Since tomorrow I will be moderating the Astro-Caribbean panel, Midnight Robber Chronicles, which was inspired by Nalo Hopkinson’s speculative novel Midnight Robber, I thought I’d share an a British artist whose work centers on exploring the significance of Caribbean carnival.
According to Trinidadian/Irish- British artistZak Ove, Caribbean carnival, especially those in Trinidad, started as a mockery of European colonialists, but then became a declaration of “we can be anything” and “not just what we’ve been duped” into believing we are by these colonialists. It became an investigation through transfigurement and costume into all kinds of mythologies and into a sense of Africanism that had been subdued and suppressed through slavery.
I am happy to announce that I will be moderating a panel Black Speculative Arts Movements conference on April 22nd at the Bronx Museum of Arts. The panel is the first in the Astro-Caribbean series.
According to the founders of BSAM, “Black Speculative Arts Movement, aka BsaM, is an annual Afrofuturism, black comics, and arts convention held at multiple colleges and universities throughout the United States.BSAM encompasses different positions or basis of inquiry: Afrofuturism, Astro Blackness, Afro-Surrealism, Ethno Gothic, Black Digital Humanities, Black (Afro-future female or African Centered) Science Fiction, The Black Fantastic, Magical Realism, and The Esoteric.
Our annual conventions, co-founded by associate professor and chair of the Humanities department at Harris-Stowe State University, Reynaldo Anderson, and founder of Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts – MECCA, Maia Crown Williams, will include vending from a vast amount of comics, art, and artisan creators and vendors, live performances, a full international film festival via MECCAcon, afrofuturism, social activism, and comic centered seminars, classes, hand on workshops, plays, and much more. Students are also welcome to submit proposals to participate as well. We also heavily encourage schools to attend in groups.”
This conference is named #BSAMfuturismo2017 and you can buy tickets here. Read below the panel description and the panelists who will be joining me!
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.
*On this blog for this month will be “Black Retrofuturism Month,” so I will be posting throughout the month afrofuturistic cultural productions from the past in a series called, “Rewind.”
*BUTCH DIVA, the Brooklyn-based fashion haus that I have featured before on my blog, has a new collaboration with Jamaican-bred artist Robin Clare. They teamed up to create a series of posters that combine Clare’s signature dancehall dancers motif and BUTCH DIVA’s most famous silhouettes. The “BD x RC graphic art collaboration” features a collection of six 16″ x 20″ colored art posters designed by Clare. These various illustrations are inspired by the 90’s pop-deco BUTCH DIVA summer 2013 collection, resulting in full page patterns created with Robin’s signature dancehall inspired gyals in motion wearing classic Butch Diva creations. The posters can be purchased on BUTCH DIVA’s online store.
Man from Tomorrow film screening on February 12: “A collaborative effort between French filmmaker Jacqueline Caux and Detroit Techno icon Jeff Mills that aims to extend the boundaries of the traditional filmic portrait through a non-narrative approach, combining aesthetically unconventional images and Mills’s unreleased original music for the soundtrack. Part of the film uses voice-over excerpts from conversations with Mills about the topics that inspire him when he composes music, such as his preoccupation with the future of mankind and his interest in both space and time travel.”
*Summer Program for Queer and Trans Youth of Color- “Get Free: A Summer Project for QT Youth of Color:” “Black Girl Dangerous presents a week-long artistic, intellectual, emotional and practical project for queer and trans* youth of color that focuses on the inner work it takes to Get Free in a world where, for us—people who experience oppression based on race and queerness or trans*ness—just surviving is a feat. Through writing, dreaming, screaming, owning up, and facing who we are, who we have been, and who we might become, we aim to start an emotional r/evolution that will reverberate throughout our lives and our communities.”
*”Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Space Cadet From A Black Feminist Future:” “Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ bio immediately initiates you into her mysteries. So it begins: “Alexis is a self-identified queer black trouble maker, love evangelist and space cadet. So, that means time and space manifest in prolific and polyphonic ways.” And it’s a good place to start naming all her galactic variety–after all, some of her projects include the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind and Mobile Homecoming, respectively. Brilliance and beauty, always unspooling. Spilling. There is no end to this love.”
