With everything happening in the news that frightens me about the future of this country and world, I turn back again to the importance of the archive, storytelling and truth-telling for marginalized communities. Last month, I went to archivist and writer Joyce LeeAnn and researcher and writer Akeema-Zane’s workshop In the Middle of Things: The Poetics of Archival Praxis, which was part of Pioneer Works’ series Fact Craft.
Etymology of Legacy: late 14c., legacie, “body of persons sent on a mission,” from Medieval Latin legatia, from Latin legatus“ambassador, envoy, deputy,” noun use of past participle of legare “send with a commission, appoint as deputy, appoint by a last will” (see legate).
Can the archive be our arsenal and the archivist our warrior in this current war on memory and information? As ambassadors of the black archive, what stories are we sending out and leaving behind? Going in October and last month to the Weeksville Center’s The Legacy Project and their events centered around black archival work and memory reinforced that for me. The Legacy Project is “a continuum of James Weeks’ self-determining actions.” James Weeks, a freedman, purchased land in Brooklyn during the pre-Civil War era and with that land created what became the second largest known independent Black community in the U.S. Under threat of being forgotten, “in 1968, a small group of community activists rediscovered these four dilapidated houses that were rare residential remnants of historic Weeksville. Its rediscovery led to the restoration of the Hunterfly Road Houses, and the formalization of the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History, later known as Weeksville Heritage Center.” “The Legacy Project will continue this evolution through activating WHC’s archives, building annual public programs, public training workshops, and an internship program for students of color” interested in archival work.
With issues like gentrification and displacement of marginalized communities as well as the redevelopment of the Jamaica/Southeast Queens area, those of us who are from the area have a lot to think and worry about. What does the future of the neighborhood look like for us? Local design student, Sada Spence, who lived in Southeast Queens, decided to start a project series, calledDARK, where local community members could discuss the future of the African diaspora.
Today is “Columbus Day,” and as you all may be well aware of there is the growing controversy of whether to keep or remove statues of Columbus and other problematic white figures of history. There is also the growing conversation of replacing these statues with statues of civil rights heroes and other notable black figures. Instantly, I was reminded of my good friend, Yasmine Lancaster, who recently did an afrofuturist-inspired project where she imagined what it would have been like if Ida B. Wells had run for president. Begun as an earlier project where she hung smaller signs around the Bronx, she eventually evolved them into a larger poster-length size.
Recently I did an interview with Yasmine so I could share with you the backstory on the project! Here it is:
1) What was the inspiration behind your Ida B. Wells for President Posters?
The inspiration behind the Ida B. Wells for President poster was the current political climate in the United States, particularly in New York City. It was the election of 2016 and there was this intensity in the air on who would be the next president of United States. We were leaving the Obama era of politics and heading into uncharted territory with either a woman who would be president or Donald Trump. There was a buzz in the air. I had spent the summer doing interactive art projects asking the public to take what they need. I was inspired by another artist who had did something similar but in my case I replaced the take what you needs. Instead of “Joy” and “Happiness,” I replaced them with very “Black Girl Magic” things like “Perfect twist out,” “Melanin Filled Day,” and of course, “Black Girl Magic. “ Folks responded well to the post and most would be gone by the end of the day, so feeling encouraged by the response I decided to expand and I began to imagine what if someone else was running for president. So I put up little signs in Harlem around 125 street saying “Ida B. Wells for President” and it felt subversive because unlike the other take what you need posters, this was a little bit more politically overt and it was exciting! I also posted different “Black Woman for President” — some names controversial. I was asking my community to reimagine a new possibility, a different reality.And it continues to be exciting!
2) What were some of the books and other sources that you researched to help flesh out the project?
I read some biographies about Ida B. Wells and I watched some documentaries that focused on her life.A Passion for Justicewas the main documentary I watched along with several others as well. It was necessary to do the research to figure out what year she would have ran for President, who would have endorsed her, etc., etc. That part was fun and fascinating, and in the course of my research I found out some interesting facts about Ida that I was not aware of. For example, in the course of doing the research, I found out that she ran for Illinois State senate. She came in third, which is amazing, and so here I am thinking that I am reimagining some far out future when the truth is actually I wasn’t too far off at all — she did run for public office. It makes you wonder what other hidden histories are not known about Black Women in America.
3) What was the process like for creating the posters?
