A series of short film vignettes filmed in Dakar, Senegal. April 2017.
i inherited shame before i knew what it was. at an early age i understood that my body was “too much” and if revealed (as in simply existing) it may overwhelm others. i have spent so much time being ashamed of my body and its form. i grew to hate attention to my body and actively took measures to steer away any attention.
as a child i was a tomboy who was often mistaken for a boy till puberty hit me hard. at 13 i grew large breasts and ass and my boyhood was gone. becoming a woman was thrown on me. i was called a tomboy before i had words for it and same goes with being a woman. in the 7th grade my classmate (a white boy) told me i had a body of a porn star. in highschool i was told i was a “whole lotta woman.” yet i was still just a girl. as much as i noticed my mother trying to shield me from the pain of growing into a woman, i was hurled into an existence that i did not understand or ask for. the first thing that struck me as a painfully shy adolescent was the unwanted, unsolicited attention from men and women. now, i am almost 30 and i have come to understand the power and strength in high femininity and my “overwhelming” body.
the month i spent in Senegal helped heal my inner child. the parts of me that enjoy to be seen and loved. that adore fabrics and the feel of satin on the skin. the parts of me that love to giggle and play dress up. i learned from the beautiful people of Senegal to wear your best clothes each day and pray--pray anywhere in your finest, on your knees with devotion. chant your morning psalm. drink tea with lots of sugar and sing songs with laughter. approach the world with this child-like innocence and you will find the essence of life and key to forging powerful relationship with self and others.
Modou is the tailor that i collaborated with in Senegal to make the clothes you see here. he was a gentle and quietly intense aries man. a self proclaimed legend, he encompassed the attributes of a successful, dedicated person who does not need the reassurance of the outside world. we had a very natural collaboration. his workshop was right across the street from where i lived in St. Louis. i designed the clothes, sketched, and showed them to Modou. we looked at different images and discussed how we wanted the clothes to look. i went to the nearby markets and picked the textiles out of hundreds of delectable options. he would come and take my measurements, and over the course of two days, we would do fittings and like magic, our designs came to life.
as someone with measurements that do not fit a beauty ideal, making these clothes with a young African man who respected and listened to my ideas, while simultaneously revered my beauty was healing and life affirming. one of the fabrics that i chose was a beautiful lilac color with embroidered beads. a fabric so exquisite that it is usually used solely for wedding dresses. before Modou made this fabric into a two piece skirt and top, i traveled to Dakar and bathed in the ocean with the fabric. after this, we made it into a dream outfit of mine. to be able to get so close to the fabrics and enact ritual before i wore them was a very special experience for me that i will never forget.
we made three different pieces and then traveled to the village that Modou grew up in. there were acres of sand and baobab trees. goats and sheep ran wild. a group of young boys came to watch us and we ended up taking photos together creating some of my favorite images. we shared in mutual adoration and my inner tomboy was thrilled. i found inspiration in each person, young and old because of the attention, care and creativity their outfits exuded. as an American, so much of fashion is associated with capitalism and ego. unfortunately, specifically in America, it is often a privilege to know who makes your clothes and to have an active part in the creation of what you wear. in Senegal, however, it is very common and affordable for people to have their clothes made. it was refreshing and a great reminder that your clothes are an extension of self and creativity and should be treated with dedication and care.
after Senegal, i am ready to embrace the home i have created within my body. it is my sanctuary.
written by Tamara Renée Davidson
edited by Linara Davidson
tailor: Modou Gueye
photographer: Abdoulaye Toure
graphic design: Patricia Encarnación
design + styling: Tamara Renée
in april i attended the afrofuturism film festival at BAM. i had the pleasure of viewing a once in a life time screening of the series, Cosmic Slop. called a "multicultural twilight zone,"the trilogy was created by Reginald Hudlin and executive produced by Reginald and his brother Warrington Hudlin. Reginald was also the director of House Party and Boomerang. the triology aired on HBO in 1994, hosted by George Clinton it borrows it's title from the 1973 Funkadelic album. unfortunately after the pilot season was aired HBO received death threats concerning the radical topics covered in the series including racism, catholicism, african spirituality, and domestic violence. HBO was force to stop the airing of the series and it was eventually banned. because of this it is very rare to be able to view the trilogy in its entirety! viewing the series in 2015 i can say that it was light years ahead of its time! there is nothing like this on tv now and i don't think there has ever been. i can see why it was banned! its honesty, accuracy, and creativity, created a truly masterful piece of work. it is a shame that more people are not able to see it.
