I Feel Like Zora. Black art & Black (in)visibility.

TLOP2A few days ago I was on TIDAL, the struggling music streaming company owned by Jay Z, listening to Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” (TLOP) and I came across this piece,“Kanye Unfinished: The Evolving Life of Pablo”, about how Kanye’s ongoing changing of “The Life Of Pablo” shows him to be of a quality and insight that puts him among artists of the (White and mainly male) Western Canon, particularly those who’ve seen art as an always unfinished product.  I was all excited about my art insight & set to post it to my facebook page when I reflected on the fact that I had come to the article clicking “Kanye” on TIDAL, which was originally the only way to listen to TLOP, unless you pirated it (which a 1/2  million people did). What gave me pause after pressing “share” and starting to write a little context for the post was that the comparison of Kanye to the artists of this Canon felt eerily familiar to Kanye’s ongoing positioning of himself as Shakespeare and Warhol . So, was this a thought piece or the secret marketing where the poster exclaims to us something that the company has told them to tell us (real buttery taste!)? And if it’s a placed message (I just doubt TIDAL is posting blogs that could set Kanye off because the only incentive to get TIDAL right now is Yeezy) why aren’t any of artists that Kanye  is being compared to of African descent?  By comparing himself just to  white male artists and reminding us of “The Canon”, Kanye adds to the arts industry’s marginalization of Black male and female voices as well as ALAANA (African Latino Asian Arab & Native American) women and white women artists.  It’s hard for me to believe that that hasn’t occurred to Kanye and that bugged me enough to not want to post it. But rather to say something more about it.

At the same time it bugs me, Kanye is too special to dismiss. There is still something special & brilliant about Kanye challenging “the arts” industry by saying a Black male hip hop artist, married to a Kardashian, talking about his dropoutness and his dark twisted fantasies and designing sneakers and calling out billionaires on Twitter is more than worthy of the company of the “canonical” artists. That’s kind of revolutionary in and of itself, right? That’s a Black man taking on his internalized inferiority  , right? However, as he  scales the walls of race/hip hop by showing us he belongs on the pantheon of what we’ve been told our whole lives are the all-time arts greats, he heightens those walls for himself and the rest of us by reemphasizing the idea that white male artists are the true measure of whether an artistic practice is innovative.  For example, by definition jazz is also an ongoing, evolving artistic product, but at its height they didn’t have the technology to change albums once released. Still, John Coltrane, among others, is surely an ongoing genius tinkerer, right? Kanye’s choice to show us who he is by comparison to others brings to my mind Zora Neale Hurston’s comment “I feel most colored when thrown against a sharp white background.” Does she mean she felt most visible? Or most invisible? I’m curious. But, unlike Ms. Hurston who shows us the violence of racialization by pointing out how she is thrown against this sharp white background, Kanye seems throw himself against this background to be sure we see him. But in this case, I don’t see him, rather I see the (White, mainly male) Western Canon and the artists Kanye (errr TIDAL blogger) is not mentioning. So, while I both really admire Kanye’s courage to do what he feels he has to do to be seen, I also feel some kind of way about his lack of interest in making sure other Black artists are seen. I also think it’s a bad strategy. No matter how bad we are (“not bad meaning, but bad…”), we can’t take on white supremacy by ourselves.

But I don’t want to get too twisted up in feeding the pop culture monster and miss a chance to celebrate an artist I actually know who is here in Pittsburgh, among other places, directly taking on this question of Black visibility and that is Kilolo Luckett. Kilolo, invokes for me the memory of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), with the title of her  “By Any Means” Project (BAM),  opening in Pittsburgh this month with both an exhibit and symposium.“BAM seeks to address black artistic (in)visibility in Pittsburgh through a strategic convening of arts workers and stakeholders that will spark debate, constructive dialogue, and positive growth to our regional cultural institutions and visual arts community nationally and globally.”  BAM will feature an exhibit by an artist named Nathaniel Donnett opening April 22nd thru May 22nd at 709 Penn Ave, as well as a symposium to take place April 23rd in the Carnegie Lecture Hall from 10 am to 3 pm, with one of the talks being a panel on “Black Art Making in the 21st Century”. BAM is a project supported by Advancing Black Arts in its  “Advancing the Field” category, a funding initiative of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. I worked with Kilolo in my capacity as Senior Program Officer for Arts & Culture with The Heinz Endowments. Looking forward her latest response to (in)visibility. I actually think a conversation between the two of them about art & (in)visibility would be fascinating.