This is both Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Black Speculative Fiction Month, so, I want to highlight a campaign and a works of speculative fiction that brings awareness to domestic violence. The campaign I want to focus on is 31 for Marissa in honor of Marissa Alexander who fired a warning shot from a gun to protect herself from her abusive husband and faced 20 years in prison for it, following the rejection of the “stand your ground” defense. In September, she received a chance to get a new trial, but still without the “stand your ground” defense. Esther Armah from Emotional Justice writes about 31 for Marissa:
“Emotional Justice Unplugged, Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Women, Free Marissa Now launch a month long multi-media letter writing campaign called #31forMARISSA. Throughout the month, we are urging men to write letters of support to Marissa Alexander, share stories of violence experienced by women in their own circles, donate funds for her trial fees and become engaged as active allies in the domestic violence movement. Participants are also encouraged to invite, inspire, challenge and engage 5 other men to join the campaign. We are asking a nation of men—of all creeds and colors—to stand up and engage in the pursuit of freedom of a Black woman.”
One of the tumblr websites, theSWAGspot, as well as other voices have been participating in the campaign, writing heartfelt letters, poems, anecdotes and articles.
Authors have featured domestic violence and abuse in their works, like Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, and Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lillith’s Brood and Patternist series. Last year, speculative fiction author, Alicia McCalla, published her short story, Flee, which tackles domestic abuse through a fantasy lens. It is suppose to be a prequel to her upcoming Soul Eaters book. You can read it for free, here and here.
“The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.” – Audre Lorde
Quite a number of people within the past couple of weeks have basically told black women (and other women of color in general) that our voices, our bodies and any power we have –present, past or future — is not to be respected or honored. On several fronts we are attacked, from our erasure from mainstream feminism (#solidarityisforwhitewomen) to our erasure from racial discourse (#blackpowerisforblackmen). Even women who expect to be revered are treated trivially. Last week, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons released a Harriet Tubman “sex tape” that he thought was suppose to be funny. Afrofuturists know Tubman as an icon in our spaces, just look at Chronicles of Harriet, Sanford Biggers, Elizabeth Hamilton, and Cauleen Smith. Yes, he took the video down, after he was quickly called out on it, and his apology was basically all bull, implying that we were too sensitive, and not the critique of the racially misogynist (or misogynoir) aspects of the video. For example, having Tubman seduce a white master matches the jezebel stereotype and reinforces notions of black women’s incapability of being raped. Additionally, it was the inaccuracy of the video to Tubman’s story and the reduction of a woman to degrading, pornographic sex. Now he wants to do a movie about Tubman. C’mon, please! Rather than waiting for that half-assed sorry that will be that film, below are some works that show greater respect for us. For the past few weeks, I have read and viewed works that spoke to me as a Black woman about us reclaiming our power in different situations.
The three works — two from Caribbean writers, Nalo Hopinkson’s Midnight Robber and Marie-Elena John’s Unburnable, and the other, a Cameroonian film, Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Les Saignantes (The Bloodettes) — all explore stories of women who fight to overcome sexual oppression, sometimes even at the hands of other women, through a re-imagining of themselves and a reclaiming of feminine ancestral wisdom and bodies. One of the most striking parts that is similar in all three is the reliance of ancestral feminine wisdom and ritual, and ancestral women by the main characters, much like what we should do with Harriet Tubman. (*warning: spoilers coming*)
“Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding … is the throbbing glistening heart of Kiini’s body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid,” is how author Nisi Shawl (Filter House) introduces Kiini Ibura Salaam‘s latest collection of short stories, Ancient, Ancient. Released by Aqueduct Press, the collections features stories “Of Wings, Nectar, & Ancestors,” “Rosamojo” and “Desire,” the latter two receiving praise from Publisher’s Weekly.
A New Orleans native, Salaam is a writer and painter who has used speculative fiction as a way to discuss topics of gender and sexuality. Her fiction has been included in Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories,Dark Eros, FEMSPEC, Ideomancer, Infinitematrixand PodCastle. Besides speculative fiction, she also writer poetry, creative nonfiction, erotica and essays; her essays have appeared in publications like Essence Magazine (“Navigating to No”), Utne Reader and Ms. Magazine. Praised by fellow writers, Nalo Hopkinson (“She wields [words] to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty”) and Jack Womack (“deserves to be considered as one of today’s most promising contemporary genre writers”), I am already excited to read it.