Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

The Trove: Marcia Jones
July 7, 2011

The artist at her recently opened exhibition, Live and in Stereo(type) Photo: Gantt Center.

In 2009 visual artist Marcia Jones chose to inaugurate her brave and unabashedly personal blog, untitled 1972 –truthBE told on December 12, the anniversary of her conception.

 Teens Paul Davis and Christine Jones with their infant daughter; from “Open letter to self.”

And with miraculous will, she’s moved along. From her birth during Mercury retrograde at Chicago’s Little Company of Mary Hospital, her home for her first three months as her tiny body was incubated to her sixty-hour labor to bring daughter Saturn into the world in 1996 to birthing a new vision of and for herself as she juggles the excitement of her career momentum as an artist with the unpredictable challenges of living with chronic illness.

Marcia and I spoke at length by phone on the eve of her exhibition opening with fellow Atlanta artist, Fahamu Pecou at The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, NC. The culmination of her residency (a collaboration between the Gantt Center and McColl Center for Visual Art) her works for the show are from the series, The Displaced Oshun Theory created “to examine the purposeful patriarchal division of The Divine Mother (Mary the Virgin) and The Sacred Whore (Mary Magdalene.)”  She and Fahamu celebrated their shared June 25 birthday at an artist’s talk  at the museum.

“Wonder Twins,” Fahamu and Marcia (in a glorious vintage find) flank Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe whose Gantt exhibition opened the same day.

The show raised a few questions and eyebrows so Marcia has been invited to address the controversy in a discussion on July 21 from 6-7:30pm.  Of her return for the artist round table she says, “curator Ce Scott has been an amazing advocate of my work. I’m very much looking forward to the dialogue with the community, the staff, and the patrons of the Harvey B Gantt Center. I feel like my work is doing exactly what great Art should do… raise discomfort and questioning. I am extremely happy that they are inviting me to come back and answer these questions with valid answers.”

She is grateful for the entire Gantt/McColl opportunity “I sat on a panel with the NEA chairman. Who gets to do that?  The McColl Center catapulting me in the spaces that I would never be in otherwise. So I’m completely appreciative of that. They chose me to speak on behalf of the arts community. I am honored.”

Another part of her residency obligation was, of course, community outreach. “I was really into the advocacy work I did at a battered women’s shelter. That was so healing for all of us there.  I haven’t been physically abused but metaphorically we’re all a little battered we’re all a little wounded in some way. I’m not comparing mine to theirs by any means, but it still resonates in an emotional place in women: trauma, regret, hurt, shame or what not.  I want to move into this arena. I want to help people heal. At my studio at the McColl, women would come in and leave crying. I realize that emotion is very repressed these days, I mask too.”

We spoke of her bohemian childhood, the smile-as-mask that women often adorn, the Kahloesque honesty of her work and her periodic need to pick it up, pack it up and start anew–elsewhere.

Declaring “I’m taking my baby, I’m gone,” Christine and two-year-old Marcia left life in Maple Park and the Southside for Atlantic City, NJ and a cross-country odyssey alighting in Arkansas, Texas, and finally Southern California when Marcia was nine. By the time Marcia was elected president of the Marshall High Black Student Union,  they’d bounced from Silverlake, Venice, and Leimert Park in Los Angeles alone. One of the grounding forces for Marcia was their embrace of Buddhism when she was eleven.

From holding hands (with Mommy) to shaking poms to wielding fire.

Her father, who hadn’t been allowed to take part in her life past infancy, called her on her 18th birthday. “He was like, okay, now we can talk…and we were inseparable from that day forward.” Though she loves her mother, she considers her father and her Chicago aunt, “Aunnie” Lavan Morrison her parents.

With a goal to become a journalist she headed to historically black Clark Atlanta University, where she discovered her writing lacked the necessary objectivity for journalism (Subjectivity was a theme that would pop up again during her graduate study.) While there the young woman who’d filled countless childhood hours coloring books from back to front with crayons, switched majors to fashion, embracing her natural affinity for the visual. She enjoyed the foundation classes, art and drawing. “Conceptually, I liked the idea of being an artist,” she says.  She’d seen the then-emerging artist Radcliffe Bailey around Atlanta, his work, the first show she ever saw.

Armed with a fashion portfolio she headed to New York after her 1995 graduation and camped with friends on Avenue A. While styling a photo shoot she chatted with djassi daCosta johnson who said “I’m going abroad, do you want to interview for my job?” (as personal assistant to harriette cole) “Hook it up. That’d be cool,” was Marcia’s response.  Later at an event she a noticed a woman in the restroom and said, “Ooh, I love your hair.” That woman was harriette, she discovered when she went to the interview.” She got the gig and when I met her, an Afroed angel in the halls of Essence, full of optimism and a smile to melt glaciers, she seemed a blithe spirit, energized by all the possibility that lay before her. “That’s one of the things I miss about being young and vibrant and excited about things, you attract stuff,” she says.  And attract she did: a job, a love, a child and a calling in short order.

Inspired by her painter roommate and drawing on her own innate gift, she began painting. Her first was a tree woman with a hollow womb and which she gifted the man who would give her both love and a baby girl, poet Saul Williams.  “Yeah we conjured up that baby. There was a full moon and a group of us on the Brooklyn Bridge reciting poetry: Mike Ladd, Mums, Mos Def, Wood Harris, Bahiyyih Maroon, Saul and me. It was a magical night…”she recalls fondly.

Sun and Sea and Saturn.

Brooklyn Moon Cafe was buzzing then, poets making noise and making names and I helped bring local visual artists to the space to mount their works.  “When you approached me about that it came at a beautiful time. Thank you. That was really major for me. It solidified my presence in that whole movement–Brooklyn Moon when all this history was taking place.”  She began doing performance painting, raw and in-the-moment, which has taken her from touring England and Scotland with Saul to touring Turkey with band Wax Poetic to solo “performances” in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

The Unscene: Marcia Jones directed by Pierre Bennu/Exit the Apple.

After she and Saul parted, she returned to her LA “hometown” and accepted a position at Ikon Secondary Art Gallery in Santa Monica, an immersive experience in the art world.  She noticed that the exhibiting artists all had master’s degrees thought that she too needed an MFA to be taken seriously as an artist and to begin to exhibit her work. “That’s how I ended up in grad school.” That and the joy she knew it would bring her dad.  She was accepted and enrolled in University of North Carolina at Greensboro, studying transatlantic slave trade for her thesis.  She studied the work of Robert Farris Thompson, Orisha studies and slave culture. She was moved by the slave practice of using cooking pots as tombstones. “My father passed away a month after I got into school. It devastated me.  The night she learned of his passing she painted out her sorrow in the wee hours on a vast canvas she submitted for the next morning’s critique.  Tear-streaked and puffy, she donned sunglasses and was reprimanded for it. “I said look, I found out my father died, I painted all night, please don’t make me take off my glasses.”

Her father, Paul Davis and the memorial pot she created in his honor.

At the funeral her father’s best friend told her, “you don’t understand how happy he was you were getting your master’s; he bragged about you all the time.” The grad school experience was, however, brutal. “It tore me to shreds emotionally, spiritually, physically.  I didn’t see it coming. I’d never been so harshly critiqued.” The issue of objectivity (like in undergraduate journalism) reared its head again. From an artist whose work is deeply personal, the criticism your work is too subjective, yields a bored, “yeah, and?…I muse off of my relationships. And the more they fellow in the arena of dysfunction, the grittier they are. I heard the gamut from ‘no painterly technique’ to ‘the work is a little contrived.'” Her champions at the school, Susan Page and Cora Cohen had left, but instructor Juan Logan and artist Kojo Griffin encouraged her to continue — What you’re doing, there’s a place for it. Don’t stop.

Death of New York, circa late 90’s; the artist at work; I Am the Difference, 2002; Displaced Oshun Theory 2; Perfect 2, 2006; Untitled 2004.

She’d chosen her thesis chair because he’d written a book on Atlantic triangular trade, a seemingly good fit but in the last days, he hedged on signing off for her, asking “If I realized that his signature is a green light. I was like what do you want to hear from me, that I won’t end up at the Whitney or MoMA unless you sign this paper?  Everybody else is out celebrating because they’re done and I’m sitting here in your office.” He critiqued and found value in her portfolio and they had “a very long conversation about my position on art, contemporary art specifically.” He signed.  Three days later she was in the hospital. She thought it was exhaustion from all the stress. It was Multiple Sclerosis.

My Body, 2008.

“I kept going. I came back to Atlanta.” Holding a Master of Fine Arts, she “called on my department chair at Clark to question how to get into this [education] industry. How do you get the three years of experience they want before they hire you? What do I do now?” she asked.

“You come here,” he said.  “Someone’s going to have to take over my classes, are you interested?”

“’Hell yeah!’  That’s how I became a professor at my alma mater.  It was awesome. I walked in to ask for advice and walked out with a job,” she exclaims.  “I love teaching. I’m a really good teacher. It was the only time I’ve ever felt totally in my divine purpose–the mother, the artist, the oracle, all of it. Everything about me fell in place.” She was highly ranked among students and in end-of-year department evaluations, but when the ax swung during massive school-wide layoffs, she was the only person in her department to receive a pink slip.  An aunt in the HR industry suggested that perhaps with her illness, she was simply too expensive to insure, as she was offered an adjunct position without medical benefits.

She takes it day-by-day. She received a 2005 Caversham Printmaking Fellowship in South Africa and attended the Spelman College Taller Portobello Artist Colony in Panama in 2006. Though uninsured she says, “Everything has been blessed and taken care of.” Timing has been crucial.  As she needed to heal and focus, Saturn was beginning to spread her wings. Years ago through a reading she came into an early awareness that Saturn is “Saul’s baby,” which has allowed her to “surrender the reins. I have to let her develop in that way, in compliance with the universe because her dreams are going to come true through her interactions with him, witnessing his life. Her father is the vehicle and it all makes sense now.”

“She came to me one day and said ‘I’d like to go to California and live with my dad.’ My diagnosis was relatively recent and I thought This is no life for a twelve-year-old, to have to care for a parent. Go live a life. Her father was in the epicenter of what she wants. I knew what it was like being a child with restraints based on a parents wants, desires, even fears.  I had to let her go.”

“I’m her grounding mechanism. When she needs to talk with her mother, I am there. I’m her advocate, but she and Saul are in the trenches doing the work.” (They now live in Paris) “She comes to me in summers and it’s great. She’s great.” Her bilingual daughter now wants to study German. “She has an ear for music and language.  She taught herself to play Adele’s Hometown Glory on piano and it was flawless.  I was so impressed.  Same thing with guitar.”

“She talks like Saul and looks like me. I call her ‘Spawn,’ she chuckles. “Sat was powerful from the beginning,” she muses about realizing she was pregnant. “We were terrified.” As they discussed the test results, the sunny sky gave way to a deluge that matched their tears.  Once they made a choice: “I guess we’re going to have this baby,” the rains stopped. Two weeks after her due date, Marcia went into labor on Sunday night and Saturn River Renge arrived Wednesday afternoon. “I went to a birthing center to have a water birth and ended up at St. Vincent’s with an epidural-but it all is what it is.”

When your wonderful daughter is a Transatlantic flight away, it helps to have Skype.

“As a parent you’re supposed to make your child better than you are. And she is already,” Marcia says. “We’re doing a good job. I’m so proud of her. I could talk about her forever.” Saturn’s teacher commended her on an abstract painting she’d done: “This is amazing, how did you learn this?” Her reply delights Marcia to no end. “My mom.”

That Saturn’s children may one day read about her she says, “that is a dream of mine, that they’ll say ‘oh that’s my grandmother.’ I’m not trying to be an art star right here, right now– I want history. Frida Kahlo legendary.” She wants socks made in her likeness, “handbags at the flea market, beaded curtains.  That’s what I think about. But if the Whitney calls tomorrow I wouldn’t say no.”

The “visual learner” shares without commentary, but rather a curation of defining images, her ten favorite things.

