Category Archives: Exhibitions

“Space:Queens” : Margaret Rose Vendryes



Welcome back to my Space:Queens blog series!

For the past month, I’ve been participating on the advisory council committee and as a creative writing workshop facilitator for the upcoming No Longer Empty exhibition, Jameco Exchange, that is opening on May 21st at 89-62B 165th St. No Longer empty is an organization that works with local artists and community members in various neighborhoods throughout NYC to revitalize empty storefront spaces and other underutilized properties.

One of the exhibiting artists and performers will be Margaret Rose Vendryes, a local York College art professor and artist behind the African Divas Project, which combines traditional African mask ritual with iconic Black woman music divas. Her work comments on the intersections between traditional masquerade, spectacle, celebrity, iconography, beauty ideals, gender and racial performance, and spiritual ritual.


1) Tell the readers a little about yourself.

I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and (with the exception of my first 5 years and two years of high school), and raised in Queens as the third of six daughters and one son.

I completed a BA at Amherst College in Western Massachusetts, an MA at Tulane University in New Orleans and a second MA and PhD at Princeton University in New Jersey. With only four studio art courses at Amherst College, the majority of my higher education was in art history concentrating on American art.

I continued to paint when I could, usually during the summer months. Finally, I began my full-time teaching career in 1997, and continue to teach both art history and now, studio courses, at York College, CUNY.

2) What first inspired you to start the African Diva Project?

In 2007, I left NYC, and teaching, for Boston where I had the opportunity to focus on painting.  It was a huge risk that I was compelled to take.  That summer, I spent a month in Mali, West Africa.  I returned so thoroughly inspired, not so much by the art made there, which is awesome, but by the way artists appeared fulfilled by making their art. They were whole in a way that I wanted to be.

Baule Donna

Although understood in retrospect, my African Diva Project began in 2005 with a painting of Donna Summer from the back of her Four Seasons of Love LP.  I painted her wearing a Baule mask (Côte d’Ivoire) from my African art collection.  That painting, which I thought would be just one experiment and am still changing as the mood inspires me, helped me realize that I had a “project” when I returned home to face it waiting for me on my easel. I finally saw myself as a driven visual artist as much as an art historian with a purpose.  I invented a hybrid professional category for myself, I am an “Artist Historian.”

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Modern Griots Reviews: Notes from #FunkGodJazzMedicine Conversations

Below are some notes from two of the three conversations from Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine:

Conversation on Self-Determination: Black Radical Brooklyn: Past, Present, and Future

*The history of Weeksville (James Weeks bought land in order to vote) and the four projects of Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine pointed out the intersections between race and space, that part of self-determination is the ability to claim and preserve safe spaces and refuges.

*Weeksville’s history and the protects also stressed sustainability, creating sustainable projects that benefit the community and environment. Instead of looking at the community as having deficits, we look at it as having a richness of resources and assets.

*Art should not be for just for art’s sake, but should encourage political action and involve the community and community organizations to build solutions together. For example, MacArthur Fellow Rick Lowe has a community revitalization project in Houston where he transforms a block and half of houses in poor condition into Project Row Houses (PRH).

*We need to support more of our own institutions before they disappear. Several of the institutions and organizations in the Weeksville neighborhood struggled to stay open, including the three places involved in the exhibition — Stuyvesant Mansion, AME Church and Weeksville Heritage Center. As gentrification creeps in, it is more and more difficult to keep these institutions here.

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Modern Griot Reviews: #FunkGodJazzMedicine at Weeksville

IMG_3676Our society often focuses more on representation and showing images of oppressed people as proof we have “progressed,” but the other side of true moving forward for people who live in oppressive societies is self-determination, something that often gets ignored for the more superficial representation only politics. Self-determination is the freedom and ability to control your own life, taking full responsibility in making decisions for yourself that will impact your future. That is something often not celebrated or promoted when it comes to those of us who are not at the top; we are expected to remain dependent on the dominant powers.

