An Artist Examen
Critical Imagination and Reflection of a Southern-Based Artist; Facebook Post Turned Deep Analysis
In a dream, the photography concept #TrustBlackWomen came to me (which is how most of my art projects begin…in a dream). On the heels of landmark elections for women of color around our country, marveling at my own mothers strength — her survival, during my sister-in-laws pregnancy, hearing the story of another sister-in-laws birth experience, imagining God as a black woman and in deep meditation on the divine presence of black women in my community, an exhibition to celebrate black womanhood was conceived. What simply came to mind is, black women will save the world.
The remakably spiritual phenom of black women is the signified antecdote of survival for our country; most black people understand that this is not breaking news however it deserves a critical analysis. For me the unfolding of black women came with my own story of black womanhood and manifested itself into dreams and dreams and more dreams, until I realized my photography will be used as a tool for justice, forward-thinking, self-care, love and community mobilization.
My art — my photography — carries beauty, imagination, history and spiritual awakening; requires spritual awakening for myself and the viewer. At times it’s edgy, it — my art — demands vulnerability for all those involved, for we go on a journey together.
Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.
-Dr. Mae Jemison
Dream and Dream Again: Divine Presence
After a presentation in Detroit with colleagues, I remember cautioning a group of 70 people that ‘toxic masculinity’ lives in women too; it’s not a binary gender-based disease but a layered infection existing (even if dormant) in all people. Encountering my own toxicity as a masculine of center (look it up), queer, black women, it became apparent that in moments of celebrating black women, my enlightenment simultaneously happened in my own intense encounter with myself. Days after my awakening and during a Saturday morning in a barbershop, a ‘what if’ moment washed over me. ‘What if’ through photography we challenged Southern black men to investigate the impact of their toxicity in our communities, while also devising a transformative tool (or outlet really) for the toxicity that lives inside all of us. In a dream, I saw a shirtless black man (he may have been naked, to me symbolizing vulnerability) with pearls drenching him from head to toe. Regal however he knelt at the hem of a black women, seemingly God. In that same dream, I had a baby…a son but perhaps that is another blog.
A few Joseph-experiences later, I trusted; hence the new photography idea. NOTE: A Joseph-experience is a biblical innuendo of the dream-interpretation process as a spiritual roadmap (a future blog topic).
Pushing, Pulling and Folding the Envelope
This next conceptual photography project is an exploratory project, with fashion design elements — because I am a conceptual and fashion photographer. In discussion about my work in the community, a prophetess told me once, I “capture moments”; Those moments are dedicated to the beauty of black people, releasing the weight of the world and demonstrating our everything in one photo.
The new concept asks black men in the South, specifically black men in Salisbury, NC to model without their shirts and to wear designs by local master-creator and visionary, Tonya Miller-Cross of Accented Glory. Fully aware that this concept could push the margin, could agitate the southern masculine structure of black culture, could force some off the plantation and into a liberation only found in heaven…there are no limits at the intersections of art and justice, daring me to implement a photography experience of the like. In the spirit of Mother Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, Angela Davis, Tupac, Master P and Ermias Ashgedom — it takes courage in the face of the unimaginable, to shift our people from comfortable to uncomfortable transformation.
My point? Regardless of inconsistencies or lack of vision, this art is important — this art is important in a community like Salisbury, NC.
Community Is Healing
My body has been in turmoil, confronting negativity on its own without being covered. When art is misunderstood, when art is circumscribed to small minds or lack of imagination, it suffers — the artist hurts.
When the incapacities of the viewer wallop the art concept all we see is a man in jewelry however the probe requires a deep analysis of the viewer, model and community. When we walk away feeling less than challenged to take on toxic masculinity in our own community, we do a disservice to the art.
In theoretical storms on my artist journey, I find that community is healing. The affirmation of loved ones and unknown-ones, validates the work — even in our boldest moments, we need an “I understand”. An artists’ magnanimous soul will always be subjected to the critique of its viewer.
To artists far and wide, my love-letter to you is to find community. Find space that validates your creativity and that will push you.
Thank you to my community.
The Figurative Tomorrow
Being intentional about my photography has meant being intentional about it as self-care, peace, a career path and my future. This has also meant being deliberate about seeking grant opportunities and turning my art into a full-time business.
Going where the dreamers are will change the course of my work; the future looks like expanding my work beyond even my own community in Salisbury, NC. What used to be a only a vision, I believe is possible — to be a conceptual and fashion photographer full-time.
Why not. Right?
My dreams aren’t coincidental but a shaking (the church folk will understand the shaking); a command to embody art, justice and even theology to a degree.
The aesthetic for tomorrow is congruent with God’s plan.
Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirits. We are all the same in this notion; The potential for greatness lives within each of us.