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.

Time

Oh, how I wish you’d stay.

Photography and Narrative: An Interview with Kameelah Rasheed

Live Unchained had the pleasure to interview Kameelah Rasheed. She is a documentary-based photographer and co-founder of Mambu Badu, a photography collective that highlights female photographers of African descent. Kameelah discusses her photography and inspiration here. Her work tells the stories of people from South Africa to New York.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and background?

In a small Bay Area neighborhood named East Palo Alto, I was raised on a harmonious, yet eclectic mix of Islam, old Gil Scott-Heron records, and tofu as the other white meat. I was the black nerdy kid who read too much, hung out in the science lab selecting daphnia from the Carolina Biological company catalog for the next science fair, and wore cornrows with beds when perms were the norm. By the time I got to high school, I was 13 and the sole Muslim kid at an elite private Catholic school and one of maybe eight other black students on scholarships. I graduated from high school at 16 and attended Pomona College, a small elite liberal arts college in Claremont, CA. There I studied Public Policy and Africana Studies graduated as a Harry S Truman Scholar, Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellow, and Phi Beta Kappa. During my senior year, the U.S. State Department awarded me with a U.S. Fulbright Grant to study urban planning and housing in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Throughout my education, I loved to tell stories and focused solely on written narratives. It was not until I moved to South Africa that I explored the possibility of telling stories with photographs. When I lived in Cape Town, South Africa as an exchange student in 2005, I photographed the children I worked with at the orphanage. When I moved to Johannesburg in 2006, I began to photograph townships, nation-wide strikes, political events, community events, and city life. I was eager and insatiable. I was learning and lacked the confidence to take more risks. Despite being in a few gallery shows, I did not take on the title of “photographer” until a few months ago. Now, I consider myself a documentary-based photographer. Simply, I like to tell the stories of “regular” people through photographs. I also love poetry especially Harryette Mullen, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, and Yusef Komunyakaa. I imagine photographs as a visual poetry with it’s own set of grammar rules that should be broken at times. In my mind, the power of a poem is the achievement of depth through some clever manipulation of brevity. The same goes with photographs.

Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
Do you carry around your camera wherever you go,
or do you set out to shoot something in particular?

Last night, I walked pass a group a young Caribbean boys and girls talking to a young group of Hasidic boys in Crown Heights. The juxtaposition of skinny jeans, Caribbean accents, and brown skin with black suits, Yiddish phrases, and peyes was something worthy of several shots and an interview. These moments fascinate me. I was curious. Whenever my curiosity is peeked, I shoot. Unfortunately, it was too dark to shoot, but am looking forward to similar opportunities.

And yes, I carry my loves with me everywhere. I used to carry three cameras, but I now limit it to EZRA, my Nikon D90.

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Inspired

We had a lot of fun with our last pot-luck poem and, to our surprise, Maria Shriver (who turns out to be a poetry fanatic) even posted a link to our video on her Twitter page and called it “powerful.” Some of you wanted us to organize this again, so the virtual poetry is back!

Add your line to our collective poem, given the theme of inspiration, by posting a word, phrase, or lines (please do not exceed 3 lines) below as a comment reply to this post.

As with last time, we’ll compile all the lines into one piece and post it next week. And, as you requested, poet Tiffany Okafor will be back to read the piece in an accompanying video.

So, tell us about inspiration…

Kenya’s Creative Fire: A Conversation with Rachel Gichinga of Kuweni Serious

Art is politics; and, it’s the weapon Kuweni Serious uses to, as they say, “fight the evil forces of apathy,” they saw plaguing Kenyan youth in the aftermath of the country’s 2007 elections. Kuweni Serious is a cultural activist organization based in Nairobi, Kenya. Their team includes three creative minds committed to raising political consciousness among Kenyan youth, encouraging them to be active participants in the political process. Rachel Gichinga, Jim Chuchu (of the music group Just a Band) and Mbithi Masya work incollaboration with Just a Band, Ghetto Radio, NiSisi! and Roma Media to create and share creative works that capture our imaginations and inspire us to think critically about unjust political practices and proposed alternatives.

We had the great pleasure of speaking with Rachel Gichinga about Kuweni Serious. She discusses Kenya’s turbulent 2007 elections, which led the team to develop this project. Rachel also shares her thoughts on Kuweni Serious’ creative approach, Kenya’s future in relation to all of Africa and the stake people of African descent abroad have in realizing their vision for Kenya.

Can you tell us where the name Kuweni Serious comes from?

“Kuweni Serious” means “let’s get serious”. The Kiswahili word “Kuweni” employs both the collective and the imperative, and this is the sentiment that we’re trying to capture and relay. We felt that it was important to get young Kenyans thinking and talking about their country’s political development, and, hopefully beginning to act as well. One of our favourite contributors, Njoki Ngumi, put it best in her interview when she said, “We are not as powerless as we think we are.” Kuweni Serious aims at letting primarily members of our generation know exactly that.

All of us have a creative background and work in the arts, so it just made sense to use that format as it is one which we understand well, and one that we think our peers relate to with comparative ease as well.

