Scroll 4: A Tender Thing

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Scroll is an annual publication, published by The Contemporary and produced entirely by its intern staff. Each issue of Scroll explores a different cultural topic related to the mission and efforts of The Contemporary and is available, for free, in print and online. Printed by Schmitz Press Copyright Š 2017 by Contemporary Museum, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iris Lee is currently a design

Jenna Porter is currently

major at the Maryland

a student at University

Institute College of Art.

of Maryland, Baltimore

She loves hanging out with

County studying Media and


Communication and Gender

Design identity by Iris.

and Women’s Studies. She was born on a full moon. Copyediting and writing by Jenna.

Shan Wallace is an awardwinning photographer, writer, and freedom fighter from East Baltimore. Merging her journalism degree from Bowie State University with her love for photography, Shan's work focuses on the experiences, identities, and struggles of black life. Photographs by Shan unless otherwise stated.


Knowing that our own research may not

different lived experiences as women who

provide a wide enough scope to encompass

exist, create, feel, survive, and sometimes

the kinds of stories we hoped to include,

thrive within oppressive structures and a

we asked for these artists to name another

climate of normalized violence. It explores the

person they would want to be involved in

dynamics of relationships between expression,

the dialogue. Sometimes the conversations

emotions, survival, resistance, and self-care.

were between close friends, such as Robin,

What drives artists to do what they do?

and artist Najee Haynes-Follins, and the collaborators of The Very Black Project. In

Thinking about our own experiences with,

contrast, the conversation between Morgan

and relationships to art, we all agreed that

and artist Joyce J. Scott, who were not well-

the rewards of artmaking go beyond its

acquainted, felt like a fated meeting.

limitations. Here, we frame art as a process and manifestation of self-care and resistance.

While working on this project, social and

When your identity confronts interlocking

political happenings such as the presidential

systems of oppression, threatening your

election, No DAPL movement, and evictions

freedom, safety, and survival, tending to

and shutdowns of DIY art spaces across

yourself is a radical act of resistance.

America contributed to feelings of urgency

Poet, activist, and inspiration, Audre Lorde,

around notions of self-care, resistance, and

said it best: “Caring for myself is not self-

tenderness. As a result, it became paramount

indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that

to make space for Rebecca Nagle, the co-

is an act of political warfare.”

founder of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, who went to Standing Rock, as well as those

We found that creating is an extension of

evicted from the Bell Foundry, a DIY living

self-care and the relationship between them is

and show space in Baltimore. Thanks to all

subjective and always changing. Self-care isn’t

of these participants, each section of this

all bath bombs and spa days. Self-care comes

document provides a different viewpoint for

in many forms; it can be the creation of, and

understanding the vastness of these topics.

inclusion in creative spaces and communities— physical and online. It is the expulsion of

Tenderness—a word evoking both love and

negative energy through making a sculpture.

pain—came up in our first interview with

It is creating to connect with a higher power.

The Very Black Project and wove its way

It is saying “I exist” through a painting.

throughout the entirety of our process. Approaching difficult topics such as death,

We initially reached out to artists whose work

abuse, discrimination, and illness required

related to notions of self-love, identity, and

tenderness. Living in adverse environments, it

community. This included the founders of The

is sometimes tempting to build defenses, self-

Very Black Project, community arts graduate

protect, and retreat into isolation. Remaining

student, Robin Lynne Marquis, and painter/

tender to yourself and others requires

shaman/opera singer, Morgan Monceaux.

courage. Soft is strong. Soft is necessary.


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This document is born out of our shared and


A Conversation with Trae Harris, Justin Fulton, and AndrĂŠ D. Singleton. Collaging with Najee Haynes-Follins and Robin Lynne Marquis. An Essay on The Bell Foundry and DIY Art Spaces. Introducing Morgan Monceaux and Joyce J. Scott. Hearing from Rebecca Nagle. Director's Letter.

November 19, 2016


“Rooted in unapologetic self-love,” The Very Black Project (TVBP) refers to themselves as an online storytelling platform who are “building creative community through collaborative goods.” On the living room floor of a Bed-Stuy apartment in mid-November, a conversation

transpired between the Scroll team, founder

of The Very Black Project, André Singleton, and its “first lady,” Trae Harris. Justin Fulton, the other half of the “pop and pop”

collaboration, corresponded with us via e-mail at a later date. As a visual collaborative project with TVBP, we gave disposable cameras to Trae and André and asked them to photograph their lives. The photographs, taken in Brooklyn, capture the environment TVBP was born from.


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Scroll: What is The Very Black Project saying? Justin Fulton: Our project is literally a proclamation of self-love. It screams love the skin you’re in, your history, and culture no matter what it looks like or what society says it is or isn’t. We’re encouraging people to embrace the good and the ugly with an aim to point people towards a greater sense of self-acceptance and awareness. Whether through an image, quote or piece of clothing, this project has acted as a catalyst for a lot of “difficult” conversations and exchanges people fear and hide from. We’re contributing to the notion that it's a tender thing

okay to talk about your Blackness and what you’ve experienced. We can be each others’ safe spaces and we definitely see our social media platform as a safe space. André Singleton: When we were studying in school we would have conversations in the café or in dance class that were “very Black,” and now we have the language for it. We have something we can describe it as. We’re able to name it and claim it. It’s a reclamation of all these shared experiences that are super multi-faceted [and] multi-sensory. Justin and I want people to respect us and the work we put into loving ourselves and our people, but if it inspires you, use it and wherever that inspiration comes from for you. Very Black is the foundation: there’s no cracks in it. It ain’t stolen. It’s very earnest, very decent, and it’s very real. People can sense that and then they’re empowered in their own way. Very Black is deeply rooted in spirit, it’s deeply rooted in the things that we were robbed of—but you can’t rob spirit—that’s the gotcha gotcha. It’s super communal and very family. It’s dope to be a part of the new age family that’s still Very Black, and actually, new age is very ancient. The blood is very ancient. The ideas are not new. Things have been invented—now we’re innovating them. 8

T-shirt and journal designed and sold by The Very Black Project:


Very Black is:


innovative, experimental and experiential,

messy, and just ... vast. It’s rooted in sincere A PROCLAMATION OF SELF-LOVE

experience of Black folks. It is a negro-

spiritual. It is a dance in Congo Square or at yo’ grandma’s house. It’s

the electric slide. It’s a skate rink, it’s the Nae

Nae; it’s all these things that we have not had a chance to collectively have a name for. André

mundane or silly, and at others very existential, that André and I have at our kitchen table. We’re roommates and close friends so the balance of sharing together in this way just came naturally. Before we knew we were actually doing something, I made André the first Very Black t-shirt for his birthday and our friends started asking where they could get theirs. Since then it hasn’t stopped. A: Trae was definitely the first one to just get in it. [She] was like: “I don’t need to know what it is; I am it.” What geared you towards it? Trae Harris: We’ve always had catchphrases—things that we say and collectively they become a part of our group lexicon. We have a language that we all speak and carry on. It translates across the board so even if someone doesn’t know directly what we’re talking about, it kind of resonates. Very Black immediately resonated with me in that way. I also thought it was interesting that we were all these queer, Black artists having this conversation in a way that I hadn’t seen happening on such a scale since Baldwin and Hurston and Harlem. So, I was like, “yo, this could be a little Brooklyn Renaissance.” I wasn’t even thinking of people everywhere being into it. Basically turning what we were doing while we were in college and the entire time we’ve known each other: gathering, eating food, coloring in coloring books— A: Listening— T: Smoking and chilling— A: Drinking. Dancing— T: Dancing! Crying, loving— A: Fighting— T: Fighting. A: Niggas was fighting. T: Doing the things that we would usually do. But it became a thing and it had a name. It became Very Black. It was basically being used to describe everything. A: Ashay. T: But it was like, “oh, it is everything.” A: It is everything. T: I never imagined that it would get to the point where people in every country were like, “oh my God, I want access to this.”


