“In This Here Place…”

Emilio Cruz. Figurative Composition #7, 1965, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, Martha Jackson Memorial Collection, 1980.137.21

We are nearing the end of discussion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in one of my classes. My favorite part of the novel (and perhaps the reason I love it so much) is the sermon Baby Suggs, holy delivers in the Clearing. Instead of an actual Bible verse, love is her text. To those newly loosed [one way or another] from the chains and nightmare of slavery it is a reminder of their humanity and a call to release the atrocities of the past and imagine a new reality. After exorcising their demons through dance, laughter, and tears, Baby Suggs delivers a love letter to their beautiful souls. For me, this is the most powerful part of the book:

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.  –Toni Morrison, Beloved

I cannot locate a quality clip of Beah Richard’s phenomenal [understatement] performance of the second part [above] of Baby Sugg’s sermon, but here’s the first part.


About the Image: The artwork featured above is the work of Emilio Cruz, an African American artist of Cuban descent. You can see more of his work by clicking the link. It is one of the postcards in Paintings by African-Americans from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Love of Freedom

In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.

–18th century poet, Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), in a letter to Native American ordained Presbyterian minister, Samson Occom (1723-1792)


About the Image: The gorgeous portrait of Phillis Wheatley is the work of artist Erin K. Robinson. It is part of a beautiful collection of postcards, Brave. Black. First. Celebrating 50 African American Women Who Changed the World, published by Clarkson/Potter Publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I received the collection as a gift from my hubby. Thankfully, the box includes two sets of the postcards–I send 50 out into the world and keep 50 for myself! 😉

Tired like Langston

“Langston,” Lynita Solomon. Used by Permission of the Artist

Yesterday, I read a Facebook post by a woman who denigrated Vice President Kamala Harris for no good reason. The woman asserted that Harris is not a role model and no one should have their daughters look up to her.

The post and responses were hateful and extremely disrespectful. I can’t figure out how people can stir up so much hatred for a person they don’t know just because they don’t agree with the person’s policies or positions on certain issues.

Beyond this illogic, some made lewd remarks and [like the original poster] claimed Harris did “anything” to reach the VP position. The whole thing was disturbing. And to make matters worse, the post was “liked” thousands of times and shared more than 17,000 times!

The comments played into the hypersexualized view of Black women that was written into the narrative of American history to cover the multitude of white men’s violations against Black women’s bodies and personhood. The narrative is hurtful and just as dangerous as the one that gets Black men and women shot for just breathing.

Like the speaker in Langston Hughes’s poem, I’m so tired.

Tired
Langston Hughes

I am so tired of waiting.

Aren’t you,
for the world to become good
and beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
and cut the world in two —
and see what worms are eating
at the rind.

About the Image: The art above is the work of graphic illustrator, Lynita “Elle” Solomon. She posted the image on Instagram in honor of the day Langston Hughes was born, 119 years ago. Lynita has an amazing way of presenting her subjects “without faces,” but we know exactly who they are anyway. You can see more of her work by clicking the image above.

“All Power to All People”

“All Power to All People.” Art installation by Hank Willis Thomas at Burning Man 2018. Photo by Christine B.

It’s time for another brief art lesson [and the crowd goes wild]!

The afro pick (or afro comb) installation above is the work of Hank Willis Thomas, a conceptual artist who works “primarily with themes related to perspective, identity, commodity, media, and popular culture” (Artist’s bio).

The work, entitled “All Power to All People,” was one of the many fantastic pieces on display [in 2018] at Burning Man a “temporary city” built annually in Black Rock Desert in Nevada. According to a New York Times article on the “monumental art” of Burning Man, Thomas’s 24×10 foot tall installation is on tour throughout the United States this year.

Popularized in the 1970’s, the afro comb has a long, long history that dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt and [also] has roots in West Africa. You can read about that here: Combs from Kemet.

The 1970s-style afro pick typically includes the “peace sign” and the “raised fist”–as seen in Thomas’s work.  It was–and still is–a symbol of Black unity, solidarity, collective identity, and Black empowerment.

The photo was shot by my pen friend Christine B, who participates in Burning Man every year. She surprised me last week with a few of these postcards and a very cool “Black Lives Matter” button. 🙂

I was not only happy to receive Christine’s postcards, but was elated that her photo led me to Hank Willis Thomas. A few summers ago, I photographed one of his other installations, but neglected to get the artist information [doh!]. Maybe, that work will be the subject of a blog post next week. Let’s see what time allows.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for a bit of tree love.

Guest Post | “‘Naming’ Our Grief” by Chanté Enu

It is not unusual for artists to use their work as a platform against social injustice, so it is not surprising that we have seen a resurgence of social justice art since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many artists have used Instagram to share their messages. 

My former student, Chanté Enu [formerly known as Chanté Marie]–singer, songwriter, and artist–contributes to the dialogue. Her social justice artwork, which she has begun to post on Instagram, reminds us to “say the names” of those who have succumbed to police violence.

For today’s post on living Black in the United States, she shares a piece from her series, Voices Mourning in Protest and a little about the motivation behind its creation. 


This piece is a tribute to the many Black individuals whose lives were taken by the police. I added names to the canvas in hopes that while viewing this composition people will say their names and remember:

George Floyd. Jamar Clark. Timothy Thomas. Danroy Henry Jr. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Artago Damon Howard. Jeremy Lett. Lavall Hall. Thomas Allen. Charly Leundeu Keunang. Naeschylus Vinzant. Tony Robinson. Anthony Hill. Bobby Gross. Brandon Jones. Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Frank Shephard. William Chapman. David Felix. Brendon Glenn. Kris Jackson. Spencer McCain. Victor Emmanuel Larosa. Salvado Ellswood. Darrius Stewart . Albert Joseph Davis. Samuel DuBose. Christian Taylor. Asshams Pharoah Manley. India Kager. Keith Harrison McLeod. Junior Prosper. Anthony Ashford. Bennie Lee Tignor. Jamar Clark. Nathaniel Harris Pickett.

The list goes on.

The focal point of this piece is a black woman in mourning. She represents the heaviness of the grief and loss many of us feel.

My prayer is that we expel the monsters of apathy and disconnect that plague our nation and invoke genuine feelings of connectedness through our collective grief over the loss of these lives.

Through this piece, I hope people understand that it is our responsibility to speak up, to advocate, to say their names, to protest injustice, to deeply care about the injustices against Black lives.

Summoned Mother | Tameka Cage Conley

All mothers were summoned, when George Floyd called out for his mother. —Rachel Costa

Every mother heard him. We heard George Floyd. We hear him. —Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo who was murdered by New York City police officers in 1999.

For today’s post on living Black in the United States, I invite you to view a three-part series presented by the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. The project features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, an artist I initially met many years ago when she was a student–an English major, of course. 😉 I am so very proud of her and her work.

The museum describes the “Summoned Mother” series as:

a memoir of a particular American motherhood: Black and uniquely precarious. This three-volume video series features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, a literary artist and mother to a six-year-old Black boy, as she responds to George Floyd’s breathless call on motherhood. Conley juxtaposes the works of Elizabeth Catlett with those of contemporary Black poets, bridging the visual and literary arts in a meditation of Black artistry’s longstanding eye on injustice.

Dr. Tameka’s masterful weave of poetry, art, story, and song achingly reaches that primordial place in all mothers that compels us to protect, to rescue, to do something.

The project was spearheaded by Kwadwo Nnuro; the entire series is approximately 42 minutes in length.


About the image: The image that leads today’s post features a favorite photo of my son and me–modified for the post.

Other posts in the “Black Lives Matter” Monday series:

“When Giving Is All We Have”

Terrance Osborne, “Front Line”

This morning as we began our final Shakespeare session for the semester (sad face), one of my students requested prayer for the nurses who are suffering under the strain of watching far too many patients die as a result of COVID-19. Just moments before that, I read a Facebook post in which one of my friends, Dr. Scharmaine Lawson, a Nurse Practitioner and author, announced that after prayerful consideration, she’s heading to New York City to help with the COVID-19 relief effort there.

I often think about the health care professionals who are on the front line of this thing day after day after day. No matter how well-trained they are, no matter how often they see death, it is still inexplicably HARD.  The connections between nurse and patient or doctor and patient–however brief–matter, and every death carries emotional weight. With COVID-19 doctors and nurses are bearing witness to far more than the “usual” and they are still out there, weighed down with the grief and burden of so much loss, fighting to save lives.

Some might wonder why someone like Dr. Lawson, a busy NP with a booming practice and a very full life of her own, would uproot and rush into this daunting challenge. Albert RÍos’ poem provides the answers—not only for why we give in the big ways but also why we do so in our smaller, daily interactions.

When Giving Is All We Have
Alberto RÍos

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

About this poem, RÍos wrote:

This is a poem of thanks to those who live lives of service, which, I think, includes all of us—from the large measure to the smallest gesture, from care-giving to volunteerism to being an audience member or a reader.  I’ve been able to offer these words to many groups, not only as a poem but also as a recognition. We give for so many reasons, and are bettered by it.  –from poets.org

Thank you to our health care professionals and to all our public servants and other essential workers for whom the stay-at-home order does not apply.  Thank you to all of you who give daily in your own spaces, outside your own spaces, and “in-between” spaces. We are making something new, something beautiful when we give.


About the image: The image above is the work of New Orleans artist, Terrance Osborne. He created Front Line—a nod to Rosie the Riveter—“to show the men and women on the front line that we love and support them.” [Did you catch the fleur de lis–symbol of New Orleans?] Osborne generously offered the image above as a free phone screen saver and gave 1000 posters to local hospitals. A lithograph ($75 signed; $40 unsigned) can be purchased via his website. To see more of this phenomenal artist’s work, please go to his website. You’ll feel like you’ve just taken a tour of my beloved hometown.

She Dances: Working on My Sway

“Flamenca Blanca”

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power; it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.  –Agnes De Mille

My friend Cy sent this amazing postcard a few weeks ago. She found this beauty in Madrid during her travels there. I fell in love with it. The lone woman dancing reminded me of my favorite part of Louis Delsarte’s mural “Spirit of Harlem.”

“Spirit of Harlem” [I was fortunate enough to be in residency at NYU the same time as the artist. Weeks after its unveiling, the whole group of “Scholars-in-Residence” took a trip to Harlem to see the mural].

I’m intrigued by these women who sway their hips without apology and dance solo in spaces obviously peopled by many. It seems the musicians—equally surrendered to their muses—play only for each woman.

I don’t have their gift. As part of the “rhythmless nation,” I’m not sure I will ever dance in public.

But—

I have been reaching for a metaphorical moment like this—of pure freedom—of yielding completely to the rhythms of life without fretting over consequences–“what ifs” or “therefores.”

I’m tuning in and working on my sway.

Joy Break 2 | Dance, Dance, Dance

“Allow yourself to trust joy and embrace it.
You will find you dance with everything.”

My Love Notes friend, Connie, sent the postcard above a couple of years ago. She found it and many others at an art fair, I think. Even though I searched “high and low” for information about the artist, I found none.

This is one of my favorite postcards because there is so much joy in the artwork–the colors, the movements, the expressions. The dance is part of the conversation between the women whose very souls seem to be possessed by joy.

Perhaps, that is the point of the quote above (attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson). When we release ourselves to joy, there’s a light in the step and mirth in the eyes. Our very beings are infused with joy.

Walk with Truth

Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other? –Sojourner Truth

I chuckled to myself when I realized the reason for today’s Google Doodle. Initially, I wondered why Sojourner Truth. Did the google gods discover today is her birthday? Then, it occurred to me today is the first day of Black History Month (BHM).

Why the chuckle? Because it’s predictable.

Sojourner Truth–like Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman–is almost always brought up when discussing anything related to Black history.

Do I mind? Not really.

I like Sojourner Truth. I like her moxie. I love how she stood up for herself when the odds were most certainly against her. There are a lot of amazing lessons in her life.

Today, I opened class by talking briefly with my first-year students about not allowing themselves to  be so focused on the mountain in the distance that they render themselves incapable of taking the tiny day-to-day steps that make conquering the mountain achievable.

I wish I’d thought to weave some of Sojourner Truth’s life into that brief talk.

Sojourner Truth didn’t look at the mountains in front of her and freeze with fear or run in the opposite direction. She didn’t see the obstacles of her skin color, her gender, or her status as enslaved person as barriers to conquering the insurmountable. As a result, among many other “unlikely” accomplishments, she won a lawsuit against her former “owner” who sold her son into slavery after the State of New York had declared slavery illegal. And while we haven’t quite figured out whether Sojourner Truth said “Ain’t I a woman?” or “Ar’n’t I a woman?” in her famous speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, the reality is even if she never said a single word, the fact that she showed up to a party she wasn’t invited to and insisted on her Black presence and humanity says enough for me.

She literally walked the path to freedom in her own truth and with a righteous insistence on her own humanness. As long as she held on to the essential value of her personhood, no racial or gender mountain could stand in the way of her truth.


The art above is part of the “Celebrating Women” banners that were on display at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Celebrate Cafe in New York City when I visited several years ago. If I remember correctly, each piece of art added to the banner was created by a young woman who was involved in the Club.

If you want to know more about Sojourner Truth, click any of the links above, particularly the Google link.