Walidah Imarisha Talks Punk, Genrecide, and Her Racial Ideology

Art, poetry, talk, Uncategorized, Words

Interview by Alyssa Campbell

kaylaartArtwork by Kayla Gutierrez

“I think writing should be less like a factory and more like a garden, nurturing and watering, but allowing what is growing to take new, sometimes surprising, and often beautiful shapes,” Walidah Imarisha tells me.

The first time I met Imarisha was in January, 2015, when she was featured as the keynote speaker to present “Oregon’s Racial History and King’s Vision of Justice,” for a Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the Majestic Theatre, in Corvallis, Ore.

You couldn’t deny the power of her presence when she spoke: she was confident, fearless, and completely unapologetic for who she is and what she stands for. I remember the instant goosebumps when she kicked off with a spoken word poem, and by the end of her presentation the entire theatre stood for a round of applause. I thought to myself “I want to be like her one day, I want to have that kind of impact with my words.” Since then, I’ve attended a book signing, multiple lectures, workshops, and have been lucky enough to sit one-on-one for a personal interview with Imarisha.

Imarisha is a public scholar, spoken word artist, writer, activist, journalist, and educator, who currently lectures at Stanford University’s Program of Writing and Rhetoric. She’s taught at Portland State University’s Black Studies Department, Oregon State University’s Women Studies Department, and Southern New Hampshire University’s English and Literature Department.

Growing up on military base, Imarisha says the support from her mother showed her the possibilities of what she could achieve.

“My mom has been very foundational to me. She doesn’t necessarily call herself a feminist, but she absolutely is where I learned feminist principles,” said Imarisha. “She was like ‘We’re going to travel, we’re going to see the world, we’re going to do what we want to do, and I’m not going to let someone tell either of us what we can or can’t do.’ She also always taught me to be true to myself.”

She is well known for her statewide presentation: “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?” and for creating the expression “visionary fiction.” Some of her work includes but is not limited to: author of the poetry collection “Scars/Stars,” and the creative nonfiction “Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption,” co-editing the anthology “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements,” and was an editor for the anthology “Another World is Possible.”

Has it always been a dream of yours to be in the position that you’re in with your career?

I definitely always wanted to be a writer. And I think the idea of communicating ideas and thoughts is something that’s foundational, and kind of the core of everything that I do. I think it’s more about finding different mediums for conveying ideas, and starting conversations, getting folks to think differently.

I definitely see all of my work as intertwined and interrelated. Sometimes poetry is more effective for some things, sometimes an academic format is more effective, sometimes poetry writing workshops are more effective. All the time science fiction is more effective.

I also feel the core of everything I do is a commitment to justice and a commitment to trying and revisioning the world and dreaming better futures, and so I think my life has taken a very circuitous route and gone many different places, I’m doing things that I didn’t imagine I would be doing. But I think that it was kind of keeping that as my guiding light, as my north star, and it has never steered me wrong.

When did your love for sci-fi begin?

Science fiction was one of the few genres where you actually got to see through the eyes of “the other.” And they may be a green person, or someone with tentacles, but the ways they were treated felt much more familiar.

Part of what drew me was that I got to hear stories from the alien’s perspective, from the perspective of people who felt familiar. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting to read literature written by folks of color, but it felt like I was getting closer to hearing marginalized voices than in most other genres.

The space of saying whatever you can imagine is possible was incredibly compelling to me. I also think even though I wasn’t able to articulate it as a child, I understood that the aliens were more like me, than I was like most of the main characters.

How do you decide which outlet you want to use when curating new writings?

Most of the time it’s not a conscious decision, if I’m just writing, it’ll come out however it comes out. Sometimes I have no idea what it is I’m like: Is that a poem? Is that a short story? I don’t know what that is. Is that an essay, a personal essay? Sometimes it’s about the projects I’m working on, or things people ask me to do.

