Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

The Trove: Sienna Gonzalez
July 31, 2011

Sienna photographed by family friend, Charlotte-based Mary Ebert.

Sienna Gonzalez is in many ways your typical American tween: she likes Selena Gomez, she loves to hang with her friends, she shoos her little brother out of her room for privacy and like most born in the new millennium, she knows her way around a Wii console. Yet she’s also borne some atypical burdens on her eleven-year-old shoulders.

I first laid eyes on flower girl Sienna, then a toddler, when at the April 2002 wedding of dear friend Franchell Mack Brown, her parents and I were in the bridal party.  I remember thinking what a lovely family they were. Rafael and Oi Yin were a kind, good-natured couple full of light, love and gratitude for the blessings of each other, their daughter and angel-on-the-way, Derek, born later that year.

The loving Gonzalez family.

Just three years later, the otherwise fit, non-smoking Rafael was, at 36 diagnosed with and succumbed to metastatic lung cancer which had spread to his spine and brain. Though Derek was very young, Sienna has very clear remembrances of her father and was devastated by the loss.

Admirably navigating the waters of early widowhood, Oi Yin moved forward to instill a sense of stability and strength in her children, a sense upended by shocking news. She too was diagnosed with cancer in February 2010 and given a prognosis of seven months to live. She has courageously soldiered on, hopefully and aggressively fighting the malignancy while also preparing her children for the statistical odds. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

Back in March Oi Yin and Sienna learned that PCAN (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network) was planning an Advocacy Day in Washington, DC on June 15 to seek legislative support of the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act. Understanding the power of petitioning, Sienna quietly conceived of an idea. “I asked my class to write letters to Congress to help pass the act, and they did but I didn’t tell my mom,” Sienna shared with me from her suburban Philadelphia home.

I also spoke with proud mama Oi Yin (sixteen months post-diagnosis, and tumor-stable I’m happy to add) as she shared her shy daughter’s journey to activism.

“She did it unbeknownst to me,” Oi Yin says. “And she thought if they did maybe I can convince the whole school, and if I can convince the whole school, maybe I can convince the whole school district to do it. And that’s how it became this letter campaign. At first she wanted to surprise me but then it got so big she needed my help and told me about it.”

“It was pretty amazing, I’m so proud of her,” Oi Yin says. “I think its her way of taking control of something. She’s had control over so little with her Dad’s cancer and now mine.  She’s this 11-year-old maturing faster than others because of all she’s been through. Is she angry? Is she sad? Is she scared? Major. She’s all of those things, but she’s trying to turn it into something positive and that’s the beauty of it. She’s not feeling sorry for herself, she wants to make a difference. I tell everyone it is a huge gift for me that I got to see this.  It’s just a glimpse of who she might become as an adult– a selfless, giving person. She already understands that the world is bigger than just her.”

The gravity of her circumstance has given her an empathy beyond her years. “I want to save my mom, but if I can’t save my mom maybe I’ll save somebody,” she said.

In May, Skyview Upper and Woodland Elementary Schools held a collaborative   “Purple Day” with students and faculty wearing purple, the ribbon color for pancreatic cancer awareness. Sienna spoke before her brother’s second grade class and assembled her letter campaign book. Photos: Gene Walsh/Times Herald.

“I feared that because of everything they’ve been through Sienna and Derek would have a victim’s mentality,” Oi Yin admits. They’ve worked hard to counter the possibility. “For her to do this project shows she doesn’t. I’ve always known that she’s a fighter, but it’s pretty cool to see her act on things and make things happen.”

Sienna joined her mother in Washington in June to present the over 1,000 letters she gathered to present to Congress. Some of the letters shared students experiences with cancer in their lives. Representative Patrick Meehan was moved to tears as Sienna read one of them.  Senator Bob Casey, in absentia, congratulated Sienna on her efforts and explained that he is a co-sponsor of a bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for a Pancreatic Cancer Initiative.

“It’s crazy because she’s so shy,” Oi Yin marvels, “that made it even sweeter, she pushed out of her comfort zone to do this.”  It’s been an empowering year for the girl who turned eleven on the magical date 1/11/11.

