Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reflections on Rhode Island Writers' Colony

Brook Stephenson, Jason Reynolds
 and Lesley-AnnBrown
john & mary's garden

Well, I'm all done with the Rhode Island Writers' Colony, or should I say I've just started? I had an amazing and productive two weeks there. I met some pretty intelligent and creative souls. There was Brook Stephenson, co-founder of the  Colony and his constant, unwavering optimism and encouragement.  Jason Reynolds who is an old soul-definitely doing his work to heal the world through the power of STORY and discovering his book When I was the Greatest, which I read and can't wait to pass on to my son. There was Charles Vincent Burwell whose quiet strength and enthusiasm for life (not to mention multi-talent) was inspiring to be around. Then there was John, Brook's gregarious and witty big brother (Pirate Buddha Master Storyteller anyone?) and also co-founder of the Rhode Island Writers' Colony, who also bemoaned the fact that the Humanities as a subject has been attacked, and astutely recognizing that it is related to the general degradation of "education". Interesting indeed, given that Denmark has recently chosen to do the same. Then there is his fiancé Mary, who is definitely the dot to John's "i" and their two cats, Six and Seven, who were by all stretches of the word Humungous! There was the community of Warren, Rhode Island where  some warm smiles and hellos let us know that we were welcome.  The artists' dinner where we met Allison Newsome and her dynamic kids, Owen and Arden Morris, two incredibly talented kids. There was the run-in with the guy in the pick-up truck who , as he was explaining what he had just done (helping move a friend's son) inadvertently came to use the word "segregate", and how he looked at us a beet red, and was like, no, that's not the word I meant, and how that kept us laughing for days, a knee-slapping kind of laugh.  There was meeting Todd Hunter, whose professional feedback was invaluable to my rewrite. There was Angelo, who upon reading Jason's book, decided on the spot that he was going to name his two turkeys (lol) after two of the characters from When I Was the Greatest, Needles and Noodles. There was the local knitting shop where I bought yarn to knit a baby blanket for a dear friend who has just given birth . There's the conversation I overheard at this local knitting store Bella Yarns from retired Rhode Islanders who spoke about quahogs and the best places to get them, and the fact that you had to watch out on the bike lanes, "because of all the kids doing pot!" There was the car drive from Upstate New York with Rene, to Rhode Island, and the stop we made at the mall, somewhere in the great old U.S. of A. and realizing yet again, how racially segregated the States is, after all these years and history.  It was being able to have conversations that ran from Grenache wine to childhood, to books and writers. It was about being able to talk about dreams and how we are realizing them. I'll be home back in Copenhagen soon, and I must say, this adventure was certainly worth ever millisecond spent there.
And then there is  Copenhagen -- which was but a draft of a book when I got there, but double the size and content by the time I left. So, one step at a time...and

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Images from The Rhode Island's Writers Colony

allison newsome's lion @ her studio
The past two weeks have offered a plethora of experiences and the opportunity to meet up and connect with some fantastic folks. All I could say for the past couple of weeks was, "Rhode Island? Who'd a-thunk it?"Aside from having time and an incredible town and space to write in, there were the people - from Brook Stephenson co-founder of The Rhode Island Writers Colony, his brother John (the other founder) who is like a walking Encyclopedia with the soul of a pirate, his partner Marie whose hospitality is much appreciated, to Jason Reynolds writer extraordinaire, Malundo Jones and Charles Vincent Burwell of the Clever Agency.  The host of characters include many citizens of Warren, Rhode Island who went out of their way to make us feel welcome. There was Angelo who frequented the local coffee shop everyday, to staff of the Coffee Depot. There was also the day Brook and I went over to Alisson Newsome's studio, here are some of the images from that adventure:
by allison newsome

an artist's space

nature meets nurture in the work of allison new some

another allison new some piece in john's garden

love this pic of brook, john & jason 

ms. rene gearing up for the drive from upstate to rhode island
photo courtesy rene

me & angelo with the feather from "noodles"
photo courtesy of brook stephenson 

a window at john's

lots a trees to check out..