luckily the first part of the trilogy entitled, Space Traders, based off the short story written by Derrick Bell is available on youtube. the premise of the story is that aliens come to the earth and essentially promise world peace and a solution to poverty and hunger in exchange for all black people on earth. the aliens do not say what they will do with the black people, but they just ask for every human with melanin. you can imagine the the raucous this stirs! it is a really an incredible story, transformative, uncomfortable, painful, and also rather humorous to watch this episode.
please watch below! comments are encouraged! this is a really great conversation starter. if you are interested in reading the short story, Space Traders written by Derrick Bell you can find the pdf here. also if anyone is interested in collaborating in putting on a screening of this please email email@example.com
THE CREATIVE PROCESS By James Baldwin from Creative America, Ridge Press, 1962.
Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone. That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality—a banality because it is very frequently stated, but very rarely, on the evidence, believed. Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world. There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone. But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.
The state of being alone is not meant to bring to mind merely a rustic musing beside some silver lake. The aloneness of which I speak is much more like the aloneness of birth or death. It is like the fearless alone that one sees in the eyes of someone who is suffering, whom we cannot help. Or it is like the aloneness of love, the force and mystery that so many have extolled and so many have cursed, but which no one has ever understood or ever really been able to control. I put the matter this way, not out of any desire to create pity for the artist—God forbid!—but to suggest how nearly, after all, is his state the state of everyone, and in an attempt to make vivid his endeavor. The state of birth, suffering, love, and death are extreme states—extreme, universal, and inescapable. We all know this, but we would rather not know it. The artist is present to correct the delusions to which we fall prey in our attempts to avoid this knowledge.
It is for this reason that all societies have battled with the incorrigible disturber of the peace—the artist. I doubt that future societies will get on with him any better. The entire purpose of society is to create a bulwark against the inner and the outer chaos, in order to make life bearable and to keep the human race alive. And it is absolutely inevitable that when a tradition has been evolved, whatever the tradition is, the people, in general, will suppose it to have existed from before the beginning of time and will be most unwilling and indeed unable to conceive of any changes in it. They do not know how they will live without those traditions that have given them their identity. Their reaction, when it is suggested that they can or that they must, is panic. And we see this panic, I think, everywhere in the world today, from the streets of New Orleans to the grisly battleground of Algeria. And a higher level of consciousness among the people is the only hope we have, now or in the future, of minimizing human damage.
The artist is distinguished from all other responsible actors in society—the politicians, legislators, educators, and scientists—by the fact that he is his own test tube, his own laboratory, working according to very rigorous rules, however unstated these may be, and cannot allow any consideration to supersede his responsibility to reveal all that he can possibly discover concerning the mystery of the human being. Society must accept some things as real; but he must always know that visible reality hides a deeper one, and that all our action and achievement rest on things unseen. A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven. One cannot possibly build a school, teach a child, or drive a car without taking some things for granted. The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.
I seem to be making extremely grandiloquent claims for a breed of men and women historically despised while living and acclaimed when safely dead. But, in a way, the belated honor that all societies tender their artists proven the reality of the point I am trying to make. I am really trying to make clear the nature of the artist’s responsibility to his society. The peculiar nature of this responsibility is that he must never cease warring with it, for its sake and for his own. For the truth, in spite of appearances and all our hopes, is that everything is always changing and the measure of our maturity as nations and as men is how well prepared we are to meet these changes, and further, to use them for our health.
