Women’s Mobile Museum- A Sight of Decolonial Ethics

On a whim on January 24, 2019, I decided to attend an opening art show. As it was advertised on Facebook- I would be seeing a show that involves South African photographer Zanele Muholi. In 2019, if one uses the internet- and they have interest in Black art- more than likely they are familiar with Muholi’s work, or at least the terrorism they endured and survived in 2012- as someone stole five years worth of their work on Black lesbian life in South Africa. I attended this event expecting to see work that fell into the politics and aesthetics that Muholi is known for. Instead, I left the event with a deeper understanding of how these same politics and aesthetics that Muholi captures in South Africa create the dynamic entity that is the city of Philadelphia.

The Women’s Mobile Museum is a group of new photographers. From what I understand, the group formed as a selected bunch that participated in an apprenticeship formed by Muholi as part of their residency at Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. The ten femme/women that make up the group are from Philadelphia, and they were led by Muholi, London based curator Renee Musai and South African photographer Lindeka Qampi. They embarked on this journey with also the support of project adviser Dr. Kathleen Walls- a clinical and systems change psychologist. The infrastructure created by the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center for this program was spearheaded by Lori Waselchuk. The exhibit showed throughout Philadelphia- at the Philadelphia Academy of the Arts, the Dixon House in Point Breeze, and during a community festival in Juanita Park.

afaq, Davelle Barnes, Andrea Walls, Shasta Bady, Irish Maldonado, Danielle Morris, Shana- Adina Roberts, Carrie- Anne Shimborski, Tash Billington, Muffy Ashley Torres carried alongside the work of Lindeka Qampi and Zanele Muholi reaffirmed what I know, yet stretched what I thought I was already used to seeing. The site of their work as a collection in a gentrified area of North Philadelphia reminded me that art must speak truth to power by any means possible. The power of their work gathered in this point and time in our country situates counter-narratives that should be amplified when possible. Their work has also been organized with artist statements in the Women’s Mobile Museum magazine which can be found at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center.

All of the work inspired me, but two artists in particular pushed me into a space where I was able to meditate on my experiences in Philadelphia as I worked through their pieces at the show. Muffy Ashley Torres showed us the physical pain of displacement. She reminded us that gentrification is not abstract, nor is it a buzzword.  Her photography captured the disgustingly common process of eviction, resell and demolition/rehab families witness happen to what they considered their foundation. Torres’ body within the shot displaced our gaze from the deconstruction of property and refocused our eyes toward analyzing what the destruction has done to her body. Our eyes followed Torres as through her photography, we witnessed how she endured and coped with these societal shifts with health limitations.

Tash Billington’s photography shook me to my core because of the simple truth it revealed.  Billington made Philadelphia appear as earnest as it is through her photography.  She took phenomenal rich portraits of the diversity of Philadelphia natives and their everyday. To an outsider, there is no way they would have understood cues, facial smirks, jewelry, clothing, stance, accessories that alluded to the neighborhood one could guess each individual represented. Arab oils as its known in Philly are the focal point of one of her pieces of the exhibit. I watched onlookers laugh awkwardly at the piece as they read the labels, or just give the work a quick glance. For me, the oils spoke to a deeper struggle that I know Philadelphia natives have endured through my work in reintegration of folks that have endured mass incarceration. I came to learn about those oils as a means to introduce folks back into the economy that are shut out due to charges on their records. The economic system is ingenious, heavily relies on transnational relationships that go beyond race and class in Philadelphia, as the oils sold in bulk are sold by the SWANA community and deals are made with Black folks within the Islamic faith in Arabic. This relationship is so specific to Philadelphia, and gets swept up in the fodder of cheesesteaks and Eagles when folks move to the area. I love Tash’s message of welcoming those who are ready to learn and help Philadelphia grow because it is a city that has been alot and is going through alot. For every person from NYC that is making their way to Philly because its affordable, at least three families are trying to see if they can make their way into Delaware County or the outskirts of the city. Tash captures how Philadelphia see themselves presently. What she leaves us with is questions toward how everyone can enhance what has been struggled for.

