which he affectionately, coined “Neo-Haitian Expressionism”, is derives from a radical fusion of Haitian Art, African Art, Street Art, POP-Art, Folk Art, Stained Glass, Pointillism, Art Nouveau and Modern Abstraction. His work, which explores multi-ethnicity and multicultural identity, are based on his own personal experiences as a Haitian, a Blackman and an Immigrant with a Haitian heritage encompassing a unique blend of African traditional customs, mixed with contributions from the French, Caribbean, Latin, American and indigenous Taíno culture. His signature work, encompasses curvilinear black lines, vibrant colors, flatness of forms, jeweled pointillism, multi-layered textures and bold patterns.  On a recent interview, when asked to describes his working process, Reginald responded ‘My working process, is like jazz, with an eight-bar theme, you start it by the “T” and improvise as you go to generates rhythmic accents and beats as well as conveys emotion and power’.”

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Nari Ward

Via Socrates Scuplture Park: Jamaica-American mixed-media artist Nari Ward “recasts tropes of outdoor structures – the monument, the playground, lawn ornaments, architectural barriers, and the advertising sign – into surreal and playful creations. Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again examines how hubris creates misplaced expectations in American cultural politics. This exhibition also brings new insight into the artist’s exploration of identity, social progress, the urban environment, and group belonging.

G.O.A.T. is an acronym for Greatest of All Time, a phrase commonly used in American sports, made famous by Muhammad Ali, and in hip-hop, most notably, as the title of Queens native LL Cool J’s best-selling album. The title alludes to the African-American experience and political theater – common themes in Ward’s work.

The figure of the goat features prominently in Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again as the artist’s articulation of social dynamics, conjuring the animal’s attributes and symbolic connotations, from an ambitious climber of great heights to an outcast. A flock of goats cast from lawn ornaments traverse the landscape, both in groups and as solitary individuals, manifesting the show’s title. The appropriation of the word goat, turning an insult into a moniker for excellence, demonstrates the power of wordplay, while the modifier again implies historical repetition. Scapegoat, a forty-foot long hobby toy further develops the goat metaphor and highlights another strand of the show: the satirization of virility, masculinity, and monument…”

Nari Ward’s exhibition is the first single presentation of an artist in the park’s 30-year history. Read the New Yorker feature about the exhibition.

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Fritz St. Jean

“Born in Port Au Prince, Fritz St. Jean emerged as one of Haiti’s most illustrious self-taught artists. Initially, his style consisted of painting animal and jungle scenes on canvas. However, in 1980, St. Jean broke away from the staid pastoral themes to memorialize his hopes and dreams for Haiti through his paintings. Being widely viewed as socio-political commentaries on the dichotomous realities of Haitian life, St. Jean’s paintings transport the viewer to scenes of mysticism, idealism, and humanity all in one. He is noted as a master in color and detail as his works are continuously punctuated by the use of bold colors and fine lines. Often, his paintings celebrate Haiti’s religious culture in Voodoo and encapsulate its rich history. Paying tribute to a country that was once called La Perle des Antilles (The Pearl of Antilles due to its natural beauty and countenance), St. Jean’s paintings are artistic love notes to his homeland.  Suffice it to say, Haiti continues to be the source of St. Jean’s inspiration.”

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Astro-Caribbean: CaribLit


For the second to last Astro-Caribbean post for this month, I am featuring Caribbean authors and their books!

I was unfortunately unable to attend Word!: A Caribbean Lit Fest on June 11th, but I did read through the authors and panels and saw that a few of them who have recently released works of fantasy, magic realism or other related kinds of imaginative/visionary themes. Adding to my list of books to read!

Mother of the Sea by Zetta Elliott

Summary: When her village is raided, a teenage girl finds herself on a brutal journey to the coast of Africa and across the Atlantic. Her only comfort is a small child who clings to her for protection. But once they board the slave ship, the child reveals her rebellious nature and warns that her mother—a fierce warrior—is coming to claim them all.

Continue reading Astro-Caribbean: CaribLit

Astro-Caribbean: Riddims and Revolutions (Music!)


Currently I am in the revision process of my poetry collection, and I was looking for a few inspirations for one of the poems in it. British-Jamaica dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson came to mind and it lead me to one of his poetry recordings, “Reality.”

Continue reading Astro-Caribbean: Riddims and Revolutions (Music!)

Astro-Caribbean: Caribbean Folklore


Last weekend, I attended the Bankra Caribbean Festival produced by Braata Productions and Andrew Clarke. One of the draws of the festival was looking at the cultural exhibit of puppets made in the image of popular Caribbean folklore characters, including the Soucouyant. Mama D’Leau, the Douens (Dwens), the Moko Jumbie, Papa Bois, and Anancy (Anansi). The slideshow is below with the artwork and the descriptions are after:

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Astro-Caribbean Series: Art of This World!


Happy Caribbean Heritage Month!

Also, welcome back to the return of Astro-Caribbean!

All this month, I will present visionary work from the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. Today’s post is a presentation of visual artists — Sheena Rose, Carlo Theartus, Dirk Joseph, and Alicia Brown.

Continue reading Astro-Caribbean Series: Art of This World!

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The Sankofic Now: Reimagining the Past + Manifesting the Future

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