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J: The project transpired from the conversations, at times


A: Generations. T: Generations. Every shade, color of the Diaspora. Why was it important for it to exist at that time? I can look at TVBP and see why it is surfacing right now. Now is different than 2014; why was it so necessary then?

going on before. One thing that we gathered together when we were studying was that you should always be asking “Why?” You should always be asking “Why not?” Being a Black kid that asked that goes into being a young adult [who’s] still asking that. Because the lashes don’t become less, they become stronger—they become bigger—as we do. I did a lot of studying in undergrad in the African Diaspora and was like, “this is always gonna be important.” It was an urgency of conversation that [Justin] and I would have. Even the way we talk about Blackness, we talk about design. We talk about all of our intersections. Justin would talk about the things that he would see in trends or images A PROCLAMATION OF SELF-LOVE

that inspired him. It would be interesting to take note in my own life, and in his own life . . . and then try and forgive ourselves. Try to forgive ourselves for not knowing enough about our own history—about our own collective spirit . . . and realizing that we’re not nearly as scattered. It would be as simple as sending each other images which we’ve done for years—nothing really shifted. I think what people experienced with Very Black was a friendship: a true kinship. It’s literally trust in a time when people feel as though they’re untrusting. But when have people ever been able to trust each other? Especially in the history of the United States of America. But you always could within your community. One thing that was dope with me and Trae is that she’s from Baltimore, I’m from Kansas City: very different places, but very Black experiences. She would say stuff and I’m like “oh my God, you sound like my cousin Brea.” Or I would do something, and she would be like, “oh my God, you remind me of someone in Baltimore.” I would be like, "tell me more." Those were portals. Getting older, continuing to live and share those experiences has become really valuable. Despite TVBP’s focus on Black healing and intersecting the multidimensional lives of Black people, what message can communities and individuals from other backgrounds take? J: I hope that someone who isn’t Black can look at what we’re doing and start to dig a little deeper in their own lives. The road to healing is beyond scratching the surface, but that scratching is a great start. At the end of the day being Very Black is being

Very Human, so if a brother or sister of another hue respects own understanding and way to connect, then I’m here for that. We also cannot forget the multiracial people who identify as Black. No experience is more relevant than the other.


what we’re doing and uses this platform we’ve created for their


A: I don’t think 2016 is necessarily different than what was

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T: I think it’s interesting

it’s ok to take the time to

and delicate was something

when people feel offended

rest, process, and reflect. Our

that I wasn’t prepared to

or excluded from things

ancestors are our guides and

do with anyone, let alone

like Black Lives Matter or

have our backs, but we can’t

myself. Understanding my

Very Black. Whenever any

hear them if we’re constantly

own capacity to love myself

individual or subjugated

on the go or unconscious.

and then, in turn, love

group decides to empower

It’s balance that keeps TVBP

other people has been crazy.

themselves—and use language

afloat through sad times and

Radical self-love for me has

to empower themselves—it’s

oh what a time it is!

become articulating to people

always a point of contention.

that I love them and I’m

The thing that I’ve always

A: I just surrender. I light

committing to it. Letting that

felt is that Blackness is the

an incense in the morning, I

grow, flourish, and not being

inclusiveness of everything;

keep my lights off, I listen to

afraid of it. Not necessarily

it’s all-encompassing. Black is

some music. I do a little two-

having it be reciprocal, but

not the absence

step and take a shower with

knowing that it’s enough to


of color, black

just give it, and

is all colors

it’s actually very

combined, so

filling. It doesn’t

there is no way

deplete me. I may

that Very Black

have thought to

doesn’t include

give love may be

you. If you are a

giving something

person—if you

away of myself that

have a spirit

I could never receive

and melanin,


and you have

I’ve actually realized

been ancient—

that in New York,

which we all have, then

the chosen family

that’s you, right? I also think

scalding hot water. I listen to

I have for myself has filled

it’s important that people

my spirit. I’m not gonna be

me up so much: physically,

don’t feel excluded from

like “well, you know, they say

mentally, spiritually,

something because the face

it ain’t good for your skin.”

emotionally, in my presence,

of it doesn’t look like them.

Well, it’s good for my spirit.

out of my presence,

For people of color, we’ve had

My skin will be okay—I got

consciously, subconsciously—

to find ways to find ourselves

that coconut butter on

that it doesn’t even matter.

in reflections of things that

deck. It’s something that I

don’t look like us.

think is day to day because

What would you say to

the answers are arriving.

other creatives, artists, and

In times of adversity, how is

When you surrender—when

educators who want to create

TVBP surviving and thriving?

you open—things will fall at

a storytelling platform for

How do self-care and radical

your feet.

their community, similar

self-love inform this project?

to TVBP? T: My concept of love in

J: Self-care leads to clarity,

general, growing up, was so

J: Going into it really set

which can get you through

hard. I felt like Black women

an intention to remain

the toughest of challenges.

femininity had to be really

authentic to who you are and

We are constantly reminding

hard and tough. To be soft

what you are saying. Never

people and ourselves that

Left & Above: Photos taken by Trae Harris.

get lost in the sauce.

A: Do that shit. Do it. If you’re thinking about

T: Be unapologetic about it. There are so

it then you’re doing it. Feel the feelings. I

many media outlets out there that are big

think about what Baba Baldwin says: “go to

on censoring particular voices. If you have

the way in which your blood boils.” The story

an opportunity to have a platform and use

is gonna look different ways because that’s

your voice then don’t censor yourself. Really

what it means to be a Jeli, a Griot—someone

speak your truth and let your voice be heard

who has to relay messages. It’s about earning

because . . . social media, the internet—that is

your voice and not feeling as though you have

our place, our generation; this is our fucking

a commitment to make people feel a certain

voice. We are the first to be able to do what

way. You have to tell that story. Make sure

we’re doing right now—unapologetically—and

that you’re eating, drinking well, resting,

we’re archiving it. Which is different than the

and not feeling as though it’s cute to not

ones who came before us. It was archived by

sleep. Be earnest, be decent, and commit. Be

other people. Now it’s each individual person

respectful, and tender. I think that is one of

archiving their own experience.

the most important [things] to walk away

The archiving process is what I think is the

with: tenderness. Cause it’s all a tender thing.

most impressive about what Very Black has

Life doesn’t have to be this very arduous,

been able to do and inspire other people to do.

miserable place. It can actually be tender,

If we don’t tell our stories, we’ve already seen

forgiving, and we can transcend. I’m tryna get

what happens when we let someone else do it.

on that mothership—I’m very George Clinton.

We actually have a lot of power.

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Photos taken by Trae Harris.





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Above: Brooklyn, New York. Below: Havana, Cuba. Right: Baltimore, Maryland.



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November 25, 2016


On November 25, 2016, the Scroll team met with

friends Robin Lynne Marquis, and Najee Haynes-

Follins at Robin’s studio in Middle East, Baltimore, for an afternoon of collage-making and conversation. Robin and Najee are continuing their education at the Maryland Institute College of Art.


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Robin Lynne Marquis grew up on a “lesbian llama farm” in Northern New Mexico. Growing up around folk music and without television, their hobbies included theater, singing, sewing, and making in its many forms. Despite their creative upbringing, Robin didn’t consider themself an artist because they did not know how to draw. Now their definition of “artist” has changed to encompass the vast number of ways people channel creativity. They say, “the idea that you have to be able to sit down and produce something that can be bought is a very capitalist way of thinking of art.” Their practice is based on the notion that art is a way to survive and connect to others. They believe that art is integral to revolution; “part of the reason the revolution is happening.” Uncommitted to one specific medium, Robin’s work is about “what a conversation is.” They say, “the medium is more [about] the best way to get to that conversation and place of introspection.” The mediums they use range from fibers to performance. Their body is central to their work’s subject matter: “I make a lot of work about being a survivor of sexual trauma, incest, being a sex worker, [and] how sex has been a part of my life since I can remember—and even before that. As a woman, a white person, a disabled person—these are all things that hold a lot of privilege and oppression [within] my body.”

