Tarsila Do Amaral

I saw this show back in December and I am only now getting around to writing about it. The theme for this month is discipline and follow-thru, that means burning the end of some braids before they unravel completely. 

When I walked into the show I was struck by the outlines of the figures. The first peice on display for familiar to me from the advertising for the show. I always look for the image I saw on fliers when I get to the show because I'm a basic art hoe. In my head it's this magical moment where I imagine what I look like looking at the peice. Galleries are my favorite place to photograph.  

I was captivated by the consistency within the show. She drew the same shit over and over but never the same thing twice. I had never considered how many times an artist draws the same still life for practice. Maybe I had but I don't get to see all the iterations in museums often.  

The curves and fullness made her work feel embarrassingly approachable. We had a genuine ”i think I can do this” moment.  My son and I sat right on the floor and tried to recreate what we saw. I thought he would die of embarrassment at first but we got through it  I still have our quick sketches in a pile of other work on the long wooden table in my office. 

The articles I read about Tarsila and the show have faded and it seems dishonest to look it up but the lines in her pencil work are visible in my memory still.  

This is great if your looking for inspiration to pick up a pencil and just draw but you will have to catch it outside of Chicago because it's run at the Art Institute is over. My bad. 

Donald Glover - Yes - No/?

I have been thinking about "This is America" since I saw the first clip on the Instagram." I don't get it," I pleaded in a group chat. I mean I get it. Something about it wasn't, hasn't been sitting quite right, but the universe works in mysterious ways.

Donald Glover does not represent me. His image of America is not mine. He willingly plays a Minstrel, likens himself to Uncle Ruckus and we all smile and clap. We say, we as black America are this. We say this is just how it is. We a chorus of voices that are not all black.

I saw no black babies being born, no groups of people protesting. I saw no flowers and teddy bears laid where black blood was shed.

I saw a mockery of black joy by black hands. A contemporary Uncle Ruckus. A modern-day minstrel. I saw Travon Martin's father on the guitar then a person in his clothes and stance but with a bag over their head be shot then reappear still playing with the same bag over their heads. What does this mean?

I news I thought was unrelated, but nothing ever is, I saw What Remains To Be Seen a the MCA this week. I woke up this morning looked at Met gala images and got to work exploring the exhibition website where I came across this article

When I read the titles in the long list of essays by Pindell, this one stood out. I was jolted by the memory of a docent telling me how sad he was that I would miss the Kara Walker Exhibition that was going to open a few days after I left town. I remembered how I didn't make it through my first and only Kara Walker exhibition. I felt ashamed for having conflicted feelings about her work. Ashamed of my lack of refinement.

Pindell describes a "pro-negative-racial stereotype Kara Walker bandwagon" and her essay questions the use of negative stereotypes by black artists noting:  

"I do not see the exultation of negative stereotype images as being in a vacuum. Negative images are usually created and disseminated as part of the oppression of people of color in order to justify stealing their land, labor and resources."

Many of Pindell's concerns about Kara Walker's work brought me back to my discomfort while watching "This is America". This is not the portrayal of black life in America. He is not truth-telling in the general sense, and if we miss his positioning of himself as an Uncle Ruckus character, then we are missing the point.

It is men like him that make us ashamed to dance, eat chicken and watermelon, look at a white woman with a black man at all for fear of looking like fools. Black joy is nothing to be ashamed of. We use phones for much more than recording the latest dances, and we do no drag our dead brother and sisters off the street.

I'm also pretty sure I saw a black woman to the left of the frame where his is running in fear. I couldn't help but notice that she is not running with him. He is running from her which made me consider the roles black women played in his America and the conspicuous absence of black love.

Good art makes you think, it creates conversation, but it is not in a vacuum as Pindell notes. What is exalted as genius is not objective or absolute.

What Remains To Be Seen is on view at the MCA in Chicago until May 20.


Six Hours of Daylight in Detroit

Dabl has the charm you could expect from a southern man even tho he doubts that he was really born there. I think that makes him part of the great migration but I don't mention it. 