When your young life has been wrought with both great love and great loss, what do you hold dear? Sienna shares the things she cherishes.

1. Everything Disney. The brand that Mickey built is alright in her book. “Disneyland and Disney World are fun. Disney movies and shows have good characters and great plots,” she says.

She dreams of going on a Disney Cruise.

2. Talking to My Dad. Sienna knows that Rafael is with her always.

Daddy’s little girl enjoys a beach day. “He always told me to do what’s right, he was smart and brave and kind.”

3. My Mac. “I really like my laptop. I look up videos on YouTube, video chat with my friends, use it for research and make videos on it for fun.” She also uses social media to spread the word about causes important to her– fighting pancreatic cancer, rallying for aid to Japan, ending animal cruelty and saving the planet.

She loves the song “Perfect,” by Pink and finds the video very touching.

4. Hanging with My Cousin Miranda. They’ve traveled together as far as the Bahamas and the aforementioned iChat has bridged the distance between their New York and Pennsylvania homes.

“She’s like my sister,” Sienna says.

5. My Dog.  Chase, the black and white whir of fur and frenetic energy joined the family, including other Bichon Frise, Snowball just months ago.

“Bichons rule!” she exclaims.

6. Travel.  “I like to see the wonders of the world.  I’ve been to the Bahamas and Canada and a lot of places in the US, mostly the north.  When asked where else she ‘d like to travel she replies, “I just wanna see everywhere.”

“My dream in life is to travel around the world and do research to raise awareness about saving the earth and animals.”  

7. Performing. A triple threat, Sienna has shown her acting, dancing and singing skills in recent months. She sang the Miley Cyrus song “Climb” in an April talent show at her school and secured a role in a local staging of Willy Wonka. She just wrapped the July production and vows “I’m gonna keep auditioning in local theaters.” Her shyness is irrelevant in this arena she says, “It’s kind of scary to get up and talk in front of people I don’t know, but for theater it’s different. I don’t get nervous before going on stage. I guess it feels kind of natural to be on.”


The stage provides golden respite from life’s harsher realities.

8. Animals. “I love all animals. I just came back from Animal-lover sleep away camp. We played animal games, went on field trips to animal shelters and veterinary hospitals and we learned all about animal safety and what to do with strays. I was surrounded by animals:  horses, dogs, cats, fish, gerbils, hamsters, ferrets and bunnies.


In her element at Dolphin Cay at Atlantis Resort Bahamas. She wants to show à la fave TV program Animal Planet “all the majestic animals and cool locations, so that maybe it will make people interested in saving them.

9. Horseback Riding.  She loves horses and last year began volunteering with the local Werkheiser family organization, Flying High, which provides equine-assisted autism therapy. She “grooms the horses, plays games with the kids and walks them on the horses.


She’s been riding since age four.

10. Being with My Mom. She realizes just how precious time is with her mother, enjoying it from simple quotidian pleasures to fantastic trips.

“I’m glad to have my mom in my everyday life.”

For more information about Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, visit www.pancan.org.

To make your voice heard before congress in support of the initiative, visit http://www.capwiz.com/pancan/home/

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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: 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.


Happy New Decade!
January 1, 2011

It was the reflection on the prior decade that was the impetus for this blog two years ago.  To those who have read along as this little thing has found its voice, thank you so very much. Thank you for alotting your precious time to seeing which way the pendulum will swing, from my story in 2008 to Oi Yin Gonzalez’ at the end of 2010. I hope you’ll follow as the well-received feature, The Trove, becomes it’s own entity. I am excited and optimistic about the possibilities of this new decade, the second of the new millennium in which we are thrust solidly into the future.  We are living a future our forbears could barely imagine.  Today at 01:01:11 am, I put a conscious intention for the year into the universe, from my head and heart to God’s ear.  Wishing you all good things…

Photo by Camera Slayer.