Najee Haynes-Follins says that she’s “always been an artistic person. Drawing, crafting, collaging [...] anything I can get my hands on that I can put together and make look like something else, I’ll do it.” Theater was also a staple in her creative beginnings. Despite this knack for the arts, she decided on taking the premed route when she went to college at Fordham University. Her mother is a social worker and it made sense to her to study what she saw as “useful in the world.” Once on this path, however, Najee missed theater. She ended up jumping around to different schools—studying acting, poetry, and costume design—getting her degree at Hampshire College. Since school, she has been a part of several art collectives focused on Black and queer identities, such as Roots and Rivers and Collective Apparition. Najee is primarily a fiber artist whose work explores Blackness and, at the moment, death. She says, “I’m trying to put the mourning back in Black bodies being taken out of the world right now.” Her work is a mourning process intended to evoke empathy: “I’m trying to explore it, mourn through it, figure out what it all means. Also trying to humanize it.”

Scroll: As feminist artists, how do you use different mediums to convey a message? Robin Lynne Marquis: One thing I like about fiber is that it’s connected to functionality: art as craft, and the history of women’s work, and of people who do not have the luxury to make art for art’s sake. [They are] making it because they’re clothing their children; they’re making it because it’s literally what is being taught by ancestry and elders. Fiber is cross-cultural. Fiber is in literally everything. Fiber is everywhere. It’s always used as adornment, ritual, and honoring. It’s about gender and it carries class. It carries pretty much all the different pieces that matter to me and what work I do. It’s muscle, it’s blood, it’s veins, it’s hair, it’s skin. Najee Haynes-Follins: Skin! I’m obsessed with materials that are like skin. I’ve been using orange peels in my work lately and stitching skin and body, but sort of separate you from skin and body—but you can feel the impact of skin and body. What made you interested in costume design? [to Najee] N: I had always, as a kid, been dreaming up clothing to wear. As a fat person it’s really hard to find clothes and when I was a teenager it was even harder. I would always be dreaming up things that I wished I could wear. When I got to school [I realized] I [could] learn skills to make the things I [was] dreaming up. I have a designer brain; I’m wanting to solve a problem and wanting to do it creatively and beautifully. R: I think that is a really powerful thing about clothing and making wearable art. Being able to take [it] into your own hands outside [the] idea of “this is what I’m being sold, and this is beauty: white, gender-conforming, cis, straight, and able-bodied woman that is for the male gaze.” To say that “this is not for the male gaze, my body is magical and beautiful.”


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them together. Things that are reminiscent of


What factors inspired you to create art that focuses on sexuality and death? R: I’m very sensitive, I take everything in and I have no control [over] what comes out. My work has always been better that way. It takes a lot of work to be positive and I need a place for the more negative things to come out. A lot of my work ends up being creepy or sad because the world is creepy and sad sometimes. That’s the thing I’m filtering out in my interactions with people. When I’m alone and I need something to come out, that’s what comes out. It’s almost therapeutic in a way . . . art making. It’s detoxifying. N: Definitely detoxifying. It’s cathartic to have something like that come out of you. Sometimes I make something and I really don’t want to look at it. If it’s stressful or makes me sad to look at, I don’t. I just put it away. I want people—especially people who CATHARSIS AND CRAFT

don’t have to experience those feelings all the time—to look at that, feel that, and maybe at some point feel some empathy for folks who are experiencing whatever kind of oppression. R: One of the biggest parts, looking back on my art making history, is when I was coming out as a survivor and literally keeping myself alive every single minute. When I was on the verge of killing myself daily I just sat and drew. I drew images of myself; it kept me alive. It’s always a means of survival. It’s about me surviving for myself and also being in solidarity with people. I am trying to make art for and about myself and the areas where I’m being oppressed. [I’m] also saying [that] part of my survival is intrinsically connected to the survival of the people who I’m oppressing—and how do we shift that? How do I make art that calls myself out too? Art that works with other folks in collaboration and liberation across experiences. I also really liked what you [to Najee] said about pulling things out of yourself and saying, “I’m not gonna carry this by myself: it is also your responsibility. I refuse to be the only person carrying these secrets anymore and I am going to demand that you look at this.” I’ve done that a lot with my art and Collage was made in

collaboration by Najee, Robin, Shan, Jenna, and Iris.

around incest in my family. Words are such failures, especially around memory, trauma, and oppression. They leave me short.

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You touched a bit on how creating art for you

R: I love [that]. I think that is something I love

is a self-care process. What else do you do to

about being older that I started doing—coming

take care of yourself/recover?

into my identity as being a disabled person. Because a lot of times there is no choice.

N: I go to the gym. Not for weight loss

Kink is definitely an important part of self-

purposes, that’s bullshit. I go to the gym to

care for me. I think it feels like the only way

feel endorphins. It’s literally for the drug

I’ve been able to be present in my body is

aspects of going to the gym. Hanging out

[through] creating consensual relationships

with Robin sometimes; friendship is so

with people and processing through violence

important. I make art and I read books and I

in a loving way: owning, opting into, and

take breaks when I need to take breaks. I stay

facing pain [that is both] emotional and

in bed all day when I need to stay in bed all

physical. [It] is really powerful.

day. Whatever my body asks, I try to give it without judgment. It’s really hard to do that.





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Havana, Cuba.



Baltimore, Maryland.

December 12, 2016


On December 12, 2016, the Scroll team went

to the Copycat Building—a housing and studio complex for creatives in Station North—to interview some of the previous residents of the Bell Foundry prior to its shutdown by the Baltimore Fire Department. In this essay, Shan Wallace pulled from their experiences as well as her own—documenting her interactions with DIY spaces.


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“We need the Bell.” I remember

Prior to my visit to the Bell

repeating this to Qué Pequeño and

Foundry, Qué and I had briefly met

everyone else who either lived in

once but were familiar with one

or visited the Bell Foundry.

another from everyday trolling and socializing on Twitter and

The Ghost Ship fire in Oakland,

Instagram. Then, we became

California left 36 people dead

Facebook friends and the rest

in December 2016, initiating

is history. I always took interest

the unforeseen evictions and

in his Tweets and posts; the

shutdowns of DIY living and studio

acerbic and straightforward

spaces across the U.S. I felt it was

wordplay of his tweets, the

necessary to share my experiences

misanthropic memes he posted,

with DIY spaces with hopes to

and way of triumphantly getting

eradicate stereotypical attitudes

the last laugh. But also, Qué’s

and put marginalized artists on the

cognizance and passion for music,

center stage.

and animosity of Eminem and disapproval of his fans.

My first time at the Bell Foundry was during the winter of 2016.

Qué and I made plans to kick it. I

At that time, I was interested in

remember driving up Calvert Street

interviewing and filming Qué for

right past the Bell without even

a project.

noticing it. I found a parking spot, walked down the street—not fully knowing exactly where I was going but having faith in Google Maps.

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When I finally arrived outside the Bell Foundry, I thought I was at the wrong place. For as long as I had lived in Baltimore I never knew the purpose of the building. I recounted all the times I had walked and driven past it without having the slightest clue why it existed. However, I did make a few assumptions: “Maybe it’s some government building full of federal hackers designed to look like a warehouse, or maybe it’s just a storage building.” I texted Qué to tell him I was outside. He appeared in all black with a skully clinging to his entire head, opening the door. He smiled and insisted I come inside. I followed behind Qué as we walked up about 16 steps, finally arriving at a dark spacious lounge chairs, closed doors, a long dining room table, a skateboard, a couple bicycles, and artwork hanging on the walls. He welcomed me into his room where Elon and some other folks were making beats and talking about potential songs. Qué introduced me to everybody in the room—we all highfived, and I flopped on the couch, nodding my head to the music. Elon sat on a stool, leaning close to the computer screen while Butch hovered above him. Elon sang slow melodies over the beat Butch was making, while the rest of us politicked. More people came and went to Qué’s room. The entire time the room was packed with artists: singers, rappers, producers, photographers, and poets. A bunch of creatives fighting to survive, holding onto their dreams. We spoke about our art, how we could improve our quality of life, and efforts to help Baltimore with the little we had.