Now, anyone who has ever been compelled to think about it—anyone, for example, who has ever been in love---knows that the one face that one can never see is one’s own face. One’s lover—or one’s brother, or one’s enemy—sees the face you wear, and this face can elicit the most extraordinary reactions. We do the things we do and feel what we feel essentially because we must---we are responsible for our actions, but we rarely understand them. It goes without saying, I believe, that if we understood ourselves better, we would damage ourselves less. But the barrier between oneself and one’s knowledge of oneself is high indeed. There are so many things one would rather not know! We become social creatures because we cannot live any other way. But in order to become social, there are a great many other things that we must not become, and we are frightened, all of us, of these forces within us that perpetually menace our precarious security. Yet the forces are there: we cannot will them away. All we can do is learn to live with them. And we cannot learn this unless we are willing to tell the truth about ourselves, and the truth about us is always at variance with what we wish to be. The human effort is to bring these two realities into a relationship resembling reconciliation. The human beings whom we respect the most, after all---and sometimes fear the most—are those who are most deeply involved in this delicate and strenuous effort, for they have the unshakable authority that comes only from having looked on and endured and survived the worst. That nation is healthiest which has the least necessity to distrust or ostracize these people—whom, as I say, honor, once they are gone, because somewhere in our hearts we know that we cannot live without them.
The dangers of being an American artist are not greater than those of being an artist anywhere else in the world, but they are very particular. These dangers are produced by our history. They rest on the fact that in order to conquer this continent, the particular aloneness of which I speak—the aloneness in which one discovers that life is tragic, and therefore unutterably beautiful—could not be permitted. And that this prohibition is typical of all emergent nations will be proved, I have no doubt, in many ways during the next fifty years. This continent now is conquered, but our habits and our fears remain. And, in the same way that to become a social human being one modifies and suppresses and, ultimately, without great courage, lies to oneself about all one’s interior, uncharted chaos, so have we, as a nation, modified or suppressed and lied about all the darker forces in our history. We know, in the case of the person, that whoever cannot tell himself the truth about his past is trapped in it, is immobilized in the prison of his undiscovered self. This is also true of nations. We know how a person, in such a paralysis, is unable to assess either his weaknesses or his strengths, and how frequently indeed he mistakes the one for the other. And this, I think, we do. We are the strongest nation in the Western world, but this is not for the reasons that we think. It is because we have an opportunity that no other nation has in moving beyond the Old World concepts of race and class and caste, to create, finally, what we must have had in mind when we first began speaking of the New World. But the price of this is a long look backward when we came and an unflinching assessment of the record. For an artist, the record of that journey is most clearly revealed in the personalities of the people the journey produced. Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.
HOUSE PARTY 13360
on saturday, May 8th we all gathered in my home in Harlem to celebrate the release of the Ultra Violet EP. the celebration turned out fifty or so people in the name of love, dance, music, sex, healing and revolution. i am the daughter of two freedom fighters, and it has always been very important to me to bring people together with compassion and sincerity. we live in a time where black bodies are constantly abused, killed, and objectified, so when black bodies come together in love and acceptance it is an act of resistance: a protest of love. i am so thankful for the support i receive from my community. i am humbled and ecstatic from the collective act of joy and pleasure we all participated in on saturday.
injoy some fotos by Maria Monegro from the party.
all fotos by Maria Monegro.
blessings to the legend joni mitchell. a soul that has walked this earth many times. she has shared her pool of songs with us all. she is truly healing and cooling. she is currently in very poor health so send your blessings to this rainbow warrior.
below find two exquisite live videos of joni singing "woodstock" a song she wrote about the music festival that she missed in 1970. this song is quite beautiful! wow. and it is very fitting for now, another time where young folk are searching to find the truth amongst so much turmoil and strife.
the first video is her playing it in 1970 on a piano, she is around 27 so you can see she is young and almost angelic. very pure and clear. the second video is much later and on guitar! she clearly has the growth of a wild woman, who has been through winds. her voice a bit raspier and her stage presence a bit more powerful and sexy. i love them both. so thankful for a woman artist who showed you could be vulnerable, sweet, sexy, angry, powerful, and control your own vision.
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden