HOMEWARD BOUND A zine by Kara Bell
“I’m not real, I’m just like you. You don’t exist in this society. If you did, your people wouldn’t be seeking equal rights. You’re not real. If you were, you’d have some status among the nations of the world. I do not come to you as a reality, I come to you as a myth because that’s what black people are: myths. I come from a dream that the black man dreamed long ago. I’m actually a presence sent to you from your ancestors.” Sun Ra, from Space is the Place
I would like to find a place where skin and soul are tightly knotted like my grandfather’s knuckles. I would like to find a place where I can sleep softly with lavender tucked under my pillow. I would like to find a place where when my knees ash over they are purple like the blood of plums. I would like to find a place that fits well in my mother’s shaking hands when she brings them together to pray. I would like to find a place that cannot ever be taken away from me.
AFROFUTURIST MANIFESTO as written by Martine Syms We did not originate in the cosmos. The connection between Middle Passage and space travel is tenuous at best. Out of five hundred thirtyfour space travelers, fourteen have been black. An allblack crew is unlikely. Magic interstellar travel and/or the wondrous communication grid can lead to an illusion of outer space and cyberspace as egalitarian. This dream of utopia can encourage us to forget that outer space will not save us from injustice and that cyberspace was prefigured upon a master/slave relationship. While we are often Othered, we are not aliens. Though our ancestors were mutilated, we are not mutants. Postblack is a misnomer. Postcolonialism is too. The most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet.
I do not have to tell you my name. Where I am going I will be called many things. Or I will be called nothing at all. I do not have to tell you my age. I’m old enough to have seen enough. I do not have to tell you my gender. Where I am going they won’t mind what’s between my legs or on my chest. At least, I hope they won’t. I’m not particularly sure where I’m going, but I’ve had my eyes focused on the sky for as long as I can remember. I’ve painted my skin with the darkest blues and dreamt of stars dying only to create mounds of gold. When I was born, my mother told me the whorls and eddies on the plush skin of my thumbs reminded her of the rings of Saturn. She told me that the darkness of my skin was only a cover for the rich fuchsias, the speckled sapphires, and the mulberry purples of the expanding nebulas inside me. She taught me that space was something that I could never take up too much of. For my fifth birthday, my father bought me my first toy rocket. While we put it together, my mother baked her famous peach cobbler. She chopped the tender fruit until the rivers of juice trickled off the cutting board. She sprinkled the slices with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a dash of lemon juice. When the rocket was finished and we prepared to launch it from our front yard into the sky, my father held my hand tightly, both of our faces turned up eagerly towards the clouds. The front door was left open, and as I pressed the large red button that would send the rocket hurtling up into the air, I heard the sound of the oven dinging. The peach cobbler was finished baking. Now, even years later watching rocket launches from my TV, I still taste the sweetness of the peaches and crust every time. Classical conditioning at it’s finest. When my mother died years later, my father covered all of our mirrors and slept with roses at his feet. He would wake up with tiny puncture wounds and spots of blood on his soles from where they had touched the thorns. He walked through the house leaving bloody tracks for weeks. Their bedroom became a graveyard. He told me “a home begins with the mother. You must keep her within you as a reminder that you have a place wherever you go. She was alive so that you were meant to be here.” That night, I began to design my first rocket.
I grew up poor. We moved houses many times because we couldn’t pay the rent. My family was discriminated against everywhere we went, in the subtlest of ways. Of course as a child, I didn’t really understand why waiters would sigh and roll their eyes when they realized they had to serve us. I didn’t understand why the landlords of the apartments we tried to rent refused to take us on as tenants just from looking at us. I didn’t understand why when the white boys and girls raised their hands in class as high as I did to answer a question, I was never the one called on. I learned about slavery and wondered why people pretend like it didn’t happen. One day, my father went to his boss’s office to ask why he didn’t get the promotion he deserved when Steve, the white man, did. The boss sent him home early, claiming he was being too aggressive, too angry. I would watch the news with my father every night, absorbing the shootings and the deaths and the KKK sightings that seemed commonplace throughout the United States. I never said anything, only quietly absorbed. Sometimes I would wonder why not once when I was growing up, did I see either of my parents cry. I never heard them shout either. They always told me to keep a level head. Stay polite. Stay cool. Why is it that pain has to be such a quiet thing? What about anger? I’ve always dreamed of a place where I could see my mother cry and revel in the pure emotion of it. I’ve always dreamed of a place where my father could shout with a strength that shakes mountains. The day I lifted off was the day my father died. I told him, in his hospital bed, that I was going to find a new home. One him and mom would love. A place with a brand new history. A place where I could make peach cobbler every day and never get tired of it. A place warm and soft and gentle, as well as loud and raw and strong. It would be the perfect place, I said. My father looked at me with glassy eyes and told me if such a place exists, he would see me again there. With my mother. As I broke through the atmosphere, my father took his last breath. My mouth watered with the taste of peaches and crust.
