Disperse Archives Opening x Daughters of Dust Artist Talk

Woo!! There is so much art happening in Baltimore; it’s hard to keep up! Last night and today Chappell and I went to two different art events that I am so grateful to write about it here.

Disperse Archives is a collaboration between Lawrence Burney, Joy Davis, and Jessica Douglas. At this point, I need preface that rather than listen to me write about, or archive the experience, you should just go to the exhibit. Why? Because this exhibition specifically centers black culture and how its narratives are constructed while empowering black people how to archive their own histories. It was a privilege to be at the opening and as a white woman, I would rather point to their genius so you can see it for yourself.

I did get to chat with Joy Davis, and as she is a professional archivist and curator, it was really inspiring to see her focus on the black people of Baltimore and their narratives. History and art history are sorely lacking the perspective of black people, especially when it comes to their own stories and histories. The Waller Gallery specifically highlights work by people of color. Located at 2420 N Calvert St., the work will be on display until March 2nd so you should check it out!

Today at the Parkway Theatre, we went to a special screening of Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash. It closed with an artist talk by Delita Martin, whose work is inspired by the film and is currently showing at the Galerie Myrtis.

Daughters of the Dust has been on my to-watch list since I took Video Art in undergrad at UNC-CH – shout out to Professor Truong (artist website). The film was shot on the breathtakingly beautiful Gullah Island, or Ibo Landing, off the coast of South Carolina set in 1902. It centers black women – their sisters, cousins, mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors – in the midst of a debate about identity before some of their family embark for the mainland. Rather than create a protagonist, Julie Dash frames the narrative in a nonlinear, and nonWestern format, using the act of remembrance and dramatic monologues from a variety of characters to weave a story that is timeless and enduring.

Delita Martin is a printmaker and artist, whose work has been consciously and unconsciously shaped by this movie. As an African American woman, she explores her own identity through her memories and relationships with her mother and grandmother. From a variety of symbols of safety pins, birds, bowls, to textured layers and slave ledgers, she constructs a symbolic and spiritual expression of her being.

It was cool to first see Disperse Archives show, and then follow it with this seminal film. Daughters of the Dust has been so influential in Black culture and identity since its release in 1991, partly being that it was the first nationally released film to be directed by an African American woman. Julie Dash archived her perspective through narrative film and since it has inspired countless other great black women artists, include Delita Martin and Beyoncé. I know a whole class could be taught on this movie, so I leave it here. Comments welcome!

10×10 & Beyond Beautiful Exhibition Openings

Last night my beautiful friend and fashionista Sandra Marie (link!) and my boyfriend went to two art openings, both which centered around community storytelling and youth empowerment.

The first was the Arts Every Day 10×10 Exhibit’s opening reception, a show put-on in conjunction with over 200 Baltimore City Schools, Baltimore Ceasefire, Access Art, and Art with a Heart and more at the Motor House. The works’ theme centered around the Baltimore Ceasefire movement of working together to build empathy and compassion, while teaching direct tactics of peace such as:

  • non-violent conflict resolutions,
  • respect for oneself, others, and our community, and
  • celebrating life through embodying and sharing life-affirming experiences.

The work was powerful, blunt, and raw in the way that only kids can do in putting color and emotion into a 10×10 square. Some squares were collages, others were paintings – one high school even did a ceramic mosaic. Still others included words like, “Black is beautiful; embrace yourself,” and “They ball hands in fists they shoot, we put our hands up they shoot.” The trauma some of these children experience – gun violence, police murder, and racism – are shocking. Rather than deny their experience, this art project helped the students form their own visual language and express themselves as a way to move through the pain to promote creativity and healing.

We got there late so we weren’t able to talk to the curators or teachers, but I did get to talk to two students whose artwork was on the wall. They were with their family and proudly pointed out their pieces on the wall to me. One of them launched into a detailed description of her choices behind her piece – the color purple, the last minute stitching additions, and the choice to frame just her photo and not the entire square. What was clear about both these students was they were proud of their work and their ability to display it to the larger community. For an aspiring art educator, this is *exactly* the type of art and community engagement that can encourage kids to enjoy art, heal themselves, and reaffirm their futures and see art as valuable peacemaking and community making tool. Bravo!

The exhibit is up at the Motor House until February 28rd. There is another “coffee talk” event on Feb 6h – Click for Eventbrite event link
For more information on the Baltimore Ceasefire project, visit: https://baltimoreceasefire.com/

Next was Beyond Beautiful: One Thousand Love Letters at the the Maryland Art Place (MAP). We caught the tail-end of the opening reception, with speakers and performers, curated by Peter Brunn. Back in July 2018, Peter put out an open call to all Baltimoreans requesting a love letter. He then lovingly illustrated and selected verses from the letters he received.