I can say that the Women’s Mobile Museum is indeed a revolutionary model that can and should be embraced throughout the country if not the world. Making art accessible in the time of governments cutting arts funding requires a special approach. I believe the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center figured out a way for everyone to be able to say me – when the question of “who is art for?” is asked.

Women's Mobile Museum

photos were pulled from the Philadephia Photo Arts Center- additional information about the exhibit can be found here https://www.philaphotoarts.org/event/womens-mobile-museum/

Black Folks! Stefan Burnett aka MC Ride is our generation’s Bob Marley, here’s why…

originally published March 12, 2018 on medium.

In a day when Black life is quantified virtually- that is to say, online seems to be the only geography were Black life can proclaim its own beginning and end, Black existence regulates itself as futile. Whether this notion is celebrated or not, this thought process is underlying driving contemporary Black popular culture. From our cultural adages shared on social media meant to quell our grandest moral questions, to having platforms like Vine usher in and wipe out the prowess of transnational Black young entertainers, we all understand that to click is to exist. This cultural narcissism has created a type of Black nihilism that is hyperreal, inflated, and has yet given refugee to us as we just try to figure out what the fuck is actually going on. So what am I trying to say? I actually do not know what Migos is saying but I rock with it- mainly because of the visual representation of Migos and the production. Artists such as XXXTentacion, Lil Uzi Vert, Kid Cudi (for the OG’s), and BLACKIE (for the real ones), all are in this same pool of Black existentialists who are using hip-hop, a now pop drenched genre, as a means to juxtapose everything we think we know as Black existence. Some of us, a lot of old heads, do not like this. Oh well.

Bob Marley, in his hay day, was also not highly regarded by some Black folks in the States. This was due to how his music was promoted as reggae- classified as World Music, which catered to college white and Black liberal/conscious American students. An unfortunate recoil of this is that Marley’s political platform of Pan-Africanism did not rise above the college fetishization of the relationship between marijuana and the religion of Rastafarianism. “One Love”, a feel-good song that has been used to promote tourism for the Caribbean, holds the American imagination more than “Buffalo Solider” a bop about Black American Union troops who faced racial terror from the empire they were actively protecting. Pan Africanism, as performed by Bob Marley, really showed itself in his music as a means to continue the cultural legacy of the African Diaspora using an artistic medium to also build political consciousness. Pan-Africanism, defined by the Tate Museum “was the idea that in order to achieve their potential, all Africans on the continent and its diaspora needed to unify under the banner of race”. The Tate’s definition is as stale as the art world is when it comes to issues around Blackness. Scholars would argue that Pan-Africanism is difficult to define and pinpoint as being organized at one point in time. But, overall, Pan-Africanism can be recognized as an anti-colonial movement meant to empower Black folks of Africa and the Diaspora. Unfortunately, the Pan-Africanism of Bob Marley’s music did not captivate as many folks as it could have while he was alive. Some argue that Bob Marley’s music inspired Black folks in the States culturally and politically posthumously. I think this is very sad, imagine if Bob Marley was on the Isley Brother’s Harvest for the World– that could have been like a for real BLA soundtrack.

If we catch the wave that XXXtentacion and friends are on philosophically we may be able to realize new realities for ourselves through this meta time we are in. Without a doubt, XXXtentacion, Lil Uzi Vert, Young Thug, Earl Sweatshirt, and all of these rappers who old heads can’t seem to figure out, are to me, Afro-pessimists. What is Afro-pessimism? Does it mean you are like, emo about Black life? NAW. Afro-pessimism is about Black social death. It is about the facade of a Black existence in an anti-Black world. I could use this space to provide direct quotes and definitions from the various thinkers who are consumed with this thought- like Frank WildersonSaidiya HartmanJared Sexton, but instead I am going to paraphrase some of the ideas and also encourage you to start with Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth and Black Skins, White Masks if you are feeling this. Basically, all of these scholars would argue that the Black body is socially dead- and that society is dependent on its status as dead. This all means that when we begin to unravel anti-Black police brutalitylynching, the trans atlantic slave trade, and foreign sponsored genocide on the African continent– we understand that the world functions as the Black body exists in a non-human/subhuman realm. We understand that to be Black means that your body is a commodity- its role in our world-system is to produce, and when it doesn’t in the manner society wants, it is regulated to a death that will never be quantified or qualified.