brook's cooking is what's up! photo courtesy brook stephenson

reading & knitting! Jason Reynolds & lab photo courtesy of brook stephenson

the rhode island writers' colony abode

the clever agency w molaundo jones, charles vincent burwell and
brook stephenson, founder of rhode island writers colony

the welcome table
Brook, Charles and I are slowly getting ready to make our way back to the big apple.

the lab

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Images from Warren

Me, Jason & John the Mayor of Warren (picture courtesy of Jason Reynolds)

a squash grows on the sidewalk

can you beat this visual pun? 

my future car 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rhode Island Writer's Colony

two of the coolest brothers this sister had the opportunity to work, talk and geek with. 

and from the heavens? a bird's nest came tumbling down from the tree...

right down the street there is 160 year old tree. the small ones are her babies...

every one needs support. bless the human who so lovingly propped up this limb with this 

from mars to home & 3 very cool, inspiring, progressive brothers...

geeking out on cars, books and dr. who

special thanks to alison & kids for a true new england evening

brook's bistro is not only nurturing for the stomach, but for the soul! 

preparing an artist's dinner

tomatoes from the garden.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A Vida são dois dias

in rene's garden...

Recently, my friend Sara from Portugal shared the above expression with me. It means, she said, that "Life is two days." I like that concept, and in that spirit, I'll break down the last two days of my life:

First of all, I'm on my way to Rhode Island to write at the very first Rhode Island Writer's Colony, spearheaded by Brook Stephens of Clever Agency. Together with the fabulous Jason Reynolds,  this will the kick-off event of this writing colony.

Okay, maybe I'll cover more than 2 days.

kai back in the day.
Mom & Reggie holding it down together in Brooklyn
for 17 years!
Mom has actually been in New York 44 years now! 
Thursday : I fly out of Copenhagen to Dusseldorf, Germany. The connection on paper seems effortless. The delay ends up being tantamount to a workday.  AirBerlin compensates us however, for the 4 hour delay. We get 5 Euros! (I know).  The highlight is my son asking, "Can I take you to the airport?", which in Copenhagen is about a 15 minute metro ride. I have to admit that when it comes to my son, I'm getting a bit nostalgic lately.  All of a sudden this kid sprouted and is now even taller than both his father and me.  His feet seems twice my size. Where did my baby go? I know, I know - but to all of you out there with little ones ENJOY IT. It goes really fast.  My mother is, as always, at the airport to meet me despite this delay.  The last time I flew into New York was in February. It was a snowstorm.  My mother still came and met me at the airport.  In true Trini country-bookie style (I LOVE IT!) my mother brings me a roti. Thank you mommy.

We take the train back to Brooklyn. The movement of the train lulls me into a state of time-travel : it is as though I'd never left.

In the taxi from Jay Street Borough hall, we begin to talk to the taxi driver.  We exchange backgrounds. His family hails from Pakistan, but like me, he was born in Brooklyn.
Lately, I've been thinking about the concept of immigrant vs. expat. My parents were immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago. I am an expat living in Copenhagen from Brooklyn/Trinidad. Human journeys can be complex.

Next stop: The illustrious Marie D. Brown.  As I push open the front door, I am greeted by the calm and creative atmosphere of Marie's home.  There's art adorning the walls, the nameless, crazy cat sleeping atop a chair in the front parlor,  and the smell of frankincense wafts to my soul.  Yes. I am blessed.

ed bradly, marie & cronchite

154th street.
I make my way upstairs to the third floor and enter the apartment I stayed in the  last time.  The room looks exactly like I left it four months ago...except that Clemenza Hawkings has also been there.  This I can tell from the art supplies neatly placed around the room, colorful summer dresses and bags of books. A place for women to work, write. This is what Marie offers.