I never considered myself a bead collector till he asked. You sure do got a lot of questions. O, you got an expensive eye.  


I heard him tell another customer, the whole world comes to me. A follow up to the revelation that he doesn't leave the city. A rebuttal to the judgment pulling her eye their lids. 


Birds have nests but no roots.  

it seems fitting to me, spiders and birds are natural enemies and I'm certain Kweku has something to do with him. 


I settle on a necklace of Russian blues and three earth stone rocks for Afam. 




feels like a community center. Or a school. Part church 


Danielle Dean’s solo exhibition, True Red Ruin stole my heart.   

it's fresh and thought-provoking. exposing how depth of perspective that overlooked but present in the daily lives of black people talking into their phones or appearing on reality TV.  


The video True Red Ruin (Elmina Castle) takes place in present-day Cuney Homes, an affordable housing complex in Houston’s Third Ward. Dean plays the site manager of a new “Elmina Castle” development amid the existing Cuney Homes, while the artist’s sister and friends (who live in Cuney Homes) play the local residents. In recent years, the historically black Third Ward has experienced rapid gentrification as waves of “economic improvement” have displaced long-term community members. Alluding to historical conditions of Elmina Castle’s construction within this urban American context, Dean creates a fiction pointing to profound truths about histories of invasion and tools of oppression, including capital and surveillance.

Still from the video. via MOCAD website. 

Still from the video. via MOCAD website. 

True Red Ruin presents a contemporary story of gentrification and surveillance told through a displacement of the historic Elmina Castle in Ghana. Read more


All photos are my own unless otherwise noted. 

Backstroke of the West: Reflecting on Demanding Memory

I was able to experience Backstroke of the West by Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I have been wanting to experience the exhibit since seeing this description:


"Also on view are Spoils (2011), a project that saw the artist serve Iraqi date syrup and venison on Saddam Hussein’s very own china, and The invisible enemy should not exist (2007–ongoing), a lifelong project to fabricate at full scale every single item looted from the Iraqi National Museum."


I am fascinated by the idea of fabricating what as lost, to scale. So you know what was lost then? Imagine that. About 2 or 3 month's ago I asked my mother to record a conversation with me. "I need to capture your story." She flat out refused. "I have no interest in that" and continued playing solitaire.

I wonder if it is the DNA of capitalism to preserve and catalog for no other reason than to prove its existence. Black people know all too well the horrors of a lost (pre)history. So I have to see these for myself, all the while wondering if my mother's inclination is the truer to my (pre)colonial self. What is our attachment to these relics of the past and how does Rakowitz's work interact with that attachment in light of the cultural genocide we know as the afterwords of their destruction.


Rakowitz's work reclaims the dialogue and holds a place marker for the culture while still allowing it to move forward, to acknowledge the connection between the past and the present. I distinctly Iraqi present even if fingered by the west.

Michael Rakowitz is also responsible for Enemy Kitchen (2003–ongoing), a pop-up food truck that serves Iraqi dishes by the way.



Photography and Intent


This could be an article about a lot of things, immigration, remembering, protest, or intersectionality but the thought I keep coming back to photography and intent. What's the focus and the intent of the work? After looking at the exhibit it was clear to me that if you don't clearly see the subject your images will miss them too. That intangible thing that makes you twist your mouth up. Technical beauty isn't always enough, images that witness and speak to what was real last for generations.  This is a key distinction between the images  Ansel Adams took of beautiful landscapes and the American story Dorthea Lange was able to capture. Ansel Adams is undoubtedly a great landscape photographer and his images of the Japanese Internment Camps show that; they also make it clear that his heart wasn't with the people so their story want one he could capture.  Maybe there is a wrong side of photographic history even when your images are beautiful

I attended a black photographers meetup two days before seeing this exhibit and the conversation turned to where the lines should be regarded who is photographed by whom and how intent/proximity effects the shots. Until this exhibit, I thought it would be near impossible for a photographer to authentically capture the lived experience of a community so far removed from their own. I stand corrected thanks to Lange.  Don't be quick to assume that "skin folk are kinfolk" or that small amounts of personal privilege can't be held responsibly. 