 

Tam Joseph's "UK School Report"

No Colour Barred

I was in London to see  The Edge Fund two weeks ago for my work as a Program Officer for The Heinz Endowments (I’ve written about the Edge Fund before) and was taken by the fierce Isis Amlak, the chair of Edge, to this art exhibit No Colour Bar: Black British Art In Action at a place called the Guildhall Art Gallery. Now, I don’t always get amped upon hearing “We’re going to a museum” partly because of their general formality and I’ve resisted that part of the arts world since I was a youth, but largely because I associate it with a whiteness and class orientation that has left me feeling othered. So, sometimes the lights in my mind even dim nocolour,jpgas the generator slows preparing me to feel like an outsider to the style & context of the art. But even more so than the art, it’s actually many museums themselves that send an “othering” message as I approach. And, according to the headlines of the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2015 publication on arts participation, as a person of African descent, as a man, and as an American, I am probably pretty typical in this way. African Americans visit museums in numbers much lower than our numbers in general pop and we are even less likely to be on the curatorial staff. To complete the picture, men attend in lower rates than women and Americans are thought to be going less and less. Great. I am average.

But “no colour bar” was different. I got all wrapped into so much of the show, including a recreation of the Walter Rodney Bookstore, and this artist, Keith Piper, who I learned was at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University teaching from 2000-2003. After seeing his work, I went home to read about him and then watched a 30 minute video he produced

TamJoseph

Tam Joseph’s “UK School Report”

called Pathways to the 1980s about the Black Art Group 1979-1984. Piper had this one video/photographic piece, “Go West Young Man” simulating his father talking to him that I had to get right up on to explore whether my own father wanted me to understand this message. Then there was this painting from Tam Joseph called “UK School Report” that perfectly sums up what “good” Black boys are supposed to look like.  We should be ashamed that so many beautiful, intelligent Black boys that look the like picture of the Black boy on the right continue to meet the standard of “Needs Surveillance” from white controlled structures of power.

I would not be thinking about my relationship to museums were it not for the work of a number of dope Pittsburgh & non-Pittsburgh cultural instigators. For the last year or so, Kilolo Luckett, D.S. Kinsel & BOOM Concepts (a project supported in part by The Heinz Endowments) have been pushing into my consciousness the need to rethink the relationship of Black people to museums and museums to Black people. Separately & together they’ve been hosting visits, silent dance parties and talks in Pittsburgh Museums & Libraries. In doing so I hear “What public cultural spaces aren’t ours? What spaces shouldn’t welcome us?” Then this point was driven further home by this article in the NY Times article in November “Black Artists and the March into the Museum” Finally, this past week, my good colleague from the National Guild for Community Arts Education, Robyne Walker-Murphy, focused her monthly twitter chat #flychat featuring Ravon Ashley, Aleia Brown,& Stephanie Cunningham  on “#BlackGirlMagic on Museums” and had this super interesting dialogue in response to questions like “How do we make museums revolutionary spaces?” So, in what is the continued evolution of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, things are heating up for museums, which is exciting and good for museums and audiences. #NoColourBarred.

 

 

 

 

Habari Gani?! In Defense of Kwanzaa!

Habari Gani?!

Ujima! “To build and maintain our community together and to make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.” That said, I wrote this post on the day of Kujichagulia – Self Determination, to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves and so I am going to stay on Kujichagulia today as the issue on my mind -Twitter and social media slander of Kwanzaa- will, unfortunately, stay with us throughout the holiday. The crux of Kujichagulia i.e. self -determination through self- definition, is, for me, about building Pan African power that allows us to have spaces that are free from police brutality and murder, gun violence, to have work spaces where we are using the best of what we know to make change rather than constantly dealing with a system that clearly does not want to produce health & prosperity for Black people.  Spaces, as J-Cole says in Be Free, where we take the chains off.

Two nights ago, on the day of Umoja (ironic, right?) – I saw some Twitter slander of Kwanzaa that totally frustrated me. First off, I honestly don’t find how celebrating principles of principled unity (Umoja), creativity (Kuumbaa), self-determination (Kujichagulia) is at all objectionable? What positive or liberatory movement cannot speak of its work in those terms? But Kwanzaa has another project and that is what I suspect is at what drives a lot of the slander and that is to offer these principles in the context of a synthesis of African cultural traditions. I saw a lot of misinformed folks who simply didn’t understand Kwanzaa and had a great deal of anti-African ideas which were behind their criticisms (if you follow me on Twitter @LilGarvey, and scroll down my TL you will see some conversations). So in response, and in the Kwanzaa spirit, I decided to write and contribute on the night of Kujichagulia and add to the discourse on how we can further define, name, create and speak for ourselves.