“In the Present” opens at artDC
December 9, 2010

Artists Jenny Walton and my wonderful friend Alexandra Zealand are exhibiting In The Present at the artDC Gallery December 11, 2010 – January 9, 2011. The works of each artist integrate beautifully as “both grapple with thoughts of human life and its evolving relationships to the world. Though quite different in their materials, each artist’s work relates to the natural world in its present state, through abstracted anatomy caught in the act of degeneration or through repetitive looping reminiscent of cellular structures.”

Those “cellular” structures, tossed-away celluoid are given new life in Alex’s installation, “utilizing 16mm film strips, which have been discarded from schools and libraries. Film of this size has become a practically obsolete medium, and the stories contained within them are inherently ephemeral. These pieces become a signifier of the passage of time – both in the artist’s life, and in their own usefulness – and explore humanity’s relationship with the objects we discard, and what our need to discard them says about both our personal and cultural relationship with mortality.”

An installation walk-through.

The opening reception is Saturday, December 11 at the artDC Gallery at The Lustine Center. 5710 Baltimore Avenue,  Hyattsville, Maryland from 7 – 9pm.

The Trove: Cheryl R. Riley & Courtney Sloane
December 2, 2010

An invitation and homage: Courtney Sloane & Cheryl R. Riley.

Gotta love a woman who whips up a few baubles to wear on her opening night from the discards of  “yesterday’s soup.”  And so it is that interior designer Courtney Sloane adores such a woman, her wife, Cheryl R. Riley. Cheryl, one of the artists included in the massive Global Africa Project now on view at the Museum of Art and Design, gilded 3 neck bones, suspended them from black cord and wore them–like funkified Olympic gold– to the exhibition opening on November 16.

The golden girl.  Elevation Mirror I: Arizona/New Mexico, 2000, Honduran mahogany, beveled mirror, brass tacks, found and made objects 85 x 48 x 12 in. Photo by Robert Baldridge.

Just a few weeks ago, with a similar burst of spontaneous creation, Cheryl, bearing a glue gun and materials found around the house, crafted five crowns for Cheryl and Courtney’s Artful Halloween Dinner Party should extras be needed. Guests had been asked to create a crown, in lieu of full costume, to don during the Basquiat-inspired festivities in their art-filled home. Upon entering the spacious loft in my coronet of autumn leaves, I missed the fluffy presence of Pia Zadora, the beloved Chow-Chow who held court in Courtney’s life from 1992 to her passing in 2009. And I smiled as I perused the space, an eclectic mix of personal treasures including Cheryl’s own beautifully imposing, “shamanistic” mirror, a piece I’ve always loved. Courtney speaks of design as conversation, a vehicle for telling stories. The story their home reveals is one of travel and exploration, honoring family and the passionate creation and collecting of art.

Visiting from San Francisco, fantastic chef and dear friend Cassandra Miles was putting the finishing touches on the delectable feast (including a tender pot roast and Cornish game hen with garlic orange-chili butter) as the hosts readied themselves to receive guests. Courtney selected one of the Cheryl-crafted crowns: a corrugated band decoupaged with Mbuti-patterned paper and topped with glorious blue and green tail feathers molted by a friend’s Macaw. Cheryl chose for herself the “Lady Gaga-inspired” clear acrylic spire she’d painted silver and accented with corkscrew willow.

A quiet moment before the revelry.

As the guests arrived, Courtney mixed pre-dinner cocktails with the refreshing, lightly grassy Żubrówka, or Bison Grass vodka she prefers. Its single blade of buffalo grass, she explained, is akin to the worm found in bottles of mezcal.  Soon delighted dining and lively conversation commenced. Desserts of apple spice cake and sweet potato chocolate-pecan pie followed. We rounded out the evening continuing the vodka theme but appropriately with the ambrosial, chocolate-infused vodka from renowned chocolatier, Godiva. The C’s really know how to host a salon: mixing it up with fascinating people (including established artist Ben Jones and emerging artists Nina Chanel Abney and Hiroshi Kumagai) fabulous food and relaxed fun.