I used to be in a punk band; I started liking punk in high school and I definitely felt like it spoke to my feelings and my rage and my sensibilities. I really was drawn to the idea that we can do it ourselves, to be creative, and to question everything we’re told.

And also, when I discovered mosh pits I was like: this is an amazing outlet for the rage I feel as a young black woman every single day.

How old were you when you when you started getting into punk?

I started getting into punk while I was going to high school, I must have been 15 or 16, when I lived in Springfield, Ore., and it was all white. The bands I listened to were white, the people were white, and there were three of us who were brown. So I was like “I guess this is a white thing and I like it.”

I was lucky enough when I moved to Philadelphia, to the East coast, I got to meet punks of color, and folks who were very clear that actually punk music is rooted in black music. So I ended up hearing the band that I joined Ricanstruction. They’re all Puerto Rican, and considered themselves to be black.

They talked about the fact that Puerto Rican folks, caribbean folks, all have African heritage, and are black regardless of shade and facial features. It was really helpful because my mom is white and my dad is black, so obviously I grew up with white people being very clear that I was black. But also not necessarily feeling like I connected everywhere with “blackness” entirely.

So it was really useful to engage with these folks who were like “black is a political decision, and we choose to be black because we stand in solidarity with people who are the most oppressed.” And I was like “Word! Alright.” They were incredible musicians, all of them were some of the best musicians for their fields that I’ve ever met, and they were also all rooted in the intersections of music.

They loved punk, they also loved salsa and reggae, and hip hop; every form of music, soul and rock. Our lead singer used to say we committed “genrecide” by saying “these aren’t neat boxes, this is all music,” and he was like “this is all black music,” and it all has common roots, so we don’t have to be like “this is our punk song, this is our soul song.” So people would listen and be like “we don’t know what ya’ll are doing.”

That’s the best part, when you can’t fit someone in a category, when it’s just something that you feel.

I’m really glad I came into punk, and came to that band for many different reasons. I think it gave me my political ideological foundation, but I also think it really influenced my own writing of saying “I don’t have to accept genres, and I can commit genrecide in my writing as well.”

I think with “Octavia’s Brood,” and the science fiction anthology written by organizers that I edited, when I approached publishers they were like “we don’t even know how to sell this, or market it.” And we were like that’s fine we’re committing genrecide, we don’t have to be put in a little box.

Especially with my latest book “Angels With Dirty Faces,” I actually had an agent who said “I love this book, it’s amazing, but I have no idea how I would market it to a publishing company. Because it’s memoirs/true crime/analysis/racial ideology/sociology/ with poetic writing, I don’t know where it fits.”

It certainly makes commercial success harder, but I think it makes life more organic and real to be your full, complete self, and bring all of your pieces to all that you do.

*On her racial ideology*

It was really important for me, learning about black liberation movements, especially the Black Panther Party, and getting to engage with political prisoners from that era. Specifically Sundiata Acoli, a former Black Panther and political prisoner.

I started writing him while I was in college, and then when I moved to Philadelphia he was being held in Pennsylvania, so every month I would go visit him. I think it was really helpful for my racial ideology, because I think I had a little of what I call “the bi-racial blues,” of being like “I don’t fit in anywhere, no one wants me.”

Sundiata was helping me see the differences between different community’s reactions, because I think a lot of times, when, especially mixed black folks are feeling like “white folks don’t want me; black folks don’t want me.”

But what Sundiata said was often times when black folks were saying things like “you sound white,” or “why do you act like a white girl,” what they’re saying is, “are you going to take the privileges that you have, that I can very much see you have and leave us when it becomes convenient, or are you going to be part of this community?”

It was life changing. I think I was 18 or 19 when he told me that and we were in a prison visiting room, and I wanted to cry.

*On Black Lives Matter*

I think it’s an important movement that’s happening right now. There’s a struggle for justice in every generation, every generation has work to do.

I feel like Black Lives Matter is part of a long lineage of black survival movements in this nation that says “we will claim our right to exist. And we will claim our right to exist as we want to exist, not as you tell us we should exist.”