By biggest takeaway for my own practice: by clear about why and what your capturing.



Be Like the Cactus

Let not harsh tongues, that wag
in vain,
Discourage you. In spite of
Be like the cactus, which through
And storm, and thunder, can

by Kimii Nagata


Sources: https://japaneseinternmentmemories.wordpress.com/category/japanese-internement-poetry/



Check out the oral history studio to hear the stories of Japanese Americans. This is a spectacular resource for educators.


the afterwords

She Who Carries Weight by Alexandra Eregbu  debuted new work at the Ralph Arnold Gallery.  I'm still gaining mobility from after the surgery, but I can walk. I need to walk. We walked together, reviewing a particularly difficult day of our homeschooling co-op. Age nine has been a hurricane during a year like quicksand. I feel silly for celebrating the beginning of a new year so joyously. I had no fucking clue. No. Fucking. Clue.

We wait around for the performance in the gallery surrounded but a few subversive pieces. Me quietly hoping nothing sparks my sons desire to talk politics. He wants to understand, inserts himself into conversations, listens to NPR even. I am not in the mood for that weight. Any weight really. I have earned a life of leisure that is not coming. I needed to see another black woman conceptualizes "the weight."


I headed to the closing of Janice Bond's Be Careful with Mother exhibition at Filter Photo alone the next night. I'm not sure my Virgo son would have survived all the exposed breasts and bare asses.  The word "careful" stood out to me. It means "don't take risks" when I attach it to goodbye. I didn't get any of that from the exhibit. It was full of the peculiar risk emotional vulnerability and nakedness simultaneously provides. I had to rush back to my car to write down a few things said during the talk and because I had a flight at five in the morning (tragic story. I'll tell you later). One of the things I wrote down was a story about trademarking and women harvesting salt. You're going to have to ask Janice if you want the full story I wouldn't do it justice, so I will not try. But it made me think of a quote from This Bridge Called My Back, my current nonfiction read.

"'Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster'; and visibility, the most effective strategy to quell the rising tide of discrimination."

Trademarking facilitates theft. 

Later. My flight got canceled, but I got to spend the day looking at art and being with cool people We went to three museums and a gallery. By the time we got to the gallery I just sat on the floor and edited the pictures on my phone. I'm going to have to circle back to that one. I'm only going to talk about Cauleen Smiths exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. It's a call to action. Got me thinking about what we do with what we know and what we have. In the forward to This Bridge Called My back Toni Cade Bambara suggest that it's the Afterwards that matters. All this reading has made Cauleen Smith a dangerous woman. This Bridge Called My Back is on the reading list, so is African Fractals which was a part of Janice Bonds' exhibit the night before. Whenever I begin to notice a thread weaving back and forth like that I know to follow. There is a single thread that runs through everything. 


she who carries weight  // ralph arnold gallery 


human 3.0 reading list  // art institute of chicago 


be careful with mother // filter photo  

Sites, Sounds, Lessons from Mana

Chicago - I headed to Mana Contemporary for their last open house. Grateful for the time alone. Eight year old boys do not always make the best company.


Her studio was a juxtaposition of the best and worst of contemporary life.  I am starting with Barbara Hashimoto because I love clementines and I still have one more bag of junk mail to shred.


Barbara used junk mail as her medium, filling a large room with four months of junk mail. Her work shows how overwhelming junk mail, bill and debt really are. Congrats it's not all in your head. Before I headed to Mana, I asked my friend to borrow his shredder so I could attack my pile of mail, three bags at the time. I actually packed a box of junk mail and old bills when I moved to Chicago two years ago. 


Mail makes me panic, paper makes me uneasy. Even catalogs all of piles and threatens to bury you. I am one of the many turning to minimalism to work dig my way out of the pile of shit that consumes us.  I avoid mail which only means it piles up. Here is a woman taking charge, during piles of credit card solicitations and ads into art. Seeing shredded junk mail used like this was deeply symbolic for me. Seeing it erased. The idea that it could exist in such a serene space without disrupting the energy adding to the creative process rather than just causing paralysis. Two bags of shredding happened as a result of this studio visit. I considered throwing it about my apartment but I settled on watching the video again instead. 