I have always loved the decor of Marie's house. It is chock-full of reminders in LOVE - whether it be the pictures of friends, colleagues and family that are proudly displayed around the walls and bookcases, hundreds, maybe thousands of books that include classics, first prints, and all the books Marie has had a hand in birthing into this world, the African art, knick-knacks from world travel and adventures.  This house is a universe of culture, love for who we are, who we have been and who we will be as a people, of really exercising what Marie always reminds all of us is the secret to our continuation: Reciprocity.

muki, marie's daughter,
having her own party with the official party's starters
before the event. i love this photo.
 While in Harlem, I run a few errands on 145th Street and enjoy the walk to and fro.  I enjoy the friendly hellos from the folks in the streets, and the unseasonably hot weather. It's been too long since I've summered in NYC and as a child growing up in Brooklyn, summer in NYC has been imprinted on my genetic coding.  Reared in front of buidlings, on concrete, jumping double-dutch, playing RCK (Run, catch and kiss), the smell of sun on concrete opens up a portal of memories that I am unable to visit now.  But it fills me with happiness: I have so much to write.

 Marie and I catch up a bit before I head to Port Authority to take the bus to Kingston, NY.  I'm to meet my friend Rene - business woman extraordinaire-now-turned-bush-woman.  Rene has escaped to the woods - okay, not quite, yet. But she's found herself a home in Upstate New York, with the woods right behind her, creaks going through her backyard and guniea hens hanging out on her property.

We were supposed to take off on our road trip to Rhode Island yesterday, but alas! Car trouble! But, I'm taking it all in stride...I'll get there and history will happen. I am so looking forward to sharing this space for creatives such as myself - and to have a stretch of uninterrupted time to do the touches on my work that must be done.

the river right down the road from rene's

A special thanks to my mother, Beryl Brown Balbirsingh, brother, Gerard Balbirsingh, Rayner Ramirez, Brook Stephenson, Rene Hendricks & Marie D. Brown.

the lab

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rhode Island Writers Colony: A Space to Write

the rhode island writer's colony is the brainchild of writer brook stephenson

I'm happy to report that I've been awarded a residency at Rhode Island Writers Colony - 10 days to work on my book in an environment with other writers. The other writers include Brook Stephenson, whom you should have met by now and Jason Reynolds 

Here's a little about Brook:
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, I began people watching at an early age. First my parents showed me who they were, next the extended family, friends and on to my peers. One geographc place, one set of observations. Time to leave the small town/big city. Architecture and design were my interests not necessarily fine art nor creative writing.

Matriculating at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia I made new observations, gained new friends, interacted with more family and discovered as much as I enjoy photography, filmmaking and visual art, writing is where my main focus lies. I found a passion and pursued it mainly through a short fiction column for a weekly paper. Is it coincidence I started writing for the paper six months after I wrote my first piece of prose or that it opened the door to the entertainment industry and the possibilities therein?

Moving to New York City the process expanded. Getting a passport turned the view panoramic.  What did I see? The human condition five times over from the Americas to Europe to the Caribbean. What sort of stories do I tell? Good juicy rich ones about characters that remind you of people you know or experiences you’ve had-some are written others are multimedia.

& Jason:

Jason Reynolds is the author of several collections of poetry, including, Self, and the co-authored, My Name is Jason. Mine Too. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Reynolds has traveled the country, sharing stages with legends like Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and the late Amiri Baraka. Recently, Reynolds celebrated the release of his debut novel, When I Was the Greatest (Simon & Schuster) garnering rave reviews from KirkusPublisher’s WeeklySchool Library Journal,Book Page, and Hornbook. His    upcoming novel, The Boy in the Black Suit, hits stores January 2015. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.  He will be at work on My Mothers House, the story of James, a young man growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, who finds out that his mother isn’t actually his mother and goes to meet her for the first time at her house for dinner. Find out more about him at and

Monday, August 25, 2014

Garon Peterson

garon and i talked all things spiritual & cultural. 

