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Issue 61 | www.fokus.org


Atiba T. Edwards // Founder & Chief Curator

Atiba is an engineer focused on making and connecting creative people through moments so that they can impact their own world.

Jozi Zwerdling // Curator

Jozi is an artist enabler, educator and organizer who loves the INSIGHT project as a means of re-imagining, linking and documenting selves, stories and worlds.

Shani Cohen // Curator

Shani is a Brooklyn based writer who believes in uniting our diverse communities through art and the power of words.

Jordan Kifer // Curator

Jordan is a writer focused on creating art that invites conversation and inspires larger cultural impact.

INSIGHT is a digital art magazine that showcases creatives from all disciplines. Based on the concept that art defines cultures and civilizations, we provide insight into the artists who are shaping our culture through their work today. Curated by FOKUS to provide insight into people who are creating art, traditional and non-traditional, in their own way.

INSIGHT: Symbols

Cover Art: untitled by Khari Turner Contributing Artists: Jermaine Aroma • Michelle Bowen • Elan Cadiz • Enoch Chinweuba Jr • Àrà Déìndé • Atiba T. Edwards • Shanequa Gay • Adetayo Adeniyi Joshua • Aurora Mazzei • Eniafe Gbenga Michael • Christine Sloan-Stoddard • Carlon Thibou • Khari Turner • Maureen Uzoh

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Questions, comments and contributions can be sent to insightsubmit@gmail.com. To view past issues of INSIGHT, visit www.fokus.org/insight. Copyright © 2020. INSIGHT (ISSN 2164-7771) is a publication of FOKUS, Inc. All rights reserved on entire contents. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.


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Atiba T. Edwards Christine Sloan-Stoddard Eniafe Gbenga Michael Atiba T. Edwards Elan Cadiz Atiba T. Edwards Carlon Thibou Àrà Déìndé Enoch Chinweuba Jr Maureen Uzoh Michelle Bowen Aurora Mazzei

Rituals with Shanequa Gay The Monkey on My Back Grey Transform with Jermaine Aroma 7th Earth Perspective with Khari Turner Crazy World Jagged Circles For Coloured Girls & Naked Reflection Language Redux Flourishes


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Rituals

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Interview by Atiba T. Edwards. Images courtesy of Shanequa Gay

Atiba: You often feature women who wear masks (and at times wearing white), what is the meaning behind that symbol? Shanequa: White is holiness, purity, cleansing, safety, symmetry and balance. It is honor and it is spirit. I want these imagined divine figures to be seen as holy and worthy of the positions they hold as god-like intercessors and protectors.

AE: What does the symbol of the masks mean and why the choice for them to be animals? SG: Masks have several meanings within my work. A mask can reveal or it can hide. Secrecy is a form of currency in the Black community and we pride ourselves on coding and the unknown. Masking became a form of survival when we consider the vicissitudes that met us while crossing the Atlantic and shoring in the Americas. We (African - Ascendant People) have learned to mask who we really are, to perform Blackness, Americanness, Africanness. We always seem to be in limbo of who we are, a kind of glamouring for the stage. Masks also have a way of showing who we really are. To cover up can also mean to unearth. These beings in my work oscillate between concealing and revealing. The Black woman’s body has always been violated or impeded upon and made accessible to (a public) ‘gaze.’ Within my work, the masks have no eyes. You have no real access to the ‘Devouts.’ If they face you, nothingness and everything is staring back at you. These deities are kind of symbols in the ritualistic state of the mask. They are caught up in the spirit of performance, manifesting, knowing, initiation and the divine permanently.

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AE: It seems that the bull and deer the are most featured masks. Why is that? SG: Within many indigenous tribal ceremonies, often times an animal mask is worn to take on the spirit of the animal, to become transformative, to embrace the power of that being, to hybridize and shape-shift. The bull represents strength, dominance, provision, confidence, gender fluidity and unpredictability. The deer buck represents intuition, agility, a messenger and harmony. It houses joy and intelligence. The buck is also known to leave the mother and doe after a few months as it takes no part in rearing. This is also an unfortunate consequence that still plagues the black community, in which black women are left to rear, protect, to nurture, discipline and provide. These divine figures take on the natural and spiritual roles of these animals. 8 | www.fokus.org


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AE: What inspired your passion for art? SG: I have always been a creative person and my parents helped to cultivate my artistry early on. I was given private art lessons, sang in chorus/choir, played violin, wrote plays, poetry and songs in my past time and drew on my bedroom walls when I was sent to my room for punishment. Creativity is my portal. It has always been my first language of communication and the translation of my ideas and feelings when I did not have the words, per se, to share or explain myself. www.fokus.org | 9


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AE: Art is... SG: Art is healing, sacred, ritual. Art is the human experience. View more at www.shanequagay.com and www.instagram.com/shanequagay www.fokus.org | 17


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The Monkey on My Back Christine Sloan Stoddard

I have always connected with the expression “the monkey on my back.” For me, that monkey is often anxiety. I’m trying to see that monkey as less of a symbol and more of a character whose motivation I should attempt to understand. Maybe then I will have empathy for the monkey.