I think focusing on Black Lives Matter, what we do want, is visionary. It’s also science fiction, because black lives don’t matter to mainstream America, and they have never mattered to mainstream America. It’s kind of pulling this future into the present.

It’s saying “we will live this science fiction dream as if it was reality, until it becomes reality.”

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Louise Chantal is in Control

Uncategorized

Interview by Kayla Gutierrez

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Sucker: Who is Louise Chantal?

Louise Chantal: I’m a singer, songwriter, creative director, and entrepreneur from London, living in the NYC area.

Sucker:  Who or what are some of your musical inspirations?

LC: I’m inspired by so many people in different genres for different reasons. One person that inspired me vocally to grow and push myself, and accomplish as much as I can is Whitney Houston. Beyonce also continues to inspire me as an outstanding boss of her brand and talent as well. Her work ethic is unmatched in my eyes and I would like to strive to be the same way with an uncompromising devotion to my craft.

Sucker: What is your creative process?

LC: Each song has a very different story. Some of the songs on my project, I wrote without hearing instrumentation first and other songs I wrote to instrumentation. The biggest evolution in my creative process from the time I started writing and recording my EP to now is that I am much more involved in the musical production. I really wasn’t an executive producer outside of funding my project when I first began recording songs, but by the end of the project I was heavily involved in music production, not just the songwriting, vocal production, and arrangements of the voice. A big portion of that growth I think I can credit to working with producers that were far more experienced in the industry than me. Syience, who executive produced the project with me, always encouraged me to think and speak for myself. Once I began doing that wholeheartedly, I gained a lot more confidence in myself.

Sucker: What kind of messages do you want to convey through your music?

LC: I would like to convey honest messages. Many of my songs promote feminism and anti-patriarchal concepts because that’s who I am, but then I also have a few songs in which I’m hopeless romantic. All of the emotions I have written about are things that I’ve experienced and battled with. I have experienced men who made me feel like shit, made me feel absolutely horrible about myself, and it’s bigger than intimacy or relationships for me, it goes way back to my childhood up to now and witnessing how society isn’t structured to uplift or celebrate the woman of color. And in this album I’m talking about how I had to find myself, and find out what I loved about me, and why I was special, and why I didn’t need a man to define my worth. My life stories I haven’t share in the Welcome to Aranbi EP. I shared stories of the many women in me.

The emotions are really what I care about. Cry, cry, cry but then you have to move the fuck on. That’s my music. There’s a lot of sadness behind it, I feel that’s the core. There’s other happier songs, but for the most part I wrote about men that didn’t want me to know my worth or think that I was smart enough to be excellent, outstanding, or powerful alone. It was more to their advantage and ego to make me feel small. In this project, I said fuck that.

Sucker: At what age did you start singing?

LC: I was 12 years old, a point in my life where the world I thought I belonged to shifted drastically. I went from a very diverse public school to an all white private school. The way I viewed myself and my value flipped completely. But in the midst of all the sadness that came that year, I fought for a music career, and joined a production company. I wrote and recorded two EP’s, and a mixtape with them, and we created really great things. Years later I’m here, with my own company, having fun and doing it my way.

 

Sucker: Where do you see yourself in five years?

LC: I get that question quite a bit. Hopefully in five years – I’ve done three albums. If it doesn’t work out that way, it’s okay. But hopefully, I’ve done a few albums and I’ve become the creative director of a fashion brand. Maybe I’ll have had a role in a move or guest starred in a TV show. Hopefully my charity has expanded its outreach globally. That would be most amazing. And I’ve toured the world a few times.

Sucker: How do you want your fans to perceive you?