The process of creating the actual posters was a collaborative effort with Meghan Forbes (of Harlequin Creature) and Romeo Silvero*. Meghan Forbes did the research on finding the proper visual representation for the time period, which was important we wanted it to feel like something that you could have accidentally come across in history that you didn’t know existed. We wanted it to have that feel. The first printing we weren’t able to get the paper to look processed and old but we hope to have future presses have that feel. Cost was a huge part of the process and getting clearance for her visual image so what was done was a drawing was made of her likeness by Romeo Silvero.Romeo is a pre-teen and so it was amazing to have youth be involved in the process as well.
4) Do you plan on doing other black women as part of a series or expanding the project in another way?
I do plan on expanding the series and including other Black Women into the series. I also could see this branching out into merchandise that folks could purchase as well. The women that I am choosing to highlight are heroes and we each have our own personal hero that we will respond to. Black Women are the backbone of this country; its about time that we be seen as such.
5) How do you see your project as afrofuturistic?
I foresee this project as being Afro-Futuristic because we are imagining the past and creating an alternate reality in which these amazing black women were stepping up and tossing their proverbial church hat into the ring to run the United States of America, a country that historically has treated Black Women as a community that can be ignored and disregarded,as unfit to be leaders because of their race and their gender. However, in this alternate reality, they make the choice that their vision is exactly what America needs. That leadership is both black and woman and perfectly aligned to make this country step into the future.
6) Since this is Futuristically Ancient, how are you and your work both futuristic and ancient?
Well the future aspect I already discussed because I am reimagining an alternate reality in which these women ran for President of the United States. How my work is ancient is that the idea of a woman as a leader is something that was quite common in the ancient world. Black Women were leaders of nations during antiquity, and so I am paying homage to that, but also reimagining a different America in which this happened. What would this future look like? Feel like? How would it be like our current reality and how would it be different?
7) Where can the readers find out more about your work?
Readers can find my work on line on Instagram@youwannatellher. They can follow me on that page — that particular page is a visual expression of a collection of poems that I wrote that all begin with the title “You wanna Tell Her.”In addition, the Ida B. Wells posters are being sold at Sister Uptwon Bookstore, which is located at 1942 Amsterdam Avenue. It is a black woman-owned bookstore in the middle of Washington Heights. It was the perfect home for the posters.
Based on Taja Lindley’s solo healing performance ritual that debuted at La Mama’s SQUIRTS in 2015, “This Ain’t A Eulogy” is drawing parallels between discarded materials and the violent treatment of Black people in the United States. People in the African Diaspora have a long history of repurposing, remixing, and transforming oppressive systems into valuable cultural practices. In this post-Ferguson moment, Lindley is calling on this legacy to imagine how we can recycle the energy of protest, rage, and grief into creating a world where, indeed, Black Lives Matter. “This Ain’t A Eulogy” is the origin story of The Bag Lady, and serves as a preamble to Lindley’s one woman show “The Bag Lady Manifesta” which debuted at Dixon Place on September 9th.
Below is my review of The Bag Lady Manifesta:
dream where every black person is standing by the ocean
& we say to her
what have you done with our kin you swallowed?
& she says
that was ages ago, you’ve drunk them by now
& we don’t understand
& then one woman, skin dark as all of us
walks to the water’s lip, shouts Emmett, spits
&, surely, a boy begins
crawling his way to the shore
by Danez Smith
from Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Last week, I read this poem from Danez Smith and I was reminded of it again when watching Taja Lindley debut her The Bag Lady Manifesta on the night of September 9th at Dixon Place.
One question I left with was: what is our responsibility to remember, especially remembering a past still struggling to speak? Is remembering like being Lot’s wife who had the audacity to look back when the world was ending and in ruins? And like salt can be healing, Lindley’s Bag Lady Manifesta was a ritual performance in search of healing — healing that involved giving reverence to people, pasts and even parts of ourselves that we can so easily throw away. Because as Lindley had put up on one of the walls — “letting go is a lie,” we always carry them with us.
Thank you to everyone came to the reading on the 17th and for those who were unable to make it, below you can watch a video of the reading from the night and view pictures! The book is availablehere for purchase and please write a review.
Last week Sunday, I met with some members of the Black August Cocoon Collective that Ola Ronke of Free Black Women’s Library started for the month of August as a way to bring together a community of black woman to do a series of activities and rituals that will later result in us creating a zine.
Since the Sunday coincided with a new full moon in Leo, Ola had each of us pick a card from Earthlyn Manuel’s Black Angels Card deck. The card I got was the Joker. At first I thought that was strange because I don’t think I’m much of a funny person or a jokester, but I have been studying trickster archetypes and gods like Eshu/Elegba, I do love word play when it comes to my writing practice and as the book explanation says, I seem to have a liveliness that attracts others to me.
Take a look at the card and read the description for it (click on the pictures for full size):