Black Superheroes + Black Leadership + The Responsibility of Building Societies in World-Changing Times
Last week I had the privilege to see three films — of course, Black Panther, Canadian filmmaker Sharon Lewis’ Brown Girl Begins inspired by Nalo Hopkinson’s book, Brown Girl in the Ring, and Martinique-based filmmaker Khris Burton’s S0.CI3.TY.
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.
One of my favorite mottos is to find the magic in the mundane because in doing so you realize how interdependent we all are to each other and to the universe. When we look at the sun and moon, we are so normalized to them that we can easily forget how we are dependent on them for our existence and how much they shape our existence. It has been our ability to use our imagination to see the world beyond the mundane and search for knowledge and meaning as well as our creation of technologies to observe the universe that has allowed us to see that. As I was reading Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Race is/as Technology, or How to Do Things to Race,“she writes that “According to Martin Heidegger in his 1955 ‘The Question Concerning Technology,’ the essence of technology is not technological. Indeed, by examining tools, we miss what is essential about technology, which is its mode of revealing or “enframing.” So how does the creation of technologies to look and observe also reveal ourselves? Who is watching who and who is creating who at the same time?
Who we think we are is a fluid concept. We might have a stable image of ourselves but in reality we are constantly in flux as we come into contact and collide with others. And it’s not just other bodies but other possibilities of your self that disrupts who you are at this moment. The realization that we can be something else we don’t recognize or can’t control can be transcendent and can be frightening.
Kiini Ibura Salaam explores those ideas in her latest speculative short story collection, When the World Wounds, where the outside forces of the world can break open spaces that lead to the displacement and reconstructing of the body, of the self, of identity and place. Salaam’s main grounding tool in that exploration is that of the concept of desire. Through her sensual and erotic descriptive language, as a reader you are opened up as much as the characters in her stories to the point of an ecstatic experience.
Happy Black Speculative Fiction Month. This month I will post reviews and lists of black speculative works that I’ve read recently. By the way, please support my Go Fund Me as I raise money to get a new laptop and continue building my writing career. Here is my review of The Underground Railroad:
It is 2016 and although times have changed, sometimes it feels like deja vu when I see one after another incidents of state-sanctioned violence and injustice done towards black people. Sometimes I wonder if things are for certain changing or just changing costume and name, that time is just changing its face and the past and present are collapsing in on each other. Our concept of freedom shapeshifts as much as the injustice and violence; with every change in environment; it is another way we have to adapt and strategize on how to fight back.