Garon is one of my guardian angels. I met him years, years ago when I used to work with Danny Simmons, the visual artist, on OneWorld magazine.  Garon's an artist, among many other talents, and I knew our friendship was sealed when on my first trip to Amsterdam, who do I bump into there, all the way from Brooklyn? Yup, Mr. Garon. And it only gets better - he goes on to give me and my friend free passes to that year's Cannibus Cup.  I'll never forget having the opportunity to hear & see Rita Marley in the flesh, and that year's winner's speech, "I would like to thank all of you who smoke pot and work!"
Anyway, that was ages and lifetimes ago, but when I was heading to New York on this last trip, I knew without an iota of a doubt that I wanted to see Garon- he's good people and always inspires the best from me.
Luckily for me, I got to spend some quality time with Garon, where we were able to talk African history, ideas and spirituality.  I had the opportunity to stay in Bedstuy at his place, and hey, sleeping in Brooklyn is always, always, always a welcome treat.
Shout out to Garon - thanks for making my trip to New York so special. You were an amazing teacher/mentor/friend!

the lab 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Talking with Rene

little house on the hill

One of the many highlights I experienced while in New York was being able to visit my old friend Rene' - who now owns the Juicy Lucy Juice bar, of which the Village Voice blog on May 20, 2013, had this to say: 

Juicy Lucy

A longtime East Village stalwart with tiny shops -- more like shacks -- in two locations, Juicy Lucy offers drinks that are equal parts tropical and free love. Usher in spring with a fresh-pressed greens blend or pick up a bottle of "Basic C," a reddish-hued mix containing carrot, orange, and "a ray of sunshine." Chase it with a shot of wheatgrass and lament the loss of the neighborhood's authentic charms. 85 Ave. A 212-777-5829.

Besides being an entrepreneur, Rene' made a move out to the countryside, not too far from the city but far enough- where she has guinea hens, the forest right outside her door and trickling creaks in the backyard. I spent time in this oasis - & last night, we were able to catch up since my return to DK. 
entrepreneur & free woman extraordinaire Rene' along with the fugitive
artist Preach R Sun  during our creative winter excursion,
not too far from woodstock.

I first met Rene' back when I was in college, when she first moved to NYC. She and I had mutual friends, and one of the things I remember really liking about her was her free spirit and courage to do what it seems she wants to do.  Of Cuban ancestry and raised in Alaska, Rene' has traveled the world and her tenacity and fierce sense of justice are certainly two traits I have always appreciated about her. 

The other day I spoke to an old friend of mine whose book is about to be published by a major publisher in January.  We both freelanced in NYC at around the same time, and it was always as writers we looked upon each other -thus the strength of our alliance.  Two writers are usually synonymous with two readers, so when we do talk it is usually about all things literature. 

"Why don't you have a book deal, Lesley? You've been writing novels since back in the day. And you're one of the best." He reminds me, because let me tell you, I do need reminding.  We discuss my strategy and move on to other, more interesting things, such as being an expat. "Man", he says, "I checked out this hotel room Baldwin stayed in London, and it was small."
"Yeah", I reply, "he really did it. He really followed his art. If it was about money, Baldwin wouldn't have written." 

"Being an expat sucks." He concedes. He's a Harvard graduate, from Brooklyn with Haitian roots. 
"Being an expat is overrated." I concur. 

"It's like you can come to Europe, but just don't ask for a job."  Again, he is a Harvard graduate. 

I bring these moments up because it reminds me, lest I forget of the sacrifice that is involved in pursuing your art. In a world where success is measured by many by the amount of your pay check, and where being a starving artist is at best scoffed at, I take this moment to salute my friends and family who understand and support, even if it's an email, a text message, a comment letting me know that they are there - thank you. 

the lab

Nature is Nurture

sakskøbing, 2014
Laika the cat, 2014
Luckily for me when I need to get out of the city, I get to go to a beautiful organic farm a couple of hours outside of Copenhagen. Recently I took such a trip and had the blessing of eating freshly dug carrots, freshly picked squash, onions and so much other stuff it makes me happy to just type about it.    While there, I saw Laika, the cat. Laika used to belong to my friend Ida, but her brother was extremely allergic to cats. I asked the folks down at the farm if they wanted a cat, and without an ounce of hesitancy Hanne gushed a yes! It's been about 8 months since we dropped her off there, and I haven't seen her since. I had the fortune of spending time with Laika, so I knew that she would enjoy every acre of that farm with its ducks, Hungarian pigs and chickens.  I was right. I was told that she rarely ever enters the house - but that on the day of my arrival, she was around a bit more than usual. As if she was expecting me.  When I did finally see her and was able to pet her, she crawled up on me with such delight, purring so deeply, that there was no doubt that she was happy to see me.  That night she found my room in the other house, and slept with me the entire night. It was an amazing trip out of the city to fortify my soul.  A big thanks to Hanna, Simon, Mark, Erik and the rest of the family for being such great hosts!