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room. I looked around and saw vintage-looking


Before Qué and I started recording, he told me more about being at the Bell Foundry. He said, “The first time I came [...] it was April 30th of 2011 [...] to see a punk rock show. In 2013, the venue shut down the first time. 2013 was when I started to come around more often and started to see the shift in the scene at the Bell. I started making friends and officially moved with the help of Fredo. I found that the Bell Foundry was a way to recuperate after being homeless. It became my favorite place to stay because I was living in a creative space, but also, it’s a space where everyone could hang out, talk, share dreams, and get away from the outside world.” He explained how the Bell had provided him with friends: a true support system, a WE NEED THE BELL

home-like environment with opportunities to collaborate, support one another, and grind. Within the short period of time talking with Qué it was apparent he loved the Bell. For him, and many others, it was a place that immediately felt like home. He pridefully explained to me that The Bell was, and is, about family: “I never thought a place like that would exist. Where you have all these underrepresented people in one house.” I realized the room full of people were true reflections of not only Qué—but me—and so many other artists continuously trying to make positive impacts on society through their creativity. People at the Bell lived together— barely making ends meet, but continued to make things anyway. “We’d be like: ‘we wanna make art but we starvin’ so we gotta be fire—make that shit sound like fucking Radiohead. We gotta make food but we starvin’ so we gotta find a way to make this food seem like a fivecourse meal.’” –Elon

I listened more as he went down memory lane about his relationships with Butch, Elon, Fredo, and everyone else I met that day. He recalled the good times and the challenging ones. He explained his sincere gratitude for spaces like the Bell—spaces that serve many purposes. They are places of residence and venues for expression. They allow multifarious artists—the LGBTQIA community, and black and brown minorities to not only have a home, but also a place to perform and work. “There was a receptive dialogue about making the space more safe and hospitable. I miss a with, rather than a space [where] there is no conversation about the challenging subjects that come up [and] should be a part of every living situation. Especially in mixed race, sexual orientation, [and] gender, housing. There are so many conversations that have to happen in those spaces. The Bell was somewhere that made me feel like home because we were capable of talking about that.” −Person Abide

Foundry, I felt welcomed. I had never visited a DIY space before; it was a new experience that encouraged my awareness and imagination of an artist community living and sharing studio space. It opened my eyes to how nontraditional warehouse-like studio spaces provide sanctuary for people to congregate, practice, perform, share, create—and then possibly make a meal and get some rest after. DIY, studio, living, and performance spaces are vital for many artists to work with little-to-no money. These spaces provide foundation and support for artists and creatives to make art, organize movements, and to produce and shift culture. As city governments continue to condemn spaces like the Bell and displace the folks finding sanctuary in them, I think we should spend more time discussing why DIY spaces are necessary—how they can be maintained and flourish. DIY culture is something that should be protected. I am calling on local actors in places of governmental power to show their support for our artist communities.


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space that you can negotiate

From the time I entered the Bell


8 WORDS ON SAFE SPACES On December 21, 2016, Elissa Blount Moorhead, director of the Station

North Arts & Entertainment District, made a public

comment during Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s

announcement of a Safe Space Task Force for Baltimore artists.

The task force addresses

the need for affordable living, studio, and performance

spaces for artists in response to the shutdowns of the Bell Foundry and similar spaces nationally.

The sixth word is equity. This

is something that has come

Safe. I’m really sort of

conflicted about this word. Safe, safety, what’s safe to whom, and what safe really means. And what

these spaces really have

been doing, and what art

spaces all across the country do is create sanctuary,

which is maybe a higher

standard, because we talk about physical as well as

an intellectual and creative

space. And I think Baltimore is particularly suited, more so than any city in the

country, which is why I’m

here, to create a really, really huge, creative ideological shift around that, and to

to me quite a bit when talking to the artists who have been running our DIY spaces and keeping cultural relevance here, and really, honestly

being the forerunners for

quite a bit of work across

the country. And people of

color, the trans community, other spaces where people have generally not had real social capital and a seat at

the table. It’s time for us as a task force to really think about what that means

very specifically, and what these spaces do, how do

we differentiate, and make these spaces very specific

to the city and to the work.

become a global model.

The seventh word I thought


Place-keeping is a word I like

to hear. And I mean that as

a direct interrogation of the word or the phrase placeThe first [word] that popped

making, which often leads

(and space). We’re here

conversations around spatial

artists are not a special class.

get to those words, and that

The city and the country has

conversations and get at

what happened in Oakland,

talking about.

into my mind was housing

to place taking, or you know,

talking about art spaces, but

justice. I really hope that we

We’re part of a wider class.

we dig, and we do have real

obviously been reeling from

what Roberto Bedoya was

but we’ve also had issues

have had issues concerning

force with trust, with the

understanding that creatives are the architects of every city that matters in the

world. They are the people who understand how to

create sanctuary and to

create working spaces. They are self-determined. And so I hope that we are able to

trust each other and be able

to listen to real conversations that are maybe radically

happen with citizens and

families and children that

about was agency. I hope

that we go into this task

different than what other

Sustain, or sustainability.

cities have done in the past.

safe and affordable housing.

Again, artists come in all

that what we do moves the

are aging out of certain living

And the last word was

well outside of arts districts.

point, the silo will not work

So I want to make sure

stripes. We have artists that

conversation in a wider way.

conditions. We have artists Yes, I’m here, I represent the district, but the city

The second word is artist.

I hope that during this task

force we discuss what that means. We’re talking about makers, cooks, healers,

activists, people that create communities that are

creative spaces, and we need to think of ourselves in an

expanded way. Some of the work that was happening particularly in the Bell

Foundry may or may not be

considered traditionally arts

and culture work, but it very much so should be.

is an ecology. Every space

where things are happening are equally important, and

I want to be able to look at

The Crown, or Exit the Apple, or the Bell Foundry, and

really understand them and think about them with the

same gravitas and the same support that we think about the Baltimore Museum of

Art and the Walters, right?

And to be able to eventually move towards that level of sustainability.

synergy. To Mayor Pugh’s

in this situation. They’re too complicated, [the] varied

issues around how to create safe spaces to do that. So

owners and photographers

and artists and thinkers and

professors and philosophers, all sorts of people, really

have to get outside of that

and start to think about how we can look into the eyes

of kids coming out of BSA [Baltimore School for the

Arts] and coming out of The Design School and say to

them: this is an ecology. This is an ecosystem where you

can stay, and you have a next step, and we’ll support you.

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Above: Havana, Cuba. Right: Baltimore, Maryland.



December 20, 2016


On December 20, 2016, we brought artists Joyce J. Scott and Morgan Monceaux

together at Morgan’s home, “Basilica Thao,”

in West Baltimore to talk about what self-

care meant to them as established artists. Although existing in similar circles for much of their lives, the two were not well acquainted. We came to their introduction prepared with interview questions, Prosecco, and pastries. The Prosecco and pastries were addressed. Our questions? Not so much. Once the two accomplished artists were in the same room we realized that our role in the conversation was to sit back, shut up, and listen.


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Morgan: I don’t know about you Joyce, but not

But I don’t care, you know what? You gotta

until recently did I realize that I have to be

die for something.

more vigilant about my health. I still think I’m young. My outer body says, “young young

J: How does that pain inform what you do?

young,” and my inner body says, “old old old,” and I’m breaking down. Up until now, I didn’t

M: It doesn’t. Listen: I don’t feel it until

really give a fuck. I mean, I’m living, and I’m

after I’m finished. It doesn’t play a part in

living, and [then] I find myself with peripheral

painting—creating. I’m not the person that

artery disease and unable to walk. The next

worries about that. I don’t know [how] anyone

thing I know I’m in the hospital and they’re

can say they incorporate their pain into their

cutting me open from my ankle all the way

work. I couldn’t imagine that.

up to the middle of my stomach. Put in stints and whatever inside of me, and I’m dying on the operating table. Coming out [of it] I’m not supposed to smoke, which I do any damn way. I’m not supposed to eat a lot of different things, but I do any damn way. But, you live fast, you die fast. Not that I plan on going anytime soon. Now I have a physician who lives

J: Well certainly, I am uncomfortable sitting sometimes, but really uncomfortable standing. I just can’t do the beadwork—the kind of Peyote, small, beadwork, standing. I do know that it can make a difference. Even in the colors that I choose. It’s subliminal a lot of times. I’ll look at something, and can

with me: monitors my smoking and healing.

tell I was challenged at that time, doing it.

