As I currently work on my fantasy novel based in Queens and inspired by the Underground Railroad (two of the characters are based on Harriet Tubman and William Still), I look forward to featuring others who are continuing to share the legacy of our ancestors and heroes who fought for freedom and for us to be here in this moment today.
One of those people is Lacresha Berry, a local Queens-based educator, singer-songwriter and playwright. Currently, she is writing a one-woman show about Harriet Tubman and t-shirt line for Air Tubman. Continue reading to find out more about her and her previous and upcoming work within the community.
“I just felt it was important to understand our histories in context to the larger global community and tell stories that haven’t been told. Instead of complaining about not being taught these things, I wanted to create a conversation that there are black Kentuckians. We exist and we helped to shape the state that it is today. We contributed to country music, blues and bluegrass.”
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Lacresha Berry and I’m an artist—educator, artivist, singer-songwriter, playwright, actress, and sometimes lyricist. I was raised in the great state of Kentucky. I came to NYC—actually this month, in 2003. So, I guess you can say I’m a New Yorker now. Well, at least I live the life of one. I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BA in theatre. I came to NYC for grad school at NYU. At the time, I was really into costume design and got accepted at Tisch for Costume Design for Stage and Film. I ended going for about a year and began full time teaching in 2005 after stints of being a sub and after-school teacher.
Although I tried not to add onto the dozens of think pieces that are already out there about Beyonce’s latest video, “Formation,” sometimes I like to jump on the bandwagon to either use it momentarily like a free ride to a needed destination or to veer it off into my own direction.
The video has opened the door for much conversation and possibility of new connections, which to me is the main benefit of it, and there has been valid thoughts on all sides about it from the possible meanings of itssymbolic artistic imageryand bringing some focus to black cultures that often have been forgotten, marginalized or denigrated, even by black people themselves, to the critiques that highlight the problematic centeringof a cis-gendered, non-queer, high class, wealthy, light(er)-skinned, thinner celebrity against the marginalized realities of poorer, lower-class, heavier-set, darker-skinned, queer and transgendered people. Looking at the video and listening to the lyrics, it is difficult to ignore its use of Western capitalistic and white-centric measures of power, including Givenchy and Bill Gates, and their stark contrast against the images of disasters that affected those marginalized communities and black traditions that helped us to survive the violence and trauma created by the former. It does appear on the surface to be a form of capitalist opportunistic exploitation, appropriation and a softer silencing/erasing of marginalized cultures despite the “inclusion” of their imagery.
But as a creative writer/artist myself, I tend to look at culture and imagery more ambiguously. In trickster philosophy, various contradicting realities and meanings exist at once; we all wear various conflicting masks to negotiate with and maneuver through society at large. At the end of the day, Beyonce is a pop artist, not an activist per se, and just as I can learn and be inspired by various sources, I can be inspired by her work and apply it back to my own work.
Certain aspects of “Formation,” and responses to them, kept stirring thoughts in my mind, especially in relation to recent posts I had on this blog. Not saying all the thoughts below went through Beyonce’s mind, but these are the thoughts her video inspired in me. Let us look beyond Beyonce because it, for me, is not about her but the larger symbolism and archetypesthat are part of human psyche and social cultures.
Welcome back! Here is part 2 of my interview with Louis Chude-Sokei! You can read part 1 here.
“…What will matter in the long term is the impact we have on the (Sci-fi) genre itself, not on its packaging or clichés…”
4) Science fiction and fantasy have in the past been centered around European/Western stories and tropes and even in Afrofuturism, it was promoted previously as mostly Western/U.S.-centric. Briefly, how do you see Caribbean cultures, African cultures and other cultures around the world as early incubators, already exploring those ideas of science fiction, fantasy and futurism? Why is it important to explore those ideas in these cultures?
Science Fiction (SF) itself was produced directly by the response to slavery and colonialism in England and America. This is a fact. Therefore SF has always had within its DNA racial, colonial and sexual concerns—so its a mistake to see the genre as either “white” or “Western” or “European” since all of those categories depend on slavery and colonialism and, of course, industrialization. As such it isn’t necessarily anything-“centric,” though the modern history of SF hasn’t been as good as it should be about making all of this clear, hence the necessary interruption that is Afrofuturism as well as the explosion of global SF.
Happy New Year!!!!! Welcome back to Futuristically Ancient!
Last year, I introduced to you all to the upcoming release of Louis Chude-Sokei’s The Sound of Culture. Well, the book is finally here and I had the privilege to interview Louis about his book and his research. Louis is a truth-speaker and an illusion-breaker who is not afraid to challenge and enlighten us on preconceived notions about our identities and histories. That is what I enjoy about this is exploring and presenting the numerous looks into our past that help us to understand and weave together our current time and move us forward! Enjoy Part 1 of Louis’ interview today and part 2 on Wednesday!
