Tag Archives: afrofuturism

M.G. Interviews: Yasmine Lancaster and Ida B. Wells for President Posters


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 1 Yasminereminded 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:

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The bottom of the poster reads: Supported by Chicago Conservator and the Republican Women’s Club

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!

mary_garrity_-_ida_b-_wells-barnett_-_google_art_project_-_restoration_crop2) 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 Justice was 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. 

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Yasmine with Romeo and his mother

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?

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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.

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Thank you Yasmine! And please do head to Sisters Uptown Bookstore to get one of your own Ida B. Wells for President posters!

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M.G. Recap: The Bag Lady Manifesta


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.

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Moving on the Wires: Lucy’s Bone Scrolls Has Landed!!!!


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Lucy’s Bone Scrolls is officially here!!!

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 available here for purchase and please write a review.

View pictures from the night at Our World Media!

 

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

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.

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The M(N)STRY: Alternative Memorial Day


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“Heavy Weight” by William Myles, a veteran who served in Vietnam from 1964-1965

It is a surreal feeling to know that you could go to war and fight for your country, survive the war and instead of coming back as a celebrated hero, be assaulted and lynched by the people whose freedom you fought for them to have. That was the reality of many black veterans who returned from World War I and World War II, a history that is not taught. For fear of black people becoming to “uppity” and demanding their rights after coming back from war, there were white people who needed to make examples of black veterans and keep them in their place, that they owed nothing to these soldiers who went off to fight a fight for them.

Continue reading The M(N)STRY: Alternative Memorial Day