Joyce: My life has also been doing what I want

also has to do with the medium in which you

to do. I knew I was tempting health, I knew I

work. I’m thinking about painting, especially

was tempting fate: I’m too fat, and I wouldn’t

if you’re standing—it’s a physical thing that

stop running, blah blah blah.

might channel whatever’s going through

So, this year I got The Baker and The

you differently, and you may not know it.

MacArthur [Awards] and I lost my singing voice

That’s the great thing, also, about submission.

and I should have my knee done but I didn’t,

Sometimes you may not be aware of just how

and I got sciatica, which is one of the most

much you are submitting to the process.

we checked my spine and I’m going to have to have an operation, because you know how you should have a curve in your spine? Well, I don’t. So now I have to revisit all the things I keep thinking about but won’t do. One of the great things for an artist is that if you can do your work without that kind of thing [like] jumping off ladders, you might forget about taking care of the other parts of yourself. M: I can’t do that. Standing is an issue. I have to stand. I can’t sit and think, I have to go inside the painting. So that means standing for hours until it’s done. I stand, and I don’t think about the pain until after I’m done. Then the pain hits me. I was painting downstairs last year; the painting was big, [so] I couldn’t get [it] up the stairs. So, I’m painting in the middle of the night, cold—and I’m standing. Next thing I know I’m finished and I lay down on the floor and slept till my husband came down and put me on the sofa.


M: I only had one painting to challenge me that much and that’s called The Man in

White. 14 days. I stood up for 14 days nonstop. J: Are you saying you didn’t sleep? M: Didn’t sleep until I came out, and I slept for a week and a half. I never worked that hard in my life on a painting. J: Well people die from that. M: Hah! Tell me about it. The whole process was like I had been a spirit. I don’t see it as submission, I see it as opening oneself up to a greater power and letting that power take you where you need to go, to do what you need to do. ‘Cause for me, submitting [means] I’m giving up my freedom. I am never giving up my freedom. Not to my work anyway. J: Why?

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painful things you can ever have. And then

The shape of things—all of that. But I think it



I don’t want to be put in a box unless I put myself in the box. Morgan

M: I mean I can’t do that . . . There is the me,

J: Was there visual work going on at the same

that’s Nagrom, and there’s Morgan, and I

time? Were you painting?

separate the two. They are different people. One is a total dominant masculine—the other

M: You know something? I didn’t start

one is a shy southern man who paints.

painting until twenty something odd years ago, sweetie. Twenty years ago is when I

J: I think Tennessee Williams talked about

started painting in the South Bronx in an

that. There are writers, especially Southern

abandoned building. I studied opera and I

writers, who will talk about being a shy

wanted to be a jazz singer.

Southern man. And if they were gay also, they would talk about the different personas they had. You were of that period. There’s a bravado that I’ve seen in younger folks, who [don’t] necessarily have to wear different veils.

J: Were you preaching in Dallas at the time? M: I was preaching in Dallas, Houston, and back in Louisiana, in the church that I grew up in.

M: This generation is much more free-er. They don’t have the barriers that were placed for me, in my life. I’m a Creole, Southern man, whose marriage was arranged. J: To a woman. They’re very deep codes—as soon as you say Creole. And there’s that whole underground of gay men. Were you also involved in the church? a tender thing

M: Licensed and ordained. J: So, you’re a licensed and ordained preacher from Louisiana, Creole gentry, who is from an arranged marriage. That’s very old school. M: Listen, my family were plantation owners—large plantation owners, and they had a lot of money. They were well educated because they sent them to school, to Europe, and when schools started opening in this country, they started to go to school here. J: So, how long did you stay in Louisiana? M: As soon as I finished high school we went BOOM, I did it. I’ve returned once to have an exhibition with my work and I have not returned again. [There’s] nothing there for me. It’s old, it’s dying. I don’t want to be a part of that anymore. I’m free. I went to college— Bishop, Dallas, to study theology and music. I wanted to be a singer. My mother was a jazz singer and I wanted to sing in the night clubs like my mother but [my family] refused to allow me to do it. So, I decided to study opera and that’s what I went to Bishop to do; be an opera singer. Hated it.


J: You must be in turmoil too? You’re in a divinity school. M: Sweetie, flipside: those guys were fucking each other like crazy. I was so pissed off when I got in college because I saw all these guys having sex with one another and I guess . . . being in the clouds, I didn’t know what dominant was, I didn’t know what being in the closet was. Because I was really open about my sexuality. J: Did you become a jazz singer?


M: Well, when I went to Vietnam . . . because

J: Okay so you’re now in the hilt of the ex-60s,

I made a conscious, stupid, decision—being

which is kinda now hippie, and the evolution

young—and saying “God, family, and country.”

of the Civil Rights Movement.

Those are the things I believed in. M: Yes, yes, came right back in the middle of it. J: You think that was a stupid decision. J: So in some ways, it was a thing where you M: I really believed that I was doing the right

could travel. Easily.

thing—when I went. Until I got there and realized, “oh fuck, why the hell am I here?

M: Yeah, I hitchhiked. I would just get up, a

Why the hell are any of us here? ‘Cause we

young black man—I know how to take care of

don’t belong here.”

myself, I never worried about anything—

J: Were you in any major battles?

J: So, when you were in Iowa as a young black man, you’re not worried about hitchhiking? I

told you he was crazy— M: Yeah, dumb. You know you’re young, you don’t think about these things. J: So what did you see as you’re traveling all around the states? M: I saw this country evolving into something LISTEN, SWEETIE

new and exciting. I saw Black people becoming stronger and more vocal. I saw white people a little bit scared . . . I had to take down one of my relatives from a tree where they had lynched him and set him on fire. J: Certainly, that kind of stuff is influential in your work. M: Not yet . . . not yet . . . J: I’m wondering—I, Joyce Scott, am wondering—Morgan Monceaux, if any of that festooning . . . see when you said you were gonna be a singer, I said [your paintings are] all sheet music to me, I see it. Now how is all M: Well yeah . . . I committed a lot of sins. To

of that from New Orleans, and your preacher

take the lives of innocent people. I am very

time, and being an opera/jazz singer revealing

open about saying that. Because it’s true, and

itself in the work?

I acknowledge the fact that I did that, and I was wrong, and I shouldn’t have done it.

M: My work is layered in my cells and my

But . . . you know, you hear the command and

brain. When you look at my stuff, there are

went in and did your job.

layers and layers and layers of information. Some you see, some you don’t. Because I want

J: You were also what 18, 19? So you know,

you to find what you’re looking for. If you see

you were vulnerable as a young man yourself.

the work—I mean truly look at the work, you

What year did you come back?

will see. People will think that I’m a Haitian

M: About ‘72, ‘73?

artist. They think I’m Haitian period. Or come from the West Indies.


It’s irrelevant. It’s about

I don’t want someone to tell

thing . . .

the development of this

me I’m not an abstract artist

country through whatever

because Black people only

M: Yeah but . . . I’m not

era. Cowboys and Indians,

paint, you know . . . portraits,

Haitian. And I’m like, “no, it

jazz, whatever. It’s about this

or whatever. You’re very

doesn’t!” It looks like me. It’s

American experience. It’s

happy about being Black,

a reflection of me!

about . . . moving to a better

but your work has a broader

The work that I do is

place and creating something


about America—not Black

that’s better. M: Yes ‘cause I’m looking at

America—but America. Joyce, I’m not a Black artist. I’m

J: Okay, so you don’t want to

the world. I’m not looking

an American artist. And I

be called a Black artist—an

at a small spot on the map.

don’t want anyone to ever

African artist. Not because

I’m looking at the big spot:

misunderstand that that’s

the blackness of it, but

the world itself. The impact

what I am. I don’t want to

because it’s someone telling

that American culture,

be put in a box unless I put

you who you should be.

from an African American’s

myself in the box. I think by

Because I often say, “you

perspective has had, and

saying, “I’m a Black artist,”

don’t tell me who I am—”

creating something beyond the American borders. When

I am limiting myself. I paint American culture. I paint the work and portraits and images of Americans who happen to be Black.