Floating flowers and an acceptance speech. “We are shocked, and so humbled,” said Cheryl of she and Courtney’s first and second place win in the crown contest.  She offered thanks and praise to competition judges Riley and Sloane.

Chef Cassandra and Hiroshi.  The evening’s menu.

Organic Costa Rican coffee was served in the familiar stripes of Paul Smith. One of Cheryl’s “Legacy Bags,” personalized with her childhood cowgirl snapshot.

Strongly influenced by their fierce and fashionable mothers, both Cheryl and Courtney give props to Mom for inspiring them to become the highly accomplished women they are today. “When I was a child,” Cheryl says, “my mother was called the most beautiful colored woman in Houston. She was intelligent, talented and adventurous.” Cheryl’s earliest memories are of her art student mother’s supplies:  “clay, oil paints, turpentine… She allowed me to paint and draw on a wall in my room and taught me to read before I started kindergarten.”   Aesthetics were paramount in the Sloane household as well. “My mom always had a great sense of style–both fashion and interior, ” Courtney says, ” In fact, while I was growing up she actually worked with a decorator on our house.  I would get to tag along and be a part of those conversations.  Those experiences lead me to consider interior design as a career path.”

Texas beauty, Gladys Mae DuBois.  Ever stylish, Ruth Sloane with a serious little Courtney.

Gladys Mae DuBois surrounded her daughter with beauty, ignited a creative spark and sense of boundless possibility, Bennie Riley hoped to instill in her a sense of bootstrap pragmatism. Embracing a bit of both, Cheryl attended a private community college in Missouri, Columbia College but left after receiving her Associate’s Degree to pursue life “on her own terms in a new city.” She chose San Francisco “because I am good at making lists. I wanted a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan city with a strong city center, on a coast, no snow but a maximum three-hour drive from it, nature nearby and a public transportation system. I was right because the minute I saw that fog-framed city as I entered via the Bay Bridge, I was head over hills in love.”  She launched an executive career that would take her from positions with luxury retailer I. Magnin to advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi and Levi Strauss. Directing her creative energy toward her own home, she began designing furniture for her apartment. Her professional peers took notice and became her first customers. In less than a decade she went from corporate exec to fulfilling her artistic passions in 1986 with the launch of Right Angle Designs.

In 1999, with a dream collector’s list (Danny Glover, Terry McMillan, Denzel Washington, Robin Williams, et. al) several awards and exhibitions under her belt, inclusion in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Cooper-Hewitt, Oakland and Mint Museums, multiple public and corporate commissions (including Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport) she moved to New York.  “After living 22 years in San Francisco, I wanted to experience another city while my career was still in full swing. Having served on several arts-related boards, she most recently was a board member of the Museum of Art and Design — formerly the American Craft Museum– where she was instrumental in re-imagining the scope and re-imaging the brand. Her power to connect to an audience with her genial manner and engage them with her expertise has made her a highly regarded lecturer and panelist, speaking across the country from Stanford and Lehigh Universities to the Bellevue Art Museum. As a teacher, she’s conducted classes in respected craft schools such as Penland and Haystack Mountain.  She’s enjoyed the embrace of the East Coast with commissions: furnishings for Judith Jamison’s Alvin Ailey office and wall murals for the Walgreen’s Corporation; exhibitions in group shows at the Newark Museum, Pittsburgh’s Society of Contemporary Art, the Tampa Museum of Art and a solo show at Peg Alston Fine Art in NYC; curating the art collections of the Washington, DC offices of BET and Harlem’s luxury condominium, Kalahari; art commentary in several publications including the current issue of Jersey City Magazine and in February 2007, marriage.


 

Before family and friends, at Cala Luna in Costa Rica, the blithe spirit wed the lithe athlete.

