Theme + Cohort
Inspired by Dr. Marimba Ani’s book Let the Circle Be Unbroken, we encouraged our residents to explore the following quote by Ani, as a central theme of the work they create on Governors Island.
“The term ‘Maafa’ (from the book, Let The Circle Be Unbroken) is a Kiswahili word for ‘disaster’ that we are now using to reclaim our right to tell our own story. Maafa refers to the enslavement of our people and to the sustained attempt to dehumanize us. Because the Maafa has disconnected us from our cultural origins, we have remained vulnerable in a social order that does not reflect our cultural identity.” – Dr. Marimba Ani.
To learn more about the 2019 MoCADA Creators in Residence special group exhibition, click here.
Exodus from one land to another often comes in the wake of ‘Maafa.’ For my parents and grandparents, their disaster was the François Duvalier regime, which forced them to leave Haiti for the United States in the 1960s. As a result, I was born far away from my ancestral home/land, on the south side of Chicago, I inherited a longing for a home that no longer exists.
yesterday, on my grandfather’s land, i met Damballah in a well exemplifies my desire to reconstruct a sense of home/land through documenting terrain, and piecing together memories and stories that were passed down to me.
Idi Basengo is a mixed-media fine artist and painter specializing in stylized portraiture combining vibrant colors, patterns, and textures to make his pieces come alive. Idi produced his first solo show, “See Far Go Far” 2017, at the Kigali Public Library and was a featured artist at the Envision Rwanda grand opening exhibition in 2018. Idi’s passion and work ethic are inspired by his challenging upbringing, growing up as an orphan and once recruited as a child soldier for a Congolese militia. In 2012 he was given the opportunity to attend the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a boarding school for vulnerable youth, where he developed his talent in the arts. He refers to his unique style of combining colors and shapes as “Basengoism”.
The focus of the work I will create during my residency is based on my family history in this country. Through the research of my family members, I have been able to gather stories and rare pictures that allow me to build and recreate a true history of my ancestral journey throughout North America. A story that begins on the sugar plantations of Louisiana leads to debt peonage in the form of sharecropping. And a great escape to Texas in the quest for emancipation that put in motion the eventuality of entrepreneurship. From this body of work, I tie my family’s story to the greater whole of the unique and resilient history of Afrikan Americans.
Understanding the theme of “Let the Circle Be Unbroken” in my mind means: divinity. Circles or the instance of a chain being unbroken to sustain its strength, every link in between carries its individual weight – together. A circle is no longer a circle when it becomes broken. But a broken circle is unbound by systems that keep its structure. With that said there is no shape as feasible as a circle. It is realistic and carries momentum. Comprehension of systems is cyclical.
For me through this process: (A.M.) will refer to After Maafa / and survival tactics. How we’ve maintained, how we’ve progressed, How it has morphed and how it’s remade to continue on, through the diaspora. A chosen people who are a culture that has been capitalized on B.M. (before Maafa).
I would like to research the systems of the existence of Maafa and the traumatic effects it has taken on my community. I will be making paintings; sculpture and playing with sound to ultimately mimic my understanding of the systems that brought us to this current moment. In hopes of working towards and creating a rubric or algorithm for post maafa thoughts.
I propose to create a series of images that explore the black community, and its relationship with conspiracy’s theories. Every year some new information comes out about how the government has treated blacks without their knowledge Whether it’s the Tuskegee experiments or the government’s role of introducing drugs into the black community. With such a long history of abuse that we couldn’t imagine our relationship with reality has been obscured. We no longer know if the circumstances or hardships we go through are just apart of life or curated by the government. We are now at a point where reality and truth are no longer the same. Growing up, I’ve heard all types of the conspiracy’s that people have created to explain the things we face. The goal is to develop modern-day folktales that obscure horrific events orchestrated by the government and combine them with unproven conspiracies that are prevalent in the black community today.
Black women like myself spend their whole lives on the front lines of movements providing emotional labor and excusing different groups of people from the emotional labor that comes with navigating their privilege all the while never really having our needs met or our voices heard. I spent two years of my life protesting and doing street medic work in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and I left that work feeling there was no true place of safety for black women in the movement. I find that I feel similarly about my safety and the reciprocity of my labor in almost all the other areas of my life. Because I believe that you can not heal what you can not give a name I would like to develop theory around this phenomenon using performance art to defend it.
Safe Travels is an album/sound piece comprised of music, poetry and interview clips from friends and fellow creatives exploring concepts about healing the inner child and returning to the authentic self. The project will incorporate theories such as Kimberle Williams Crenshaw’s Intersectionality and the Lovelessness Bell Hooks describes in her book All About Love to support the theory of “Emotional Climbing”(see below) and the impact it has on one’s ability to break a trauma cycle. This sound piece will be accompanied by performance art inspired by Ntozake Shange’s choreo poem to pay tribute to the unique ways black women have had to tell their stories due to being caught between the intersections of racism and patriarchy.
Currently, I am developing a project that explores the idea of embodying archives – an awareness of the memories we carry genetically, spiritually, and physically in our blood and bones. As an archivist and a descendant of enslaved ancestors from the trans-Atlantic slavery, I am often reminded of the luxury of tangibility and the continuous systematic erasure that left this unorthodox method as one of the only options my people had to preserve our narratives. This can be a challenging exploration that should be handled with care just as any archival collection, but it can provide space for healing and transformation. As I have steadily worked on this project, I have also learned an embodied archive does not stay stagnant or remain the same. Impacted by housing issues and endless moving, this project has been an ongoing process to find home within my body. Finding home in my body means understanding my relationship to geographic locality, healing buried traumas, reclaiming the erotic as a site of pleasure, and awakening a dormant imagination to limitless possibilities. As a Black woman in the United States of America, this project is a continuous teaching that a liberated future is cultivated through the body.
“Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): The Dusk Chronicle Series will center around the linage of familial connection as well as the intimacy of my Southern roots tracing my steps back to the slave south and my genetic heritage on my mother’s side. Each performance will build upon itself utilizing video, audio and live performance to continuously delve into the questions that are asked in the quote “Let the Circle Be Unbroken.” By reaching into my personal narrative of mixed race heritage the necessity to find our “cultural origins” is indeed defining my cultural identity as both a Black and Queer woman.
The insight behind the word Maafa is linked to more than “disaster.” It is linked to the revelations that come through in representation; finding voices of color that reflect that narrative which is still neglected to be understood when it comes to Black women’s bodies and how we are still governed, still censored, still ostracized, and lastly still fetishized is the history of disaster that has been ignored until the present day.
My topless performance, will consists of evoking questions around the former “mammy” Aunt Jemima, and house slave Uncle Ben (both as advertisement characters) and their products that have promoted “respectability politics” and “anti-blackness.” Throughout my works I will weave a narrative that retells our histories through using these products props throughout my performances, documenting the experience through spoken word voice over and audio playback.
I am looking to curate an exhibition titled THEY BROUGHT IT IN BLOOD. This collection of works would explore how people of the African diaspora have retained traditions rooted in an African worldview as a form of resistance and resilience. This exhibition would push back on the widely held narrative that claims Africa traditions and culture did not make it to the Americas. THEY BROUGHT IT IN BLOOD would tell the story of how African based traditions have nurtured and sustained generations of people throughout the world. This exhibition would also be in conversation with Ghana’s year of return. 2019 marks an important milestone for people throughout the world with roots in the African continent. This exhibition would be an opportunity to remember and be reminded of the many tools that have been passed down through lineage. For the exhibition I am interested in inviting African identified artists and creatives to create and/or share preexisting works that highlight the cultural resources that have been critical to their survival.
A Flag For Bree For MoCADA’s Creators in Residence, I propose to make a textile flag work, entitled Flag for Bree. The focal point of the work will be a naturally dyed circle. This piece is to serve as a celebration of the African spirit, activist, Bree Newsome exhibited. Bree Newsome expressed true African spirit when she climbed a flag pole in 2015, to remove a confederate flag flying in South Carolina after nine African-American parishioners were murdered by a white supremacist in 2015 at a church in Charleston. “We succeeded in challenging a whole symbol of segregation and created a new image of liberation,”
Flags serve as a national source of pride and celebration. By creating this one with a naturally dyed circle, dyed from colors from Mother Earth, it will take on new symbolism. The circle represents the continuation of our resilience, harmony and unity. Often in my own personal experience and experiences of other people of African American heritage, we have realized growing up that we were pressured to pledge allegiance to a flag and stand for a national anthem that does not fully honor or respect our African heritage. This has led to feelings of shame once we became more educated on the matter. My intention is for this flag to stand as a symbol where new African diasporan rituals can commence and African spirit can be on expressed freely. A place where people can gather in ritual to observe and celebrate the African spirit.
Aguanile is routed in the transnationality of the African experience. Agua means “water” in Spanish. Nile means “is the home” in Yoruba. This lingual hybridity references that for descendants of the diaspora, the thing that separates us was a forcible boat stop. Aguanile expands critical coverage throughout the African continent and diaspora, voiced by African descendants with a nuanced focus on the creative, intellectual, and sociopolitical landscape through multimedia storytelling.
As Aguanile, we aim to furthermore collect not only intergenerational narratives, but contemporary stories of 2019 and beyond, that have yet to be told. In this age of sophisticated techniques and advanced technology, we want to emphasize the global interdependence of African descent people. We aim to create a physical, cinematic and digital repository of our existence; tales that have been hijacked and distorted up until this very moment of truth.