LC: As a business woman that is passionate about what I do. I love my supporters because they understand that about me. They understand that I’m here to change the world through art. I want them to know that I have an uncompromising attitude and devotion when it comes to my work. There is a lot of negative stereotypes about women in the industry, obviously bred by misogyny. They want to promote these messages that women aren’t intelligent enough, aren’t powerful enough to be successful without selling their bodies to a man in power. I hate that shit. I want my fans to know that I’m in control of my shit. No one in the ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ music video told me, ‘Oh I want you to wear this or I want you to pretend to be that’, everything you see in my content is what I wanted. I’m very much involved, I’m very much in control. There is no one telling me what to do and I’m proud of that and I think it’s important that my supporters know this isn’t been repackaged by a man.

In the PYMWMYI music video I made some people uncomfortable. Uncomfortable to the point where they felt the need to write in the comments ‘oh I wonder who she fucked to get to the top,’ or ‘go back to the strip club’ or ‘slut slut slut.’ If a man puts 100 strippers in his music video, he’s the man. He’s a God. It’s never going to be oh I wonder how many women he had sex with to get where he is because they have all the power and they keep it in their circle. But if embrace my sexuality or look a little too confident in my sex appeal, I get 3,000 comments reducing me down to object. Stripper or no stripper, I’m made out to be an object. I’ll take the backlash in a heartbeat and just do what the fuck I want to do. That’s who I am. That’s who I am going to remain throughout my career, a woman that is unapologetic and willing to make people uncomfortable.

louise-chantal

Sucker: How have you ever experienced sexism first-hand? What changes need to happen to end sexism?

LC: I don’t know how I could be alive in this world as a woman as color, and not have experienced sexism. I could rant on and on about how people undermine on my capabilities or what I can achieve because I’m a woman. But at this point for me it’s about changing the program and what is promoted through the media. The idea that women have to have sex with men in order to achieve career success. The messages that say being in control as woman isn’t sexy. The messages that are promoted through the media must change.

Sucker: Is there anyone you want to collaborate with?

LC: Princess Nokia, I really like her a lot, and I really like what she has stands for in and outside of her music; the messages she promotes. Her entire life story is really inspirational. I’d also like to work with Drake one day.

Sucker: Do you believe personal relationships go with professional business?

LC: Business is always first priority for me, but I tend to become very close to the people I work with continuously. Some of my best friends are people I work with regularly. For that reason I’ve learned about the importance of knowing and respecting boundaries. I once had a friendship in past that became too multi-dimensional. There were no boundaries or moments alone, too much became intertwined. I learned a lot from that relationship and the outcome was sad. But with time and experience I’ve learned how to navigate my business life and my personal life and how to always keep them separate to a certain extent.

Sucker: Many artists claim that motherhood is not a good combination with their life’s work, do you see yourself being maternal in the near future along with balancing your career or solely dedicated to the music?

LC: I’m so in love with me and what I do professionally. All of my siblings have kids. I have so much work I have to get done, and I don’t think a kid would make that any easier for me due to first hand experience babysitting. You need time to be a parent, I don’t have the time or wisdom at this stage in my life to become one for sure.

Sucker: Who has been the most supportive to you through your journey as an artist?

LC: Probably my dad, I’ll give my dad that one.

Sucker: Is there more in life you want to accomplish than music?

LC: Absolutely. I already see myself and my brand as being bigger than music. I want to change the world and I think it will take multiple mediums in order for me to change how kids learn, how the world thinks and I’ll start with music, but I will definitely be branching out. I have a passion for business, branding and market. , I feel there’s so many ways for me to grow as mogul, as an entrepreneur. I love music, but I will definitely be taking advantage of every opportunity to do so much more.

Sucker: With growing movements such as Black Lives Matter, will fans see you spreading activism, will it be in your music?

LC: I definitely feel as though I am an activist through my music and my words, but I am planning to really take things to the next level by launching the Aranbi Foundation in November. At this point in my life, actions are really speaking even louder than words for me and that’s why I’ve begun taking initiatives to become active in the inner city communities that are being targeted the most by a flawed criminal justice system.

Sucker: What is music to you?