1. Filbert Paint Brushes.  

Photo: Meadow Overstreets

2. Poets.

Poetry was a powerful springboard for her — into becoming an artist, into motherhood. It’s entwined with her adult life in collaborations with poets from Saul to jessica Care moore to her soulful exchanges with the “phenomenal” Stefen Micko. Video: Notorius Productions.

3. Kissing.

baciare. baisers. beijo. besarse. jiewen. kisu. kumbusu. kussen. kyssar.

4. Aesthetic Discernment.

From group Rising Appalachia, “SUNU.”

5. Boots.

The knee-high, fringed Minnetonka is a fave.

6. Creative Critical Thought.

The LA-based blog, Galaxy/.09, offers an amalgam of her eclectic interests.

7.8) Universal Sacred Geometry.


Diagram: Il Triangolo Sacro e La Piana di Giza. (The Sacred Triangle and The Pyramid of Giza) © 1998 Alfonso Rubino.

8. Newton’s Laws mixed with String Theory.

A  quantum primer.

9. Liquitex Soft Body Acrylic Paint.  


She specifically uses the light blue and soft pink shades.

10. Authenticity.

Ezili, dancer/choreographer Adia Tamar Whittaker’s collaborative video project with filmmakers Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel and Joshua Bee Alafia.

Join the Marcia Jones artist page on facebook.


The Trove: Anu Prestonia
June 16, 2011

Advancing the acceptance of natural beauty, the radiant hair care icon.

So certain that their first-born child would be a boy, Barbra Jean and Preston Newsome awaited son Preston, Jr. When their Aries daughter arrived, they named her Prestonia and called her “Toni.” She would one day become “a new” Prestonia when spirit would dictate that she assume a name to “help manifest the qualities needed” to reach her “incarnation objective,” or purpose in life. As a new member of the spiritual community, Ausar Auset, she was dubbed Anu Kemmerå, one who sees beauty in serving and having correct behavior. Nearly thirty years later, “I’m still working on the behavior part,” she chuckles. She indeed sees the beauty of serving and has crafted an impressive career in the service of healthy beauty – one that has its genesis in her childhood. At ten-years-old, a too-strong perm left her with badly damaged hair that was then cut into a tiny Afro. “At the time, the only people with Afros were in Ebony or Jet. They were celebrities.” Heartily embraced, the reaction to her natural hairstyle surprised her, as she became a celeb among her peers for wearing the “new Afro hairdo.” She’d always “played in other people’s hair,” so by the time she entered her teens she was the go-to girl for all the basketball-playing boys who wanted their hair cornrowed. Her love of beauty is deeply ingrained, from her hairstylist grandmother to her own mother who affirmed Toni’s beauty at every turn. She entered her daughter in several beauty contests, including the famed Hal Jackson’s Miss Teenage Black America Pageant. “We rehearsed at Harlem Hospital’s auditorium: walking and charm taught by the popular models of the day and our talent routines. I chose poetry because spoken word was popular then.” She walked the stage to the strains of Aretha Franklin’s “Daydreaming.”

The music-loving contestant asked for a pic with the Queen of Soul backstage at the 1972 pageant.

Reciting Nikki Giovanni’s “Nikki-Rosa,” she intoned, “…Black love is Black wealth and they’ll probably talk about my hard childhood and never understand that all the while I was quite happy.” It was a fitting poem for a girl whose bucolic beach existence in Norfolk where her dad was a naval photographer was interrupted by a parental split and relocation with her mom and siblings, Linda and Butch to gritty 1970’s New York City. “In Virginia we could go outside whenever we wanted to. I could just get on my bike, go exploring, get lost, try to catch June bugs and butterflies…or walk, long distances. My mother allowed me the freedom to walk wherever I wanted to. My grandmother’s house was about a mile and a half away and my great–grandmother’s was three miles!”

“When we moved to Brooklyn, everything was on the shutdown, we became prisoners in the apartment. We couldn’t go outside unless an adult was home. It just really changed things.” However she loved their apartment in a huge Pre-war building in Brownsville. “It was really big, had French doors and a sink in our bedroom, which I thought was just the grooviest thing.” The art deco bathroom had a floor-to-ceiling tiled shower stall in addition to a bathtub. “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. In Virginia we’d only had a tub. So once we got to New York, I thought every day should be a shower day.”

Because of her frequent indoor confinement she “really got into WPIX’s Million Dollar Movie on TV” and remains a film buff to this day. Watching television also introduced her to pioneering African-American news anchor Melba Tolliver and when she traveled to DC to visit an uncle, the numerous black broadcasters there encouraged her as well. “I thought, I can be a broadcast journalist.

Enrolling in the communications program at SUNY Brockport, she “couldn’t even believe how far away it was.” The eight-hour, intra-state trek to the quaint college town was longer than the drive from NYC to Norfolk. It was another world to the brown girl from Brownsville, a one-cinema town with no place to “get hair grease.” She was, however, struck by its beauty, its dramatic seasonal changes and its night sky. “It would be so full of stars and seem so close like you could just reach up and touch them. But when I came home for Christmas, I realized how much I missed being around my people.”

She transferred to historically black Howard University, “a more nurturing environment.” Those days truly shaped the woman and entrepreneur she would become. “Many pivotal changes happened in my life while I was there. I stopped straightening my hair, I became a vegetarian, I discovered yoga, and I learned how to put in an extension, so my career started at Howard.” The summer before her senior year, she started braiding hair at the popular salon, Shelton’s Hair Gallery, took a semester off and never went back, eventually returning to New York. An impetuous move to Jamaica West Indies without enough money to live on yielded “a few weeks of starving” and a need to relocate. She joined her sister, a University of Miami student in South Florida. Doing business as “Have Comb, Will Travel,” Prestonia made house calls to local clients as well as those in DC, New York and eventually the Bahamas. Disenchanted with both Miami’s monotonous climate and Floridians who didn’t “get” the Afrocentric yogi, she moved back to New York and found a sense of community with the Ausar Auset Society. “It felt like home,” she says. They offered yoga, meditation, breathing and African culture based in the sacrifice of the lower parts of your spirit, as opposed to the sacrifice of animals” found in some other African practices. They embraced vegetarianism. “They had all the components I was seeking at that time.”

Tying her mother’s gele in 1987. The yoga devotee in 1979.

After having been raised as a Christian, she embraced the precepts of Kemetic religion and dreamt the name her thriving business would take, Khamit Kinks. Although she left that practice 21 years ago, she remains in loving community with many former members. “My practice now is to be in truth with myself and others,” she says. Part of that truth is to awaken the “hoodwinked, bamboozled“ masses to the myths of popular culture. “I am a crusader for women to help them move from destroying their hair to accepting their own beauty, their own culture, their own aesthetic. What you were born with has value, all you have to do is love it, appreciate it and learn how to work with it or know where to go to have it treated with respect.”

She worked at legendary Kinapps African Groomers for several months until the entrepreneurial impulse resurfaced and she returned to working out of her home. When her friend Maitefa Angaza included pictures of Anu’s work in a pitch on African hairstyles to Essence, the magazine hired them both. Anu created looks for the professional shoot, her styles illustrating Maitefa’s text. Once the double-page spread ran “the phone started ringing off the hook.” Her business grew and she established a longstanding relationship with the magazine styling/braiding models as well as celebrities for editorial shoots. (Khamit Kinks is featured in “Super Naturals,” a beauty story in the July 2011 issue) From Angelas Bassett and Davis to Terry McMillan, Alfre Woodard, Queen Latifah and Oprah Winfrey she’s covered a broad swath. In 1992 her client, radio deejay Imhotep Gary Byrd referred Stevie Wonder –in need of a quick shampoo– to her. She excitedly accepted but on a three-way call a few weeks later with Stevie on the line to schedule another shampoo appointment Anu replied in mock indignation, “What does he think this is, a laundromat? We don’t shampoo other people’s work!” Stevie remains a client nearly twenty years later, “Yeah Stevie is very relaxed, he thought that was pretty funny.”

Braids on Oprah, locs on Stevie and a head-wrapped Anu flanked by Nigerian thread-wrapped Angie and Alfre.

Her business has grown from girl-on-the-go to a single chair in a basement apartment to many years in her own Tribeca salon and back to her home borough. She and her team of natural hair care specialists/stylists move from her massive Downtown Brooklyn Gold Street space to a very well situated new space in the bustling Atlantic Avenue corridor later this summer. Among her most sought after services are consultations on damaged hair, a task she takes very seriously. “Having had the experience of losing my hair as a girl left an indelible impression.” She wishes for everyone pristine health from their follicles to their toes. “I’ve always had an interest in health having come from a very sickly family—my grandmother died when I was eight from diabetes and stroke, she was only forty-seven. My mother was in and out of hospitals all my life. The things that we do affect our health.” She highlights Diabetes as an example, “people used to just think its inherited, but no–what’s inherited is the diet that leads to it.” She is very mindful of how she moves through the world, from the energies she surrounds herself with to the foods she eats to creating “me’ time to the aromas in the air she breathes. She shares her knowledge through her services, her carefully developed product line, events she holds in-shop (like Zumba class) her blogs Ask Anu and Anu Essentials and the documentary she produced in 2009, In Our Heads About Our Hair.

From her lovely sister Linda in the early 1980’s to Nikita today, Anu features everyday beauties, not supermodels in her promotions.

Is no surprise that her innate love of and “nose” for fragrance would find its way into her business. She first used botanicals in her hair oils and years later introduced fragrant body butters and natural soaps. Upon reading master perfumer Mandy Aftel’s book, “Essence and Alchemy,” she was turned on to and turned out by natural perfumery. “It was so enchanting, it took me to another planet,” she says fervently. “It’s sacred art, really. Just the other day, I thought Wow! I wonder what God was thinking about when he made this smell this way.” The fragrances of nature have intrigued her since childhood: cut grass, soil after a rain, pine. For young Toni a fresh pack of unburned cigarettes was a nosegay as pleasing as any cluster of small flowers. She’d bury her nose in it and inhale deeply. Though she abhors cigarette smoke, as an adult Anu finds tobacco essence “hypnotically beautiful.”

This summer she launches her first perfume, the herbaceous, floral-kissed Meadowlark, a “green” blend of oak moss, clary sage and her beloved rose. “I am new to this industry, there’s quite a learning curve,” but she is very excited by her foray. As she expands her hair care line to include shampoo, conditioner, styling crème and a gel she incorporates her growing knowledge of the vast repository of botanical essences.

Rosemary-infused medicinal hair oil, glycerin-rich, hand crafted soap, and my favorite body butter, Sultry.

A long ago Essence photo shoot initially crossed our paths, but Anu and I have over the years come to discover several shared delights, quirky to sublime from the wafting aromas of laundromat exhaust to the wistful vocals of Madeleine Peyroux to the evocative treatises on fragrance by Mandy Aftel. Server and sybarite, Anu is a woman in balance. She works hard, plays hard and truly enjoys being in her own luminous, sweetly scented skin.

Before the Kemetic, yogic, Reiki certified, fragrance-loving, would-be pool shark headed to her billiards league, she shared some of the things besides lush, healthy heads of natural hair that stoke her Arian fire:

1. Natural perfumery. I love the botanical essences: how they smell, look, and feel–from very thin and light to thick and viscous.” Though Mandy Aftel is her primary mentor, she’s also been inspired by Amanda Walker of “A Perfume Organic,” master perfumer Sarah Horowitz, bloggers like Monica Miller and reading Chandler Burr’s books.  “And I have a guardian angel in Marian Williams who has generously offered contacts to exclusive suppliers.”

A detail from her perfume organ, the natural perfumer’ organization system of raw materials, sorted by note.

2. Jewelry. “I love the gamut. I have a collection of pearls. I purchase them from a sister in the jewelry district on the Bowery. I fell in love with black jet beads a couple of years ago and bought some most precious finds on EBay.

A unique EBay offering: a Victorian Whitby jet watch fob.

3. Billiards. “This is my third season on a league at Amsterdam Billiards in NYC.”

Her “sweetheart,” entrepreneur (and billiards aficionado) Henry Rock, gifted her with one of her two cue sticks.