BOTH: “I tell you who I am.”

the National Portrait Gallery bought my work, the label

J: But you know, I’m very

says: “Morgan Monceaux,

clear that I’m an African

born 1945, American artist.”

American artist. But I mean,

Tada . . . if they can honor me that way, I think everybody else should.


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J: Well there is that French



because they just want to be fair to everybody. Everybody’s American: we don’t have to talk about the skin color? M: You know what the color of my skin is. See? I mean— J: But you’re not there with your work so— M: Well then they get an opportunity to go online and write the name and see who I am. But they define me as an American artist. I think they did say, “born African American . . . ” J: For young artists, or young humans of color who do not believe they’re anywhere— although we are so influential in popular culture—you still can go places and see artwork that is done by people (not you), that’s completely derivative of your work. Folks don’t know that they’re there. So, it’s always good to know an African American painted this. And not only did he paint it, he in The Smithsonian. And he come from Orleans and stuff, and he wearin’ a skirt. It’s good to have that kind of narrative history because it talks about the wealth of the American culture. Because the majority of African Americans did not grow up as Creoles in a wealthy family who owned plantations in the South—who made the decisions you did, and are now artists in the Smithsonian. Brother, that’s different! That means that you were relentless in your life. I don’t mean you were beating people up to be an artist, but you had that quest. M: I was doing a little ass whoopin’ okay. J: Yeah I can tell: you wearin’ a skirt, so you know you whooped some ass. But you can tell that, whatever that dream to be Morgan was, you stayed on that path. M: Listen, my mother told me, “I don’t give a fuck what you are, I don’t care what you do in life, as long as you’re the best. You can be a naked dancing booger bear down the street. I will love you no matter what.” So they reinforced in me and my sister [to] be the best. The environment that I grew up in was very liberal. My mother accepted my homosexuality. They went winces “Send him 46

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a whole bunch of really rich people in New


J: And you’re saying that they’re doing that


to a shrink.” I went. The doctor said, “he’s a

and being able to pull that together in one

normal child. Leave him alone, let him grow.”

spot. Getting the ancestors to help you channel that power: the power of nature.

J: How old were you when they sent you? M: 10. I had had my first sexual experience at 7. I got raped in church. My mother was gonna kill the boys. I went to the pastor and tried to convince him that this had happened. He called my mother and the other boys in. My mother came in and said, “I don’t give a fuck whether you believe it or not, If I get to see them again, they’re dead.” Simple as that: “I’m gonna kill them because they took my child’s virginity, and they took his life away from him. They didn’t give him the chance to make his own choices.” J: Exactly. M: I grew up under that attitude: “Fuck with me?” snaps I’m not gonna touch you. I learned the easy way. I ain’t gonna put my hands on you because if you put your hands on LISTEN, SWEETIE

somebody you’re bound for jail. So, I just use another route. Voodoo. It’s a religion that’s based on an African faith of Vodun, using Haitian crossover because a lot of Haitian slaves came to the ports of New Orleans. It’s not “black magic—” don’t ever get it confused. It’s using the power of nature and the divine,

Because everything is energy. God is energy. God is neither male nor female, it’s just an energy. I’m telling you this because when I was doing

Exegesis I found myself in that space, with those creatures, or energies, or entities, that were doing what they do: creating the universe. Sweetie, I watched the universe collapse and grow around me. I was told, “do you want to stay here? This is where you belong, why don’t you stay with us?” and I couldn’t stay because I’d be leaving behind all my family and the people that I love. My husband and my wife, who is a Native American shaman, pulled me back. That’s my own personal belief, and that’s after going through being a minister, and being a Buddhist, and all the other stuff. I was born a

shaman. J: If I don’t feel well and shit, I’m coming right over here and smacking you upside the head, because I know who started it. M: Sweetie, I would never do anything to you. I would never harm you. I would die before I hurt you.

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J: Well, thank you. Is [Voodoo]

M: Preaching. It’s the way

also [used] to get through life,

that I preach. Being able to

in a good way?

be an exegesis; to tell the

M: ‘85. That’s when I decided

J: What year was this?

truth. To speak it as God

I was going to be an artist. I

M: I see it happening every

has put it forth. You know,

saw stuff these people were

day of my life. I’ve seen doors

I’m self-taught. Here’s the

selling and I was like, “this is

open that I’m not supposed

deal: [painting] was a joke.

crap, this is really bad shit.”

to go into, but they open

It was an absolute joke that

There was some really bad

around me as I’m walking

backfired on me. I went to

art. I said, “you know what?

down. ‘Cause there’s a light

New York City because I

If this idiot can fool those

at the end that I’m supposed

wanted to hear an opera

philistines, I can fool ‘em too,”

to go into—that’s when I’m

that was being played there.

and that’s what I decided. I


That’s when my life changed.

was gonna pull a big prank

My life totally fell apart in

on the rest of the world.

J: How does painting come into any of this? M: It’s my sermons. I’m still preaching honey. J: So, painting is a form of?

New York and that’s when I became homeless. I was like, “what do I do what do I do? How do I survive?” And then I discovered eating out of garbage cans and the other stuff I had to do to maintain myself.


Scroll: Morgan, as an artist who has never received a formal education in art, and Joyce, as an artist who often works with mediums that have historically (for racialized and gendered reasons) been excluded from notions of “fine” art—what do you have to say about biases about what constitutes art? How in your careers have you been able to push back against institutions or individuals that hold these types of attitudes? J: He said something earlier that I chimed in on: “you don’t tell me who I am, I tell you.” So, if people say, “you are a craft artist, and what you do comes from women and people of color,” I say, “yes, thank you.” It is what has informed you as an artist [to Morgan], and it’s what we do every day. So yes, I am that. I am a craftsman. I did study a lot in schools. I am a fine artist, and I heard myself say this and I was so incredibly shocked, but I mean it— because of my mother: “I shall not be denied.” And by that, I mean the artificial barriers. I feel that the impulse that I use to make a cup or a necklace is the same impulse I use to make a 15-foot sculpture. If your artificial barriers (meaning it’s “craft” or “fine art”) exist then that’s for you. Pay me as a craft fine-artist. Because I believe it’s there to keep people who are women, or indigenous folks, or people of color—or not “fine” artists from being paid [as] much. So I tell you: “I’m a fine artist, so you pay me what you pay everybody else.” That, to me, is what the differentiation is for. Since we’re living in a time when people say, “people of color are just as good as everybody else–” then that can’t be it . . . If we’re in a time when feminism has evolved to be where women are in all these places, it can’t be that I’m a woman. You can make fat jokes but so what? So is yo’ mom, what you gonna do about it? It must be something else. If I’ve been to college with everyone else, and I am as much of a pseudo-intellectual as everybody else is then that can’t be it. So there’s gotta be some other reason why you think you should separate my work from others. There’s got to be some other reason why you think putting a shark in latex is better than what I do. Since I don’t believe in that, then I’m telling you: I’m a


So I tell you: “I’m a fine artist, so you pay me what you pay everybody else.”



fine artist. I want you to accept me as that and to pay me as such. Now of course, in artwork we have all our own ideas about aesthetic. But I fall somewhere in the money aesthetics.

I am after immortality. M: Here’s the difference: I don’t have all that.

J: Because leaving legacy means that he’s

I don’t have the degree, I’m not an academic

written about in books and people can find

in terms of being a painter that went to

him. His work is in the Smithsonian which

school to paint. I’m none of those things.

will allow people to continue to know him.

But my work stands out just as good as any

Now there are a lot of people that say, “why

others’ who have gone through the process

should I be that?” People have to be that

of learning the academic part, who have to

because that’s the only way young people

come out of school to unlearn everything

will have a connection—not only with the

they’ve learned to get to their voice. I came to

past but with [what] their future might be!

my voice naturally so it’s a bit off-kilter. It’s

When I do work, it’s not just for me, but it’s

still powerful. I can make Pollock and the rest

because when I was young, I wanted to be a

of ’em run for their money. I taught myself

painter. I was told in undergraduate school

how to carve my linocuts; I’m just as good as

to stop painting for the betterment of myself

Picasso, if not better. But still, when I go out

and the entire human race. As I became

to apply and talk to these people: “you are not

more and more accomplished as an artist, I

trained,” and what’s that supposed to mean?

started doing prints. Doing them again maybe because [they are] as close as I can get to painting as possible. When I saw how crappy

to learn to say “why?” because the kind of

paintings being sold were I [thought] “I should

ignorance that people keep themselves in—

bust back in, ’cause this might be my time!”

unless there is someone who will put it out

Right? Well that’s the joke, but it’s also: I shall

of them—will stay ignorant. It’s frightening

not be denied. So the thing about legacy, or

because many times they’re in places of

for him, immortality, has not only to do with

power. They don’t understand the gravitas,

him needing that for himself, but how he’ll

or the breadth of what we call “craftwork.”

make a path for others to walk on.