Since I've been back from New York, I've been hanging out at Belle du Jour - my friend Stine's shop in the colorful neighborhood of Nørrebro.  Stine has this incredible ability of collecting amazing people at her shop & it's been a wonderful way for me to transition back into life in Copenhagen. Her shop is a collection of second clothes, items from India, jewelry and shoes.  Some of the proceeds go to A School for Life - an organization dedicated to educating disabled children who belong to the caste below the untouchables (I didn't know there was such a thing! I also learned recently that it was the British who corrupted this system, although I have yet to look into this claim). When there, I  often get to see Vivi - who is half-Trinidadian, and Floppy - the rabbit that runs around the shop, pavement and backyard free.  Everyone falls in love with Floppy and the feeling he inspires in everyone from just hopping around calmly is truly transformative. A big thanks to Stine and all the work she accomplishes in her shop - namely that of not only bringing folks together, but of making people feel valued.
Speaking of making people feel valued, I really must send a special thanks to my mentor Marie D. Brown whose presence in my life is greatly valued.  In the confusion of life it's really important to have people you trust and that you believe have your back. It's important to know that there are people who value your work, and in my case, my writing. Marie has been supporting my work since the very first day I met her, back in 1994. I stayed on and worked with her for 4 years and through this experience was privy to some incredible life stories, people and experiences, all of which contribute to the person I am today. So this is a special thanks to you! Your insistence on the continuation of the tradition of reciprocity is a necessary strategy in addressing the issues that confront so many of us everyday. Thank you.

There are many out there in the world right now who I know are feeling the dis-ease of the realities that surround us.  We must foster and demand lives where integrity is involved.  We are not perfect, but this is why it is of paramount importance that we surround ourselves with people who first and foremost love unconditionally and secondly, challenge us to become better people, not abandon us out of disinterest or false ideas of normality.  We have to come together, and resist petty differences and suspicions that have been planted to keep us apart.  The world is hurting, we are hurting.  The first step is understanding that it's not about our intellects (brains) and it's not all about our emotions (heart/stomach) but about that ongoing cycle of breath that starts shortly after birth and ends when we transition. That is the one thing we all have in common and that is in actuality, eternal. This is the breath of life and it is what our ancestors insisted we master.

Enjoy your sunday,

Spiritual Revolutions in Denmark (or Why we smile at Each other.)

