The Secret

This photo was taken at the March Against Religious Intolerance in Salvador de Bahia in 2014. I titled it, “The Secret” because at first glance it looks like a celebration of Christ. Hence the bold red letters over the church, “Jesus Cristo E O Senhor”. But if you really know what’s up, this photo is a misnomer. The people in white are practitioners of African Spiritual practices or supporters of peoples rights to practice whatever religion they’d like. Candomble and Umbanda are the more dominant Traditional African Spiritual Practices in Brazil, but this walk was about religious tolerance for all peoples.

Far too often its’ people of color, specifically black people who are persecuted for practicing the religion of their ancestors. Especially in the Diaspora, Traditional African Religion and it’s offspring ( Vodun, Candomble, Lucumi, and Yoruba) are seen as “evil” “dark” and “black”. Ain’t it funny how these same words are used to physically describe black folks? And yet, so much of what these religions stand for and teach us are then white washed and commodified by the descendants of those who persecuted Africans for practicing in the first place.

My hot take is that, this spiritual shit really works. That’s why it’s kept hidden. That’s why we’ve been made to fear our own power, because it’s potent. Just research the Haitian revolution. I’ve been attracted to Traditional African Religions since I could remember. Being raised in the black arts community meant interacting with people who practiced all types of religions. As I got older I realized how natural and practical Traditional African Religions really are. From ancestral worship to respect for the physical earth, to even using the spoken word as manifestation I feel that this path is something I’ve been practicing for a while without knowing it. Although my family is deeply Christian and I was raised in the Methodist church I still research Traditional African Religion and try and incorporate what I can in my life as I wait patiently for a teachers to appear.

What has happened in my life as I wait and research on my own feels like a strong foundation. Ever since I was young and my mom encouraged me to write, not to published or for other people, but to release and remember, I’ve been manifesting the life I’m living and the life I want to life. From my initial move to Brazil to the new apartment I just moved into, to the timing of artistic opportunities, sitting with my desires, writing them down and then presenting them to my ancestors for approval has served in my best interest.  The secret is, this spiritual shit really works.

A few weeks ago I went to an Anti Blackness in the American Metropolis Seminar . 

It was as insightful as you’d think it would be. Organizers, scholars and journalists convened for two days in Baltimore and confirmed what I knew to be true growing up in an urban city. America is built on the backs on black lives and continues to profit from us. Urban poverty is/was a tool to “fuel and grow” the economy and it is literally more expensive to live in a majority black city. There was so much to ingest but what has been sticking to my ribs more than anything was something Dr. Ashante M. Reese said about self sufficiency as collective empowerment. As I heard it, she seemed to be saying that when a black person practices self sufficiency; ,meaning not waiting for the city to do it’s job; starting a community garden; picking up the trash and disposing of it properly; they are practicing self sufficiency. Which quickly turns into a collective experience. And this is something that improves the qualify of life for everyone around them.

Contrary to the way self sufficiency and self determination was theorized as individualism during the enlightenment period and then practiced by white men (to the detriment of the literal world) when practiced by black folks it becomes a means to collective empowerment. (I see you Kujichagulia.) Anyway, I’ve taken that to heart and been sitting with the vulnerability that comes with envisioning collective empowerment. Because what if I take that scary step of becoming self sufficient and determined and fail? It is then I remember the legacy of Zumbi dos Palmares who fought tirelessly to free himself and subsequently others and won.  He – they- did the work and won.  I’m keeping that same energy as my pitches to large news desks get rejected and remembering I built my own platform for a reason. Ya’ll goin get this work no matter the medium or website.

This post is a rededication to myself as I am building my own and continuing to sustain my own as a means of collective empowerment in the legacy of Zumbi dos Palmares.

In the words of Octavia Butler, so be it, see to it.

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.