The great thing about attending opening receptions is that you get to hear directly from the artists – their intention, their emotion, their experience. The MAP has a stage, and folks from Access Art and Baltimore Clubhouse who had written letters were at the mic sharing their stories. A common theme of familial love emerged: one woman explained her love story as her family grew to 9 people; another described the loss and revelation of her mother’s constant love even after death; another spoke about choosing family by extending her love to those who suffered similar loss. The program concluded with a performance by Cherry Hill’s Youth Resiliency Institute. It included a larger-than-life, paper maché black grandmother and birds carried by a line of students whose preformed a call and response song on the power of love and family.

The performance and the stories shared helped bring the exhibit to life in a way that viewing it alone could not do it justice. From start to end, it was incredibly heart-warming, humbling, and inspiring, both challenging the audience to love more deeply, and to extend that love out to the rest of Baltimore. There will be other performances through the spring focusing on different themes – I definitely encourage you to check it out!

The exhibit is located at MAP – 218 West Saratoga Street, and will be on display through March 10, 2019.

Questions & Answers with myself

About ten days ago, I left my job at National Geographic Expeditions to focus full time on art, and to go back to school to become an art educator. Later this month I will begin taking classes at Towson University’s 2nd Bachelor program. The program will last about a year and a half. During this time, my intention is to focus on learning, reflection, and practicing my skills in art making, theorizing, and teaching. For this reason, I think it’s really important to have journal, a place to write and reflect and process my journey. I hope you can journal and journey with me.

Q: Why did you leave Nat Geo Expeditions?
While working at Nat Geo, I learned a lot about business. While well-intentioned with a 72 / 27 forprofit / nonprofit split, my work there was ultimately for another for-profit, capitalist venture that focused on profits so aggressively that it often contradicted itself. The efforts to grow no matter the cost creates a paradox that capitalism tries to blind us from. After the third round of CEO/VP changes, it was clear that the wealth is just changing hands and accumulating with larger companies like Disney and FOX. It made me question, “What do I want to work so aggressively for? What do I want to grow YOY (year-over-year)?”

Q: So what do you want to work for? (working answer)
The answer to the question above is people. Individual people, their mind, and their potential are the only thing in this world that have the ability to do what capitalism seeks – to grow endlessly. Having worked with children for many years as a swim team coach, babysitter, meditation teacher, I love encouraging, inspiring, and believing in the potential of children. Their joy is often infectious, and and I truly believe that they are worth my time, love, resources, support, and talents. In order to be a teacher of others, and to fully embody my belief of human potential, myself being a person, that means a lifelong commitment to growing myself as well. One cannot be a teacher without being a student. So I’m off to school to become a teacher!

Q: Where and why do you want to be a teacher?
I want to teach art in Baltimore City to be able to work with students to organize for equity in schools, and against the oppressive systems – internal biases, institutional racism, perpetual lack of resources and care, capitalistic values of production over humanity and the devaluing of the artist – everything that holds children back from reaching their potential. Many studies show that when children establish strong and caring relationships with teachers, they are more likely to succeed academically, even when factoring out other variables like race, socioeconomic status, and gender. Teachers are the first line of support for kids’ success, and I want to personally invest my life and career into teaching.

Q: Why do you want to focus on art? What does art mean to you?
Art is a visual language that transcends time and words. It connects us together in such a fundamentally human way. Art reflects the culture, environment, and people who make it and gives people the opportunity to form and reflect on their identities and actions in the world. Being an artist with some talent to see and recreate these connections in a visual way, I have a responsibility to use and make art that uplifts and transforms my own heart and mind and those of my community.

Q: What do you want to focus on in your art?
I want to focus on community connection, for without others, I am nothing. I want to focus on uplifting and using all of my privileges to improve the lives of others through art.

Q: What age of kids do you want to teach art?
I don’t know yet! I have worked with children ages 4 to 18yo and each age has its own challenges and joys. Many times it depends on what job I can get! After the completion of my program, I will be licensed to teach art to Kindergarten through 12th grade in Maryland.

Q: What expectations do you have of being an artist / teacher?
I expect to be challenged, to struggle, and to enjoy it. I want to be constantly making and teaching art, growing and helping my students to grow. If you were to ask me, where do you see yourself in 5 years, I will be teaching and making art in Baltimore. Hopefully I will still be writing in this blog for us to find out!