4. Spa Services. “My first spa experience was in 1993 at the Burke Williams Spa in Santa Monica. My favorites are Dr. Hauschka facials, salt exfoliation in a wet room with Vichy showers that hang above the table, deep tissue massage and all the ayurvedic spa services–especially at Kripalu Yoga Institute.”

Vichy shower: “a nearly orgasmic experience,” she says.

5. Gardening/Flowers. “I love all flowers, my faves are peonies, poppies, all lilies, bearded irises, hydrangea, hollyhocks, gardenias, roses of course, clematis, lantana. I could go on and on with this one…”

The fruits of her gardening labors.

6. Yoga.  “Though I’m not teaching right now, I am a certified Yoga instructor trained at Integral Yoga Institute.”  Its founder, Swami Satchadananda was “my first inspiration on my road to seeking my spiritual path.”

She has practiced Hatha Yoga for thirty years.

7. My Home. “I purchased my 1897 Brooklyn brownstone exactly one hundred years after it was built.”

“It took me about 5 years to get it where I was truly comfortable.”

8. Foreign and Independent Films. From Jules Dassin (Rififi, 1955) to Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust, 1991) she enjoys bold, visionary cinema from around the globe.

Set in South Korea, Ki-duk Kim’s elegiac 2003 film “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” is a favorite.

9. Fine Dining. “I love to eat! I really enjoy fresh, quality and organic food.” She has unforgettable memories of a small Italian restaurant on the beach in Tulum, Mexico. “They bought out cheeses on a chunk of tree trunk, an array of olives and delicious bread to start the meal. There’s no menu, just absolutely great food.” She fondly recalls “the simply exquisite pleasure of dining at the illustrious Babbo Ristorante, and Dirt Candy, love their food.” Son Cubanois another haunt.

The humble vegetable as delicacy at Dirt Candy, and two all-time restaurant faves.

10. Birkenstocks. From shoes to sandals, her tootsies are happy in the famed Birkenstock cork foot bed.

Of her large collection of Birkis, many are Gizeh thong sandals.

For more on Anu, her services and products, check her websites: Khamit Kinks and Anu Essentials.

The Trove: Aisha Cousins
February 17, 2011

Aisha Cousins: Capricorn from the Sun to the Moon.

In 1990’s Fort Greene, amid a flourishing poetry scene at his Brooklyn Moon Cafe, proprietor Mike Thompson began showcasing the works of visual artists in his popular venue. I became the curator of those exhibitions and was introduced to the joyful Aisha Cousins, then studying Studio Art with a concentration in Black Studies and Sociology at Oberlin College. We presented her first solo show, (of works on paper) at the café and I’ve been glad to bear witness to her evolution as an artist.

Born in Boston, she was raised in South End and Mattapan, Cambridge and eventually Brooklyn by her scholarly mother, Dr. Olivia Cousins who holds a Master’s in Black Studies and a doctorate in Medical Sociology. “I think I inherited my curiosity about human behavior and my love of black studies from her,” Aisha says.  The works she creates today reflect these themes.

Oddly enough, the genesis of her path as an artist was in was seeing the animated visage of Mr. T when she was in the second grade. “Yes Mr. T of the A Team once had his own cartoon. I liked it so much, I decided I wanted be an artist so I could make more Saturday morning cartoons with characters in them who looked like me.”

Early inspiration, “Mister T.”

The graduate of Fiorello LaGuardia High School nearly failed Advanced Placement Art History in her senior year. An A/B student since 1st grade, she faltered when incensed by the meager coverage of African art in her class, she mentally checked out.  “I had been waiting and waiting for us to get to the chapters on the things I had seen in my mom’s art collection. I wanted to understand their history and the aesthetic beliefs of the artists who made them. When we finally got to that part of the book, all this art I had grown up with and been inspired by was lumped into this itsy- bitsy section called Arts of Africa and Oceania. I was so vehemently offended, I spent every class afterwards tuning the lessons out and fuming mentally. My grades plummeted.”  Her teacher, Ms. Goldberg, though in agreement about the paucity of information on artists of color, was unable to alter the curriculum. “So she got me into a docent training program for the massive Guggenheim exhibition, Africa the Art of the Continent.  I got paid to research African aesthetics. I don’t think my grades got much better, but I was in heaven.  Suddenly aesthetics became a living breathing thing to me, not just an idea in a book. And the people around me became textbooks that I could study and get answers from, with or without a written textbook to make their beliefs official.”

“I’ve done contour drawings in some form or fashion for most of my life. First on paper, then as part of public murals. I thought I would do them forever, but I decided to experiment with other ways of making art. I made sculptures and collages inspired by the many teaching artist gigs I was doing at the time. She found herself at a crossroads: “As much as collectors liked the work I was making, it didn’t live up to my internal standards. I spent a year or two trying to figure out my philosophy as an artist. Then one day I just came up with this piece called Diva Dutch, sort of organically... it was my way of exploring the aesthetics of the black women around me. Everyone was getting extensions.” She gave it a try and discovered that “the length and consistent thickness of synthetic hair allows black women to make these living works of art that are impossible to create with real hair.” So she got “a 15-foot braid and jumped rope with it on her stoop.” That simple act has grown into Diva Dutch, its scores (performance art scripted instruction) performed at MoCADA, the Brooklyn Museum, Houston’s Project Row Houses, Tennessee State University’s Hiram Van Gordon Gallery and historically black neighborhoods ranging from Bedford-Stuyvesant (Brooklyn), to Brixton (London) to Barbès–Rochechouart (Paris.)

Ironically, the Diva can’t Dutch: “I can’t jump it. I turn ‘double handed.’ If you can’t turn, you can’t earn a jump. I was banned from playing double dutch back in 4th grade.” Photo: Alexis Peskine.

“I’ve been hooked on performance art ever since,” she says. “And now that I’ve seen the philosophy lived up to, I am getting better and better about making it happen again and again.”

And happen again it has. Taking inspiration from sartorial campaign tactics (voters proudly wearing garments emblazoned with their candidates’ portraits) she observed on a trip to Senegal 15 years ago, she set out the commemorate America’s first Black president with the Obama Skirt Project (OSP). Embraced by Africans throughout the continent, Barack Obama’s image has been printed on fabrics with the fervor typically reserved for regional politicians. Aisha’s daily wardrobe from July 2009 – July 2010 would include a skirt or dress, bearing the 44th president’s likeness in fabrics gathered from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa. She invited others to join in on the celebration/exploration, and now the project moves into its latest phase with a month-long display at Harlem Textile Works and this weekend’s OSP Black President’s Day festivities in collaboration with printmaker Shani Peters and designer Hekima Hapa of Harriet’s Alter Ego. Advance registration required.

The Black President’s Day promotion.  To learn more about the project visit http://aishacousins.com/.

“People don’t always know exactly how to put their beliefs into words. But they know what they think is beautiful. So now, I ask the people whose aesthetics I want to study to help me make things. The process of creating leads to a dialogue, both verbal and visual, about their beliefs. I get to learn what I always wanted to study. And hopefully someday a future generation of artists will be able to look at my work just like they would a textbook and learn about black women’s aesthetic beliefs, just like they would anyone else’s.

As she prepares to acknowledge the first “Black President’s Day” on the anniversary of Nina Simone’s birth, she took time to share with The Trove her favorites.  Fitting that the first is a celebratory memento.

1. Champagne cork. “One of my heroines, Kara Walker, gave it to me. She opened an artist-run exhibition space called 6-8 months and agreed to let me hold a mini exhibit and artist talk there to mark the end of my one-year performance art piece. I was overjoyed just to have a black-woman-owned contemporary art space in which to hold this particular event, as the score was very much about exploring black women’s aesthetics and experiences.”

Ms.Walker surprised Aisha by attending the show bearing a congratulatory bottle of champagne.

2. Shani Peters Battle for the Hearts and Minds. “I’ve told any and everyone about Shani’s videos ever since I saw them. There’s one where she merges the casts from Good Times and the Cosby Show into a single family. Their neighbors, who just happen to be famous Black Panthers stop by each day to teach them life lessons. It’s funny, it’s thought-provoking, and it has a seamless blend of pop culture, black history, and common sense wisdom.”

From Shani’s Vimeo channel.  For more information, visit her website.

3. Paris Subways. “The subways are so graceful. I still don’t understand why there’s a latch on the doors inside of the car, but I absolutely love the look of it.”

The Paris Métro in all its Art Nouveau glory.

4. Tom Otterness’ Life Underground. A multi-sculpture installation in NYC’s 14th Street subway station, “they’re all over the place, from the A train to the L line, up the steps and along the platforms. They’re comical, completely touchable, and just a size or two away from being Lilliputian. There may even be some underlying ‘moral of the story’ in their actions. All of which appeals to the urban fairy tale lover in me.”

An MTA video highlighting Life Underground and sculptor Tom Otterness.

5. Steve Harvey’s Morning Show.  “I know, I know he has his issues. So many. But I love when people call in from a little town and say ‘Steve I’m from — , you’ve probably never heard of it.’ And Steve says ‘Yes I have. It’s right off of route —‘ and then proceeds to break down where to get the best BBQ in town and how he made friends with the owner. He’s probably one of the few people who has seen every little nook and cranny of black America and knows it like the back of his hand. The sociologist in me would absolutely love to have his knowledge.”

The well-traveled radio host.

6. Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine. “For the uninitiated: two Afro-American sisters travel the country in the mid 1970’s documenting their family history via recipes. The stories they gather to accompany these recipes double as fun and engaging black history lessons. Plus there’s a whole chapter on things to make with sweet potatoes: sweet potato bread, sweet potato casserole, sweet potato pancakes.”

Former model Norma Jean Darden and her sister Carole grace the cover of a well-loved copy of their cookbook.

7. Injera. “I’m addicted, but it’s full of vitamins and trace minerals, so I don’t feel bad.”

The spongy flatbread of Ethiopia is a favorite.

8. The Chicago Obama Skirters. “The fabric for Ni’ja’s dress, called a kanga, came as a set of two. Women in Tanzania often wear them in pairs and give them as gifts to other women. I made two dresses and shipped one to a female friend as a way of re-mixing them into American culture. Ashley volunteered to do the Obama skirt score and decided she was going to try to do it for a whole year, like I did. She does wear it on key dates and sends me photos. Having two women doing this particular score on Obama’s home turf is one of my favorite aspects of the project. I’m always inspired to know that they thought enough of my work to make that happen.”

Aisha’s “kanga twin,” Ni’ja (on the El) wore her dress from 2009-2010.

9. Ben Vautier’s Don’t Follow Instructions. “Ever since switching over to performance art scores, my biggest challenge has been finding effective ways to visually document my work. I came across an old film by Ben Vautier not long ago and completely fell in love with both the form and content of it.”

“Last month, I somehow got invited to be in a fluxus concert (a series of short performance art scores) with him at MoMA. This is one of the performance art scores from the concert.”

10. Nikki Giovanni’s “Thug Life” Tattoo. “It challenges me. I banned Tupac from my record collection when he released Keep Your Head Up and I Get Around back to back. At age 15, I didn’t appreciate the sentiment. Or the way I saw it mirrored back in the behavior of the boys around me. I’m still not a Tupac fan. But I saw her speak about her tattoo after she got it and it challenged me. I like the fact the she challenges me now, in the present just as much as her poems challenged my view of black history when I was a child. It’s one of my favorite ‘everyday’ performance art pieces.”

The esteemed poet, inked in commemoration of the life of the slain Tupac Shakur, whom she claimed as her “literary son,” wanted to demonstrate to the “hip-hop generation” that they did not mourn alone.


The Trove: Nicole Blades
November 4, 2010

NB: Smart, savvy, quick-witted “and, to top it off nicely, Canadian.”

In 1967 during a mass “Brain Drain” from his native Barbados, Telecom engineer Tony Blades headed to Montreal to create a new life for his growing family. Wife Maureen, daughter Yvette and son Sean joined him in 1970.  A couple of years later, Nicole arrived, the first of their children born on Canadian soil. It would be a decade before Baby Nailah rounded out the Blades brood.