LC: Music is the one place where I can say whatever the fuck I want. I can just say what I feel, and I can just cry on a song, and I speak my mind with no dialogue, and no conversation, just me and the world that I created in pain and isolation. Aranbi is me in my head.

Sucker: What is one place you know for certain that you can go for peace and quiet?

LC: My dad’s place. He’s so calm, relaxed, and open minded. I love that about him. I feel so loved in the presence of my father, and enjoy spending all of my time with him. Another place I love going is to the beach.

Sucker: What advice to you have for young aspiring artists?

LC: Don’t underestimate your value, don’t allow anyone other than you to determine what you can or cannot do. Don’t underestimate your ability to think for yourself. Finding yourself and then believing in who you are is key.

Artist Of The Month – OCTOBER 2016: BLACKBLONDEIMAGES

Art, artist of the month, Uncategorized

Interview by Jess Petrylak

bbi4BLACKBLONDEIMAGES

I MET TREVON LAST SPRING AT A BERNIE SANDERS RALLY IN THE BRONX; IT WAS A VERY QUICK INTERACTION, HE HAD ASKED MY BOYFRIEND IF HE COULD TAKE A PORTRAIT OF HIM IN THE CROWD. THIS WAS A VERY DEFINITIVE MOMENT FOR ME AS A PERSON, AND AN ARTIST. I WAS VERY INSPIRED BY TREVON’S FEARLESSNESS, GRACEFULLY MARCHING THROUGH THE CROWD ASKING STRANGERS FOR THEIR PORTRAITS, WHICH I COULD ONLY IMAGINE WAS A DIFFICULT TASK IN ITSELF; I WAS ALSO WARMED BY THE FACT THAT HE SAW SOMETHING SPECIAL AND BEAUTIFUL IN PEOPLE HE DIDN’T KNOW. I AM HONORED TO HAVE INTERVIEWED AND SUPPORT  SOMEONE WHO HAD SHOWN ME SUCH CONFIDENCE IN THEIR ARTISTRY. THANK YOU TREVON!

– Jess

SUCKER: Who is Black Blonde Images?

BLACKBLONDEIMAGES: My name is Trevon Blondet, I was born and raised and educated in the Bronx. And BlackBlondeImages is the name of the gallery on Instagram where I share my photographs and my message.

SUCKER: What was your first experience with a camera? Did your artistic career start with photography?

BBI: My first experience with a camera is when dad always took photos and I always play with the film container. He had tons of slides. I was the kid who used to bring my disposable camera, and photograph class trips. I took 3 credits of photography in undergrad as an elective. That wasn’t enough to be fluent in the dark room.  I few years ago I bought my first digital camera. A Canon Rebel.  I was off and running. As a kid, I was always interested in the music.

bbi3BLACKBLONDEIMAGES


SUCKER: Almost all of your images are monochromatic, what is the reasoning behind this? How do you decide if a photograph should be in color or black and white?

BBI: The first exhibits I went to that left an impact on me, most of the photographs were black and white. Mainly those photographers were too poor to spend the extra money to buy and process color film. When I started to figure out what subject matter I wanted to capture, I stripped away the colors to focus on the message.  If there is something very dynamic about the color in the photo I will leave it in color. Usually I convert it to monochrome to my liking. I mainly shoot street photography, sports, concerts and portrait not in that order.

SUCKER: Who are some of your favorite visual artists?

BBI: That’s a tough question…I’ve meet a lot of  muralist and painters in recent years and I’ve become friends of a few of them, So my favorite visual artists are my friends.

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SUCKER: How did you transition from taking photographs to making a career out of it?

BBI: I still have a 9 – 5, but I starting taking my camera every where and I began to hone my craft. Once I joined the Bronx Photo League, my photography got better exponentially. Being around a group of people who genuinely want to see you become a better shooter; they nurtured the environment that different types of photographers where you get inspired.  The BPL forced me to become better at my craft all around. It made me more aware about my community. That was showcased at Photoville with the Bronx Documentary Center container, where we highlighted a 2 mile stretch on Jerome Ave. in the Bronx. Photo book: Jerome Avenue Workers Project. From that work, I got published in the NYTimes and Metro News. I have had a few assignments for the Riverdale Press, Bronx Times and Crain’s 5Boros. It’s a start for other projects coming up.

SUCKER: What is the most challenging thing about working with an urban landscape and portraiture photography? What’s the easiest?

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BBI: I guess the tough  part is approaching people and asking someone to take your portrait.  It’s also it’s challenging being rejected. I doesn’t bother me too much, but at first I would completely shut down and stop taking pictures for the day.  The easiest part is when people walk up to you and ask for a picture. Some people want their story told and picture taking.

SUCKER: What kind of camera(s) and editing software do you use?

BBI: I have a: Canon 60D w/ Tamron Lens 24mm-70mm, canon telephoto lens 70mm-200mm, and canon 50mm, Fuji X-Pro 1  35mm, and Canonet QL17RF 35mm (film camera). Lightroom software, Snapseed (Google based app)

SUCKER: What is your go-to art making song?

BBI: The music really depends on my mood. There was a period time when I only listened to jazz while I was shooting  because I gave me peace to let my mind wander a bit and see things differently.

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SUCKER: Your work gives narrative behind the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and coincides with living in the Bronx. What does your process look like in terms of your theme? Has it changed at all over the years?

BBI: I started to photograph the Bronx; and her residents and neighborhoods and the culture that lives there. When Black Lives Matter movement kicked off I felt I had to use my images to show, individually, each person matters. I started to finding people and started using the #TheyMatter,  or her or she matter. (I didn’t create the #) I take portraits of men, women, transgender, LGBTQ, kids, or senior citizens because they all matter. I went to a few Black Lives Matter movement events in the Bronx, but most of the marches and rallies are in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

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SUCKER: Did you get a higher education in art? How did this decision help you?

BBI: I graduated with a Fine Arts – Communication Degree, but I wouldn’t call myself a Art Major. I learned most everything I know from the Bronx Documentary Center and that was the best decision I ever made.

SUCKER: Have you had any bad experiences when asking strangers to take their photograph? Any good experiences?

BBI: When I actively shooting the “NO” was the worse thing. No one has every threatened me or anything. If they agree to take a portrait, I consider a gift and it always pleasant to receive a gift. Also, it’s nice when people recognized the person if I post it to Instagram. That’s why I photograph the Bronx.

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SUCKER: Why is it important in the 21st century to be active online as an artist?

BBI: Photography provides immediacy depending on year gear. It tells you a whole without words, or a few photos with poignant text is like a novel. Photography can sell the recent trends of fashion. Everything is more visual these days and with a camera you tell a story and upload it within seconds.

SUCKER: What is the best advice you could give to aspiring young photographers?

BBI: It’s import to keep up with what everyone one is doing; it should spark ideas. I think also finding mentors and mentees is important to be active online. Criticisms can be complementary, and online you can get some good constructive criticisms.

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SUCKER: What are your plans for your future art and future self?

BBI: I will continue to get better as a photojournalist and try to show the Bronx in a positive light.


SUCKER: Where can we buy your art and contact you?

BBI: I have a friend working on my website it should be complete in October, but you can DM me on Instagram (@BLACKBLONDEIMAGES) and we’ll figure it out from there. I have 8 x 10’s and 11 x 14’s prints of my favorite photographs.

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hope this time

Art, poetry, talk, Uncategorized, Words

Poem by Alyssa Faye Campbell

Art by Jessie Petrylak

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in the face of adversity the load becomes

heavy – as we strive towards so much

more. we arrived with words as keys,

discovering our strength from their

energy – “Black Lives Matter.”

forsaken chants – no remedy,

another hashtag. awaiting

brighter days; and there

will be.

even in

the dark

we grow – in

the

dark

we glow.

so much pain –

still, there’s always hope.

where is heaven for a

Black

angel –

when

will

all

Lives

really

Matter