The juxtaposition of these three balls, the stages of turning junk mail into bronze and this box made of credit card solicitations entitled, In the Red. A video from this series shows mounds and mounds of shredded paper, enough to fill a large room. Slightly stressful to watch tho.


Let frustration fuel creativity. Burn it away.


The Transition to Power Series by On The Real Film explores artist reactions to the last presidential election. This series is a great place to start if you want to pull the string on your feeling surrounding the election. This entire presidency is one long sustained trigger for many people including those who are not traditionally marginalized and are therefore enjoying the privilege of being new to the shock of unstable ground. Things are shifting rapidly and the question is will we be mindful enough to lead a revolution that changes the paradigm rather than keeping our exciting power structures and just flipping who benefits. That is not a real revolution.

I am moving and packed away the notebook containing my initial thoughts about the three videos I watched during my visit which is probably for the best. I left, I was writing too many things in my notebook and didn't have time to think between films. I have not processed fully the gravity of the words spoken and the pace was too rapid. If you want to watch, I recommend starting here or here.

photo from  here

photo from here

I would have moved into this space if possible, it was crisp but not sterile. Inviting but not too comfortable. The kinds of place you go when you want to work towards your legacy, submerge yourself in a topic or take great Instagram pictures. Everyone loves large picture frames and hardcover books. The way the spine screams to welcome you. I always imagine it like an old friend calling out "GURL" when we meet up after some time apart. The beginning of a long conversation.  


Do you know about Moishe Mana? Moishe’s Moving? With that Cormac started teaching. I had already received a warm welcome and gained some insight into the realities of being a musician from his dad. He let me know he quit the business as soon as he found out he would be a father. He wanted to be home. He looked the age of man from the time when men stayed far away from home even if the came back every night. A trailblazer, he was the one playing the piano in the music that filled the studio. Cormac told everyone who came in the room to listen out for his father. According to his father Cormac has always had impeccable taste, "he has an eye for these things."  The two were quite a pair and then there were three. Three generations sharing space. Gentle banter about events I wasn't present for but grazed against my entrence.


Family magnifies all other success.


I was beaming when I stood in front of his open studio door. I actually wasn't sure I could go in. I was green and wide eyed, probably for the duration of my time at Mana and especially for this first studio visit. As soon as a I saw his space I knew I needed to create images and write. This was just too good. Rory wrote copy for Leo Burrett before he moved on to his next great life. We talked about how he doesn't consider anything but the art he wants to create. He creates constantly and openly. The work is infections, delightful and another word but it escapes me. Something foreign that captures a feeling but doesn't translate. the feeling when your stuff is moved in but unpacked and your alone in your dorm after you first arrive for college freshman year. Imagine that as one word // I accidentally said, "I'm nervous" to which he replied, "Be brave." // He encouraged me to call myself an artist, a writer. Which I did in every other studio. In retrospect this was the perfect place to start my journey on that day.

You can live many great lives in one lifetime [say what you are or someone else will define you].

All photos were taken by me unless otherwise noted.

Blue Black: Moonlight, Mastry + Lightbending

I feel fairly confident a cultural revolution around body acceptance/love for Nigerian women, in general, won't come anytime soon. Nigeria isn't the only country with this issue, and it's not limited to groups of people with universally dark skin, we have all seen Asian women walking around with umbrellas on sunny summer days.

When I was growing up, I remember watching a news report about the lost boys of Sudan, then running into one working at O'hare. My mother pointed him out, but he didn't need an introduction, I had been staring at him long before she noticed him. He was a human giraffe covered in black panther skin. I couldn't decide if I liked how he looked. The white and red in his eyes made him look extraterrestrial, other-worldly. His skin consumed light; I could see it trying to escape, pooling and contouring at the rim of his skin. Otherworldly has never been a substitute for ugly in my mind, butI still wasn't sure what to make of him. That night I lay in bed wondering if I looked like him and why I couldn't decide if I liked it.