Long the baby-of-the-family, Nicole sings the parenting praises of her sweet mom: “she’s such a fantastic mother.” But she’s definitely a Daddy’s girl. She recalls awakening him, complaining of an aching tummy. He grabbed a pillow and blanket and whisked his baby girl into the bathroom, lest she need to be there. “He was so invested. Like, we’re gonna do this.” In her reserved husband she has found someone as deeply caring as her gregarious father. She beams when she speaks of her favorite fellas: her dad, her hubby Scott, and their toddler son.

I visited her light-filled Montclair home on Sunday to catch up and glimpse little Quinn’s Halloween turn in engineer’s stripes. While the marathon-contemplating Nicole showered after a run, I was charmed by a 20-month old clearly delighted to be on the planet and reminisced with Scott about their wedding (a lovely, tender ceremony officiated by his aunt followed by a lively, super fun reception.) There wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel when Scott read the letter he’d written Nicole just days after their first date, proclaiming his love for her.

Scott’s favorite cuties: kindergartner Nikki and little QB.

Donning a driving cap and aviators, Nicole bounded out, bussed the boys and headed with me to local favorite, Market for a baby-free brunch, a little dishing (we are former Essence colleagues after all) and venting about our social media phrasal pet peeves: for me, it’s the overused “-ista” suffix. For her it’s the prevailing “bornday” birthday greeting and the hashtag “fail” especially when preceded by the word “epic.”   But ultimately she shared her journey from Montreal to matrimony, motherhood and now, Ms. Mary Mack.

An interest in writing piqued in childhood by her storytelling father and 3rd grade teacher Mr. Polka, Nicole contributed to her college newspaper while studying Mass Communications and Psychology at Toronto’s York University.  She completed a four-year program in three years and upon graduation in 1994, she decided to go where the writers go, New York.  She didn’t quite “have the courage to say I want to write,” to be a journalist, so she took on a couple of PR internships, the first at TV’s Sally Jessy Raphael, then at The Terrie Williams Agency. Essence Magazine was a client of the agency and she eventually caught wind of an entry-level opening there. She assumed she blew the interview with a resume typo,”a direct route to exit,” but she prevailed and joined us in the fashion and beauty department. “It was a huge, huge thing for me,” she says. It shaped how I view my work. It was a great intro to magazines.”

In the days after an Essence exodus, she was pulled into working on an independent movie, doing makeup and securing wardrobe from Sal’s Army as she regrouped for the next career move. Then a quick stint with America’s Most Wanted,” dressing Criminals One and Four,” was actually fun, but she had to get back on track to writing.

She soon did a lot of it, meeting a daily deadline at Open Air PM, a New York afternoon daily. She “sharpened her reporting skills and wore lots of hats covering everything from Men’s Fashion Week to spa reviews.” It didn’t hurt that the start-up “paid a lot,” but she eventually was burned out and retreated to her parents home country for a two-week vacation that ultimately became a journalist stint lasting just shy of two years. “I thought, maybe. Maybe has been my lucky word.” She landed a position with the Nation, a top paper in Barbados. The slowed pace was good for her, “the antidote to the crazy, harried New York pace that wore me down,” she says. Again she covered a variety of subjects from reporting on parliament to reviewing concerts of “anyone who blew through town.” She eventually came to terms with the fact that “one of the biggest drawbacks to living on an island is living on an island,” and returned to Toronto.

A fortuitous meeting with a talented graphic designer led to the two late-twenties kindred spirits creating   SheNetworks, an internet portal filling the void left by mainstream women’s mags. In writing their business plan, they did what she calls a “crash course MBA.” The young women secured a half million dollars from venture capitalists and launched in San Francisco in Summer 2000. “The ramp up on our sophistication was priceless.”

By November “we were covered in Wired!

“When I look back at what we did, it could hold up today,” she says proudly.

The pair became “handsomely paid” consultants to companies looking to reach their demographic “you understand the 20-something market, do this for us,” they’d say. But as the bubble neared its burst, they couldn’t afford it anymore. “What can we cut, what can we cut?” Until there was “nothing left to cut.” They pulled the plug in 2001 and Nicole headed south to her parents’ Santa Clarita home grateful for the opportunity to begin the novel swimming in her head. She went about it like a job, writing from 10am to 5pm. Her plan to return to New York that October was dramatically altered on September 11.

It wasn’t until “folks at the NABJ” hipped her to a possible ESPN gig that she returned in December 2002. “I’d never considered sports journalism, but I realized they just want good stories. You don’t have to be a stats head.”  So maybe. She wowed her interviewer with the story of her dotcom days, “You’re making me sit up here. You’re like a fresh cup of coffee,” he said. She figured she’d nailed it, but she didn’t hear from them right away, “it was nerve-racking.”  Finally they called. She was hired as an editor and was instrumental in launching the website’s lifestyle section.
“Every job I’ve had, I’ve been able to see the other rooms of the house.” It was no different at the network: games, All Star Weekend, and bars–“ESPN is all about the after-work bar hang.”  And so it was at a bar gathering of colleagues that the near teetotaler finally exchanged words with Scott Burton, an editor who hadn’t acknowledged her existence in the year she’d worked there. When it was mentioned that he was somewhat shy Nicole responded, “so that’s why you haven’t spoken to me?”  “Yeah, she busted my balls for not speaking,” he smiles. Though he thought collegial dating was a bad idea, they gradually “became chummy,” exchanging “charming letters via email,” he says. “A courtship really,” that they kept under wraps and in the written word.  When they finally had their first date, just days before each would travel to their respective families for Christmas, magic happened. As they baked holiday sugar cookies together, he knew was done, he’d fallen. Hard. And she was intrigued by a man who, “deathly afraid of spiders” had a large tarantula tattooed on his shoulder. “There’s something more there,” she thought.  He was willing to confront his fear head-on.  When the cab taking her to the airport pulled away, “the literal moment, I felt this thing inside tell me You don’t want to be apart from that man ever again.

September 2, 2006.

She left ESPN in 2005 to make revisions to her tale of young Harriette Leacock slowly drowning in a island paradise, and in 2007 Earth’s Waters was published. When freelance client, Women’s Health, a “magazine she really liked,” offered her an editorship, she accepted the post, learning  “the back end, closing and fine-tuning my editing skills.” She remained there until early 2009, two weeks before the February 12th birth of Quinn Toumani Burton.

Calling on her “maybe mantra” the new mother thought, “I can do something here. I can merge my interest in others’ lives and storytelling.” She began researching Mom blogs and realized “I can do an anthropological look at motherhood.” Thus Ms. Mary Mack, “born” in late March of this year. The savvy blogger hit the motherlode, literally and figuratively when she made mention of New York Times mom blogger Lisa Belkin, inviting her to comment on Ms. Mary Mack. Belkin did and further invited Nicole to submit a guest post to her widely-read Motherlode, broadening her audience exponentially with the touch of a publish button. Keep your eye on MMM, Nicole has major plans for it.

Motherhood has reflected her love for her husband and broadened her sense of possibility. It’s left her “in awe about life, the world, us, our place in all of it. Just awed. It’s beyond amazing to see Quinn learning new things, grasping concepts and context.”  She can come up with a list of favorites just about her son, “I love his little hands on my face or his nose nestled into my neck. His voice. His smile. His laughter. The chubbiness of his elbow. His round tummy. All of it.”

So we know that Quinn is the ultimate, but here are some of the things that get Ms. Mary Mack, Mack, Mack’s hands a-clapping…

1. Scott’s Scrambled Eggs. I love that Scott loves to cook. I love that he’s really good at it even more There’s something about his balance of salt, pepper and heavy cream that renders these fluffy, butter-yellow clouds. And they are just plain delicious. He knows my toast taste–one slice whole wheat bread, browned and crisped to perfection. And the key, the signature move, the slice must be buttered with REAL butter fresh out the toaster oven so it melts in and blends with the bread. I’d be happy with that once slice of perfection and a cup of peppermint tea for any meal.

“Many of Scott’s dishes warm my tummy, but the one that warms my heart is his scrambled eggs.”

2. Chaise Lounge.
The chaise section of their modular sofa became her “go-to spot” during her pregnancy.  “Now that my son is a full-on toddler (and we’ve moved) it’s become our little Mama-and-Me space to cuddle up and read or just be. And now that fall is finally here, we’re taking our cuddle game next level thanks to thick, comfy throws.”

Snuggle Zone. © Ms. Mary Mack

3. CBS Sunday Morning. Motherhood and the busyness of life keeps her from watching much television, “but one show that I’ve always enjoyed, for years I mean, is CBS Sunday Morning. Maybe it’s Charles Osgood’s calming voice and matching bow-tie that drew me in, but the content keeps me coming back. There’s always something edifying and entertaining on this show. It’s like the best sections of a well-written newspaper brought to life. I’ve long said that if I ever found my way into working for TV, I would hope it was on this show.”

YouTube “Play” at the Guggenheim Museum.  

4. A Good Notebook and Pen. “I’m rarely without this duo. I’m a writer. A writer, writes. This sounds wise and all, but I started to notice that as my life got busier and more layered, I would forget that sentence, that note, that thing. And it would frustrate me to no end. So, the notebook. I also like seeing things on a To Do list literally crossed off on a page. Makes it real to me.  There’s something about a warm orange notebook with smooth pages welcoming your dreams and thoughts and stories that really works for me.” 

“This particular notebook-pen combo has served me well over the last couple of years.” © Ms. Mary Mack

5. Photography. “I grew up around cameras. My dad took lots of photos with his trusty Canons. He definitely sparked and encouraged my interest in photography. Being able to capture a moment, a story, a feeling with a one click of your camera, it’s storytelling at its best and most simple, I guess. I used to dabble and in school I took a course.” In March, Scott gifted her with a Canon digital SLR “and the roof has been blown off. I plan to keep shooting and learning and improving.”  Her secret dream is to have a gallery show,  publish a photo book and “have some of my shots be wonderful postcards that folks actually dig and buy!”

Same Day, Different Table  © Ms. Mary Mack

6. Short Stories. Now that she’s a mom, “leisure is pretty much gone for a while. No longer having the time to read novels as I would like, I’ve gotten back into shorts. Alice Munro has always been a favorite. She’s Canadian, after all. I’ve starting reading my old copies of Best American Short Stories. I also like Jhumpa Lahiri and pulled out my F. Scott Fitzgerald shorts collection. It’s a thick book, but there’s some good stuff on so many of those pages.”

Penguin Classics has reissued Fitzgerald’s Flappers and Philosophers with a fab Deco cover.

7. Good Sheets. “How much do I love soft, fresh, plain (no flowers, etc.) linen? MUCH! It can turn a virtual straw cot into a five-star bed. And sliding into bed with freshly-changed sheets, tucked in taut and right at the end a long day? Luxurious.”

Affordable bed linens from Crate and Barrel.

8. Pineapple Mint Iced Tea. Not a “bibber” (Bajan euphemism for big drinker) Nicole enjoys most beverages sans alcool. An anniversary trip with Scott to Savannah’s “lovely, historic” Mansion on Forsyth Park introduced her to her favorite libation. They took the “fun and fab” class Low Country Cooking.”This drink was on the menu, and it’s become my signature do. It’s the most refreshing thing, even in winter.” To the imbibing crowd she says “I’m sure a splash of vodka would take this drink to the next level.

Evening Edge features a recipe for her fave tea.

9. Boots. She’s a boot girl from way back.

The stylish silhouette and cushioned comfort of the Air Georgina from ColeHaan. “Oh how I wish for this handsome pair!” She exclaims.

10. Hoop Earrings. Sade has the right idea.

Hand-hammered gold hoops by JC.

The Trove: Fanon Che Wilkins
October 20, 2010

The polymathic professor.