So, folks that really rock with Afro Pessimism (intently, or unintentionally) have a very f*** this shit attitude toward white supremacy and the practice of proving to a white supremacist structure that a Black humanity does exist. This very attitude creates space toward manifesting various realities that serve no other purpose but just being alternative realities within Blackness. Now, whether this type of project is actually liberatory, I do not know, that is a conversation for another time. What I do know is that at least within the realm of contemporary Black music, we can see this performance as very common and misread by the masses. Just very quickly honing back to my defense of Young Thug- although he now has an undeniable pop/rock presence given the success of his release of Jeffrey in 2016, some of his earlier releases addressed a nihilism that can only be developed through a young black male lens. The track, “Quarterback” ft. Migos and PeeWee Longway juxtaposes the exploitation of an all american southern high school Black quarterback with the same lifestyle as someone who could be successful in an informal economy. The song moves us to understand that exploitation and manipulation go hand in hand within a Black existence that is forced to struggle to survive in an anti-Black context.

Ninth grade, quarterback, Washington High
When you in the trap, all these rules apply
Keep it in your lap, not to the side

Been so successful, all your cars glide

These niggas be watching, they speculate
Feeling myself but no masturbation
I’m 22, rich with no education
The world’s gonna end one day, read it in Revelations
Good brain she deserve a scholarship
The pistol like lighters, you know that I pocket it

Ninth grade I was serving quarterpound
Trap rules, nigga scrap, jugging pounds
Make them move it like John Cena
Catch a nigga bitch while I’m eating
Diamonds on my neck, blinging
In the phantom of the opera leaning

Stephan Burnett, as part of Death Grips, has a song called “Black Quarterback” that dives into the allegorical understanding of a Black person confronted and confined by the state through an interaction of a police pull-over. Here are some of the lyrics below:

I’m so black quarterback, throw off this app by his badge
Blare my organ for juice, pipes spike blonde kinks on my boots
Approach me licking his fur, whining, “I demand a word”
Swine must be the all the way hatched, hella yolk raining down his chest
Clucking so fucking hard, glance heartbeat through his vest

So I’m like, “Go ahead, blood,” but my mind’s on my wrist
Five minutes pass, I’m-a have to make you my piss
Gimp just kept shaking so I had to braid him like this
Comfort over freedom, pave a path of leisure, have it all
Freedom over comfort, give you back so much leisure, feel small

Xeroxed man dressed in gauze, spider silk, and menopause
Mustache showered with applause, squished out packets like taco sauce
Gather crowd, laugh it off, Mr. Zogged by your boss

Burnett’s relationship to the police officer in that moment is akin to acknowledging the police officers gaze as dialetical, as the truth in question is if the Black body exists as human or just as Black for the officer and the character that has been pulled over. The initial retort of physical silence redeemed by internal anger and conflict can be examined as a continued practice of a Black nihilist performance. Further in the song, the character rejects an allegiance to the preconceived performance of Blackness the police officer expects from the driver.

I’m so black quarterback, air it out, albino
Black quarterback in all black
He’s so white, no
I’m so black quarterback in all black, albino

Dangling out the
Waning in the
 (Black quarterback)
Kicked under the
Vague it on the

Me versus the
Losing to the
 (Black quarterback in all black)
Cackling like the
Crackling through the

Cool despite the
Abusing the

Lunar as the
Space between the

Fucked beyond the
Eddie as the head that wears us out

The song ends with the character contemplating his own reality in comparison to the perceived Black reality ( read: Black threat) he holds in the police officers imagination. But, nothing is done to actually resolve this conflict between both characters. This “it is what it is” element to what could be understood as a political stance is what has become an excuse for folks to disregard the potential of a Black political nihilism/negation. Needless to say, Burnett’s lack of public interviews or even motivation to his explain himself as a musician as part of this political stance has probably contributed to his unpopularity with Black audiences. As a fan of Death Grips, who is Black, this is really annoying but we can change this. Sonically, the rage that Zach Hill coerces into a cadence that fits the intense melodic intonations of Burnett’s lyrical content which could range from cyberwarfare to suicide/internal isolation. All of this creates a live setting where exciting does not even begin to explain the mosh-like communal barbarian sensations you feel and dance to. If you think seeing ASAP Rocky and Co is lit, then Death Grips is the blaze of fire that offsets the apocalypse.