I think a starting point of Kujichagulia is the restoration of the word Hotep. Black Twitter slander has taken anti-Africanity to a new level by changing Hotep’s Kemetian meaning of “peace” or positive energy and evoking a divine presence (in all honesty Hotep cannot be fully translated in English) to “shallow, fake deep, oppressive woman hating misogynist.” This change in meaning has been so powerful if you google “Hotep” the first page is full of negative Black Twitter references. In many ways, this is the anti-Kujichagulia, we’ve unnamed ourselves and taken a Kemetian word of divinity and used it to represent folks who are expressing harmful misogynistic ideas and thus not peaceful or divine. The Kwanzaa slander followed a similar theme, where people objected to the use of Swahili and argued Kwanzaa was “fake-African,” not widely celebrated, “Hotepian,” and “made up.” First, what holiday isn’t “made up?” Secondly, if all year we argue that we are opposed to divisive homophobic and misogynistic people in the Black Lives Matter movement, aren’t we arguing for Umoja – unity in the family, community, nation and race? We say we want space free of state violence where blackness is not under attack are we not fighting for Kujichagulia? I could go on and do this for each principle, the larger point is let’s not fight for Black liberation in America while rejecting our Africanity.

For more on the importance of language and the health and liberation of African people I highly suggest reading Ngigui Wa Thiong’o’s “Something Torn and Something New,” in which he explains the importance of African language and the liberation of African people.

Bonnie’s Red Curry Vegetables Over Brown Rice

CurryCooking

Vegetables cooking before coconut milk has been added

The Black Panther Greens were a big pretty hit, so in the spirit of Ujima, to build and maintain our community together and to make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems own  to solve them together, here is another dish for folks with the problem of looking to have another vegan cooking trick in their culinary bag–Bonnie’s Red Curry Vegetables (pronounced Ve-je-tah-bulls) over Brown Rice named after …my wife, Bonnie! Curries are a pretty easy and flexible dish, particularly when you use curry powder or paste, in that you can use the base in many, many ways i.e. chicken, shrimp, lamb, different vegetables & tofu, etc. so you can change this up pretty easily. This recipe makes the curry from scratch, so it requires a little more preparation, if you don’t already have all the spices. This recipe’s selection of vegetables really worked well and were the choice of Bonnie. However, as I said above, once you have the base of spices, onions and garlic, anything else can follow.

Ingredients: 

1 good sized tomato, chopped

1 good sized yellow onion, diced

3 clumps of garlic from a jar or 8-10 cloves

2 carrots, diced

1 sweet potato, diced

2 red skinned potatoes, diced

1 red pepper diced

2 shakes of a bag of peas

1 lb of spinach, use whole leaves

 

1 can of coconut milk

1/4 tsp of cayenne

1 tbs of cumin

2 tsps of chili powder

2-3  tsps of coriander

1 tbs of turmeric

1 tbs of paprika

3 tbs of olive oil

1 1/2 cups of brown rice

Directions 

Cook onions and garlic in olive oil for 5 minutes or so and then add spices and cook for another couple of minutes. Don’t put the heat to high or CurryFinishedyou’ll burn the garlic. Then add the rest of the vegetables and cook for 15-20 minutes and then add coconut milk and cook for another 30-40 minutes on a medium heat & until they are level of softness you like. (My kids have never liked their vegetables too crunchy. Of course this would be healthier, but it’s all vegetables already, so you’re already kind of winning.) Meanwhile, boil the brown rice with a couple pinches of salt and cook it for 45 minutes. I haven’t cooked with brown rice for a while and I forgot how much better brown rice keeps itself as separate kernels, rather than merging into one pretty sticky rice clump. When the curry is ready, spoon it over the rice and serve.

Ok, so there’s another vegan dish you can bring to a Kwanzaa event or make for your own Kwanzaa event at home or make anytime during the year. As I said before, once you get a hang of the curry base, you can curry anything!

 

Black Panther Greens by Way of Soul Vegetarian

BPGreensDone

Black Panther Greens finished and ready to go

As part of our evolving Christmas tradition at my mom’s, sister and brother in law’s house in MD, I make Black Panther Greens. This is a dish we used to  vend in the 90’s in Pittsburgh at events like the Harambee Black Arts Festival when I worked for The Village 4 an Afrikan Cultural Center, an organization I helped to start and worked on coming out of Pitt’s Black Studies Dept with Kwame Ali, Bonnie Young Laing, Vanessa Liles, Erica Louison, Nzingha Uhuru, Ebony Lattimer, Darryl Wiley, Luqmon Salaam, Mary Martin, & MinNekHekh Thomas. In the spirit of reshaping this blog and in honor of upcoming Kwanzaas, New Year’s Day traditions and New Year’s resolutions, I thought a few folks might be interested in the recipe. This recipe belongs to another institution birthed in the 90’s (maybe late 80s?) Soul Vegetarian Restaurant of D.C.’s Georgia Ave. We added “Black Panthers” as Pitt Black Studies majors rescuing and restoring the Black Radical Tradition from the margins where both liberal and conservative political advocates are constantly trying to push it…and to brand the greens as being the bomb butter! As I am writing this it occurs to me that the colors of the tomatoes, eggplant, & greens, when put in the context of the Panther’s socialist critique of cultural nationalism and it’s Red, Black & Green flag as a bourgeois, avoidance agenda,  adds a touch of irony to the dish’s name.

Ingredients:IMG_2205

1 medium sized eggplant, diced

bunches of greens, shredded

2 tomatoes, chopped

1 good sized onion, cut into rings

4 cloves of garlic

A good amount of sea salt

Vegetable Oil

cayenne

Cayenne-No free advertising on Hillombo

A dash or two of cayenne pepper

4 pinches of beet sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

2-3 cups of water


Directions:

In a pot, boil eggplant, greens, sea salt to taste, maybe 2-3 tsp, 7 or 8 turns of your black pepper shaker, and the sugar for about 90 minutes to 2 hours. In a separate pan, cook onions, tomatoes, garlic until onions are translucent and tomatoes are almost boiled down. Then add onions and tomatoes to the greens and cook for another 1/2 to an hour, depending on how you like your greens.

image

Greens and eggplant 1/2 done

Ok, I know there are some food picture haters (TJ DaMilitant, I know you’re out there!), so hopefully the pics aren’t so bad as to gross you out, because this meal is a winner. For all you out there with weight loss resolutions, you may want to consider a vegan diet to give your system a jolt. I started out  2015 with my frat brother’s Chris Steel Edmunds’ health and exercise plan, combined with a January vegan diet, and lost 15 lbs in a month and managed to keep it off the whole year.

Expanding Hillombo

So, I am going to be expanding what I write about here at Hillombo. The Hill District has been my home for 20 + years as a place to be a part of a physical Black community and to bring to ground the ideas of Black Studies that captured my imagination at Pitt in the 90s. Ideas such as Black Power, revolution, art, cooperative economics, religion, family, food, ritual, rites of passage, in a word-culture. Interest in culture or “the way things get done around here” to resist white supremacy and create  alternative spaces, “Quilombos”, if you will. Because this interest is about imagination,  ideas, conversations and activities show up in other places  besides specific Hill  District cases and they need a place to hangout, connect, talk, be examined, criticized and enjoined by others, particularly family members with similar interests.

So, I will continue to write about the Hill (which could include plans to leave), but I’ll also include other things that hopefully have some spirit of Quilombos and thus will remain Hillombo.

Allegheny County Budget, Gun Violence and the Hill District. They Don’t Know?

Shootings as an ongoing epidemic and the ravaged lives it leaves in its wake, continues to be a festering, untreated, disease in the Hill District. Despite the fact that the Surgeon General has declared gun violence a public health issue, and Pittsburgh, like almost all American cities, continues to have an epidemic of gun violence in predominantly African American neighborhoods, there is no mention in the Health Department section of the  2016 Comprehensive Fiscal Plan proposed by County Executive, Rich Fitzgerald, of preventing gun violence. Homicide is the leading cause of death for African American men and boys 15-34 and that doesn’t even begin to describe the trauma, and mental health, economic, educational destruction it is wreaking. And. There. Is. No. Mention. Of. Preventing. Gun. Violence.  However, this is what is in the budget.

  • Allegheny County Jail-$75,933,931

    They don't know?

    They don’t know?

  • Shuman Center-$10,514,615
  • Public Defender-$9,572,773
  • Juvenile Court Placement-$32,787,748

The Health Department’s budget is $17,790,632. Ice Cube’s character Dough Boy said in “Boys in the Hood” –“Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.” Of course Dough Boy knew what the budget makes explicit, they don’t care. Our communities do, though, deeply, and that needs to show up in the budget.