Kuweni Serious has been very involved in mobilizing people to vote in the 2010 Constitution referendum.  Why was the new constitution so important?  Now that the new constitution has passed, what new opportunities and challenges do you think lie ahead for Kenya’s youth?

Let me provide a bit of context for this first. Kuweni Serious was borne out of the aftermath of the 2007 presidential election. We noticed that we and our peers spent that terrible period online, on Facebook, passing on information and opinions about what had happened/was happening. People were angry, scared, hurt, apathetic—the full gamut of emotions. The common thread there was that people from this particular background (young, educated, with some level of exposure to the world, folks who know what good governance should look like and are therefore particularly put-off by the fact that this is so absent in the Kenyan context) either genuinely cared about the country and wanted to do something but had no idea about how to get involved; or viewed the problem as too overwhelming and too detached from their common reality, and were, therefore, apathetic.

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“When you close your eyes, you can see far.” –Kenyan Proverb

Asa helps us close our eyes.

Like a bird, take flight: Kristen Nicole discusses how and why women of color and creatives can make the most of Twitter

Kristen Nicole got her professional “tech” start with 606tech, a Chicago-based blog focused on the local tech scene.  She became a full-time blogger when hired as the first employee at Mashable, a leading Internet news blog. After two years as Mashable’s lead writer and field editor, a brief stint in San Francisco and a short time contributing to VentureBeat and AllFacebook, Kristen joined SiliconANGLE with fellow, former Mashable-ite, Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins, and John Furrier (founder). Her work has also been syndicated across a number of media outlets, including Yahoo! News, The New York Times and MSNBC.

Join Twitter Now!

Kristen co-authored the book The Twitter Survival Guide and her new book, Tweetie Girl, will be released soon.

Here she discusses the importance of social media and net neutrality, her experiences in the tech world and how women of color and creative thinkers can make the most of Twitter.

You have been an avid social media user for about 12 years now.  Have you always been technologically savvy?  How have you seen the social media scene change since its earlier days?

I wouldn’t say I’m the savviest, but I’ve always known my way around a social network.  With a fairly strict upbringing, social networks became outlets for me to learn about other people in other areas of the country or world.

Black Planet was one of the first social networks I really got into—I’m still very good friends with some of the people I met there, though it was years before we ever met in real life.

Social media has changed in many ways, but it’s stayed the same, too.  The acceptance of social media as a typical form of correspondence has shifted social structures—it’s brought about a new opportunity for learning and sharing.  In many ways, that’s introduced a springboard for acquiring knowledge.  Being able to tap into a social network, and pick up your personal learning journey where someone else has left off, is a process that’s enabled a lot of individuals creatively and financially.

Having an online system for sharing and inspiring each other will ultimately better the human race.

But in other ways, social networking hasn’t changed—it still provides a platform for sharing and corresponding with each other.  The intent behind the sharing is the same, but the vehicle for doing so is more efficient.  Social media will always be a reflection of our existing nature, so the ways in which social media changes are merely effects of the greater shift.

As a media analyst and writer, you know a lot about the cyber-world.  How do you see black women represented out there?  Are we online?  Do you see us making the most of social media?

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Responding to inspiration instantly–and having fun =)

We shot this music video entirely on an HTC Evo. We are both big fans of Lauryn Hill and got the inspiration for making this short after hearing Lauryn Hill’s “Repercussions.”  Moments later, Miriam said: “We have to make this movie tonight!” So we did.

We shot this in about 2 hours and pulled an all-nighter editing it–once we got into it, we couldn’t stop working, laughing at ourselves and having fun.

Miriam introduced me to Lauryn Hill’s repercussions last night. Afterwards, I said: “I liked the song, but I’m not sure I would want to be driving in my car saying to myself: Repercussions! Repercussions! Repercussions!

Then, we bounced ideas off of each other about examples of repercussions. Your credit card gets declined–repercussions. Your car gets towed–repercussions. Your phone gets stolen–repercussions.

We also wanted to poke fun at bad music videos with some of the effects.

Fun is powerful.

We know this project isn’t perfect, but it wasn’t meant to be. “Repercussions” was fun to make, that’s why we made it.

This project showed us the importance of not taking yourself to seriously and appreciating inspiration when it comes.

Living Unchained is a Journey

Guest post by Felicia Montgomery

Felicia Montgomery dedicates her life to connecting communities through creative communications as a non-profit fundraising and communications expert, social entrepreneur and multi-media producer. She resides in Washington, DC and blogs, tweets, and speaks on issues ranging from philanthropy and social business to race and human rights. Contact her or follow her musings at http://twiter.com/4socialgood or http://www.linkedin.com/in/feliciamontgomery.

When I learned of Live Unchained and its focus on women of African descent, I think the image was rather literal in my head. Since the end of slavery, we have been living in a sense, unchained.

Yet, I thought it was rather interesting to explore that thought, that question of “are we truly living unchained?” If so, how are we achieving that? What factors inhibit our ability to live unchained? And, what sparks the desire for some to go down a different path that varies from the strict social construct of the black woman living in the Americas.

I’m proud that there are projects like Live Unchained that seek to provide a spotlight on so many black women living in the nexus of creativity, activism, entrepreneurship, technology and communications. I definitely put myself in that category.

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