Pan-Africanism and Afro-Pessimism are philosophies within the Black Radical Tradition that have given us tools to contemporarily explain what Black folks are thinking, feeling and seeing. Granted, I am sure both Bob Marley and Stephan Burnett would refute both political ideologies as part of their identity because both artists are not into the politics that come with identity. However, I think using Black radical philosophical traditions to complicate and honor Black creativity as it acts as a mode of resistance to Anti-Black structures is something both artists would think is a cool way to spend some time.

Reflections on the work of Omar Rodriguez- Lopez (and company) Part Une

Maybe about a month ago, I asked a friend to make a mix of their treasured Omar Rodriguez Lopez (The Mars Volta, ORL, Stones Throw, filmmaker extraordinaire) songs to share. I told them I would simultaneously work on my own, and voila- they presented theirs and I had nothing to share in typical “de” fashion. I called it a “challenge”, not because of some sort of egotistical ambition for this person to show off their knowledge of ORL’s discography (although I mean this could be a challenge, the sheer depth of ORL’s catalogue is intimidating), but instead I think I wanted this person to share to me why or how ORL’s work was inspirational to them. There are many different fans of this man’s work, and until recently (I’ve been a dedicated fan for almost 13 years) have I been able to share with his enthusiasts that cherish the same moments in his music that I do.  So needless to say, this has been an interesting exercise.

In 2015, I lost profound hearing and gained tinnitus in my left ear from a debilitating sickness that I battled. I won, somewhat, and I am fine (sans hearing in one ear lol) but it proves difficult for me to listen to things without intentional manipulation of stereo sounds. When I am lazy and I just want to listen to a song off youtube, or another streaming device, this loss becomes realized- I’ll listen to a familiar song wondering where certain drumming patterns, bass lines, and chorus lines went- and then of course, usually while singing that part I’m missing aloud, I’ll remember why I can’t hear it. Sometimes, I’ll have a weird phantom experience with certain bass lines in some songs that I’ve listened to repeatedly- like I know I can’t hear certain parts but intuitively know its coming up in a song and I’ll get emotional about it and sing that missing part into existence for myself. Anyway, all of this is my starting point for this mix of songs by ORL.

Punk. Immigrant. Black. Foreign. Urgency. <<<<transverse.space>>>> is translated through the rhythm of ORL’s music. For this mix, I want to focus on the use of his constructed minor basslines that carry throughout the “genres” his music falls into and the drumming patterns that he uses to highlight those terms I shared. Generally speaking, his basslines and drums have worked for me as a chaotic, cathartic pulse- so much so that in the past it would really enhance my stream of consciousness. As a kid, at Nigerian parties, I would sit by the speakers and listen to the Afrobeat and Juju BLAST to where I would entertain myself by seeing if my heartbeat was at tempo with the songs. This peculiar hobby of mine (along with suburban teenage angst) manifested itself into my interests with (post) hardcore, powerviolence and now today doom. However, ontologically speaking, it is Omar’s ability to combine that reality with his minor, and/or funky basslines that actually spoke to my identity and how I see myself operating in the world. As complex as I am as a human, ORL is able to translate his similar complexities into those two elements I mentioned. Long story short, I am righteously apt to identify myself just as I am nihilistic about identity- and I want to believe he gets this and battles this too with his art. So, as listed below, I present some songs that I hope folks vibe with//feel power from.