Since meeting the powerfully named Fanon Che Wilkins over a year ago while dancing Michael Jackson’s memory to the skies in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, I have seen him only twice: ringing in the new year at the Harlem home of mutual friend, theHotness Grrrl and just last month as we enjoyed pristine September weather in the Prospect Heights garden of Le Gamin. Though I’ve kept up with the Kyoto-based scholar/lecturer/photographer/curator/DJ/hip-hop head/hardcore Lakers fan and his travel exploits via Facebook (snowboarding in Aspen, visiting his Pops in Belize, surfing in Costa Rica and Second Lining in NOLA) it was good to have an unhurried sit-down to catch up as the old folks say, “proper-like,” Over salmon crêpes and merguez omelets, we covered the gamut — the wisdom of our sages from August Wilson to the RZA, the merits of non-conformity and beauty of serendipity.

In fact, our having met in 2009 had a delightfully serendipitous consequence. Fanon, strapped with a long-lensed Canon shot the MJ park celebration and posted the pics to Facebook where his mom, Akiba Kiiesmira saw them and recognized me. She, an incredible textile artist and designer whose work I’d used in the pages of Essence, and I had been friends in the nineties but we’d lost touch.

During the final year of the sixties, twenty-year-old Akiba (then MaryAnn) gave birth to her first child in Los Angeles.  She and her partner, Ron Wilkins, poised for revolution, named their manchild after revolutionaries Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara. A member of the Slauson Village gang in the 1950’s, Ron was at the center of the 1965 Watts Rebellion, “a politicizing moment for him.”  Akiba was reading voraciously: “dialectical historical materialism and Marxist theory.” Both were members of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.) Organizing was the young family’s lifeblood.  When Fanon was six-months-old, Akiba ventured to Cuba for a month to join the Venceremos Brigade, cutting sugar cane and showing solidarity with the Cuban Revolution while “Pops held it down” in Cali.

By the time he was two-years-old, Fanon’s folks amicably parted ways, sharing custody. He bounced between parents and cities. His mom relocated to Atlanta to work in a shirt collar factory with the goal of  “organizing the workers at the point of production.” They lived in a collective house and Fanon attended the independent liberation school, Learning House, where the children pledged before each meal, fists proudly raised, “I will eat all my food to grow big and strong to work in the struggle for African people.” At some point during the early years a decision was made that Fanon would alternate years with each parent.

He returned to Los Angeles and a father who was serious about working outside “the system.” For a kid, “no Disneyland, no Christmas, no frivolity,” was a drag, but his grandmother and aunt “brought balance. They made sure I had a rib,” he smiles. “That was their resistance.  In a lay-down-the-law move, G-ma had him photographed with St. Nick and hung it on the wall. “He was a big, pink-white Santa…the penultimate, and I’m sitting on his lap.” He speaks lovingly of her clear-headedness, “she wouldn’t fly,” her refusal not from fear but rather practicality; she’d witnessed many pilots tippling the cocktails. “I see the world from the ground up. I ain’t no fool,” she’d say.

The journey from South Central to the halls of academia has been an interesting one. Six-year-old Fanon was stymied by stage fright when his Dad took him to audition for the Jackson Five Variety Show in 1975. As they exited the studio set, teen idol Michael consoled him by getting down on one knee, wiping the tears from his eyes and offering some words of encouragement.  “A beautiful brother,” he fondly recalls.

In esteemed company: with the future “King of Pop” and the good doctor “Brother West.”

Amid “radicals, pimps, drug dealers and scholars,” he had an “irreverent, sacred and secular upbringing.” He was “partially raised by Richard Pryor,” he says. This resonates in his endeavors now, from his academic pursuits to his lush photographs.  “To do what Romare Bearden did, what August Wilson did. In an unalloyed way, to see the beauty of the real. Its tragic, sacred and profane beauty.”

Though he’d been introduced to photography through his dad, he didn’t realize that “you could go to school to get a BFA.”  The cerebral high school athlete (basketball and football) became a Morehouse man, returning to Atlanta to embark upon what would become an accomplished career in the study of history (with a concentration in African American Studies.) The summers of his early twenties were spent hosting and bonding with his younger (by ten years) brother Kamari. Graduate school would take him to the eponymous university in Syracuse, NY, where he would live for nine years–the longest he’s ever lived in one place. He did, however, take a year off to travel to Cuba and Southern Africa, spending much of it in Zimbabwe. In one of the many providential experiences of his life, he met author/scholar Robin D.G. Kelley and set his sights on a doctorate, exploring (at NYU with Kelley as his adviser) the global liberation struggles of oppressed and marginalized people –particularly in African nations– and their profound impact on the Black Power and Civil Rights Movements in the US.

Fit and fabulous: the gorgeous, ageless Akiba and her sons, Fanon and fitness trainer Kamari.

Upon his return from the continent, he committed to being “a real black man…settle down, raise a family.”  He married fellow academician, Assata and in 1997 they became the parents of a daughter, the creative, oboe-playing Coltrane.  In 1999, joyful, “extremely laid-back” son Irie followed. Though the couple divorced, just as his own parents were “totally cool, not together, but fully functional,” Fanon and his former wife lived near each other, peaceably co-parenting in Champaign where they both were graduate professors at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  Fanon met Lashanda, who has since relocated to Japan with him where he was offered an Associate Professorship in African American History and Culture at the Graduate School of American Studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

Used to a very hands-on relationship with his children, Fanon has felt anxiety over his newly peripatetic fatherhood, but given his own childhood, he realizes too what a broadening experience it can be for the children to spend the school year in Champaign and summers in Kyoto. He of course, visits the children stateside a few times a year and maximizes every moment.  Though he definitely gets his travel on, when in Kyoto he lives “a simple life. No frills. I don’t have a car. I ride my bike or take public transportation.”

Fanon invites us to “see what eye see” on his photo blog— the beautiful Lashanda, his kids in flight and glimpses of life in Japan.

He recently co-edited From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International Since the Age of Revolution, a 2009 collection of scholarly essays on black internationalism and contributed the fifth chapter, “A Line of Steel: The Organization of the Sixth Pan-African Congress and the Struggle for International Black Power, 1969-1974,” to the just released The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism edited by Dan Berger.

Recent publications.

In spite of the rarefied worlds he’s found himself in, Fanon remains incredibly grounded and grateful. His Mama, Daddy, village raised him up right. He’s an intellectual who’ll drop the knowledge without pedantry, a cat you can kick back and have a brew with. Of academia, he says, “I’m with people who posture all the time. I’m trying to live as authentically as possible. Life happens in the blur, the grey areas. I can’t front.” So from this authentic life enthusiast, a few things he enjoys in the blur…

1. Fragrance Oils. He hasn’t worn cologne since high school. “It’s all oils.” He got hooked after he was given and advised to sell a “hefty supply of Somali Rose and Arabian Sandalwood to make some money for books and supplies.”  The “terrible businessman,”  got a little too hooked, breaking one of the “Ten Crack Commandments and ‘got high on my own supply’ by keeping it all to myself and wearing it on a daily. I have come to fashion myself a connoisseur of fine oils.”

“Uncut and as pure as they come,” a quartet in his fragrance cache. “Gold Dust is sick and I can generally rock any Musk, especially when it’s hot and my skin is moist.”

2. Deejaying. “I live for music and have been deejaying for a while out of necessity. I’ve lived in more than my share of backwater towns and have had to resurrect the good old house party just to keep my sanity. I have done a few clubs in my day, but I mostly get down for fun and push my friends to throw parties and hire me.”

“My music equipment and untouched clutter. I figured I had to be a real DJ and keep it all the way real.”

3. Shirley the Surly. “I ride every single day. Big Shirley takes me all over the streets of Kyoto. She’s a simple fixed-gear Surly Steamroller that has never failed me — aside from a flat or two or three.  Everybody should own a bike and ride it.  Bike lanes need to be mandatory.”

Big Shirley keeps him fit, saves money and is eco-friendly.

4. 35-pound Kettlebell. “It’s the most important piece of exercise equipment I own. I love to go hard and keep it simple and safe.”

“Join the revolution and buy one,” Fanon enthuses.

5. Sneakers. “Like the great philosopher Nasir Jones, ‘I’ma addict for sneakers.’ I truly believe that Hip-Hop’s greatest contribution to civilized behavior was making sneakers high fashion because I prefer a nice pair of tennis (a nod to the Left Coast vernacular) over just about anything that goes on my feet.”

 

“I copped these [Puma] joints in Kyoto about a year ago, but recently pulled them out and I think they look better than when I bought them.”

6. Leica Digi-Lux 2. “I am a camera gear fanatic. I love photography. I lust and salivate for the tools of the trade. This Digi-Lux is my first ever purchase on Ebay and I am having a blast with it. One day I will own an M9, but for now I am getting my Leica on with this trusty little throwback that was made way back in 2004.  In digital camera years that’s like 20 years ago.”

“You just can’t front on the seamlessness of Leica design — sleek, simple and uncluttered.”

7. Blendtec Blender. “I pretty much make a smoothie of some sort every single day. When I was in search of a trusty blender, it was between the Blendtec and VitaMix.” The Blendtec won him over. Three years in, he hasn’t been disappointed.

Even though he ordered the black model but received the white, “he got over it and made a smoothie.”

8. Skype. “People often ask me how difficult it is to live abroad. ‘Don’t you miss your family and friends?’ they always ask. Yes and no, thanks to a wonderful invention called Skype. I got put up on it when I was in Brazil in 2006 and it has made my life abroad a cinch.”

Modern technology: Coltrane and Irie can pick up their home phone, dial their Dad’s “Skype in” number and it rings on his computer 6000+ miles away.

9. Eyeglasses. He’s worn them since his sophomore year of college. “I jokingly tried my buddy Arshad’s on and damn near lost my mind because I discovered that blurred chalkboards were not actually blurry at all. I used the first credit card I ever got — a Sears jammy — and bought my first pair of eyeglasses.”

“Simple, elegant, timeless and nerdy as f***, but in a hip way, he says of his artisanal frames from French eyewear company, Vue dc.”

10. Snowboarding. He’s been surfing the slopes for about eight years (Nagano, Aspen, Whistler, Tahoe.) “When it comes to something I live for I don’t think anything tops the list more these days than snowboarding. Ride a snowboard, you will live longer,” he opines.

“When the mountains are steep and the snow gets deep,” he uses his (left) Tanker 200 by Rad-Air—a long board only built for Cuban Linx.  His “go-to board for all-around conditions” is the Prior All Mountain Freestyle with hybrid rocker. “I had the pleasure and honor of visiting the Prior plant and taking a tour of the factory in Whistler, BC.” The gear geek admits the tour got a “rise” out of him.

*Excepting Blendtec and Skype, all photos of Trove items courtesy of Fanon Che Photography.

The Trove: Barney Bishop
September 23, 2010

Holding court on West Broadway.

The alliteratively named Barney Bishop was graced with a name befitting his dapper bearing. When we met for coffee recently at Soho’s Ground Support, he sported cufflinks in his white herringbone, French-cuff shirt and a silk pocket square in the breast pocket of his striped linen sport coat.  Relaxing the look a bit were dark denims and a crepe soled loafer.  He’d just wrapped up a semester in the Master’s program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at NYU and actually had time to sit and chat a while.  As we sat outside, several well-dressed confrères passed by, cigars in tow, asking Barney if he’d be heading to nearby “smoker’s sanctuary,” OK Cigars, where he’s been known to partake of a stogie or two.

When the fragrance connoisseur asked what I was wearing, I sheepishly confided that though I’d intended to dazzle with a sophisticated scent that had long since faded, his perceptive nose was picking up on my Whole Foods lavender hand sanitizer.  Thus began our convo about one of his great passions.  As far back as he can remember, he would steal away to his parent’s bedroom to inhale the aromas wafting from his father’s dresser. His dad would purchase fragrance sets only to get the practical, cooling, scented powders; the bottles of Aramis, Tuscany and so on would go unused, but would trigger a nascent love in his first-born.