I’m going home again. Still not sure what that means.
Planet One The Primitive Planet
Here the people live off the earth. They tell me to keep my feet bare so that I can feel the breath of the Mother. The children place straw in my hair, while the women mix white clay with their hands, their lips painted yellow. The men, with their violet skin, bow their heads in greeting. The bones of slain animals hang from their necks. They say nothing about my method of arrival. The chief’s wife takes me to her hut, a great honor. She shows me her altar, the center being a figure sculpture made from stone with heavy, sculpted breasts. Crystals and herbs, the dried skins of fruit, the bloodied feathers of birds, surround it. She tells me she’s been giving offerings for many moons. She prays for child. She gives the sculpture her blood, animal blood, the blood of the chief. Mixes it. Lets it drip on to the breasts. At night they feed me a heavy stew, deliciously warm the way only mothers could make it. The moon is full and I watch the children paint their faces white. “Why are they doing that?” I ask the chief. He leans towards me, his lips thick, his tongue thick. He says, “The full moon is the time of demons. The only thing that scares them away, Is by painting our skin white. Like ghosts.”
Travel Log 1 AM Today is a day of ceremony. The chief’s wife has told me that several of the village girls are going to become women. I’m not sure what that means but the villagers have donned themselves in elaborate clothing made from painted feathers and clattering beads and heavy leathers. They carry masks molded from claw and straw on their heads, dancing and playing the roles of Gods. They play drums made from the skins of goat, the elderly whistle through carved flutes. The women of the village have eyes shining with excitement. They rub clay into their daughters coiled hair, and then lead them over to rocks where the daughters squat naked, washing their bodies with water collected from a nearby stream. The mothers and grandmothers then mark the daughters faces with white paint, lines and dots that resemble the intricate swirls of tree bark. The daughters look about 10 years old. PM I am still shaken from today’s events. The chief’s wife invited me to observe the ceremony, saying it was a honorable rite of passage for all girls to experience. She took me into a hut where I sat in the corner. In the center of the hut sat an elderly woman, the wrinkles on her face deep and etched. Her eyes remained determined, hard, throughout the entire process. I watched, not fully understanding until the first girl came into the hut, the lower half of her body completely uncovered. She glanced at me with glittering eyes, her mouth twisted and her hands clenched into fists at her side. Then she sat in front of the elderly woman and spread her legs. Two of the village men held down her arms and her legs so that they wouldn’t interfere with the surgery. In horror, I watched as the elderly woman took a sharpened blade, made of stone, and began to cut at the young girl’s genitalia. When she started to scream, I squeezed my eyes shut and kept them shut until it faded to whimpers. It was done. The first girl left shaking, her face pallid and her eyes vacant, blood dripping down her legs and creating a trail behind her. The next girl came in, visibly shivering. Four more girls came in after that, and although I told myself I couldn’t stand to watch anymore, I stayed anyway. Like watching a car crash. When the last girl came and went, I stumbled outside and threw up that morning’s stew. The chief’s wife later brought me to the center of the village, where the women, old and young, were gathered in a circle. They sang songs and laughed together. The girls who underwent the ceremony were there, bundled up in thick clothes, their faces still pale and sweating from pain, but this time they were smiling. Their mothers looked upon them with pride. The woman who performed the surgery placed her withered hand upon mine. “It is an important tradition of ours, “ she said. “These girls becoming women is a marvelous thing. They are now seen as beautiful, as pure, as eligible for marriage in the eyes of our gods. To go though the pain is an honor and a form of cherishing every woman who has come before them. We all relish in the power of our womanhood.” I leave to continue on my journey tomorrow. Already I am overwhelmed by the different traditions and people I know I will experience. I’m still queasy from today’s events, but I think I will eat more stew anyway.