Looking back on the colorism that tints universal beauty standards and most African homes, I totally understand why I felt the way I did, but my initial characterization of dark skin itself has stuck with me. I spent years avoiding pictures because of the way my skin ate light. I spent the same amount of time in the grass watching how sunlight interacted with the tiny worlds I had created. Worlds where I was the light bending giraffe.


The current Black Renaissance has resurfaced my childhood fascination with how dark skin bends light. Like every real Renaissance, art is at the center of revolution.

Lynette Yiadom Boakye discussed how she studied lights interaction with objects and how to capture that in her art. Cauleen Smith shared her quest to master capturing dark skin in film. At dinner a few weeks later, a friend brought up how Atlanta successfully captures dark skin. I had gone to the advanced screening of Moonlight with high expectations, not only for the plot but how dark skin would be represented, that is what stood out to me the most about the trainer.  I asked Tarell Alvin McCraney about the meaning of the movie title, but I already had my mind made up about its meaning. The same as when I first saw the Sudanese man. Moonlight has plenty of emotional to explore, but the bending and consumption of light can't be ignored.

The allusiveness of the capturing dark skin in art is my new fascination; it affirms the magnificence of melanin for me. I can be sure there is nothing grotesque about what it does to light.

Witnessing Mastry by Kerry James Marshall cemented that. He treats darkness as something worth studying and honestly portrays its depth, something fashion magazine spreads never provided me. In Mastery blackness in and of itself is explored not used as a means or contrast to whiteness like most fashion magazine layouts. I would say the same thing about Moonlight. In Mastry and Moonlight darkness does not erase complexity, it heightens it. Both works demand that you look deeper.

This piece I saw on Son of Baldwin's fb page but now can't find (boo) brought to my attention the potential for blackness without darkness as the norm in society; The article talked about the preference for blackness without dark skinned bodies. I tried to imagine aworld without walking light-bends, our bodies once again confined to museums and books of curiosities.

All Images from our visit to see Mastry at the Museum of Contemporary Art In Chicago

it's on you

                                            Your parents will get over it.

They will get over it.

                They will get over it.

if you pierce your nose and maybe your nipples, for good measure
if you decide you love the art and starve
if you have the baby and promise to finish school
if you kiss girls and let your nail polish chip
if date that person anyway and live to regret it
same for if you marry them
if you tape things to the wall and eat straight out of the delivery container

           when you stand up straight and know who you are

they will get over it

get over it

Old Black Magic

Today my son repeated a part of a poem we heard during Old Black Magic almost a week ago.

"Preacher Man says you can have peace if you believe in the same God. Politician Man says you can have peace if the price is right."

We tried to remember if that is exactly how it went and then he casually mentioned "how good" that poem was. "That guy was cool," before walking off to brush his teeth before bed. We consume a lot of art, and I sometimes wonder what he things. What sticks, what matters to his young mind.

I have said before that I want him to know that there are many ways to be a person, a healthy human. There is space to be yourself in artist communities, and Chicago has an exceptionally vibrant artist community. He also got to take a picture with Sam Trump after listening to him accompany an immensely talented dancer.

My experience at the event confirmed the effectiveness of the energy work that I have been doing. I felt significantly less social anxiety. I committed to embracing "black magic" last year. By that I mean, pre-colonial spiritual knowledge as just that. As someone who studied religion in college, I know that modern Christianity incorporated pre-colonial rituals and a strong argument can be made that it is an evolution of our understand of God but that only made decolonizing my religious practice slightly easier.

Old Black Magic was right on time, for both of us. Art is a vital part of deconstruting what harms us. 

Check out @ProductionColors

Check out @ProductionColors


I made the mistake of not bringing a snack, so we ended up at Pleasant House Pub down the street. The drinks alone are worth the trip, and the bathroom is an extra bonus. I know, but the bathroom is unnecessarily beautiful.