In 1994 while working at Saks Fifth Avenue, Jean Paul Gaultier made an in store appearance promoting his new perfume and I remember getting a whiff of it and thinking to myself, this is amazing…what interesting notes. Although it was for women, I wondered why I couldn’t find anything as interesting for men. From that point I was addicted to the power of fragrance.

– From the December 2007 launch of Barney’s blog, Fragrant Moments.

The genesis of the blog is in the exchanges on fragrance between the PR professional and his kindred tonsorial and sartorial spirit, Brian Boye, the Fashion and Grooming Director of Men’s Health. Barney was feeling a creative void and found that “jotting down notes on fragrance” was satisfying.  “It is a labor of love” that is growing– a perfumer even queried him about creating a scent. “Maybe in time,” Barney says.  For now, he is “really having fun with the journey. Though August Bishop was a shared experience and I cherish it, this is mine.”

I met Barney eons ago when his Brooklyn College classmate, the enterprising Dexter Wimberly pulled him in on a freelance assignment getting the word out about Detroit-based designer Maurice Malone. I was working up a fashion story on African-American designers for Essence and I was impressed with the professionalism of the young men.  I had no idea that Barney juggled jobs at Saks Fifth Avenue and UPS and Dexter was a party-promoting, underground rapper.  Dexter’s growing music contacts led him to focus on PR/Marketing full-time and he approached Barney with the idea to create a PR agency.  Barney naively asked, “What’s that?”  The reply?  “What we’ve been doing.”  So in 1995, they launched August Bishop, LLC, the lofty name a combination of Dexter’s birth month and Barney’s surname.  Though he quit the Saks gig, Barney, embracing “working class stability,” continued his UPS job at night.

The young agency got their “big break” in 1998 snagging The Coca Cola Company as a client, which gave them business credibility to land Adidas in 2000. At the time the 3-stripes needed to move “outside the shadow of the [iconic] shell toe sneaker,” the sports fanatic recalls. “We blew the project out of the water.  We over delivered what they expected,” garnering press from not only the usual suspects, like The Source and XXL, but from such publications as ID and One Magazine.  “We did 10 or 11 launches for them, major.” Then Virgin Mobile USA came knocking in 2002 with the pay-as-you-go concept.  “It was not considered sexy,” connoted bad credit, but “we spun the story of [Richard] Branson’s maverick approach, did the consumer launch and within 9 months the program attracted 1/2 million new subscribers.” 2005 brought the “very important client,” L’Oréal as well as their final year of business.  The agency had “a great run,” ten years, but the economy changed things and there were cash flow issues, even with big-name clients. The gents grew “tired of juggling, robbing Peter to pay Paul” and decided to “keep it moving.”


During the August Bishop heyday: Barney Bishop and Dexter Wimberly.

The post-August Bishop years have been wrought with love, fraught with loss and filled with tremendous personal growth.  Robert Bishop, the steadfast 37-year employee of Kingsbrook Jewish Hospital known affectionately as “Pops,” instilled a sense of propriety in his sons, Barney and Lamont.  The sportsman of Bajan legend (in basketball and “one the best wing halves in the game” of football) has been absolute hero to his boys, “communicating many things–values, responsibility…tying ties, grooming.”  Lamont’s doctoral thesis in psychology was on the “influence of authority on Black males. He was getting his PhD because of his experience with my Dad.”

Robert Bishop, athletic hero to Barbados; life hero to his sons. When asked about the secret to his 44-year marriage to the beautiful Eula, he says, “we just work together.”

The family was shattered in May of last year when doctoral candidate and new father, Lamont suddenly and inexplicably passed away. “It rocked us. It was so unexpected,” Barney recounts.  It is in the education advocate Lamont’s memory that Barney has begun graduate school.  “Lamont was super smart–dean’s list all through college.  He could wear the skin of the homeboy and turn on the intellect when he needed to.”

Sorrow turned to joy when a few months later, Barney’s girlfriend of eight years, Eliana Ramos, in a gutsy move, topped their “meet cute” (actually on their second meeting when they each went in to plant a hello kiss on the cheek, their lips met) with an “engaged cuter.”  Eli told her man that she was taking him on a surprise trip and that he should bring something nice to wear.  “I’m particular about my clothes, so I set out a few things for her to choose,” the appropriate garments for the occasion.  At some point in flight, Eliana told Barney to close his eyes; she had a surprise for him.  When he opened them, there were “rings in front of me. I instantly matured.”  “I want to marry you,” she said. “I was speechless,” he remembers. “You’re making me nervous, say something,” she said. “Yes, I’ll marry you, but I need to call my pops for his blessing,” he responded.

When they landed, in Maui, no less, Barney called home.  “Eliana proposed and wants to get married this weekend.”  His dad replied, “you know I’d like to see this but you completely have my blessing.  She’s great!.”  She’d arranged everything in advance so they married at sunset, “no stress, on the beach.”

Of his lovely bride, Barney says “I had never seen her look more beautiful!” Read Eliana’s account on her fantastic blog, A Chica Bakes.

After a couple of hours it became clear that Barney enjoys communion– with family, with the fellas, with his love; that the experience of food, drink, sport, even fragrance is best enjoyed shared.  Check his trove and you too will see…

1. Eliana’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies. “They are so rich…She uses dark chocolate off the bar,” he says of his wife’s variant on the humble chocolate chip. “She makes the batter one day, bakes another. The batter develops as it rests…silky, delicious.”


Chocolate Chunk Cookies, © A Chica Bakes.

2. Couch/Quiche Sundays. The Bishop’s enjoy bistro chic from the comfort of home on Sundays when Eliana whips up a mean quiche, a little salad and mimosas to wash it all down. “We just veg out on the couch and watch the Food Network until it’s time to fight over who’s going to make dinner,” he laughs. Joining them in the Sunday sofa chill is their long-haired, miniature dachshund, Kingston.


BB chills with the incredibly photogenic Kingston.

3. Fragrance. With a highly developed and discerning sense of olfaction, Barney  has been a passionate collector of fragrances since childhood. Everyone who knows him, knows this. Whilst in Paris in 2008 for Eliana’s marathon run, Barney made his way to highly regarded French perfumer, Frédéric Malle to indulge in their scent chambers–“nothing to interrupt the scent experience.” He delighted in the moment as a non-French-speaking, African-American, het man “in this frou-frou place” where “fragrance became the bridge to communication.” When in broken English the shop girl asked him what he was drawn to, his sophisticated response made her “erupt in a smile” and bring out a fragrance for him to sample.  He sniffed and asked if it contained Cumin.  She laughed.  Affirmative. “We bonded,” he says, “dialogued about it,” as best they could.  Before he realized that last summer’s in-flight surprise was a marriage proposal, Barney, true fragrance aficionado, thought that upon opening his closed eyes he’d be presented with a bottle of Musc Ravageur from Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle.

Though he counts 35-40 fragrances in his personal collection, one that consistently tops his list is Rose 31 from Le Labo.

4. Dad’s Steamed Kingfish.  What makes it so good? “It’s just the way he seasons it…plus we get to sit and eat together and rap about whatever is on our minds while throwing back a brew.”


Bishop,
père is skilled not only in sports, but in the Bajan art of steaming fish.

5. Killian’s Irish Red. Though he may have had “an occasional Heineken at a lime, West Indian talk for party,” Barney once “hated beer.”  That changed on St. Patrick’s Day 2009 when he had drinks at an East side bar featuring specials on Killian’s Irish Red lager and Johnnie Walker: “the hops and barley of Killian’s offered a depth and complexity that just grabbed me. I drank three more along with shots of Johnnie and have never looked back,” he says with winking smile.
Slow roasting the barley to a rich, caramelized malt lends Killian’s its distinctive ruddy hue and creamy finish.

6. Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken. “There’s just so much damn flavor I can’t even describe it, but I have it every time I go there.”  And he knows good chicken– his southern-born mama can fry the yardbird too.”


“Northern Fried Chicken” from Blue Ribbon Brasserie. Photo, Robyn Lee.

7. Lamont’s Bottle of Penhaligon’s Lp No.9. The popular 1999 Penhaligon’s fragrance for men was one that Barney had “outgrown” and given to his brilliant, beloved younger brother who seemed to fancy it.  The well-loved bottle resided on Lamont’s dresser and provided solace and connection when Barney faced the unthinkable– his brother’s sudden passing.  He shares the story on his blog, Fragrant Moments.

A cherished, fragrant memento.

8. Family. “Family is central to who I am.”  When Robert of St. Michael, Barbados and Eula of Pantego, NC wed, they set the foundation for an extremely close nuclear bond. “We, us four, were mad tight.” Lamont’s death was so unexpected, “it rocked us,” after a life filled with love, respect and no major family riffs.  And as the family cherishes Lamont’s memory, they adore his look-a-like son Aidan and mom Aquila Lovell and welcome Eli, the new Mrs. Bishop.


The “Four Musketeers:” Lamont, Barney, Mom and Dad Bishop in a treasured family portrait.

9. Have a Little Faith. Regardless of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie fame, sports fan Barney knew him as an ESPN journalist.  He came across Albom’s poignant tale juxtaposing the lives of two men of differing faiths and races, while searching for an in-flight read at an airport bookseller.
Lovingly rendered in Albom’s hands, the faith journeys of affluent Philadelphia’s Rabbi Albert Lewis and inner-city Detroit’s Pastor Henry Covington provide inspiration.

10. Latin Jazz. He hit upon some Latin rhythms while scrolling his tuner in search of WBGO many years ago.  He began to listen “with pen and paper close by” to make note of the tunes which intrigued him and would make the trek to HMV or Tower Records to needle drop at their listening stations.

With their remarkable mimicry of instrumental sounds, Cuban a capella group, ‘Vocal Sampling,’ “blows my mind,” Barney enthuses.  Their version of Afro-Cuban classic,'(Castellano) Que Bueno Baila Usted’ is his favorite in their repertoire.

The Trove: Henry Adebonojo
August 12, 2010

With the same great love for capturing the moment through the moving image as for distilling the essence in a single frame, cinematographer/ photographer Henry Adebonojo is “happiest when I am making pictures.” I met the courteous and quiet Henry in passing many moons ago as he, fan of foreign cinema, was headed to Tower Records on 66th Street, home of “the best collection of foreign films in NYC hands down,” as his colleague in the film biz (my then-beau) and I left the self-same place in a round of music shopping.   Our paths would cross here and there but it would be years later before Henry and I had a “real” conversation and his other “twin” emerged in Gemini glory: erudite and given to animated conversation about literature, music, film, politics and racing.

Henry spent his Lagosian adolescence during the rise of Afrobeat, leaving in 1978 to complete his A-Levels (college qualification exams) and continue on to university in Great Britain, where his interest in photography was sparked in earnest. He completed his undergraduate degree in Law at the University of Buckingham and went on to study International Law at the graduate level at University College, London.

Returning to the city of his birth in 1984, he entered the film business the following year with a production assistant gig.  Working his way up the through the ranks, he became a cinematographer in 1993. He has enjoyed a career which has taken him across the United States and as far away as Mozambique, South Africa, post-genocide Rwanda and Italy, where he traveled with Spike Lee to shoot behind-the-scenes footage for the film, Miracle at St. Anna. Poignantly, James McBride’s fictionalized account of the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre in World War II Tuscany and the sacrifice of African-American Buffalo Soldiers brought Henry to the hilltop village of Sommocolonia, the very place, he’d learn that his own uncle, the 21-year-old PFC Macleon Johnson, gave his life in service of the US Army in December 1944. Visit his blog, Fewer Words, for the moving account.

Henry Adebonojo and the Uncle he never knew, the heroic Buffalo Soldier, Macleon Johnson

Shooting the likes of the late Gordon Parks, (for his Emmy-nominated work on Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks) George Clooney, Chuck D, Marisa Tomei, Dave Chappelle and the POTUS, Barack Obama, he’s cut a wide swath across the mediums of music videos, commercials, promos, documentaries and short films. The one position which has remained elusive is the Director of Photography spot on a feature film, but he’s up for the challenge, and looks forward to its inevitable occurence.