Christine Sloan Stoddard is a Salvadoran-American writer, artist, and the founder of Quail Bell Magazine. Her books include Desert Fox by the Sea, Belladonna Magic, Water for the Cactus Woman and other titles. www.worldofchristinestoddard.com 18 | www.fokus.org


GREY

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Eniafe Gbenga I still wonder what causes the mix; I ponder on what balances the abrupt. The peaceful war of the heart in love; The pulling of the trigger by a soldier, and him killing just to stay alive; The sacrifice of the seed to die, just to live again; The meeting of tears and a shivering smile on a new mother’s face; When the rich is poor at what the poor is rich at; When the hard way leads to the easy way and vice; The rose and its thorns being nature’s oxymoron; Beauty in the ugly, as substance lies in raw dirty gold; How death makes one appreciate life; How the mirror makes ‘left’ the image on my ‘right’. Narrow down to perspective; While one sees the saviour on the cross and smiles being grateful, another sees her son hanging lifeless and cries lacking comfort. Life is what it is, The bad can be good and the good can be bad. There is no white or black, Ashes to ashes... We are truly grey.

Eniafe Gbenga is a Nigerian-based poet, creative writer, Editor(Lekeku) and content creator (Ogbeniopa.com). His poetry has been featured on Lekeku and exhibited at the prestigious KUTAs Nest Abeokuta. www.fokus.org | 19


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Transform

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Interview by Atiba T. Edwards. Images courtesy of Jermaine Aroma

Atiba: What inspired your passion for art? Jermaine: I’ve danced professionally for years until I lost my passion for it around 2010 because for me the dance scene wasn’t a fun place to be part of anymore. I could no longer express my creativity through dance. It was very hard to make ends meet after it became a huge hype because of TV shows such as “So you think you can dance.” All of a sudden everybody was a professional dancer. At one point I danced more for the money to pay my bills than I did for the joy of it and that was enough reason for me to stop. Unfortunately, this was also the year in which my dad died after a short illness. It was the same period I broke up with my girlfriend and the economy was still recovering from the crisis. It was impossible for me to find a job, since I didn’t have any diplomas. In the past I could have used my dance to process my grief and the heavy amount of stress I was dealing with but now I had to find some other medium. Therefore, I started writing poems and making simple illustrations. I’ve really enjoyed illustrating ever since. In 2013, I bought my first digital camera and started practicing with it. I combined photos with digital drawings. Basically, you could say my grief ignited my passion for art.

AE: What does the symbol of the butterfly mean? JA: I was born in Suriname, a former colony of the Netherlands. I grew up with Winti. Winti is the traditional religion of the Surinamese people of African descent. It’s a nature religion in which spirituality and symbolism play a fundamental role. You will see a lot of that in my work. The butterfly is a symbol for our ancestors. We believe that our ancestors guide us, even in the afterlife. We’re made of energy. And energy never dies. Therefore death is only a transformation of energy. In some cases, the energy of an ancestor can show itself as a butterfly. For example, when someone has just transitioned, shortly after you could see a butterfly fly into the house of relatives. This indicates that the one that has passed away has found peace.

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AE: Why does the butterfly appear over the eye or face in several pieces? JA: With my art, I positively stimulate the self-image of men and women by changing the way we look at ourselves to then find acceptance in it. When I photograph a model for my artwork, I try to visualize the energy of that model in my work. I try to do that in a way that resonates with more people. The face is less important in my portraits in order to shift the emphasis more to the rest of the artwork and the story I tell with it. In addition, I believe that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. That is a wellknown fact in my religion. This is also the case with the natives in Suriname. By covering the eyes, I am protecting the energy of the person I’m portraying. I believe that you see more when you close your eyes. If you can do that, then you’re also able to see energies that are invisible to the eye such as the energies of our ancestors, who are here to guide us through life and help us answer the life questions we have.

AE: What about when it is on the shoulder, as in “Elusive Butterfly?” JA: For this specific artwork, the model told me that she was experiencing an enormous change in her life. I can’t tell too much about it, because it’s very personal to the model. But in general, the butterfly symbolizes transformation. Think about the well-known story of the caterpillar that eventually transforms into a beautiful butterfly. Also this artwork is partly inspired by the song “Elusive Butterfly,” sung by Aretha Franklin, one of my favorite artists. The original is by Bob Lind, by the way. I would say, listen to the song, and the meaning behind the artwork may become more apparent.