The recent month-long exhibition at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, set out to highlight ways black communities in Brooklyn have in the past and today are doing actions of self-determination. Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn honored the history of the neighborhood of Weeksville in Brooklyn, founded by James Weeks, who bought land in 1838 in that area in order to receive the right to vote and convinced other black people to do the same. New Weeksville executive director Tia Powell Harris listed a few words that represents the history of Weeksville and the projects: empowerment, equity, sustainability, self empowerment and self actualization. Placing four different art and community projects throughout the neighborhood as well as having different conversations focused on the different aspects of the exhibition, Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine revealed interconnections between self-determination, community, politics, art, spirituality and health that often are disregarded in the individualistic mainstream culture.

The four parts of the title were attributed to each project:

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Modern Griots Reviews: Pop Up Exhibitons from CCCADI and Black Eye

Me and Edgardo Ramirez
Me and Edgardo Rodriguez

Last Thursday I managed to attend two pop up exhibitions, one in Harlem from The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI), and the other in the Lower East Side, Nicole Vassell-curated Black Eye exhibit.

The Spirit of El Barrio: Past, Present and Future exhibition was The Caribbean Cultural Center first in a series of events that will take place at the old firehouse at 120 East 125th street in Harlem. The center is renovating the firehouse to be the new location of their center and this event was an introduction into this new space. Opening with speeches from founder Marta Moreno Vega, New Harlem East Merchants Association (NHEMA) Program Director, Adriane Mack and NHEMA and Community Board 11 member, Holly Drakeford, in the first tour and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in the second, the exhibition featured art from Adrian Roman, Edgardo Miranda, Manny Vega, Oliver Rios and Yasmin Hernandez, as well as a live painting from Edgardo Tomas Larregui Rodriguez.

Besides being in the presence of gorgeous artwork, the steel pan music and the wearing of hard hats, the exhibition had a special treat which was the Augmented Reality technology (virtual visuals) from the Layar app. Layar is kind of like an updated version of a qr code, except that the added information is embedded in the artwork and not in a small box outside of it. When the image is scanned, another image or video pops up. This exhibition was a small preview to one of the future opening exhibitions of CCCADI in addition to an upcoming art auction.

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Modern Griots Reviews: Nick Cave’s Magical Horses in Heard.NY

DSC00014As Ebony celebrated Katherine Dunham, Nick Cave was featuring dozens of Alvin Ailey dancers wearing 30 colorful horse “soundsuits” in his public performance piece at Grand Central station, HEARD•NY. Presented by Creative Time and MTA Arts, the 30 minute performances included a grazing pastoral music and dance sequence followed by a rhythmic choreographed dance, “crossings” in two rings in the hall. The “crossings” take place two time each day, 11 am and 2 pm, this week until Sunday. Harpists Shelley Burgon and Mary Lattimore and percussionists Robert Levin and Junior Wedderburn provided live musical accompaniment and William Gill did the choreography.

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Moving on the Wires: The Liberator Magazine, El Anatsui, Anti-Robot Radio, Mother Tongue Monologues

*The Liberator Magazine released their latest issue, “The Last Generation of Black People.” My essay, “The Percussive Approach,” is one of the writings featured. Buy a copy here.

*Accra dot Alt announced El Anatsui’s exhibition “Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui” will be at Brooklyn Museum Also, go to Accra dot Alt for other news happening in Accra, Ghana.

*Boston Fielder of Muthawit will be on the Anti-Robot Radio show tommorow at 7pm.

*Mother Tongue Monologues for Lesbian Ancestral Wives and Revolutionary Women Speaking the Unspeakable will be performed tomorrow at the Schomburg Center in Harlem.

*BAM New Voices in Black Cinema starts today and will be premiering tomorrow both The United States of Hoodoo (which I will be reviewing) and Tey with Saul WIlliams. For more info., click here.

*MoCada opened a new exhibition, eMerging: Visual Art and Music in the Post-Hip-Hop Era.



Moving on the Wires: Guest Posts, Flying Lotus, Tamara Natalie Madden, DJ Spooky…

*I am officially opening up my blog for guest posts. If you want to submit news, music, art, film, literature, essays, etc.  that include afrofuturist and/or afrosurrealist themes, feel free to email me at

*Flying Lotus will be releasing his album, Until the Quiet Comes, on October 1st and 2nd. You can pre-order it here.

Continue reading Moving on the Wires: Guest Posts, Flying Lotus, Tamara Natalie Madden, DJ Spooky…