Monthly Archives: January 2011

“Know Who You Are”: Interview with Spoken Word Artist London Bridgez

“The entertainment business is filled with snakes. They will try to make you everything you are not if you don’t know who you are.” This is London Bridgez’s advice to emerging artists and I’m sure many can relate. As women of color continue to be mis-constructed, misunderstood and unheard, London is at work as both an artist and activist. Her social justice performance credits include The Bayard Rustin Community Breakfast sponsored by the Aids Action Committee, Queer Women of Color Week- OUTSPOKEN, Provincetown Women of Color Weekend, Provincetown Women of Color Weekend and the Aids Walk Boston Opening Ceremonies.

Here London discusses the purpose behind her forthcoming anthology, Going Public, on black women’s relationships and experiences with love, her commitments as an activist and explains the importance of integrity and planning for artists.

Can you tell us what your name, London Bridgez, represents and why you chose it?

London is my name. I added on “Bridgez” because it summed up my creative process of transforming poetry to be listened to by audiences. In my art I attempt to bridge music and poetry. I believe that if you look at music within a historic context you will find examples of poetry and music being commonly fused in the creation of opera, yone poems, choral works as well as  in funk, jazz and early hip hop. It is only recently that the division has been created.

At the root of music you will find poetry and vice versa because tone,
rhythm, cadence, and lyricism, are the properties of both poetry and
music.  In my personal life I find great satisfaction in bringing
people together and bridging the gaps of isolation that often separate
people.

You are an artist and an activist. What social issues are you active in addressing?

I am an openly identified  gay woman of color. I  support many
organizations that are tearing down strongholds for LGBTQ equality
such as Queer Women of Color, Aids Action Committee of Boston, NYC
Heritage committee, Riverside Church NYC and a long list of others.

In terms of my personal engagement, my wife and  I am currently
co-editing  anthology of writing called Going Public: Black Women
reflect on love, relationships and coupling. In preparation for our
wedding, we began an ongoing discussion about not knowing many Black
lesbian couples, particularly married ones. Our conversation evolved
into a deeper discussion of how marriage and indeed “coupling” is far
too uncommon within the Black community.

We thought it would be insightful to hear the stories of other Black
women who have chosen to marry whether to another Black woman or a woman of another racial/ethnic background. As legal residents of Massachusetts, we recognized how fortunate we were to even have this discussion, as most gay and lesbian people do not have the opportunity to legally marry their partners in their own states.

We went on to think about coupling in general and began doing research on this issue. Via our research we found that Black women in the U.S. are the least likely to marry or to couple regardless of sexual orientation. Whether straight or gay, black women are less likely than any other racial/ethnic group to be married or living with a partner as a couple. This anthology will not only give historical presence to the voices of black women but also reflect on the social implications that stem from these statistics of black women and marriage. It is important for the voices of black women to be heard by larger society. We are not invisible. Our stories matter. Telling the stories of black women is vital to the black community and society at large.

I mentioned how much I like your piece, SHE.  How did SHE come about?

She is an interesting piece for me. I, oftentimes, secretly write
about myself in my work. SHE was the first piece that I publicly wrote
about myself. The sole message in SHE is that women do not fit nicely
into categorical boxes. It is about the intersections of diversity
that we all live at the crux of. One of my favorite lines is “She is your big sister
almighty/DJ spinning all night/The slam poet word line fighting/Mother earth rain thunder lightening POW.”

Each of us as people and more specifically as women carry with us a unique combination of likes, dislikes, interests and passions.  At the end of the poem I say: “This is for the girls labeled trouble for being themselves who refuse to sit on shelves and wait for the world to give them permission to come out and play/This is for me/This is for you/Our Fuerza/Our strength/Our truth.” I believe we as women are most strong when we give ourselves permission to be all of who we are.

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Please vote Live Unchained. Let’s show up, show out and shut it down!

As always, we need your love and support. It only takes 30 seconds to vote Live Unchained

We are in a competition to win seed money to develop our initiative as a non-profit organization. We’ve already developed a business plan, preliminary board of directors and short and long-term goals. We are ready to take our project to the next level and do justice to a project of this scope and importance. So, this competition is right on time.

Please vote for Live Unchained here: http://we.ideascale.com/a/dtd/Global-Arts-Media-Initiative-for-Women-of-African-Descent/101969-12001

You simply need to register (don’t worry you won’t receive a ton of annoying e-mails) and then click “I Agree” next to our project. You have to maker sure you click “I Agree”–some people simply clicked “Like” thinking they voted, but if you don’t see your name, the vote didn’t count.

Also, please leave comments explaining why you support Live Unchained. We appreciate everything we’ve seen so far =)

Come April, we’ll all be winners. Now, it’s time to show up, show out and shut it down! Please take 30 seconds to vote Live Unchained now.

“Learning by Looking”: Kenya (Robinson’s) Sound Stories on Art, Race and Emancipation

Kenya (Robinson), Photo by Etienne Frossard, 2010

Kenya (Robinson) is an artist you should know, love and respect; We do, abundantly.