AE: Art is... JA: Art is liberating for mind, body and soul. Art sets you free.

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7th Earth Elan Cadiz

In 2016, I took a DNA test that broke me down into percentages. It read like world history and helped me realize that if I was to claim anything, it would be my Blackness or African-ness, since that is where humans began. In my 7th Earth digital collages, I’m looking to integrate Brown and Black antiquity into the future of human existence, as if Africa’s development was never disrupted by colonialism.

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In these digital collages, I’ve assembled ancient cultural objects and images that have become symbols of antiquity, wisdom and power, in order to allow them space to have dialogue with modernity. My art and practice reflect the ways I balance the intersectionality that exists as a woman of many ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds. I begin with the deconstruction of prior knowledge and concluding my investigations with a fusion of place, material histories and redefinition. Elan Cadiz is an interdisciplinary North American Visual Artist. Her works are grounded in the domestic, historical imagery and personal narrative. www.elancadiz.wixsite.com www.fokus.org | 29


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Perspective

Interview by Atiba T. Edwards. Images courtesy of Khari Turner

AE: What inspired your passion for art? KR: My passion started with my grandfather. I would ask him to draw from a poster I had of airplanes. I would take the drawings he made and try to recreate them. Now my passion is internal. I couldn’t stop working if I wanted. I make work because it’s so closely tied to my happiness. I feel like my best self when I’m creating, so I create.

AE: Where do you draw your inspiration from for your pieces? KR: I’m inspired by so much. I am pulling every day from life around me. I’m constantly looking at work on my phone reading, articles and listening to spoken word poetry. I’m always trying to expand and get better so I’m constantly searching for something, I never know what, but it comes to me.

AE: Many of your recent pieces have abstract imagery but clear illustrations of a nose and mouth. Why this duality? What do you want it to communicate to viewers? KR: There is a lot that goes into the making of the work. The short version is the work involves ideas of negativity being overwritten by positivity and optimism. The nose and mouth have dual meanings and representations. The nose and mouth have a positive aspect as a celebration of historical Black features with the wider nose and thicker lips. The second is the negative aspect with a wider nose, thicker lips, and darker skin being connected to people and getting longer prison sentences. The abstraction is me trying to replicate the energy that lives inside of Black history. The use of these negative and positive energies colliding to create the beauty of around and in Blackness.

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AE: What has been one highlight since having to do social/physical distancing? KR: I don’t know about highlights. Everything I’m doing is exactly what I would be doing if I could still use my studio. The life of an artist has its ways of naturally social distancing. Allowing time to think, process and reexamine my practice so often requires solitude and space. 32 | www.fokus.org


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AE: Is there anything you have planned once we get to a new normal? KR: I don’t know. I’m so uncertain what the “new” will be. So many holes have been opened by this that the landscape is different. I don’t think these holes can be filled in and we continue as usual, but create new environments from the craters left behind. I will and always want to make work, so I know I will do that for sure, but other than that, I have no idea. I am optimistic though and believe a great change will happen after this.

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AE: What role do you feel your art plays in the larger fabric of life? Art in general? KR: I don’t think I have a role in the larger fabric of life or art in general yet. I want my role to eventually do multiple things, but the most important is giving black people artwork that can represent anyone and everyone in celebration. I don’t want to create work that elevates black pain, but our conquering of that pain and being better than it. The best compliment that I ever got was from a woman on Twitter who said, “This is the kind of art I want my kid to see.” This is what I want all of my work to do for people. 34 | www.fokus.org


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AE: Complete the phrase “Art is...” KR: Art is never clear or easy. It is filled with questions, and subjective, but is so important to living. View more at www.kharirahim.com and www.instagram.com/khari.raheem www.fokus.org | 35


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Crazy World Carlon Thibou

Her Period is Coming

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She helped me get over my demons

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When Black Became Evil

Born and raised in Trinidad and living in Brooklyn for over 20 years, Carlon is a self-taught artist and he creates work that touches on personal issues, social commentary and sometimes just pure artistic expression. www.carlonthibou.com www.fokus.org | 39


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Analysis of the Mind Àrà Déìndé

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Coherent Confusion Àrà Déìndé

The series tagged “Analysis of the Mind” is comprised of two abstract drawings titled “The Mind: Coordinated Turbulence” and “The Mind: Enmeshment.” These describe a morphing from utter confusion and divergence of thoughts in the mind into a state of transience where the mind is in a constant state of learning to reorganize the elements of the chaotic reality it has observed. The two pieces together show how we try to make sense of life as we see it, grouping things together, forming habitual loops and coping with life the best ways we can find. The other series, “Coherent Confusion”, is similar in conceptual gestalt to the “Analysis of the Mind” series. It also explores the evolution of thought from scattered, with a slight semblance of cyclic patterns to a more optimistic, structured and constantly evolving reality based on negotiation of all the elements we are opened up to. We try to connect the dots, make sense of our place in this cosmos and develop the ‘we’ll see’ mind.