Though motion pictures are his bread and butter, he is making a concerted effort to shoot the still photos that he too loves.  His images, even those which depict atrocity, reflect his inherent empathy. He brings a tender humanity even to inanimate objects.

A glimpse of the sacred amid the rubble of the most unholy, the skulls of the murdered faithful in a Rwandan church, 2004.


“Esperanza Spalding,” May 2009. A quiet moment for the jazz bassist.

“Waiting for Wesley,” Ilha de Mozambique, 2005.  On a location scouting trip in Africa for Danny Glover’s intended feature, “Toussaint,” star Wesley Snipes “was like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Wherever we went a crowd formed and people followed on foot behind the car that carried him around.”

View his work, both moving images and still photography at his website, HenryAdebonojo.com.

Because I’ve rolled with Henry to some wonderful jazz performances (such as the Heath Brothers at Birdland and Sir Ron Carter with his Juilliard colleagues, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Carl Allen, Ron Blake and Benny Green in a super-tight set at Dizzy’s), it comes as no surprise that Jazz should figure prominently in the aficionado’s trove.  Read on to discover his other treasures.

1. The Masters of Jazz. Henry has completely immersed himself in the world of Jazz and though he is well-versed in the music of many artists, two stand out for their bodies of work: Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. “Any thing those men produced is a soul-stirring emotional ride for me.  I recommend the lesser known Milestones as a landmark album for Miles.  And for Sir Duke, I recommend one of his later works from 1967, Far East Suite, which is rich in the complex orchestration for which he is famously known.  I especially love Ad Lib on Nippon.”  The bibliophile adores Geoff Dyer’s self-labeled work of “imaginative criticism,” But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz.  “It merges beautifully my love of Jazz music and stories with my tendency to daydream.” As for jazz films, the 1988 documentary, Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser is it. “There is a moment in the film where Monk is at an airport in Europe and he is briefly separated from Nellie [his wife] as she is handling passport stuff.  He stands staring at people to-ing and fro-ing through the airport and in his typical mad mathematician methodology he breaks out in a spin and a brief jig – the kind he is wont to do on stage. It’s a personal moment, a moment of release.  When I am in a particularly stressful moment or situation, my mind wanders to Thelonious.” (Skippy and Crepuscule with Nellie are favorites.)

“Epistrophy,” sets up the airport scene about seven minutes into this clip. It is the perfect composition for Monk’s ecstatic whirl.

2. Compact Cameras. “I’ve been enjoying the miniaturization of my personal visual tool kit.  Sometimes I don’t feel like lugging around big cameras and dealing with the attendant attention.” He purchased an Olympus EP2 in January. “It has a lower profile than my Canon camera and accepts a plethora of lenses via adapters.  It is more discrete than the beloved Leica of many a photographer and the image quality while not quite up to the Canon, serves my purposes very well.  I love to use my Voigtlander 58mm 1.4 lens on it.  Great resolution on that lens and tack sharp.” A birthday gift from his “beloved friend, Kevin Ladson,” Henry’s Flip video cam, with its diminutive size allows him to “enjoy shooting those candid moments that a larger camera would destroy.  I don’t have to worry about things like focus and exposure. I just shoot and have fun with it.”

Mighty minis: Olympus PEN EP2 and the Ultra Flip HD video camera.

3. Auto Racing. “Nothing provides the kind of adrenaline kick for me like I get when I am behind the wheel of a fast car.  That car may be a Go Kart or a race car, but the feeling is the same.  The purposeful direction of aggression with a host of other people who are guided by the same principle and all happen to be heading in the same direction.  I don’t get that feeling from anything else I do.  For Go Karting I head up to Mount Kisco to GPNY (a modestly priced experience). For race cars I go to Skip Barber Racing School (a ruinously expensive experience).  I plan to do Skip Barber before the year is out.”

H.O.A. in the driver’s seat.

4. Wrist Watches. He owns several and keeps them in rotation. “They are my jewelry and change with my moods.  I love all my watches, but I have two ‘favourites,’ both have black dials and were bought to mark trips abroad.”  An aviation chronograph from Russian watchmaker Poljot “is the only manual winding watch I own.  I love having to wind it the way I used to do the watches I had as a kid.”

Henry was drawn to the “interesting combination” of steel case and gold numerals and hands in the square-faced watch from the La Carrée collection of French watchmaker Louis Erard.

5. Fountain Pens. “I enjoy process and although I don’t use them often, I love to fill a fountain pen with ink, write on some fine absorbent paper and watch the ink settle in the way my mood or emotion might do on a particular writing.  I occasionally pop into the Fountain Pen Hospital in downtown Manhattan to see what’s on offer.  I have a Parker I love and a Conklin that I picked up there.  I’d love a Namiki-Pilot, but the ones I like are too rich for my blood.”

Photo, PressSmart.com.

6. Francis Coppola Claret. Though he claims “an unsophisticated palette,” he knows what he likes in wine: good, red and affordable. Until he celebrates an Academy Award or Grand Prix win, the $20 range suits him fine. “I find I cannot go wrong with the Coppola Claret.  I can only imagine his wines are made with the same attention to detail as his classic films.”

“Never had a bad bottle of the stuff and it does not break my bank.”

7. Busboys and Poets. “In our fast changing world where process and tactile experience is being steadily replaced by a virtual one, I hold on for dear life to those of my past.  I miss record stores – even the ones that sell CDs.  Bookstores are going the same way.”  The D.C. cafe and bookseller,  “Busboys is a reminder of what it really is like to sit back and smell the rose or coffee depending on your preferred metaphor. In the case of Busboys, it’s more like smell food and touch books.”

The Busboys and Poets Bookstore is run by Teaching for Change.  Photo, Susanna Raab for the New York Times.

8. Contemporary Nigerian Authors. “Emerging Nigerian Writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun) and Chris Abani (GraceLand) are rocking my world right now.  They are brilliant story tellers who owe a great deal to the writers who came before – Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe – but have an up-to-the-minute, romantic, free style of writing.  They are essential to an understanding of Nigeria’s past, present and future.”

Exceptional prose from two of Nigeria’s finest contemporary writers.

9. Fela Ransome Kuti and the Koola Lobitos “are important to me because of the well deserved popularity of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, but they are equally important.  The two are inseparable.  I urge anyone interested in the latter to acquaint themselves with the former. I was a kid growing up in Lagos when Hi Life music was all the rage and distinctly remember the transformation Fela went through and the long journey to embrace he endured (especially by the class from which he came – little known but he was seen as a kind of class traitor because of his embrace of common folk).  It’s a more profound story than the musical could ever encompass.”

Soundtrack to a Nigerian childhood.

10. Passing Strange. The musical, the film, the cast recording have particular resonance to his life.  “I lost my mother when I was 14 years old.  My life has had a certain un-balance to it ever since.  I have not begun to reckon with that until fairly recently, to grasp some of the dimensions of altered states resulting there from.  I think boys who lose their mothers at a young age have particular stories, unique stories.  Passing Strange also resonates because of the awkwardness of career choices that remain unsettled in us and the ways we are required to embrace that in order to move forward.”

Henry was overjoyed to serve as camera operator on the Spike Lee-helmed, filmed version of the Tony-award winning musical.

The Trove: Amy Linden
July 23, 2010

Over wildly tangential brunch conversation at Le Gamin, reminiscing about old Fort Greene with and enjoying the rapid-fire wit of Amy Linden, she remembered our introduction at the long-gone Albee Square Mall. “I met you at Toys ‘R’ Us, rest in peace. You were looking for a black Barbie.” Recalling too, a recent interview with a gospel singer, she says, “when she called herself a ‘prophetess,’ I was like is that with an f or a ph?” My crêpes finally delivered to the table she mockingly exclaimed, “Oh two perfect little Hot Pockets!” She can get a lot out without taking a breath, but it’s natural to her, she says “I’m a writer, I get paid by the word.” 

Born in Queens and raised on Long Island, Amy went to an alternative high school “which meant I did nothing but read a lot of feminist literature and smoke a lot of pot…In high school I wanted to be a rock star.” So how did she become a music journalist? “I lost a bet,” she says wryly. “I actually came to hip-hop through punk.” A post-high school stint in Jonestown massacre/Harvey Milk assassination-era San Francisco led to writing for a local punk fanzine. 

Back on the East Coast in the 80’s, she worked at infamous after hours spot, A7 in the East Village and toured the northeast corridor with bands, Dead Kennedys and DOA.  She got her first Spin Magazine piece when she and an editor friend took in her punk clips and pitched a “Celebs with Tattoos” story back when getting inked wasn’t so ubiquitous. “We really had to think about  it. Usually it was circus freaks and maybe Billy Idol.” She got hers “when it was still illegal in New York. I mean, that was the point.” When I commented on the lasting vibrancy of her turquoise tat (the first of three) she said, “Yea, those guys really knew what they were doing. I charged this one to a record label on the per diem.”

Her second piece for Spin was her first on hip-hop. “I felt like I didn’t deserve it, yes I was a fan, but I didn’t know it, live it. My scene was the Lower East Side punk scene and the artsy spillover, yeah I’d see Basquiat riding his bike around.” Nonetheless, a friend at BAM introduced her to Boogie Down Productions.  Off she went to the South Bronx to pickup a 12″ for a listen. “I thought I’m a white girl in skinny black pants and skips…I don’t have any cool sneakers.”

“Then I became the girl who wrote about the schlocky R&B, but I wasn’t doing it with irony.  I was sincere.  Miki Howard? Loved…Labels were really segregated then: the pop music over here and the black music waaaay over there.” The divorced mom appreciated the camaraderie. “You could go hang out all day and eat.  I’d have my kid, they’d order food…And back then, people in the industry loved music. Everyone listened to and talked about music, real music.”  She’s written her share of liner notes, including those for the late Keith Elam, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 3: Streetsoul.

“I’ve spent a good portion of my career being the only white girl in the room.” People find it hard to ‘place’ her though. “I’ve escaped some Anti-Semitism because of how I look.  Are you Greek, Italian, Armenian?”  Try Hungarian-Polish.  Her father was “born at the kosher hospital in Canarsie back when it was still farmland.”  For all her non-observance, Amy found herself delivering her only child at the same hospital and though now called Brookdale and servicing a largely African-American population, still kosher. Fitting for a woman who says, “I learned how to be Jewish from Black people. Sorry I don’t fit the cultural stereotype.  I’m actually not good with money and I don’t know the slang.  I know a schmear, a schmuck and a putz, that’s about it.”  And seltzer.  When I mentioned I’d never had an egg cream, she said they were great, “my father made them at home, he had the seltzer bottle and the CO2 cartridge, I mean he’s a Brooklyn Jew.  If you ask for seltzer and they give you club soda, you know. Where there’s no seltzer, there’s no Jews.”

Amy Linden: “I’m a Stones person, rather than a Beatles person.”

A staff newswriter for VH1, Amy became on-air talent when she joined fellow music critics Anthony DeCurtis, Scott Poulson-Bryant and JD Considine for Four on the Floor (1994-1996)a roundtable talk show likened to The McLaughlin Group for rock criticism. “It was a blast! We would always have a celeb guest: Peter Frampton, fabulous! Cyndi Lauper, Robbie Robertson, Vernon Reid, the Blinded Me with Science guy, uh, Thomas Dolby.” 

She’s since covered everyone from James Brown (“It was like talking to the Tasmanian Devil. I couldn’t understand anything he was saying”) to the beleaguered Amy Winehouse to Q-Tip, whom she adores, for performing without fanfare at a benefit for her son’s school years ago. Lucian, now 21, used to call him “Uncle Ear Wax.” People magazine brought her aboard when it became clear that hip-hop couldn’t be “ignored anymore. It couldn’t be marginalized. The Fugees were #1 in the country.” The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Vibe, People, Entertainment Weekly, The Source and the Village Voice, she’s written for them all. Just last week she interviewed Bobby Womack for SoulSummer.com, where she is a frequent contributor. 

