But Some of Us are Brave

(all images taken by Antonio Hernandez)

Yeah, that’s me standing in front of a TV featuring a still of me, holding my camera.

*record scratch/ freeze frame* You’re probably wondering how I got here aren’t you?

Well, I turned this blog into an art show. Like I told you I would a few blog posts ago. And now I’m back to reflect on the process and drop some photos of what you missed.

Drapetomania; the Strong Urge to Escape took place at Waller Gallery, a new gallery opened and operated by Baltimore native Joy Davis. You can read more about the gallery here.

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This show focused on travel, the African diaspora in the Western Hemisphere, black women, identity and escapism.

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The Process

Writing has helped me to feel less anxious about sharing my own thoughts aloud. Traveling and performing taught and prepared me to show and express myself in front of crowds. But before this show, I never had to show my interpretation of a group of people before. It was a lot. I was extremely nervous to show people how I saw people. Especially black people from a place that I was not born into. In today’s social climate, identity politics make it hard to claim empathy or even knowledge of an experience if you aren’t born into it. But in stretching myself and sharing what I captured in my travels I proved my initial questions about being black in the Americas. Which was something to the effect of, this is what it’s like here, is it similar there? And the overwhelming response was, yes.

It was also weird to go through ALL OF MY PHOTOS. Like, I seriously got caught up in my own memories looking at images. It was about 6 years of photography to choose from. Eventually Joy had to step and take over curation. Something I was legit having panic attacks about but eventually saw that it was for the best. She did an amazing job.

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This show was the second attempt at an exhibition. And it was in preparing for a show that never happened that I learned the little that I knew about putting up an art show. Once I met with Waller Gallery I had a decent idea of what I wanted to do and what I wanted to convey. There was a lot I didn’t have though, like RAW printing files or money. But that’s water under the bridge now. What’s most important is that the struggle of putting up the show, made the results that much sweeter.

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The Events

The programming might have been my most favorite part of the entire experience. I got to do an artist talk moderated by Sheila Gaskins, who is a major influence in the art scene of Baltimore and also my mother. I think she finally understands that I was doing more than Ayahuasca in South America.

1.pngThere was the Black Femme Supremacy Film Festival which is taking on a life of it’s own, more about that in a post to come.  You can read about it here.

That film festival was a major game changer for me. As an aspiring filmmaker, hosting a film festival centered on black female film makers felt like…power. I loved planning every detail of that 2 day long event.  Special shoutout to the team, Hilda and Samah! I made so many great connections in two days that seem really promising, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed on the future of those relationships.

We also had an amazing panel discussion moderated by Tiffany Autrianna Ward of Cores Brilhantes about Drapetomania and Afro Latina Identity. Featuring Professor Jessica Marie Johnson Assistant Professor at Hopkins University, Nohora Arrieta Fer, Afro-Colombian Ph.D Candidate at Georgetown University and Aurora Jane Ellis, Afro Costa Rican Journalist and editor at The Huffington Post.  Catch the entire panel discussion below. That discussion felt like something I had been waiting to do for a long time. To connect with other black people and actually discuss our feelings about the realities and myths surrounding our shared culture was relieving and healing.  Dash Harris  a primary reference for me in this diaspora culture work was in attendance! I still can’t believe that happened.

 

The Response

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It’s been nothing but love honestly. I’m so humbled by the interest in the work and elated by the reception. I especially love this write up by Jhoni Jackson in BESE.com.

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I’m still reeling from the freedom of it all. Not only did I present photo work, but I dabbled in installation. And I can’t lie, it’s a great feeling. It’s fun and limitless and surreal, but that is also art making. And I feel like I can actually call myself an artist now.

The Future

Bringing my experience abroad back home to my city has left me feeling satisfied and complete. This isn’t to say that I won’t be traveling or relocating anytime soon, cause I’m nomadic, it’s just who I am, I’ve accepted it. But I am looking to find away to settle down (whatever that means for me). Moving forward we’re getting ready for the second Black Femme Supremacy Film Festival, so if you wanna be down, holla at ya girl!

Selected works will be on sale throughout the summer through the Waller Gallery online shop. 

And Waller Gallery will be tabling at the Brown Paper Zine and Small Press Fair in Harlem this weekend! Stop past the table and buy a print if you’re in New York between June 30th and July 1st.