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Ara is a multidisciplinary artist from Abeokuta, Nigeria. His works of art explore concepts of love, self, death, life and society in contextual blends. He is currently a resident artist at Kuta Nigeria. www.aradeindeart.blogspot.com www.fokus.org | 47


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Naked

Enoch Chinweuba Jr.

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Cursed Beauty www.fokus.org | 49


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Cold Smiles

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These artwork from the “Naked Series” seek to unmask and address the things society finds too controversial to discuss especially in an African setting. “Cold Smiles” comes from an African perspective on “love with borders” as it relates to choosing who to love based on religion. A false smile but quick to smite in times of conflict. “Cursed Beauty” generally talks about the vulnerability of women in a world of abusive and poaching men regardless of the covering she has. Her beauty, hence, now becomes a curse. “For Coloured Girls” is another example of how I use symbols as a form of expression. The work is inspired by Ntozake Shange’s “For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf” and seeks to encourage females who are in the fight for equality to show their strength and unity, while telling the story from an African perspective. The words; GIRL, AFRI (Afri-Girl), ARMED, as well as some other statement phrases are written in symbols in “Scotwick,” a personal language I use through my works to express poetry without interfering with design.

Enoch Chinweuba Jr. is a visual artist. He calls his style of work blatantly and diversely “Contemporary Expressionism,” through which he tells stories using colors, patterns and sometimes model dramatization. www.fokus.org | 51


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For Coloured Girls Enoch Chinweuba Jr.

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Reflection

Maureen Uzoh

A woman in her prime

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Mr. Politician

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A coin a day 56 | www.fokus.org


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Every woman has a story

Maureen Uzoh is a Nigerian multidisciplinary artist creating narrative-driven masterpieces that come in the form of drawings on canvas. Her work profiles people to understand why they do what they do. www.fokus.org | 57


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Language Redux Michelle Bowen

Huelitic Code exposes the vulnerabilities and limitations of humanity’s most significant construct: language. “I first conceived of the Huelitic Code in 2004 after watching the news of yet another terrorist attack perpetrated in the name of God. The use of the word ‘God’ in this manner triggered in me an intense passion for disrupting how we perceive language -- and in the end -- each other. Whether it’s about religion, race, gender, political affiliation, etc., the time has come to see our words through the Huelitic Code prism in an effort to evoke genuine social change.” 58 | www.fokus.org


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By changing each letter of the English alphabet to color (i.e., 26 unique colored rectangles), Bowen’s work provokes a look beyond the ‘four walls’ of language and its perceived fundamental nature. The resulting content conveys something common yet unique, familiar yet foreign; thus, confounding the original text, and calling into question assumptions about meaning, certainty, identity and truth. “When something so fundamental and pervasive as language is disrupted, episodes of clarity are created that can influence a vast array of ideologies for the betterment of humankind. I believe this disruption is accomplished by the progressive transmutation of language into abstraction, until - ultimately - the purest essence is exposed.” The Huelitic Code starts this journey. www.fokus.org | 59


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Michelle is an artist and communications professional living in Upstate New York. www.hueliticcode.com

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Flourish

Aurora Mazzei

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I am focused on seeking out tactile pleasure, that which makes an object seem precious. I create works that are organic and simple but also highly detailed - almost overworked. Having once nearly stepped into the world of art conservation as a career, I became obsessed with very intricate visual observations and I loved the quiet, contemplative work. The steady hand required and the chemical reactions were very attractive to me. Today, my art-making is similarly meditative. I grew up admiring my grandmother’s beautiful antique treasures. I worked in a fine jewelry shop where I learned to favor the fine stuff over costume. I lived among New York’s highly decorated buildings and walked the halls of its museums studying details. I set about cataloging flourishes I’ve seen and imagining flourishes I haven’t, creating a language of visual expressions that speak of times past, times ahead, and timelessness. www.fokus.org | 65


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Aurora Mazzei is an artist and writer. She spent 22 years in New York City and now lives in Southern California. Her career in retail and product development now informs her art for art’s sake. www.auroramazzei.com www.fokus.org | 67


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Humanity

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Adetayo Adeniyi Joshua

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Adetayo Adeniyi Joshua is a contempo-realist scribble artist based in Lagos, Nigeria. Self-taught, Adeniyi began scribbling to express his thoughts and confusion about human nature and our humanity. His work is known for colours and illustrations that accompany his scribbles. www.fokus.org | 71


Thank you for reading and supporting the arts and artists. View previous issues at www.fokus.org/insight

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