In Jersey City, where she and Cheryl have resided in the Powerhouse Arts District since 2005, Courtney was born to and raised by John and Ruth Sloane. She donned the maroon and gold of St. Anthony High School, playing point guard on the girls’ varsity basketball team.  Initially she majored in marketing at Rutgers University but a job at Formica was a turning point for her and she convinced her employer to subsidize her further studies in interior design at FIT and Pratt. She covered the academics in class and got the immersive knowledge of the business at work, all-the-while rocking a side hustle with friends–catering and events in a small JC loft. They outfitted the space with furniture she’d designed and hosted art shows. If Formica was the turning point, then Ms. Dana Owens was the tipping point. When Dana a.k.a. Queen Latifah, full of confidence about her own trajectory, rolled through the impressive space she told Courtney “when I really blow up, you’re going to do my place.”  Three years later, Courtney did in fact, hail the Queen, creating the executive offices of her Flavor Unit in Jersey City, which led to commissions on the other side of the Hudson.

The house music fan and her company Alternative Design (AD) became the go-to designer for the hip-hop élite: Vibe Magazine, Sean Combs (through various name changes), Jay-Z, and more recently, the executive suite of Damon Dash. As word of Courtney’s gift for spatial storytelling spread, so did the interest of major corporations. Sony Music, Disney and Viacom, to name a few, came calling, commissioning AD to create their environs. She designed the flagship of natural body-care emporium, Carol’s Daughter, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Roots, Rhymes and Rage exhibition and the living quarters for the first two seasons of America’s Next Top Model.  With such an illustrious client roster, it’s no surprise that she’s become a design pundit: contributing to Essence Magazine, appearing on several design shows from CNN to BET to HGTV to a starring role on TLC’s Material World and speaking around the country (notably giving the esteemed Hiller lecture by the Design & Environmental Analysis Department at Cornell University.) She is now part of acollective working with AF Supply to develop the Signature line of plumbing fixtures and bathroom accessories– “a huge project” to be launched in 2012, mining “New York design talent of both architects and interior designers. Since most of the plumbing design innovation comes from Italy, this project specifically will bring focus on the talent pool that exists here in NYC.” Grateful for her success in both residential and commercial design in the States and abroad, she is an ardent advocate of mentoring and honoring her obligation to give back.

Courtney and the fabulous Pia Zadora.

Together Cheryl and Courtney are launching a new venture, Riley Sloane, a socially responsible design and production studio specializing in licensing, private label and production in the Home and Lifestyle categories. Their first line, launching in 2011, is the Pura Vida collection of  decorative wall panels made from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified solid indigenous woods of Costa Rica.

Cheryl on Courtney:

“About a year before I met Courtney, I made a list–again with the lists–of the qualities I wanted in my lifetime partner.”  Living on separate coasts for “the first two years of our relationship, we had a lot of time to have in-depth conversation and get to know each other on the phone. Otherwise, we saw each other every 4-6 weeks in our respective homes, traveled together elsewhere and even worked on a project together for Disney. I had 45 attributes on the list and Courtney scored 37.5!” And as any self-respecting Southern esoteric would do, she sought a reading from a cousin with “the gift.”  The reading suggested that though they are not soul mates (sometimes that is one’s best friend, business partner, etc.) they are as “highly compatible as she had ever seen–and it proved true.”

Courtney on Cheryl:

“Well I knew that there was something extraordinary about her the first time we met.  I was absolutely thrilled to meet the sister that I had read about who was doing all this bad ass furniture on the West Coast, I mean really making noise! Once we began to speak over the phone I think it was inside of about 3 or 4 weeks that I knew she was the one I wanted to spend my life with.”  And on her wife’s inclusion in the GAP show,  “I’m so excited and proud of Cheryl for this major accomplishment! It’s great for her to be a part of the new history of the Museum and [exhibiting] again since showing her Bakuba Griffin Dining Table in 1994 when it was the American Craft Museum.”

Born ten years apart, Cheryl’s an analog girl whose tech comfort level ends somewhere around email and Courtney’s a “gadget geek” prone to early adoption of the latest technology. They are alike in the ways that matter and different enough to keep things interesting, a great couple.  Though it was difficult for them to pinpoint only five things each, here’s a smattering of the things besides each other that they love…

Cheryl’s Fave Five:

1. Custom Cowboy Boots. “I was born in Houston in the days of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and there is a picture of me at 4 years old on Christmas day and I am wearing full cow girl regalia and my rifle and first cowboy boots.  I danced through the kid leather gun-metal gray and camel Italian cowboy boots that Wilkes Bashford, the luxury retailer of San Francisco gave me when I was his house model in the late 70’s. My favorite and oldest pair of cowboy boots were made by Austin-based Tony Lama.  The more rows of stitches, the better the quality of the boot,” and I love that the more worn they are, the better to mold to my feet.”

Rocking the Tony Lamas in a 1990 profile in San Francisco Magazine featuring her “Talking Head” media cabinet and “Zulu” tables.

2. Paloma Picasso Perfume. Melding perfectly with her body chemistry, it’s been her fragrance signature since its eighties debut. “Everyone loves the way it smells on me,” she says. “I love its rich, exotic, incense-like scent and that it holds its ‘color’ all day. Its namesake, daughter of Pablo Picasso and writer Francoise Gilot, is an artist ( jewelry design) in her own right, a fact not lost on Cheryl. She enjoys the aesthetic connection.

She chuckles at the long-ago memory of being followed by La Paloma, “her entourage a few paces behind” around the jewelry department of I.Magnin in San Francisco.  “When I looked at her directly once, she clearly did not want to communicate, just smell–probably did not want to break her spell.”

3. Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora. No surprise here.  It is evident in her own work, in her home, in her enthusiastic writing, in her exhaustive knowledge of the canon.   Given the breadth of the genre she’d be hard pressed to single out a favorite among the multitudes of diasporic artists, many of whom she feels “lucky” to count among her friends. She does share, thowever, a few artist friends with whom she’s had recent — and inspiring contact. Carrie Mae Weems is a “font of inspiration, constantly expanding beyond our concept of photography, her predominant  medium.” Cheryl, in awe, viewed the October rehearsal of  “The Venus Project,”  Weems’ collaboration with composer Phillip Miller and director Talvin Wilks. Shinique Smith’s first solo museum exhibit just closed at MOCA in Miami. “It was fantastic to see so much of her work together…My favorites are her site-specific wall murals. They dance with her calligraphic graffiti swirls that she paints with brushes and her body (the piece, Red Rose, is in Cheryl’s collection.)  Celebrated artists, the  Bronx-born Fred Wilson and Whitfield Lovell, “are the only couple in the world to have received the highly prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grant [Wilson in 1999, Lovell in 2007]  Their styles of making art are completely different–Fred is an intellectually-challenging conceptualist while Whitfield’s drawings and sculptures are grounded in our authentic collective history.” She is particularly proud of Fred, who represented the US at the 2003 Venice Biennale, and has been a friend “since his 1993 Artist In Residency at Capp Street Project in San Francisco where I was on the board.”

From left: Carrie Mae Weems, from The Kitchen Table Series, 1990  (the entire series was recently acquired by The Chicago Museum) Fred Wilson, Iago’s Mirror, 2009 (now on view in the Global Africa Project directly across from Cheryl’s mirror;) Shinique Smith, And The World Don’t Stop, 2009 ; Whitfield Lovell, After an Afternoon, 2008 (from Kith and Kin.)

4. Turquoise and Pearls. Others may crave bling but Cheryl enjoys a little opacity in her gems. Her birthstone, turquoise, with its spectral range of blue to green reminds her “of vacations in a tropical paradise or the native American jewelry in the Southwest. And pearls “are so classic, sexy, warm and modern,” complementing everything and available “in endless variety.  I love abundance strands à la Chanel or a Wilma Flintstone choker.  I am designing pearl charm bracelets, pins and necklaces with a friend in Shanghai so I can have even more!”

Detail from a charm bracelet she had made by a Native American artist in Santa Fé. She wore a single strand of black pearls on her wedding day.

5. Travel. She especially enjoys exploring Costa Rica, where she and Courtney married and her beloved Italy. “The food, the fashion, the furniture design…If there are past lives, Italy is where I [once] lived,” she believes, having felt “totally at home my first time in Rome. I took Italian lessons before I ever went there because I loved the musical sound of the language and my favorite Italian operas… I would live in Venice now if given the opportunity.”

Costa Rican footbridge and Venetian canals.

Courtney’s Fave Five:

1. Dahon Bikes. Her Speed D7 is “great for cruisin’ around the ‘hood or in the city.”

The quick-folding bike makes for “easy in and out of cafes, restaurants etc.”

3. Vibram FiveFingers. She rocked a Mary Jane version of the barefoot shoes all summer, but now she’s fiending for the camouflage soles.

The FiveFingers Sprint.

3. Geodesic domes. The tessellated structure created by Walther Bauersfeld and later tweaked and popularized by Buckminster Fuller holds a place in her heart. There’s one she and Cheryl enjoy time and again near their summer home in East Hampton, frequently taking friends like artist Nanette Carter to share in the experience. The Fuller piece Fly’s Eye Dome, is on the grounds of LongHouse, founded by Jack Lenor Larsen, one of Courtney’s “all-time favorite textile designers,” and is part of their permanent collection.  “It is just awesome,” she exclaims. “I love the volume, air and light. There is a sensational feeling when you are in a space that wraps around. I find it super liberating!”

Clockwise: Fly’s Eye Dome, photographed by © Ron Cogswell; Photo © Visions of America, Joe Sohm/Getty Images; Geodesic Dome Treehouse by Dustin Feider.

4. Chris Craft Boats. She prefers the wooden-hulled vintage models from the late 1940’s through the 1970’s. “Absolutely gorgeous!”

1954  20-foot Riviera. From ClassicBoat.com.

5. Paul Smith London. She loves the quirky spin on classic English tailoring.


Looks from Paul Smith Spring/Summer 2011.

ImageNation Revolution Awards
December 1, 2010

I have looked delightedly forward to the ImageNation Revolution Awards lauding luminaries Tom Burrell, Chairman Emeritus of Burrell Communications; Lisa Cortes, President of Cortes Films (EP of Precious;) Ruby Dee,  Actress & Activist; Debra L. Lee, Chairman & CEO, BET Networks; Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) Civil Rights Hero and Iris Morales, Activist & Filmmaker.  This Thursday’s festivities at Lincoln Center, hosted by Jamie Hector of HBO’s The Wire fame, also include a screening of the must-see Stanley Nelson documentary, Freedom Riders. 

Trailer for “Freedom Riders.”

It promises to be a wonderfully inspiring night benefitting  ImageNation and ImageNation Sol Cinema Capital Campaign.  The private gala reception begins at 6pm.  The awards show and screening begin at 7pm with tickets  a mere (and tax-deductible) $25; $20 for ImageNation members. Moikgantsi Kgama and Gregory Gates’ “little engine that could,” ImageNation has grown tremendously since its 1997 inception with a mission to establish “a chain of art-house cinemas, dedicated to progressive media by and about people of color. Through a variety of public exhibitions and programs, ImageNation fosters media equity, media literacy, solidarity, cross-cultural exchange and highlights the humanity of Pan-African people worldwide.” 

Events like the Revolution Awards bring the organization closer to realizing the goal of opening the Sol Cinema. My uncle’s passing will now prevent my attendance, but I encourage everyone who can to attend.

*Congrats to ‘Kgantsi and Greg on both getting this baby off the ground and becoming parents to G. Kgari Kgama-Gates last September.

The Global Africa Project
November 19, 2010

An absolute must-see exhibition, The Global Africa Project is on view at the Museum of Art and Design at Columbus Circle through May 2011.  I have anticipated this show for a while, as the works of my friends Xenobia Bailey and Cheryl R. Riley are included, but I was unprepared for the magnitude of the unprecedented installation of the design, art and craft of Africa and its diaspora.  As I entered the opening celebration, I was immediately struck by the opportunity to view up close, the Ndebele BMW painted by South African artist Esther Mahlangu which I’d only seen heretofore online.