A painter is a craftsperson. That’s a craft—a skill—to apply paint to a surface. Why is it

M: This is one of the most important aspects

better to paint the cup than make the cup?

of me being an artist. What I tell young men

When you ask people, you’ll understand the

and young artists who come to me [is] to think

ignorance is based in something else.

about what’s gonna happen when they start

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J: That’s the artificial barrier. We all need

writing the history of artists in the Maryland M: I’m not gonna accept that from anyone! I

area. Where are you gonna fit in? Where is

am after immortality. I want to live forever.

your name gonna be written? I have seen so

J: That needs to be underlined, and underlined, and underlined. So what we’re also talking about is a legacy. Leaving legacy—and that’s one of the things that

many artists—African American artists—who have died, whose work has vanished from the face of the earth. J: Good artists.

African American artists have had some trouble with—

M: It’s heartbreaking. The one thing I pay very close attention to throughout all of

M: Oh my God!

this is how all the white artists set up their foundations so their legacy can continue on. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m not just trying to create a legacy, I want to be able to say, “Listen, I want you guys to make sure

They don’t understand t

call “craftwork.” A paint 50

I want to live forever. 51

that at least one young man or woman who

J: I don’t know if I would say it in that way,

is studying curatorial studies, gets money

but I do understand.

to go to school.” Because it’s important that there are curators out there. “And one who

M: Even growing up in a wealthy family, I kind

is studying criticism,” because there are very

of moved away from them because I didn’t

few Black critics.

particularly want to have that stuck to me. I

What’s gonna happen to all of these guys. And

could just run home and live a life of a genteel

to you, and to you and to you [to interns] when

gentleman. I don’t want to live the life of a

you step out there? What do you think you’re

genteel man. I never wanted to live that life. I

gonna do with your lives? Will. You. Die. For.

have my own life now.

It? Will you die for it?

J: It is a different kind of upbringing because

J: When you say, “Will you die for it?” are you

you have what wealth has. You have that

saying “Will you live your life for it?”

as something that can be seen as a great


assistance, but also an encumbrance. You’re M: Yes. Will you commit to it. And if you’re

also not the first person who has told me that

not willing to die for it, step the fuck

they have rid themselves of [wealth]. Because

outta the way because you’re in the way of

there’s something about what comes with an

someone who will. It’s a question that you

African American wealthy person, especially

should ask yourself before you step into

from the deep South, that they were not

this life. Because this life will absorb—take

willing to live with their entire life. I always

everything from you. It’ll give you back a lot

say: “I would like to have the opportunity to

but it’s gon’ suck a whole lot out of you. You

have the money so I can leave it.”

know there’ll be [a] time when you ain’t gon’ have food, you ain’t gon’ have money to pay

M: You travel through this cultural society

the bills, and you gon' still be in that studio

that you’re part of. You do the cotillions—all

creating. Is that not true my love?

the things that they do and it becomes part of who you are. You can’t see yourself outside

J: Yes. Of course, you can tell by me, I’ve never

of that. You’re Creole and you accept the fact

been without food. But I have had other

that you’re Creole. “We’re not Black, we’re


not white. We’re Creole.” And sometimes they think, “we’re better than the rest. But not

M: If you’re not willing to sacrifice—because

less than the others.” Many of them have that

this is about sacrifice: your friends, your

attitude, especially the fair-skinneded; the

family. Because they’re gonna say: “Get a real

ones who can literally pass for white.

job. This is not a real job. You ain’t working. What the hell you doing?” You gotta sacrifice

J: I think this is a part of Black culture

and say, “I’m committing myself to this”

that’s not talked about. Because we only see

[and], “I’ve accepted you, my love, muse—”

ourselves as slaves or as people who were

whatever it is that you are committing to.

blue collar workers, or musicians, or drug

“I’m willing to serve you and sacrifice at

addi—whatever. But there’s a whole group of

your altar for the rest of my life because I

people, who have a very distinct . . . African

know that what you’re offering me, no other

American culture.

creature can give me. No other man can give me. And what I get from you, I give back to the world.” Will you die for it?

the gravitas of what we

ter is a craftsperson.

Fuck you. You’re stop me from do going to do beca at what I do. You to touch me, but you don’t have to I’m gonna stand of the stage—Eliz Greenfield, an op I’m gonna hit tha I’m gonna drop to five seconds, and there with your m screaming and h new diva has bee 52

not gonna oing what I’m ause I am good u may not want t that’s okay, o touch me. in the middle zabeth Taylor pera singer—and at high note, and o a bass note in d you gon’ stand mouths open hollering: “God, a en born.” 53

M: And that’s the foundation of my work! Those are the people I expose the rest of the world to because they’re the ones that say: “Fuck you, you’re not gonna stop me from doing what I’m going to do because I am good at what I do. You may not want to touch me, but that’s okay, you don’t have to touch me. I’m gonna stand in the middle of the stage—Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, an opera singer—and I’m gonna hit that high note, and I’m gonna drop to a bass note in five seconds and you gon’ stand there with your mouths open screaming and hollering: ‘God, a new diva has been born.’’’ Listen, you asked the question about me and Voodoo: Do I incorporate magic in my work? whispers Yes I do, yes I do, yes I do! J: I think it’s obvious, I think everybody sees it. As soon as you said it. M: It’s not tiny magic, it’s big magic. I want to see how many people it’s gonna repel. Because I watched it pull people in, and I’ll watch it make people run backwards. Not want to even be near it. I do it for a purpose because I want to see what it’s gonna do. How many third eyes it’s gonna open. How many demons is it gonna cast away. Joyce, have you ever said in your life that you would change anything you had done?

more money, I would like to be a little thinner, my lips to be a little thicker. But change the meat of myself? Nah. I’ve had an incredibly blessed life. But remember, I was raised as an only kid whose parents loved her.


a tender thing

J: I’d modify. There would be times where I would like a little



M: I wish I could’ve met

M: “Come on darling, we’re

J: That’s why I keep saying

you when we were both

going to go to New York

we’re cousins.

younger. I would’ve snatched

and jump and dance across

you up, baby.

the rooftops of Manhattan.

M: Yeah, we separated and

That’s what we’re going

could not come together

to do.”

until now that we’re old,

J: Then we would’ve been fightin’ and shit. M: I would’ve snatched you up

but that’s okay. I do wish J: That’s why God did not put

I could’ve met you then, I

us together.

really do. I admire you, my

and said, “come out with me honey, let’s go.”

love, I admire you greatly. M: ‘Cause I think we both come from the same space

J: And I’d be like, “I’m coming

in time. We have a little bit

with you, but we have a

of each other caught up in

contract. We have to write

one another.

this contract out right now.”

J: Right back at you.

January 5, 2016


A conversation with FORCE co-founder, Rebecca Nagle, about her experiences at Standing Rock.


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Iris Lee: Many of your collaborative projects,

Why do you think it’s so significant to have

such as the healing tent at Standing

mentorships between elder and younger

Rock, emphasize community and physical



gathering to connect survivors. I would love to know more about the importance of

An [elder] woman who had been very

mentorship, conversation, collaboration, etc.

involved in the camp, and working on

in your projects.

violence against Native women, came to our last healing circle. It was really powerful to

Rebecca Nagle: Well I think [the way] sexual

have her there because she was able to offer

and domestic violence works is that it’s

healing for the women. I think it’s specific

very isolating. I think that as survivors we

to our culture—to Native people—where a lot

heal in community. Building community

of the work that we do is intergenerational.

for survivors (not that everyone’s healing

We look to the wisdom from our elders and

process has the same ingredients) is a really

we also look towards our youth. Communities

important thing that our society limits by

aren’t as segregated by age as mainstream

blaming, shaming, and isolating survivors.

and white society.