In doing this interview, I was very impressed with the eloquence and creativity with which she expressed herself. While many conceptual artists have been considered too intellectual or un-relatable, Kenya stands outside that box and any other people could try to put her in as an artist, woman, African American and proud Brooklynite. Kenya’s  sincerity and self-awareness comes through in visual and performance art that stems from her curiosity, concern and striving for empowerment.

Kenya is a self-taught artist from Gainesville, Florida. A past resident of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s WorkSpace Program (2009-2010) and the 2010 Triangle Arts Workshop, her sculptural work has been exhibited at The Museum of Contemporary Diasporan Arts, The Jersey City Museum, The Aljira Center for Contemporary Art and The 60 Wall Street Gallery at Deutsche Bank. In addition, her performances have been featured at Rush Arts Gallery, MoMA PS1, The DUMBO Arts Festival, Recess Activities Inc. and Cabinet Space.

Kenya is the first interviewee to answer our questions with audio tracks that are, true to form, original works of art.  Listen below to Kenya’s sound stories on her debut exhibition HAIRPOLITIC: Pursuit of Nappiness, thoughts on the “The Coon Box” as well as the irony of “social art,” and what it means to live unchained.

Can you tell us about your background?

Answer 1

Can you describe your installation, “HAIRPOLITIC: Pursuit of Nappiness”? What led you to create this piece?

Answer 2

Commerotative Headdress of Her Journey Beyond Heaven, featured in HAIRPOLITIC, Photo by Deana Lawson, 2009

For your 10-day exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), individual pieces in the installation were displayed at local hair salons/barbershops specializing in “textured”hair. How did that come about?

Answer 3

Photo by Malik Cumbo, 2010

For artists who create works with a social critique, there is often an important moment in their life that shapes their social conscious. Was there a specific event or set of events that led you to create critical art?

Answer 4

Sara Hart + Kenya (Robinson), 2011

On your blog, you mention a conversation you had with your boyfriend in which you discussed “the uncanny ability that black (American) people have at confining themselves to a box.” You added: “My art practice seems to be overly concerned with disrupting this pattern as a personal matter of course, in fact breaking out of what my boyfriend calls ‘The CoonBox’.” Can you tell us about that “uncanny ability” you’ve observed, what it looks like and where you think it originates? As far as “The CoonBox,” can you break it down for us? What is it and why should we be conscious of it?

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A Colorful Painter and Spirit: The Work and Thoughts of Dawn Okoro

"Blue Necklace" acrylic on canvas, 16x20 inches

Live Unchained had the pleasure of interviewing the talented Dawn Okoro about her paintings and process. As seen in her work above, her pieces are strikingly vibrant, highlighting bold colors and embracing femininity and beauty. Using oil, acrylic, pencil and other mediums, she incorporates photography, collage, and ideas from popular culture. Dawn holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from Texas Southern University. Her work has been exhibited at the World Financial Center in New York City; RFA Gallery in Harlem; Texas Southern University Museum; Rice University, and the Texas Biennial.

Do you find that people who first know you as an artist are surprised to learn that you are also licensed to practice law?  Is the practice of law and creation of art as distinct as some might imagine?

I do find that many people are surprised that I’m an artist, yet I studied law.  I have known that I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember, but I was afraid that I would become a “starving artist.” I thought that maybe I could work as a lawyer by day and as an artist at night.

My paintings actually helped me survive my law school years– financially and mentally.  To create and study law at the same time I felt that I had to reach into two very distant parts of my brain.  Law felt very cold, rigid and rule-oriented, but when I painted I felt free and relaxed.

By the time I graduated from law school I knew that practicing law wasn’t for me.  I decided to hold off on taking the bar exam and focused on my artwork.

"Breathe Easy" 20x20 inches

You say self-reflexivity is important to your work.  Why is it so meaningful?

I like to people watch.  Even since I was a child I was shy but very observant of people.  I also have a psychology degree, so you could say that I am very interested in what goes on in the human mind.  This curiosity comes out in my art.
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“When you know better, you do better.”–Maya Angelou

2010 has been a trip in every sense of the word.

As with 2009 we “smiled, laughed, made mistakes, networked, re-grouped, danced, wore bright colors, traveled, repeated mistakes, wrote poetry, video-chatted, got our hopes up, proof-read, got angry, read a lot, made time, received much love, learned about the Diaspora, strained our eyes, made ends meet” etc.

With all of its challenges, blessings and surprises (pleasant and unpleasant) 2010 has been good to us.

A year later, what I am most proud of is that we learned from these experiences.  As a force, Live Unchained is older, wiser and don’t-take-no-messier =) Now, it’s time to do better because we know better.

As we continue to take the time to listen to our readers, prepare and learn for the future of this initiative, we are confident that 2011 will not only be better, but our best year.

Thank you to everyone who supported us throughout 2010.  We appreciate all of your love.