We all ended up heading to Hidden Figures after this. Long night, but worth the 4 hour nap I took two days later (the next day was lit too). Hidden Figures is a topic for another post tho. If you haven't seen it please do.

Margins to Frontiers: New Paradigms of #BlackMagic

I had the pleasure of attending the New Paradigms panel discussion with Thelma Golden, Glenn Ligon, Lynette Yiadom Boakye, and Cauleen Smith on October 20th at the Art Institute of Chicago. Thelma Golden was a wonderful moderator. She drew her questions for ever dimension of this space time continuum them cast them like a spell drawing out pounds of marinated taught for our greedy consumption. It seemed as tho she could walk on the plane of thought pointing out nuances in the landscape we may have missed. Other times her questions provided a needed boundary for more targeted exploration.

The thing that still stands out to me was the discussion of what is means to be a black artist right now. It seems there is a critical mass of black art and artist. There is no longer a need/urgency for comparing black artists to white artists or framing the work in the context of the white gaze. It reminded me of an article I recently read in the Harvard Business Review about "New Power."

"New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it."

Her mention of margins and centers, which happens to be the title of a very personally influential book by bell hooks,  made me wonder if she would identify her source of power as "new." She is absolutely a disrupter in the field and I THINK forged in the fires of black feminist taught and critical race theory so her response to the first question by a gentleman about the "feeling of outsiderness' is something I will be mulling over for some time. Let me start by saying that every artist rejected the notion of being an outsider. Which, I think, relates to the very strong shared sentiment that there is a critical mass of black artists," we have our own" so to speak. Here my mind wonders about Solange, the success of her new album and the surge of collective black action in support of black makers.

So the question that sticks in my mind is "outside of what?" Thelma Golden flipped the visuals to what is in the margin and what is in the center. She said "we now know that we where at the edge and everything was moving in that direction." The edge, then would be the forefront.  Time has proved her and her contemporaries right. Those thoughts that had been marinating since the 80s and 90s are now highly prized for intellectual consumption by audiences of varying densities of melanin.  

Charles hanging out with his book before the discussion started.

Charles hanging out with his book before the discussion started.

I think Lynette Yiadom Boakye response was the most soothing. For her, being an artist is about feelings of outsiderness. Artists tend to think themselves outside of something, whatever that something is. There is a deep preoccupation with inward thinking and a tendency towards introversion that is common in artists. An artists "something" then in a matter of scale and for this particular panel race relations/anxiety between white and black was the incorrect scale. A blanket of steaming complex black narratives. I think each arists response to what was critical influence for them revealed a bit about what they feel outside off and the rhythm that moves them.

I wanted to sit in my seat and watch everyone leave, their bodies would serves as the credits for a film a can never see again but I ran out, rushing Charles to be bathroom and worrying about how I would navigate the reception. I waited outside the bathroom stall contemplating my own outsider feelings. Outside of artist circles of any kind, outside of the Chicago academic circles, outside of black middle-class status. Outside of anything that seemed relevant in this space. I clumsily walked thru the reception putting to anemic wedges of pita on an absurdly large plate before finding us a quite corner to sit it. I tried to recap with my son who reminded me that he spent the entire time reading his book. We left shortly after. I felt desperate looking at the faces as they passed searching for an indication that they my be open to a conversation with a stranger. Troubling work in such a bright open space.


Glenn Ligon
A Small Band, 2015
Neon and paint
74 3/4 x 797 1/2 inches
(189.9 x 2025.7 cm)


I want to talk endlessly about Glenn Ligon in this post but I am going to save it because i learned that he is currently installing this piece at the Stony Island Arts Bank! The Rebuild Foundation has already started advertising Ligon's presence in the space and I am really looking forward to attending and writing about the piece and the artist then. Stay Tuned.

LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, Citrine by the Ounce, 2014, oil on canvas, 21 7/8 x 17 13/16 inches, 23 10/16 x 19 9/16 inches (framed), LYB14.006, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.