audience listening intently at BE:BOP 2014: Spiritual Revolutions and the Scramble for Africa in Copehagen, Denmark this summer. 
Once when my child was very young, he asked me, "Mommy, why do Black people smile at each other?" It was a fitting enough observation: Whenever he took a walk with me and we came upon another Black person, a smile would/is most often exchanged.  Intuitively, I knew the smiles were of recognition, not only of our presence here which, especially back then, was few and far between.
When you look into the annals of history - when you seek further than the textbooks and narratives insisted upon by the status quo - you learn a lot about your own history. You learn that your history has been buried so that another history could grow up from it, flower from it and in the end, take all the credit (or sun, if we are to continue with this analogy).
Founder and curator of BE.BOP. BLACK EUROPE BODY POLITICS,
Alanna Lockward & Robbie Shilliam, conjuring the Jamaican ancestors. 
One of my contemplations of late has been the connection/dis/connection between me and my ancestry. Identity has always played an integral role in my life through the virtue of my skin color.  In Trinidad, class and social status depended much on this, and there were, for sure anomalies. In fact, on Trinidad, due to its particular history, it is not unusual to meet someone who sports a Chinese surname with brown skin and hair that screams of Africa, or in my family's case, a cacophony of skin tones under a very Sikh name although again, none of us can claim we come solely from India and our family for all intents and purposes, claimed Catholicism (or perhaps Catholicism claimed them?).  I've always been fascinated by the way we choose to identify ourselves - intuiting early that of all the various ancestries I have coursing through me - East Indian (From Punjab, perhaps?), Unknown Africa (slavery & independent travels throughout the so-called "new world" ), Corsica (Colonial class), Portuguese - it was the African that I could and would claim most as this is what has always and still claims me most.  And when I say African, I mean those of us who have scattered far from the continent, representing through our skin our tenacity for survival and of spirit and through our very existence assure our ancestors that they are still here amongst us.
Moving to Europe has only opened up my awareness of how far we as a people travel.  It seems that wherever I travel in the world - from the Canary Islands to Southern Europe, from Sweden to Amsterdam - we are there.  We are here, like others, for many various reasons but most importantly, if you look through the holes in history, you will learn that we have always been here. There. Everywhere. Human beings, no matter what ancestry, are usually more intrepid than we are lead to believe. We often travel, migrate, in search of opportunity, novelty, or even Wisdom.  Some of us are tickled by the energy of landing in a  new place, forging new relations, and stepping on ground that have never before stepped upon the road it steps upon now. I suspect that patterns of migration have perhaps risen not only due to economic need, but more so due to the fact that our population has grown. Again, I can't shake this strong belief that some of us, no matter where we come from, are born to travel.
But although we are everywhere, there is, I am afraid, a pervading, steady ignorance of our humanity as a people, which stems from a lack of understanding of history.  You see this mostly in the media, where unfortunately Hollywood and other American media taught the world how to really buffoon us, demoralize us, to the point where one can argue, America's racism was exported to other countries and cultures via their televisions. One of my realizations lately is how the system of European supremacy permeates mostly every facet of our existence. So much so that the only god my family had to offer me was one that reflected them. Not us.
Denmark, like so many other European nations who gained wealth through the plundering of the so-called new-world and slavery, devotes about 2 pages in their school textbooks to the subject of slavery (although their participation in what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands in plantation life, including the trappings of African slavery spanned hundreds of years) but over 10 pages on World War II. To be fair, World War II is not only much more recent (most elderly Danes can still remember) but Denmark was also occupied by the Germans during this period. It was something that definitely effected them more personally in more recent history.
Denmark is a wealthy country.  Her populace is wild about collecting money for Africa. Yet no one asks where this wealth has come from. Many will tell you it's from the Marshall Plan, and I tell you to look into this and you will begin to understand why Denmark seems so tied to American politics and finances.
But not really explaining to the populace how wealth is generated has never really been the business of schools and states. The point is, however, that the tacit acceptance of many of the assumption of European supremacy is staggering.  This from even the most well-meaning of people, this even from people of color ourselves.  Whether it's so-called progressive colored folk from the Caribbean or even folks coming from Africa, the phrase I'm not Black says more about the person's knowledge of their own history and the results of years of social conditioning to disempower us. The psychological and social consequences of this is certainly indicative of the level of discomfort many still feel around discussing race.
It's been a frustrating tenure here in Denmark. I have met some of the most well-meaning of people, only to have them turn a beet-red from anger face towards me and accuse me of being a racist simply because I suggested that Africa's history and sense of identity was systematically suppressed by Imperialism.

When human beings learn our history, the world will be a better place, to paraphrase the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Jeannette Ehlers, Guest-Curator of BE.BOP 2014. SPIRITUAL REVOLUTIONS AND "THE "SCRAMBLE FOR AFRICA, with Héctor Aristizábal,  & Robbie Shilliam.
I returned from my 3 month sojourn in New York to something to placate my nerves in the happiest country in the world:  'Spiritual Revolutions & "The Scramble for Africa" - BE.BOP 2014 (Black Europe Body Politics).  Curated by the vibrant Alanna Lockward & daring Jeannette Ehlers this unique gathering of African Diasporic  artists managed to knit a tapestry as wide, inspiring and varied as our people.  For many of you who may not be familiar with the term "Diaspora" it simply means 'a dispersion of people from their original homeland' If you think about people of African descent, well, there is a particular history connected to this, namely slavery. Slavery however, was not the only means our ancestors were dispersed throughout the world. Many, like so many others in the spectrum of our humanity's past/present/future - travelled seeking a better life, or hey, traveled just for the adventure of it.  Some of us didn't appear to travel at all- we appear to have been there all along. Check out stories of African's historical presence and influence everywhere from Europe to as far as China.  The best, in my and many other's humble opinion, is of course the work of Dr. John Henrik Clarke.