at the drive in- 300hz

the mars volta- y2g//Vicarious Atonement (demo)

erykah badu- Twinkle

omar rodriguez lopez group- Lurking About In A Cold Sweat (Held Together By Venom)

at the drive in- Porfirio Diaz

the mars volta- Eunuch Provocateur

omar rodriguez lopez x ximena sariñana- Las Flores Con Limon

omar rodriguez lopez x ximena sariñana- Poincaré

the mars volta- circatriz pt. 3

the mars volta- Ouroborous

bosnian rainbows- Mother, Father Set Us Free

omar rodriguez lopez- loveless

Revisit of “Displacement Is the Place” – A Project by Replenish and Qiana Kitt

On May 20th 2016, S. (Qiana Kitt) and I (Replenish) performed “Displacement Is the Place” at Art Sanctuary for their “Celebration of Black Arts”. In February, when I began to work on this project with S. I was gearing myself for a move to the city that this festival would take place- Philly. I figured, clearly this is a sign- we got into an arts festival in a city that was a this project’s main inspiration, Sun Ra. If a city can get down with some Sun Ra, then I need to be a member of that city.  I also took this as a sign that Philly would be open to me contributing to its infrastructure, as an artist, and as a developer. After all, I was moving to a city where as with all cities is suffering from gentrification- and I was apt toward calling this phenomenon “out”. Every place I have lived, including the DFW metroplex, is suffering from what is considered “development” which I,of course, interpret instead as colonization and underdevelopment.  Overall, I think our project had enough evidence to prove that we as society were distracted, but the project did not allow for us stretch ourselves toward deciphering what alternatives do exist. In this case, we certainly missed the mark of Sun Ra who had the alternative as “outer space”- a frontier not colonized. Nevertheless, as we are on the planet, our project should have entertained the plausibility of creating an “outer space” on colonized space.

One thing that I think is imperative to understanding Sun Ra within context of the city of Philadelphia is that Sun Ra created the majority of his work on the periphery of the city. His house was (is) in Northwest Philadelphia, in the neighborhood of Germantown. The history of Germantown follows along with other Black suburban spaces outside major cities- Black working-class folks were pushed toward the periphery of many industrial cities. Culture was seen as developed within the city, and those from the outside came into to produce culture. The tensions between the working class and the Black bougousie within these spaces historically reveals itself within how Black popular culture is consumed in the United States- and I would argue globally. See Robin DG Kelly’s text Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class for what I’m getting at.  In another post, I will touch on the development of Afrikan/Black diasporic culture in the suburban space- some call this process “Black Flight”. Since my Black immigrant folks could only afford suburbs and the underdeveloped areas of urban landscapes since they came to this country – there wasn’t too much flight for me, and I know this to be true for many Black/Afrikan folks of the US South that knew Black suburban reality would be the only way to enjoy some facet of some American dream- its not necessarily a new phenomenon. Sometimes the suburbs do not discriminate against accent, police record, or educational obtainment because they need general labor- but this is a conversation for another time.

So, as a starting point, I wonder if we could use the space called the Black suburb- even with its class related tensions, as a self-preserving, somewhat segregated space, meant to serve as a refugee against displacement in the city. When we considered the tonality of displacement we thought that it could rectify itself solely in minor chord- with staccato notes meant to highlight the confusion and struggle while being forcibly removed. Words and song acted the same- as a “othered” continuous soundscape that relayed itself as the battle cry for visibility. Now, after absorbing myself in another Black space- and realizing the suburbs provide us for the social autonomy we can not enjoy in hyper gentrified space in the Urban realm, I call into contention the (re)development of the Black suburban. This project could have been an entry way to talking about how we can start to rebuild//reclaim the suburban infrastructure to best fit our needs as a liberatory praxis.  In this manner, our soundscape could have been interpreted as a decolonial *perfect* – as in not “othered”, but instead standard.

Why this? Why now?

I decided to start this blog after years of contemplation. The process of me realizing that I should archive my thoughts (such thorough- maybe somewhat obsessive thoughts) seemed very vain to me. But, I think its possible that I may have friends that will find the things I will write about interesting. I want to use this blog as a medium for me to decipher my relationship with space. I find myself thinking about space and time through music, art and politics. I think the means to the end though is to curate a space for myself online where I work through the different dimensions to which I can perform self-emancipation. My father once told me the best way to make sure I am on the right track is to emulate those who I also notice on the proper track for myself. So, I plan to also use this space to explore why certain folks take particular like trajectories by interviewing them. This all should be an interesting ride.