Planet Two The Southern Planet
The grandma on the front porch welcomes me with heaping plates of corn bread, fried okra, crawfish, collard greens, oysters, the plates sprinkled with hot sauce. She asks me if the Hoodoo Queen sent me to reek revenge on her unfaithful lover. I tell her no and she asks me If I was sent by God. I tell her no, I was sent by me, my own God and she laughs so high and rumbling it shakes the surrounding peach trees. She takes me down to the river to pray. Here, the slaves are white. We pass through the cotton fields, my mouth dry and their backs blistering from the unforgiving sun. Their freckled faces remind me of blood splatter at a murder scene. I feel no satisfaction at the sight of their bent bodies digging. I wish to wipe the sweat from their shoulders. But instead we kneel in the river and pray. The old woman swirls the water with her hands and teaches me hymns. We sing softly together before she baptizes me. She tells me, “Now my God has met with your God. You will experience heaven in both worlds.” Her withered hands cup my chin and I feel the sweetness of honey on my tongue. A white lily blossoms from between her breasts and she plucks it, places it in my mouth.
That night, I dream of gluing cotton to my skin.
Travel Log Two The old woman has brought me to the local Hoodoo queen to learn her ways. She is a frightening woman but I am drawn to her quiet yet assured strength. She keeps her eyes wrapped up in cloth, tells me that she lost her sight long ago in order to open the rest of her senses fully to the magic. We light candles, she clips my hair, rubs my lips with salve, commands me to undress and drape my body with snake skin. For three days I don’t eat, I’m not sure if I sleep, I sip the water she occasionally brings me so that my spirit will not go thirsty. I look at her and it’s as if her skin as been replaced by the fiery colors of the sunset, she glows in purples and reds and her footsteps leave sparks. There is a baby crying somewhere in the room but my body is too heavy to stand and find it. I touch the snake skin and feel satin. I drink the water and taste blood. My father and mother occasionally appear but they speak in a tongue I do not understand. I hear the explosive roar of a launching rocket and like clockwore, my mouth begins to water. When the three days are over, the Hoodoo queen cradles me in her arms and brings soup to my lips. Surprisingly, I am not hungry, and swallowing the soup is difficult. It lands in my stomach and I feel the life within it. I taste the swiftness of the rabbit’s feet as it tried to outrun the hunter. I taste the soil from which the carrots came. I find myself screeching with pure joy as I continue to eat. The Hoodoo queen asks me if I will stay and continue to learn, even though she knows I will not. On my last day, she lights a candle and places a lock of my hair to burn with it, saying it will help find my way. Before I go, I ask her how she would enact revenge on an unfaithful lover. She smiles at me with a mouth full of rotted teeth.
Planet Three Planet of Hair
1. Kinky Her lips are dry, cracked, bloodied halves of plums, but the rest of her skin stays moisturized, glowing, sleek seal skin against velvet sheets. She sleeps with the windows open and sweat pools under her breasts. Her bed drips with oil. 2. Dreaded He keeps his love letters in a handcarved box. He has no one to send them to. At night he dreams of sand before jungle, claw before leopard. In his briefcase he only keeps one slip of paper, a note from his mother that says, “Be good.” 3. Cornrows For Halloween she was Medusa, turned her lovers into stone. The warmth between her legs like
dark chocolate, the warmth in her touch petrifying. She looks in the mirror and the whole planet freezes.
Travel Log 3 On this planet the people have no discernable faces, only hair. I have nothing more to say other than that I have fallen in love with everyone I have met here.
Planet Four The Neon Planet
The green woman takes me to the dessert, and we dance with the purple and red people, the blue people, the yellow and the orange people. No one speaks there, they only sing. They paint, they dance, they sculpt. To sleep, they contort their bodies, fold their limbs to make more space. They rise with the moon, fall with the sun. Here I am not black. They cover me in the shade of pink. They dust my hair with flecks of ruby and gold. We press our bodies together To form new colors. We peel back our skin like fruit. We distort our faces so that we can be a little ugly, for a little while. The earth pulsates orange. When I sleep, I dream in black and white and I feel more calm than I have ever felt before. I am simultaneously inside my body and out of it. Not sure if I’ll ever be one of the other again. I leave feeling more black and more beautiful.
