Sites, Sounds, Lessons from Mana

Chicago - I headed to Mana Contemporary for their last open house. Grateful for the time alone. Eight year old boys do not always make the best company.

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Her studio was a juxtaposition of the best and worst of contemporary life.  I am starting with Barbara Hashimoto because I love clementines and I still have one more bag of junk mail to shred.

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Barbara used junk mail as her medium, filling a large room with four months of junk mail. Her work shows how overwhelming junk mail, bill and debt really are. Congrats it's not all in your head. Before I headed to Mana, I asked my friend to borrow his shredder so I could attack my pile of mail, three bags at the time. I actually packed a box of junk mail and old bills when I moved to Chicago two years ago. 

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Mail makes me panic, paper makes me uneasy. Even catalogs all of piles and threatens to bury you. I am one of the many turning to minimalism to work dig my way out of the pile of shit that consumes us.  I avoid mail which only means it piles up. Here is a woman taking charge, during piles of credit card solicitations and ads into art. Seeing shredded junk mail used like this was deeply symbolic for me. Seeing it erased. The idea that it could exist in such a serene space without disrupting the energy adding to the creative process rather than just causing paralysis. Two bags of shredding happened as a result of this studio visit. I considered throwing it about my apartment but I settled on watching the video again instead. 

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The juxtaposition of these three balls, the stages of turning junk mail into bronze and this box made of credit card solicitations entitled, In the Red. A video from this series shows mounds and mounds of shredded paper, enough to fill a large room. Slightly stressful to watch tho.

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Let frustration fuel creativity. Burn it away.

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The Transition to Power Series by On The Real Film explores artist reactions to the last presidential election. This series is a great place to start if you want to pull the string on your feeling surrounding the election. This entire presidency is one long sustained trigger for many people including those who are not traditionally marginalized and are therefore enjoying the privilege of being new to the shock of unstable ground. Things are shifting rapidly and the question is will we be mindful enough to lead a revolution that changes the paradigm rather than keeping our exciting power structures and just flipping who benefits. That is not a real revolution.

I am moving and packed away the notebook containing my initial thoughts about the three videos I watched during my visit which is probably for the best. I left, I was writing too many things in my notebook and didn't have time to think between films. I have not processed fully the gravity of the words spoken and the pace was too rapid. If you want to watch, I recommend starting here or here.

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photo from  here

photo from here

I would have moved into this space if possible, it was crisp but not sterile. Inviting but not too comfortable. The kinds of place you go when you want to work towards your legacy, submerge yourself in a topic or take great Instagram pictures. Everyone loves large picture frames and hardcover books. The way the spine screams to welcome you. I always imagine it like an old friend calling out "GURL" when we meet up after some time apart. The beginning of a long conversation.  

 
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Do you know about Moishe Mana? Moishe’s Moving? With that Cormac started teaching. I had already received a warm welcome and gained some insight into the realities of being a musician from his dad. He let me know he quit the business as soon as he found out he would be a father. He wanted to be home. He looked the age of man from the time when men stayed far away from home even if the came back every night. A trailblazer, he was the one playing the piano in the music that filled the studio. Cormac told everyone who came in the room to listen out for his father. According to his father Cormac has always had impeccable taste, "he has an eye for these things."  The two were quite a pair and then there were three. Three generations sharing space. Gentle banter about events I wasn't present for but grazed against my entrence.

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Family magnifies all other success.

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I was beaming when I stood in front of his open studio door. I actually wasn't sure I could go in. I was green and wide eyed, probably for the duration of my time at Mana and especially for this first studio visit. As soon as a I saw his space I knew I needed to create images and write. This was just too good. Rory wrote copy for Leo Burrett before he moved on to his next great life. We talked about how he doesn't consider anything but the art he wants to create. He creates constantly and openly. The work is infections, delightful and another word but it escapes me. Something foreign that captures a feeling but doesn't translate. the feeling when your stuff is moved in but unpacked and your alone in your dorm after you first arrive for college freshman year. Imagine that as one word // I accidentally said, "I'm nervous" to which he replied, "Be brave." // He encouraged me to call myself an artist, a writer. Which I did in every other studio. In retrospect this was the perfect place to start my journey on that day.

You can live many great lives in one lifetime [say what you are or someone else will define you].

All photos were taken by me unless otherwise noted.

Blue Black: Moonlight, Mastry + Lightbending

I feel fairly confident a cultural revolution around body acceptance/love for Nigerian women, in general, won't come anytime soon. Nigeria isn't the only country with this issue, and it's not limited to groups of people with universally dark skin, we have all seen Asian women walking around with umbrellas on sunny summer days.

When I was growing up, I remember watching a news report about the lost boys of Sudan, then running into one working at O'hare. My mother pointed him out, but he didn't need an introduction, I had been staring at him long before she noticed him. He was a human giraffe covered in black panther skin. I couldn't decide if I liked how he looked. The white and red in his eyes made him look extraterrestrial, other-worldly. His skin consumed light; I could see it trying to escape, pooling and contouring at the rim of his skin. Otherworldly has never been a substitute for ugly in my mind, butI still wasn't sure what to make of him. That night I lay in bed wondering if I looked like him and why I couldn't decide if I liked it.

Looking back on the colorism that tints universal beauty standards and most African homes, I totally understand why I felt the way I did, but my initial characterization of dark skin itself has stuck with me. I spent years avoiding pictures because of the way my skin ate light. I spent the same amount of time in the grass watching how sunlight interacted with the tiny worlds I had created. Worlds where I was the light bending giraffe.

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The current Black Renaissance has resurfaced my childhood fascination with how dark skin bends light. Like every real Renaissance, art is at the center of revolution.

Lynette Yiadom Boakye discussed how she studied lights interaction with objects and how to capture that in her art. Cauleen Smith shared her quest to master capturing dark skin in film. At dinner a few weeks later, a friend brought up how Atlanta successfully captures dark skin. I had gone to the advanced screening of Moonlight with high expectations, not only for the plot but how dark skin would be represented, that is what stood out to me the most about the trainer.  I asked Tarell Alvin McCraney about the meaning of the movie title, but I already had my mind made up about its meaning. The same as when I first saw the Sudanese man. Moonlight has plenty of emotional to explore, but the bending and consumption of light can't be ignored.

The allusiveness of the capturing dark skin in art is my new fascination; it affirms the magnificence of melanin for me. I can be sure there is nothing grotesque about what it does to light.

Witnessing Mastry by Kerry James Marshall cemented that. He treats darkness as something worth studying and honestly portrays its depth, something fashion magazine spreads never provided me. In Mastery blackness in and of itself is explored not used as a means or contrast to whiteness like most fashion magazine layouts. I would say the same thing about Moonlight. In Mastry and Moonlight darkness does not erase complexity, it heightens it. Both works demand that you look deeper.

This piece I saw on Son of Baldwin's fb page but now can't find (boo) brought to my attention the potential for blackness without darkness as the norm in society; The article talked about the preference for blackness without dark skinned bodies. I tried to imagine aworld without walking light-bends, our bodies once again confined to museums and books of curiosities.

All Images from our visit to see Mastry at the Museum of Contemporary Art In Chicago