Spiritual Revolutions & "The Scramble for Africa" - BE.BOP 2014 (Black Europe Body Politics) was a cultural life-saver tossed in my veritable cultural sea of despair.  A four-day affair, full of polemics, creativity, scholarship and art, this potentially radical forum mostly took place in  Nikolaj Kunsthal - a former church now turned art exhibition space. While in New York  I met up with a no-holds barred Performance artist whom I will write more about later. One of the discussions we had was the role of art and Black liberation.  One of the questions we asked was, what does it really mean to exhibit your work in the halls of the elite? That these performances happened within a building that symbolizes the religion of colonialism, certainly did tickle my sense of poetic justice.   One of the highlights was witnessing Jeanette Ehler's profound exhibition on Denmark's bitter past of Sugar and Slavery. Here is a performance of her piece "Whip It Good" last spring:

One of the locations in which Jeannette Ehler's performed her piece Whip It Good was an old building in Christianshavn, a quaint little Amsterdam-like neighborhood whose exquisite architecture was mostly funded by, well- dead Black people.  

Alanna Lockward and Simmy Dullay online from South Africa during the panel
Is “Neo”-Afrophobia a Scandinavian Syndrome? Re-visiting Nordic Exceptionalism.

Jeannette Ehlers have managed to do what I haven't witnessed many artists of color (including myself) managing to do: she got Denmark to listen. Her exhibition Say It Loud fortunately not only created much press (thus educating many on this particular issue) but also brought together many and created a space to discuss these issues.  Her gentle demeanor and graciousness is certainly channeled in her work and I look forward to following her career and supporting her work as much as I can, both here and abroad.

Alanna Lockward was a pleasure to meet.  Her positivity, respect and passion for ensuring the continuation of our presence makes this all possible. If you want to see what incredible work she is doing, check out Art Labour Archives for a taste of the truly radical work she is midwifing into this world.  Love is her foundation, and I encourage you to read her own words here Many Rivers to Cross.
Other performances and artists I had the privilege of meeting was Teresa Maria Diaz Nerco.  In Ni 'Mamita' Ni 'Mulatita'  Diaz Nerco creates a space that invites all present into a world of cultures rolled together and reminds us of the way in which ancestry reaches out from the past affecting our presence.  From the Dominican Republic, her work revolves around identity and representation and how that particularly plays out in not only her world, but those who also spring forth from this foundation.  From a flimsy bed sheet hanging from the ceiling images of a Dominican classic movie play out a story that reminds us of the inconsistency of wild colored women.  And the inconsistencies of brown/blackface, or not even being represented by ourselves. Around this flimsy bedsheet (perhaps symbolizing the ethereal material ideas/concepts/assumptions are made of) Diaz Nerco  moves that remind us not only of her African ancestry, but of her European as well. Her timid, sometimes playful, sometimes bold movements tell of that cultural insecurity that many of us throughout the Diaspora, perhaps feel when inhabiting multiple worlds.  

Patricia Kærsenhout

Patricia Kærsenhout is the one who stitches our stories back together again.  
Her Stitches of Power. Stitches of Sorrow is a profound act of keeping the past alive. Quietly sitting in a Copenhagen church which serves as an exhibition space, visitors were asked to dip our fingers into a bowl of water (brought back memories of going to church in Trinidad with my grandmother!) before entering what felt like a very solemn affair.  And it was.  Sitting on a chair and assuming the position of so many women (and men) who came before us and hopefully will continue onto the future, she not only invited us into the calm world of watching her stitch, but we were invited to do so as well. In the meantime, Angela Davis' revolutionary voice could be heard in the background while images of the artist herself were projected unto the floor revealing our modern Harriet Tubman.  I loved every second of this exhibition. 