Travel Log 4 Red purple yellow orange seafoam fuchsia bubblegum pink rust lavender mint blood orange neon green red purple yellow orange blue blue blue supernova red supernova purple fading into black I had no idea there were that many colors inside me.
Planet Five The Cyber Planet
“For your pleasure,” he tells me. His skin is pitch against his silver suit. Everything is chrome and silver, everything is cold. The girl before me is unfinished. She looks blankly ahead, eyes like steel, her skin a buttery brown. Her arms sparking wires. Her legs open and close. Smooth. Open and close. “We have ones in white as well. However, they are a tad more expensive.” Outside the city glitters, the buildings draped with diamonds. “Their pussies are so plush you’ll never miss the real thing.” “Men and women love her, but we have men too if you’d prefer.” “We can make her ass as big as you’d like.” He leaves me alone with her, tells me to try her out. Her legs open and close. Smooth. Open and close. Her eyes focus on me and her cupid’s mouth opens to scream.
ARE YOU BLACK? ARE YOU GOD? ARE YOU REAL? ARE YOU MYTH? ARE YOU BLACK? ARE YOU GOD? ARE YOU REAL? ARE YOU MYTH? ARE YOU BLACK? ARE YOU GOD? ARE YOU REAL? ARE YOU MYTH? ARE YOU BLACK? ARE YOU GOD? ARE YOU REAL? ARE YOU MYTH? ARE YOU BLACK? ARE YOU GOD? ARE
YOU REAL? ARE YOU MYTH? ARE YOU BLACK? ARE YOU GOD? ARE YOU REAL? ARE YOU MYTH? ARE YOU Travel Log 5
The only white people on this planet are the ones fabricated by engineers in order to please people sexually. They are in high demand and incredibly expensive. I watched one being made, her body a collection of chrome and wires, porcelain and synthetic skin. She is dipped in wax and her face is molded carefully by hand. When she is finished, she is beautiful. Here, the black people are highly intelligent and the most advanced out of any planet I have visited so far. However, they are a divided people. The president lives at the top of a diamond tower, and his skin is so dark that the whites of his eyes make his gaze overly wide and alert. His teeth, polished pearls. His cabinet is made up of men and women with equally dark skin, shadows of deep violet beauty. Luckily, he is pleased with my skin. There is a caste system. The dark skinned are considered the ideals and pinnacles of beauty, they gain the most riches and are able to achieve the most opportunities. The lighter the skin you are, the lower in status. I walked through the sleek chrome streets and saw light skinned men and women making homes in the alleyways, they hair ragged and the light in their children’s eyes dimmed. One man stood on the corner with a sack filled with creams she claimed would dye your skin darker. A man pulls at my the hem of my pants and begs me to give him money, any amount. I have none for him, but I am reminded of the cyborg woman screaming.
ARE YOU BLACK? ARE YOU GOD?
Planet Six The Small Planet
This is a small planet. I can see from one pole to the next. I can walk the entire planet in half an hour. There is nothing on this planet but a small cabin, surrounded by a garden of herbs and flowers. I look through the window and see family. The mother braids her daughter’s hair while spoons Oatmeal into her sloppy mouth. The father reads and the son runs through The house, his fingers shaped into Guns. Pew pew! In the cabin I see one photo And it is all of them together, smiling. The daughter gives her mother a kiss as thank you and she begins to cry from a heart filled with love. The son knocks over a vase and the Father yells at the son to settle down. I want to cry and yell too. Instead, I settle down among the flowebeds. Rest my head in the soil, let my eyes close. The smell of peach cobbler wafts through the window.
Final Travel Log I am home.
Artists/Artworks in order of appearance Wangechi Mutu (Homeward Bound) Krista Franklin (Untitled) Clementine Hunter (Bucket Lillies) Teema Maki (Three Generations of Voodoo Women) Erica Deeman (Silhouettes) Lauren Avery (Untitled) Juliana Huxtable (Untitled in the Rage) Dani Ormonde (Untitled)
For my Art History class "Racial Politics in Visual Culture" we were required to come up with a creative project pertaining to the relevant...