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And the biggest announcement is that this will be my final blog post on WordPress as I’m taking my talents to Squarespace and working on getting my store up and running finally. My goal is to have a professional online store by the end of the summer, stocked with prints, and physical chap books. I think it’s a natural progression. Thank you for sticking with me through the inconsistent posting, silly writing and I hope you’ll stick with me on this wild and crazy ride.

thanks for reading and see you on the flip side.

“Drapetomania; The Strong Urge to Escape”

“This is not a mistake”, my mother said. And then she took my hand and prayed for me. I cried into my hands. Broke down ugly cry as if I were a toddler. These tears were full of joy and fear and relief in being able to come to my mother with these “good” problems.

I’m preparing to open my first solo show at Waller Gallery. It consists of photography and videos from my life in Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador. Making this show happen has been no easy feat. I’m learning so much about the medium of photography, about the business of art, about collaborating, about being vulnerable and being seen. 

Drapetomania was once a medical diagnosis used to explain why enslaved Africans ran away from the plantation. This was a racist and fabricated diagnosis of the human imperative to flee servitude. In her first solo exhibition, Nia Hampton shows the results of her own bout of “drapetomania” after graduating college and moving to Brazil. She captured the following on her journey through South America: environmental racism, African spiritual practices, femicide, black Brazilian feminism, haircut culture, and Love.

taken from WallerGallery.com.

When I took a leap of faith and left for Brazil, I didn’t know enough about what I was attempting to do to fear it. The tightness in my chest and butterflies in my stomach felt more like excitement. I didn’t think it would turn into a photography show opening, I really didn’t forsee this photo show creating a space to host “The Black Femme Supremacy Film Fest”a one day film festival highlighting black people of any nationality who identity with feminine gender expression.  Now, post adventures in South America, I’m starting a new chapter. Becoming an artist. A successful and confident one at that. Which means, this blog will change yet again. But I will always share my journey here, cause that’s what it’s all about!

 

“Black Bodies in Travel” on drumBOOTY radio

Last month I had the opportunity to catch up with Abdu Ali on his new podcast drumBOOTY radio on maskfm. It’s an incredibly insightful chat about my experiences in South America, most notably Brazil and Abdu’s time spent touring in Europe.

Click this link to access the podcast. 

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I’m teaching a class!

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This class is about exploring the personal, practical and political while traveling internationally in a Black Body. Specifically for black bodies traveling to black or “colonized” countries.

It’s essentially the study abroad preparedness workshop, I wish I had gotten.

In this class we will read and ponder on topics like colonialism. globalization, anti-blackness, class-ism and escapism.

The intention of this class is to get the student prepared for the specific blend of enlightenment that happens when a black person leaves the States in hope of communing with others like themselves.

Register for the course here.

VONA my VONA

I’m still pretty high from my week at VONA.

I feel like Celie after Shug Avery kissed her.

Who knew that writing about dystopia, environmental racism, immersion therapy, death and leeches that make you suicidal would make me so happy? Tananarive Due, our fearless leader knew, that’s who. I like to think of her as the Beyonce of Speculative Fiction. I know- I know, big shoes to fill. And if Tananarive is Beyonce, who is Octavia Butler?

OCTAVIA BUTLER IS GOD.

At least she is to me when it comes to this speculative fiction book writing thing. So Tananarive Due is Beyonce, aka Jesus. And me and my SPECCC FICCC (rocketship) group, well-we are the disciples. A ragtag group of queerish nerds who dream of worlds without whiteness, the male gaze and dragons, (except the occasional neccesary one). We loved on each other, made each other feel seen and ate really well together. I’ve never felt safer. And that’s saying a lot considering what the past 6 months have been like for me.

I spent most of June in California experiencing my own surreal reality as a nomadic black girl tryna make it home while traversing rapidly gentrifying terrains. I got called a nigger in Santa Jose and was pick pocketed in San Fran and oh wee it’s a jungle over there. The homeless population in LA are aggressively ignored and white people don’t make eye contact and I think most black people are in prison. At least, that’s how it felt to me, over there. So coming home to the East Coast and being at VONA with all it’s radical-ness really reset me in the best ways. I can’t stop telling all my creative friends about the community I found. I feel so in love with the people at my writing workshop. In my dreams we’re writing the next season of Black Mirror and working on the next major Marvel film. We’re publishing all the books and getting all the coins and changing the current reality one spec fic story at a time.

An Accidental Journey

Some journeys happen by accident.

I thought I was moving to Salvador. Like moving moving. I packed art to hang in my new place. Bought an inventory of vintage clothes to sell (because that would be my second hustle). Packed ALL the hair supplies. This time around I was going to really establish myself in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Teach english and sell clothes and continue to freelance. Pay my rent on my freelancing. Date a lot and travel and live my dreams. Make more videos! I even got a new credit card. It was a glorious 6 months in a place that is really a second home, but I came to find that the common expression about comfort and growth not being friends is true. As much I love Salvador, I found myself stagnate there. Unfocused. Barely getting my artistic endeavors done. Chasing the wrong people. Having too much fun. And so when the opportunity to go the Ecuadorian Amazon and help Bani Amor shoot some B roll travel footage for their documentary arose, I took it.

It came at a really interesting moment in my life too. I had recently gotten a reading done by my good friend Jasmine Cain, and some repressed sexual trauma came up. It put me in a bad place. A place that I’m still processing and will probably spend most of the year trying to writing about. Suddenly, a trip to Ecuador looked like an escape. For a long time traveling has been my primary method of self medicating. If I was feeling anxious or bored or even uncomfortable, I’d start planning a trip somewhere. A change of scenery always did the trick, until it didn’t. I spent most of January alone in my apartment, crying non stop and feeling worthless. Friends took care of me and helped wean of the small suicidal thoughts but I saw a trip to Ecuador as a potential life saver. In it’s own way it turned out to be just that. I drank ayahuasca in the Ecuadorian amazon with Teresa an indigenous healer and environmental activist who also dealt with sexual trauma in her own life. My decision to leave yet again, seemed like a step in the right direction.

From Ecuador I decided to go Colombia, as I heard of it’s high percentage of African descendant people. I was very close geographically to the country so I felt I had to see it. Cali, Colombia turned out to be harder for me. It’s really developed so I couldn’t rely on “magical” architecture to make feel like I was some place “foreign”. A lot of the Spanish I had before living in Brazil became Portuguese, so I was anxious about talking. On top of that I knew no one. In the past, I’d see it as a challenge to reinvent myself and dive fully into a new place. But I was and still am mentally exhausted. The trauma I’m holding is no longer suppressed. It’s actually on the tip of my tongue at all times. The deep realization that I can’t travel my trauma away emerged and cemented itself in Colombia.

Today, I’m getting on a bus that will take me to Quito, Ecuador and from there I’ll get on a plane and land in San Francisco, California by Wednesday afternoon. I’m in the last leg of my accidental journey. After a month on the West Coast dealing with the same problems that have followed me across continents I’ll make my way back to where they all started; home. And then the real adventure will begin.

 

 

 

How I “Empower Myself” to Travel

I recently published an Op-Ed with the Baltimore City Paper. It’s called “I’m From West Baltimore- I can literally live Anywhere.” The Baltimore City Paper was where I started my career as a freelance journalist about 3 years ago now. I wrote an Op-Ed about how it felt to write about the Baltimore Uprising from Brazil. I made $100 dollars, which at the time felt like a $1000. That’s because I was/ still perpetually broke. As a writer who travels (I’m starting to question if I’m a travel writer or just a writer that travels and will write about that at another time) I’m living a life that is hand to mouth. This term “Hand to Mouth” I straight up stole from a writing buddy/mentor Bani Amor. To me, it means when I make money I spend it just as fast. There is no saving or budgeting really, cause I usually know exactly how much I have in my bank account down the cent at all times. There a great gif. of a train with a magnetic crane, lifting the track it just went over and placing it in front of itself to go forward. Basically making it’s track up as it goes along. This also makes it impossible for the train to go backwards because that track it was just on, is now the same track it’s edging over. Because of the way the crane is set up, its reach is only but so long and this train ends up going in a circle. That’s me in a nutshell. That’s what I’ve been on since graduating college in 2015.

Someone asked me how I empower myself to travel. I get a lot of inquiries like this. How do I afford it? To be quite honest, I can’t afford it. I’m actually in debt. And not just student loan debt, no, no, I got my first credit card last summer. And all I’ll say about that is, thank God, I didn’t get one sooner. But I digress. My empowerment to travel is pretty simple, and I’l share it in a listcle below.

DISCLAIMER: This is MY experience, I’m not advising anyone to follow my lead. Results will truly vary.

1. I live with my mom.  

Yep. That’s the biggest way I’ve managed to travel. My mother claims me on her taxes and allows me to sleep in her home (when I’m in Baltimore) rent free. I help out when I can, but in honestly, I’m more emotionally supportive than financial. My mother is an artist herself and has always pushed me to explore. From sending me away to sleep away camps or conferences or even to stay at her friends place, my mother has always encouraged my wanderlust, sometimes even facilitating it. She’s my number source of empowerment. My family is the second major source of empowerment. If it weren’t for the support of my family, specifically my sister and my grandmother I would not be the well traveled writer that I am today. Also, friends! I have really great friends that take care of me and vice versa.

2. I’m from West Baltimore.

Not to be redundant, but read the article. Something I didn’t mention in that Op-Ed(the word count was 1000 words) was the 90’s campaign to “get out of the hood”. From books to TVs shows, growing up all I was taught was to grow up and GET OUT. I was smart (read: well behaved) so if I didn’t want to end up pregnant or underemployed, if I wanted to truly be “successful” I had to “make it out of the hood”. Many of my peers did this. And now we’re all considering moving back because gentrification has made Baltimore one of the last affordable places to live on the NorthEast. And growing up in a majority black city and then moving to a none majority black city can be…challenging.

3. I’m introverted and nosy at the same time.

I like to quietly mind my business, or quietly observe people. I listen like my life depends on it, cause usually it does. I meet a lot of people and end up living with them very quickly for weeks at a time, and so far I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a few tight situations and plenty of awkward moments but my need for solitude means I could live in a closet and be content. It also means people project a lot on to me. I’ve played therapist to many and enjoyed it honestly. As a writer these are moments I’d actually pay for. And to a certain extent I do, as a guest I usually pay rent to live with a stranger and over the course of a few days I not only learn about a new place, I also learn about them, and then I move on. Some places/people are harder to move on from others but luckily for me the introversion makes the emotional de-attachment easier.

4. I’m not hard to please.

I’m kinda lame and I’ve always been old. Last weekend I spent my Saturday night in the supermarket getting excited at the avaliabilty and low cost of Pringles and Aunt Jemimas pancake mix in Cali, Colombia. Most of my my fondest travel memories abroad have been cooking with friends or hanging out at a park or beach and trading stories. I’m not vacationing. I’m not chasing luxury abroad, (no shade, I just can’t afford it) if anything I’m looking for something that probably doesn’t even exist (but that’s another blog post for another day). In general, I do the same cheap things abroad that I’d do at home. Cook my food, read, write, take a dance class if I have time/money, be depressed, be anxious, sleep. Two months ago, I spent most of my time in Ecuador indoors reading books and it was a highlight of my year. When I’m at home and preparing for travel, I’m very frugal and saving up as much money as I can. I’m working ALL the jobs and hustling like crazy. I’m rarely indulging in brunch or clothes (all though as I get older this gets harder) And when I’m traveling? I’m hustling, selling stories, clothes, photos, teaching english and doing whatever I have to in order to survive.

5. I ain’t too proud to beg.

Growing up my friends would make fun of me for always asking for some of their food. It wasn’t like my mother didn’t feed me, but if they had something that I wanted I would always ask if they’d give it to me. I’m not ashamed to ask for what I want or need. I actually didn’t know this was a weird trait to have as a black women until I got to college and began reading about gender dynamics and race and learned that most people are used to black women providing and not the other way around. Thank God I never had to internalize that bullshit. There is an art to asking. One that as a community organizer I’ve mastered because I’ve always been in positions where I had to ask for what I needed.  Seriously, I stayed with a fellowship or scholarship in school. I’ve had quite a few successful funding campaigns online. As a matter of fact, I’m currently raising funds to pay for tuition to attend the VONA/Voices writing workshop this summer. Click here to read more and donate.  Being without makes me go after what I want and need, it also makes me a very giving person, because you can’t ask or receive with a closed fist.

So that’s about it. Aside from my blue passport which gives me privilege to go virtually anywhere, these are the things that empower me to travel.

thanks for reading.