Quincy Gario mapping his ancestry
Quinsy Gario's A Village Called Gario, 2014 performance took place also at Nikolaj Kunsthal. According to Wikipedia,
Gario is an activist in the movement against Zwarte Piet, as well as a performance artist. He was born in Curaçao and was raised in St Maarten before moving to the Netherlands. Gario created the project Zwarte Piet is Racisme (Black Pete is Racism) about Zwarte Piet. In 2011 he was arrested for public disturbance at the traditional annual Sinterklaas festival where he was protesting against the use of Zwarte Piet.[4][5] He appeared on a national television talk show in 2013 "to make his case" which was part of a series of events in October that The Economist says "polaris[ed] cultural life and dragging in celebrities, politicians, and even the UN" and "changed Zwarte Piet. For many, even if a year ago he was not a symbol of Dutch racism, he is now." 

Gario's work was a performance piece that illustrated not only how one can trace the footsteps of one's ancestry across the globe - but the connectivity between colonialism, economic circumstances, limits and possibilities.  Using black tape to fashion a world map on the floor, Gario encouraged his audience members to make paper planes that would sail over this landscape.  He proceeded to use white string, to make all of the geographic connections, to retrace his ancestral footsteps that again give witness to our intrepid spirit and endeavors. 

Héctor Aristizábal's, Nightwind is a powerful performance piece documenting the experience of being taken as a political prisoner in Columbia.  His performance brought home the tyranny of what too many have gone through and will continue to go through, in the name of politics.  Using a spartan stage, Héctor Aristizábal transformed his space (a small wood paneled room upstairs in the church) into a visual reenactment of what it meant to be arrested in Columbia for one's political affiliations.

It was also a pleasure to meet the talented Anika Gibbons whose documentary entitled Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology and Womanist Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, gave me goosebumps while watching.  Her work truly inspires and showcases the stuff greatness is made of:

I also appreciated immensely the opportunity to view The Stuart Hall Project.

Charol Oquet & Sasha Huber
I met some incredible artists & thinkers such as Walter Mignolo, Robbie Shilliam, Anne Ring Petersen, Sasha HuberCharo Oquet, Mette Moestrup & Mathias Danbolt (whose presentation can be viewed below) to name a few. All of whom are creating incredible work in their respective fields, ensuring that our presence is accounted for into the future.

The panels and roundtable discussions were all immensely intriguing, relevant and spirited. Panels and talks bore names such as Walter Mignolo's commencement address Say it Loud!: Re-Existences, Re-Surgences and Re-Emergences at the University of Copenhagen; Sister Womanist: on Decoloniality and Black Theology of Liberation featuring Anika Gibbons, Alanna Lockward, Rolando Vázquez, moderated by Walter Mignolo; Spiritual Revolutions and Pan-Africanism: Black Bullets, Blakaman and the Ethiopian Crisis of 1940 featuring Jeannette Ehlers, Gillion Grantsaan, Adler Guerrier, Robbie Shilliam and moderated by Quinsy Gario; A Journey Without Distance: Situating Diasporic Meanings featuring Anne Ring Petersen, Lesley-Ann Brown and moderated by Patricia Kaersenhout;  Migrating Spirits. Re-existence in Havana, London and everywhere in between, Jane Thorburn, Yoel Díaz Vázquez, Temi Odumosu; Healing the Dual Wound: Saint Domingue Diaspora Sibyls in the Continent of Black Consciousness featuring Sasha Huber, Charo Oquet, Teresa María Díaz Nerio; Amazones Shooting Back: Revisiting Dutch Colonial Amnesia featuring Patricia Kaersenhout, Artwell Cain, Quinsy Gario Is “Neo”-Afrophobia a Scandinavian Syndrome? Re-visiting Nordic Exceptionalism. Mathias Danbolt, Simmi Dullay, Mette Moestrup, Kuratorisk Aktion.
I would like to especially thank Jeannette Ehlers and Alanna Lockwood for making this project possible and for extending the invitation with much warmth and belief in my work.  

This event was held May 15-18, 2014. 


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