On her own blog, Not for Nothin,’ she culls the music landscape, “making the world safe for bad music and pointless culture since 19**.”  In her “plan for world media domination,” she’s rolled out the Not for Nothin’ podcast, where she channels her inner DJ and kicks it with the likes of Pharoahe Monche and Corey Glover (with whom she kicked off Black History Month spinning Bryan Ferry, Wendy & Lisa, and the “blackish” Alison Moyet.)

We celebrated her recent graduation from the New School (3.8 G.P.A., thank you very much) over sticky toffee pudding and people watching. Though she loves Brooklyn, BK hipsters and their fedoras work her nerves. “It’s all too precious now,” referring to the nostalgia trend.  “Soon we’re going to have a restaurant where you can eat everything your Mommy said you can’t.  People will be drinking from large milk cartons.”

So we know that terminally hip hats and haunts get under her skin, but let’s check what the straight-shooting Lady Ames loves…

1. Bryan Ferry. She names, without “even a moment’s hesitation” the glam rock frontman of Roxy Music her absolute music crush. “In a just world, he would be mine…I’d blow up a building for him.” She met him, in passing, at VH1, “Thank God I was dressed like a human being that day.” Of a 1972 performance clip of Virginia Plain, the band’s first hit, she muses, “just sink into the dreaminess of Bryan’s glittery eyes… somewhere a young David Bryne is thinking hmmmmm…”

8 min doc on Bryan and the effect of Roxy Music.

2. The First Taste of a Great Dessert. There’s nothing like the first time. On a road trip with her best friend, Candice in Oregon a few years back, Amy noticed a sign for Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant in Albany.  “I had to stop…made me feel connected to my roots.” One bite of the poppy seed strudel, and it was love. “It tastes like sweet dirt, gritty,” and that’s a good thing.  Back home in Brooklyn, a current rave is the sticky toffee pudding, the only dessert offered at the Oz-inspired, Sheep Station on the fringe of the Slope. Two upended wedges in a delectable caramel sauce with dollop of vanilla ice cream to round it out, “heaven!”

 

Poppy seed strudel. 

3. Hanging with the Little Ones. “I love the energy I get being around little kids…that somebody is glad you’re there, you know, ‘Miss Amy, Miss Amy’… and kid logic is hilarious, they crack me up.”

Photo: Rachel Titiriga.

4. NY Basketball. “Back when the Knicks were good…I was obsessed during the Larry Bird-Patrick Ewing-Magic [NBA] era.”

Though the Celts prevailed, Ewing scored a career high of 51 points in this game.

5. Love Me in a Special Way. Rendering Boo-hoo Brown’s performance a simpering mess, El DeBarge’s redemptive comeback –“He looked great, he sounded great.”– on the 2010 BET Awards reminded her of just how much she enjoys his falsetto on the 1983 release.  Yet true to her exalted place in Ferry fandom, she dreamily queried, “Can you hear Bryan Ferry singing it?”

…and a Stevie harmonica cameo!

6. Loafing with the BFF. “We just lay in bed all day, watch TV–asinine, juvenile stuff– and eat crap.” And they’re always minimally dressed, “just t-shirts and underwear, with our hands in our pants like little old men.” She contemplates the visual then in true Lindenian self-deprecation says, “this is why I’m going to die alone with my cats. I’m not girly. I like being goofy. I’m always looking for material.”

“I lived in Cali, I know my Mexican.  It’s gotta be 3 steps from the health department.”  Photo: Molly Awwad.

7. Community.  Where everybody knows your name “I love walking down the street and being detained, being part of a real community.”

Amy was at an election night listening party with Q-Tip in Manhattan when the 2008 decision was called and she realized she wanted to be back home in the community.  Looking up on the TV screen, she sees the NY1 coverage of Ft. Greene and her son celebrating his first voting election…on a lamppost with a forty. Photo: Andy G. Hatch 

8. Foreign Product Packaging. Amy enjoys perusing the aisles of drugstores in other countries.  The riotous colors, the often indecipherable language…

 

 Japanese chocolates.

9. Richard Price.  Among her favorite authors, she’s read all of his books. She passed on seeing the film adaptation of Clockers after “Spike got his grubby little mitts on it.”  She laughs and adds dryly, “Who am I punishing?  Is Spike Lee like, ‘Oh no! Amy Linden didn’t see Clockers?”

Novelist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Richard Price. Photo: Sarah Krulwich/The New York Times.

10. GoodFellas. The 1990 Scorsese film, not the pizza.  She watches it every time it airs on television.  An early role for Ray Liotta, he “held his own with that cast.  There is not one thing wrong with it, not a bad scene, not a bad line… I love the scene where he’s driving, helicopter overhead.”

Amy’s favorite scene, when a helicopter hovers over Henry Hill in his Caddy, driving in utter coked-out paranoia.

 

Africa in the Picture V
May 19, 2010

From the collection of Chris Parsley, a hand painted Ghanaian barber shop sign.  Check out the website of Philadelphia’s Indigo Arts Gallery for their extensive collection, Bon Coiffeur: Barber Signs from West Africa, for signage from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Togo … One of the images from Chris Ofili’s Afro Muses 1995-2005, from the 2005 exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem.  It was wonderful to walk into the main gallery and be enveloped by nearly 200 of these watercolors.

I recently stumbled upon this illustration by Philly-based graphic designer and illustrator, Andrea Pippins on her fantastic blog, Fly and thought concurrently of Ofili’s muses and a snapshot I took of Trini designer Charlene Sheppard-Duncan at a festival last year.

Darkroom, the fab-u-lous new concept store in London is celebrating its first summer with Into Africa, a season of African-influenced modernist accessories and homewares.  Designer Michelle Lowe-Holder’s handmade pleated cuff hit the shop this week … Sudanese supermodel, Alek Wek appears in Global Gathering, an incredible tableau of pattern-mixing and sculpted hair shot by Andrew Yee in homage to African style for the June issue of the Financial Times‘ magazine How to Spend It.

With a wonderful mélange of color and chevron printing, awesome New York-based menswear designer Miguel Antoinne, created this suit for his Spring/Summer 2010 collection … Lyrical writer Chris Abani (GraceLand, Song for Night, Virgin of Flames) has returned to poetry with his recently published, Sanctificum, a book-length sequence of linked poems.

Somewhere a man speaks
in the dark, voice lost to rain.
I know this hunger, this need
to make patterns, to build meaning
from detritus…

From the poem, Om, verse 5

I’ve been long drawn to antique chevron beads, their rich layers far superior to those produced today.  There are two bead shops in which I can lose track of time, perusing all the treasures and speaking with the knowledgeable staffs: New York’s Beads of Paradise and S & A Beads in Takoma Park, MD.  African trade beads are an S & A specialty and this   a unique strand of antique, 6-layer chevrons is embellished with lion’s teeth and a sea-weathered conch.  I love the whimsical touch of red on a single bead of the rare turquoise strand at Beads of Paradise.

Working the runway in Kosibah, the UK-based label of Nigerian designer Yemi Osunkoya, Zambian model Lukundo Nalungwe won The Face of Africa competition …  Though the Akron Art Museum  exhibition Pattern ID, has recently closed, the hardcover catalogue features each work in the exhibition (from artists including iona rozeal brown, Grace Ndiritu, Lalla Essaydi, Mark Bradford, Samuel Fosso and Yinka Shonibare MBE) as well as informative essays.

The artists use pattern and dress to take up the 21st century challenge of locating one’s place in society against the backdrop of globalization.  Many of the artists in the exhibition have migrated from one culture to another, be it national, ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, political or religious. Rather than trade one identity for another, the artists in Pattern ID reveal ways in which identity can be cumulative.

-Ellen Rudolph, Curator of Exhibitions

The lovely and talented designer Lola Faturoti has an ensemble included in the prestigious collection of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Born in London, raised partly in Ondo, Nigeria, she completed her studies in London before crossing the pond to an exciting late eighties New York, a city she’s called home — barring a four-year detour in Milan at the beginning of the millennium — ever since.  This marvelous dress is from her Spring collection.

Blogged Determination
July 24, 2008

I don’t have a blogroll.  My one-column blog format doesn’t allow much room for one.  I would, however, like to give a shout to a few folks I know who also find themselves in the addictive realm of the blogosphere.

Grrrl-about-town Nicole Moore has been kicking it in cyberspace for years.  The veteran blogger keeps her readership of smart, progressive urban grrrls informed and inspired with her savvy, of-the-moment observations in her clever, distinctive voice with theHotness Grrrl.

The always dapper Barney Bishop has an urbane, well-designed blog, Fragrant Moments, with his musings on men’s fragrance and interesting interviews with a diverse array of gentlemen who share a passion for it.

In addition to her post as Adjunct Lecturer at Hunter College, journalist, essayist and author of Crystelle Mourning, Eisa Ulen Richardson provides incisive social commentary and a forum for thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion at her website, EisaUlen.com.

Ion, the blog from the design studio, Chemistry, offers the wit, design inspiration and the intriguing collections of principal Todd Wilson in a pristine, minimalist layout. He also shares treasures discovered in his obsessive web-trawling.

I met the multi-hyphenate Evolyn Brooks a few years back when she served as a senior producer and I as wardrobe supervisor on Telepictures’ Queen Latifah, but she has for years created lovely handcrafted soft goods which she now sells online at In My Solitude Boutique. Her blog, a natural companion site to the shop, is a testament to tapping into one’s inner fire–living, loving and creating with fearless abandon.

Rob Fields started Bold As Love, his ruminations on “the mainstreaming of Black rock and the evolution of the new Black imagination.” in February of last year. His passionate immersion into the culture yields timely posts on a genre which embraces elements from a vast musical spectrum, and shatters myths about the very nature of Black identity.

Install This, the visual diary of sculptor and educator, Alexandra Zealand, is the reportage of her work-in-progress and outreach to her distant critique community.  To view her beautiful completed works, also visit her website, AlexZealand.com.

Alexandra Zealand’s  Untitled, 2006 (work-in-progress)

As Executive Editor of Real Simple, Corynne Corbett‘s name reads high on the masthead (and on her posts to their blog,) but her latest title, founder of That Black Girl Site is also one of which she is most proud.  An outgrowth of her personal blog, That Black Girl Blogging, the site is part social network, part blog community exchanging ideas on spirit, politics, lifestyle, health, finance, entertainment and culture.

Here, There and Yon, expands on designer Dorian Webb‘s “belief in enjoying all the random, little things that make life worth living, and prevent us from going insane (at least for now)”  like great food, wine and conversation as well as a humorous sense of the absurd.

In spite of her hectic schedule, Jacquette Timmons, CEO of Sterling Investment Management, financial coach and author of the forthcoming book, Financial Intimacy, still manages to find time to blog at Sterling Choices.

Talented writer (and fellow DC-native) Kenji Jasper is also a prolific blogger, first there is Live from the Grand Lodge: Meditations on Being Young, Gifted and Black on the Writing Rack; then The Cake Man, the online home of his alter-ego, D, author of the novels Got and Cake and finally, Culinary Intercourse, his pursuit of the gustatory godhead.

On Food Lovers Like Me, “self-taught, around-the-way gourmet” Vanessa Bush also shares her culinary quest as she endeavors to transform herself from a “foodie wannabe into a master chef.”  She brings the same spot-on clarity to her posts that she does in her other career as a writer/editor, prompting you to action, be it prepare that recipe, try that restaurant or take that class.

Once again I blog about artist-friend Xenobia Bailey who posts an online Artist’s Journal Her subhead says it all: “My inspirations, Memoirs, Images & Thoughts. Grammatical Disclaimer: This is a quick-fast, in-a-hurry, one-woman, artist-on-the-run journal, please forgive type-o’s, grammar/syntax, incomplete (printed) thoughts and my grocery list. Y’all know I mean to do good.”

Lost City Products awesome Chemistry-designed website features an incredible blog which with its lyrical writing evokes the eclectic beauty of the diverse influences on their collection of hand-embroidered textiles.

“The road to Urgup is pure rock and roll. A flag of Lost City silk flutters on a vagabond tree…”  Lost City