“…I also began to think through theories of masquerade and carnival as a way of apprehending the productive instability of so-called “blackness” and to subject American racial thinking to a more diasporic lens…”
Louis Chude-Sokei, the author of The Last ‘Darky‘: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora, will be releasing a new book, The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics.
Chude-Sokei, as he has done in his previous work, explores the complexities of race and ethnicity through a Caribbean lens. As someone who calls myself Afro-Caribbean-American, I realize how sometimes I don’t neatly fit into a dominant idea of blackness, which is usually centered around U.S. America black cultures. Because of that, I often notice how Black people from all over the world often have to adjust their ethnic identities by putting on, by playing with, by expanding the definitions of blackness.
In his first book, The Last Darky, Chude-Sokei examines the life of Bert Williams, who was from the Bahamas, and how minstrelsy weirdly became a technology Williams used to complicate blackness, to explore and break from the boundaries of the stereotypes of blackness. It explores how someone who was an immigrant, who had a different ethno-cultural identity, but was also considered superficially black, related to and navigated the world of blackness in America. It explores the intersections between, carnival/playing mas, masquerade, blackface and creation of identity.
In The Sound Culture, Chude-Sokei continues his exploration of the intersections of music, race, ethnicity, masquerade/carnival, minstrelsy, science fiction, and technology/machinery in the modern world through the lens of Caribbean creolity or hybridity.
Below are the table of contents for the book to pique your interest:
Sorry I have been away for a while; I was working on a big book festival project that was supposed to be scheduled for this year, but due to unforeseen conflict, has to be postponed to next year. So, now I have some time to make a comeback, including an upcoming recap of the Afrofuturism conference I attended last weekend at The New School (that will be posted next week).
So my first post will be some great music that has come out since I was gone, some music to take you to a higher level! But first, here is a small tribute to Ben E. King who wrote one of the greatest love songs about a love that could survive even apocalyptic situation, and also a love that is “supernatural.”
*Afropunk “Feature: Visual Artist AiRich Talks About Her Afrofuturistic and Raw Style:” “My name is AiRich. According to the people who surround me, my photography can work safely in the category of “afrofuturism”. This has mainly to do with the style, the spiritual aspects that others link to my work. I see this as a great compliment, because my style was first developed by an optimistic philosophy that whatever is inside of me can come out. I welcome it, as it is an expression and reflection of my lifestyle, taste, who I am and how I see the world. One of the most recognizable landmarks in my work is that I only make use of Black models, whom in the first instance are not the ideal beauty image requirements in western photography. My approach is conceptual and in the opposite direction, of western photography. Often with a specific story [traditional and non-traditional] or message that I want to say the story is often in the expression, the styling or setting. Most times the story alone is a non-theatrical physical positioning of the model. Whatever comes out, it is always and expression of the culture, myth and reality of the Black people’s truth.”
*CCCADIRoots and Stars: Destiny and Purpose – Pathways to Passion event will be tomorrow at 6:30pm at the Dwyer Cultural Center: “We beckon our most passionate lives in this cross-traditional conversation exploring the concepts of Destiny and Purpose. Marinieves Alba presents a prayer-talk about the Lukumi concept of Ori, a metaphorical bird of destiny and highest purpose that, perched atop each person’s spiritual head, guides us in our flight through life. Joshua Bee Alafia, representing the Buddhist tradition, discusses the power of meditation to achieve greater levels of personal clarity, courage, and a bold allegiance to the sincerity of the heart.” Roots and Stars is CCCADI’s salon series dedicated to exploring Black spiritual genius as expressed in art, practice, and the ritual of everyday life.
*Also tomorrow: Schomburg Center presents conversation, Before 5: Xenobia Bailey and Tammi Lawson, in which the “two will discuss the inspirations to Xenobia’s Reconstruction of Funktional Design: A Design Project for Social, and Economic Urban Redevelopment. The artist will share how the creative wisdom of her family’s history originating crafts skills and a material culture in the aesthetic of funk within small African American and multi cultural communities in Seattle Washington and how the migration to Brooklyn and presently living in Harlem influenced her lifestyle and is the foundation of her education and the principal of her Professional Practice. She will speak of her environment of being raised by self educated parents and extended family members of how they manifested an art form, of humbly living in grace by design, in spite of the set backs of Jim Crow Laws that most hard working African American Families experienced in rural and urban communities.
This will be an afternoon survey of a few examples of the Material Culture of the Visual Aesthetic of Funk: The Dynamic Art of Gracefully Living a Dream in a North American Discriminatory Nightmare. Xenobia will share images of Familiar, but under appreciated references and inspirations from the Designs, Engineering and Inventiveness of the low-income, African American homemakers and domestic workers.”