Esther Mahlangu and her BMW 525i Art Car.

The very well-attended fête bustled with artists and patrons exploring the expansive three-floor installation of work  from over fifty artists including Chakaia Booker, Stephen Burks, Nick Cave, Meshac Gaba, Lyle Ashton Harris, Odili Donald Odita, Duro Olowu, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Ike Ude, Kehinde Wiley and MacArthur Fellow, Fred Wilson. Read the complete list of participating artists.

Kudos to co-curators Lowery Stokes Sims, Charles Bronfman, MAD’s International Curator, and Leslie King-Hammond, Founding Director of the Center for Race and Culture at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art)  Definitely pick up a copy of the catalogue for this show and support this revitalized institution by becoming a member.

Satch Hoyt, “Rimology,” 2009. Chrome wheel rims with soundscape.  Satch.

Black Coffee: Jacques van der Watt and Danica Lepen, “Mercedes Benz South Africa Award Installation,” 2009.  Polyspandex robe, wood on elongated mannequins.

iona rozeal brown, “my e.a.s.y. – for Octavia” (after Kitagawa UtaMaro’s ‘The Young Daughter of a Townsman and Her Lover with Shamisen Beside’ and ‘The Lovers’ from Utamukura’s ‘The Poem of the Pillow) 2009. Acrylic, pen on wood panel.

Xenobia Bailey and her “Zulu Queen Harvest Coat,” 1991, Acrylic, cotton 4-ply yarn, glass beads, mirrors, buttons; single-stitch crocheted.

Sheila Bridges, “Harlem Toile de Jouy,” 2010, Wallpaper, glassware, plates.

Left, Algernon Miller in collaboration with Sanaa Gateja and the Kwetu Afrika Womens Association Angels – KAWAA,  detail from “Change 2010,” Beads fabricated from recycled Barack Obama presidential campaign literature. Right, Victor Harris, Big Chief of the Fi Yi Yi Mardi Gras Indian tribe, “Spirit of Fi Yi Yi,” 2010, Cardboard, cloth, feathers, beads, sequins.

Artist/curator Derrick Adams before a Lyle Ashton Harris piece.

Clockwise: Cheryl R. Riley, “Dogon Chair 1,” 1997, Poplar, amber, beads, brass tacks, copper pipes, powder, pennies, wire; Former 6-year member of the board, Cheryl was instrumental in planning the relocation of the former American Craft Museum from their Lincoln Center digs to the modern space on Columbus Circle and renaming it The Museum of Art and Design; Detail from Cheryl’s remarkable “Elevation Mirror I: Arizona/New Mexico, “2000, Honduran mahogany, beveled mirror, brass tacks, found and made objects.

Ink Plots at SVA
October 14, 2010

This evening, from 5:30 – 7pm, The School of Visual Arts hosts a reception for the exhibition, Ink Plots: The Tradition of the Graphic Novel at the Visual Arts Gallery 601 West 26 Street, 15th floor, New York City.  Among the many SVA alumni included in the show is my friend, N Steven Harris, creator of the Brotherhood of the Fringe, and subject of a previous pendulum post . If you can, roll through, Steven is quite talented as are his peers.

“Freedom Riders” in NY & LA
August 18, 2010

If you haven’t seen it yet, there are two days left to see Stanley Nelson’s magnificent documentary, Freedom Riders. The official Sundance selection has been screening in New York City and Los Angeles during DocuWeeks in order to qualify for the Oscars (fingers crossed!)  The film is scheduled to air on PBS’ acclaimed American Experience series in May 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the seminal 1961 Freedom Rides.

Friend the film on facebook.

See it in New York at the IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street today at 1:45pm and 7:30pm and tomorrow at 3:30pm and 9:30pm.  My friend, Lewis Erskine, one of the film’s editors, will along with Producer Laurens Grant speak after the 9:35 showing.

In Los Angeles, catch it at ArcLight Hollywood, 6360 West Sunset Boulevard today at 1:40pm and 7:35pm and tomorrow at 5:20pm and 9:50pm.