Teaching us that it’s something that we shouldn’t be talking about—definitely not

Part of your goal in creating the healing circle

talking about publicly. [The Monument Quilt]

in November during the No DAPL movement

resists that. In the community spaces we

was to raise awareness of the parallels

build, we seek to create space for survivors to

between the abuse of “Grandmother Earth,”

talk about this and tell our own stories.

and women. Would you elaborate on some of

The weekend of events that we did at Oceti

these parallels?

Sakowin Camp included a walk of support for survivors, talking circles for Native women, and a quilt-making workshop. [That was], as Native women, working and talking in our community about our own issues and trauma in a way that is culturally specific. One of the things we did was [include] medicine as a part of the talking circle, and also have elders be part of it. [They] help[ed] lead the talking circles, and made it generational.

Statistically, we see violence against Indigenous women happen a lot in the United States with the oil industry. North Dakota produces more oil than any other state already. The majority of the oil extraction is already happening on tribal lands. There are 35 different oil companies in North Dakota extracting resources on tribal lands, and because of a racist framework our tribes aren’t allowed to prosecute non-natives for criminal cases—except for domestic,

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stalking, and dating violence, which was

Indigenous people and also sovereign nations,

won in [the] VAWA (Violence Against Women

attacking the water and attacking the women

Reauthorization Act) in 2013. It’s a very

is an attack on the whole community. Our

partial fix to the full range of problems and

community can’t survive without those

violence that is happening in Indian countries

lifegivers. As we were marching [in support

from non-native people. Rape, murder, sexual

for survivors], we were chanting “water

assault, even child abuse isn’t covered by

is sacred, women are sacred.” From an

VAWA 2013. What happens is that non-native

Indigenous perspective, the water [is] in our

people come onto tribal land and commit

wombs and all the life that comes through

those crimes with impunity and it ends up

that. It’s important to know that every tribe

happening at very high rates.

has different teachings about it so you can simplify things in a way that can be harmful,

Native women—four in five of us in our

as if it’s every tribe’s belief.

lifetime—will be raped or abused. One in three of us, every year. 96% of those

Speaking of this culture of violence, you were

persecutors are non-native. The way the

at Standing Rock creating a healing space

oil industry has made it worse is [by setting

for Native women. The police and privately

up] these “man camps” where men [who

owned security forces were issuing violent

work] in the oil fields live—oftentimes near

attacks during this time. What was the

tribal communities. They become places

experience of creating a space for healing in

where there is a lot of sex trafficking and

an environment that was physically unsafe?

sexual assault. Tribal advocates from North I think that there was a lot of trauma at

doubling and a tripling in calls for service.

the camp. People had experienced physical

We are already seeing an increase in violence

violence, and also just being at the camp—the

against women. The history of the resistance

constant surveillance—planes, and helicopters

against the DAPL really started with the

flying overhead. The camp is located in a

Keystone [Pipeline]. The DAPL is really just

small valley by the Cannonball River, and

the Keystone Pipeline with a different name.

[on] the hills north of the camp the police

When advocates were fighting the Keystone

had set up flood lights. At night there would

Pipeline, one of the big reasons that tribal

be huge police spotlights that would point

communities got involved, like the Cheyenne

light at the camp. Most of the days that I was

River Sioux Tribe, [was] because there were

there, the police were also on the hills. There

going to be man camps right on the edge of

[were] armored tanks between the camp [and]

their reservation. That connection has been

where construction was. The police presence

part of the reason all along. The significance

is constant. You can’t go north of the camp

for us—as Native people—is that violence

from the main road without getting arrested

against Native women has been used as a tool

because the police barricaded 1806 [highway].

since colonization started when Columbus

There were water cannons that were below

landed and it’s still being used today.

freezing temperature. Police used rubber bullets [and] people dealt with that violence.

Spiritually, in many cultures, my culture in

People are still dealing with the realities

Cherokee, and also in the teachings of the

of a bunch of trumped-up charges. People

Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota, whose land we

[were] charged with inciting a riot, so folks

were on at the Cherokee Sakowin Camp, is

who were really just exercising their first

that women take care of the water. Water

amendment right, have charges now that

is a lifegiver; women are also lifegivers.

they’re having to fight.

If you think about the colonial attack on

Right: Photo taken by Rebecca Nagle.


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Dakota, since the oil boom, have reported a




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W O M E N A R E S A C R E D 65

Previous: Photo taken from the public domain.

One of the elders who came

How has art played a role in

one night had been in the

your own survivorship and

treaty camp when it was

healing? In what ways are

raided and had been held


and not been given access

archiving a means of

to the medication that


she needed. In our Native I started making work about

of intergenerational trauma

my experiences of being a

because this violence has

survivor of childhood sexual

been going on for hundreds

abuse in my 20s. It first

of years. We’re still recovering

kind of formed partially

from our histor[ies]: what

out of [the fact that Hannah

has happened to our tribes,

Brancato] and I were both

families, parents, and

making artwork and the

grandparents. At the same

audience was somewhat

time, the [current] level

limited. We wanted to have

of violence is really high.

a more public dialogue

The historical trauma,

around these issues. That’s

which is really important

where FORCE started from.

for communities [to

It was this idea that these

acknowledge], while the

conversations were really

present-day violence [that]

important for lots of people

is still really high, makes

to be having and shouldn’t

healing really important but

be happening behind closed

also really challenging.

doors, or just with survivors. I can’t change what happened to me as a kid, and in some ways that can be a very disempowering place to land: to have that choice taken away from you. Through art and through activism I have found something that is bigger



than the wrong I have lived through. To be able to be creative and generative out of that and make meaning out of something senseless and tragic has helped me feel a sense of power as a survivor.

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communities, there is a lot



Tenderness is the best Tenderness I confess Tenderness is the best Tenderness nothin’ less Love me with a tender touch Kindness I need very much It is so hard for me to trust But deep inside I know I must Be sweet, make me unafraid Please be gentle Love me, try to be understanding Tenderness is all that I’m asking Don’t feel like I’m making conditions I want to to overcome my inhibitions Love me Kindness Love me Hug me Tenderness nothin’ less Tenderness is the best Tenderness I confess Try to be understanding Try to be understanding

Tenderness, Diana Ross

Thank you to:

and especially, Deana Haggag, Erica Goebel, Ginevra Shay, Lee Heinemann, & Lu Zhang. 68

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André D. Singleton, Audre Lorde, Balti Gurls, Butch, Diana Ross, Elissa Blount Moorhead, Elon, Fredo, Jordannah Elizabeth, Joyce J. Scott, Justin Fulton, Karen Vogel, Kristian Bjørnard, Lexie Mountain, McKenzie Stewart, Morgan Monceaux, Najee HaynesFollins, Natalia Arias, Person Abide, Qué Pequeño, Rebecca Nagle, Robin Lynne Marquis, Trae Harris, Vicki Noble,


Director's Letter

Scroll 4: A Tender Thing emerges at a time

when a nuanced reflection on the power of tenderness as resistance could not be more important. While this publication is certainly an introduction to a range of artists and practices that directly address defiance and


self-love, it is also a document structured by its creators care for each other. Beginning the project with an examination of their astrological charts to maximize collaborative synergy, Iris, Jenna, and Shan’s practice of care permeates this project and their interactions with others. Their solidarity was infectious—earning them an intimacy with their subjects and establishing the three as a cultural force in town, collaborating on

Grace Notes considers the power of

grace—which she defines as the offering up of “humanity” in the face of violence and “despair”—as a means of survival and defiance.

A Tender Thing carries this work forward,

examining the ways in which artists’ work serve their communities and themselves. It asks many questions that cut to the core of our work at The Contemporary: What’s art’s role in resistance? How do artists impact their surroundings? How does art save lives? The people and practices within these pages are proof that art is power. It’s the power to gather community, rewrite representation, and carve space for joy and liberation. To

exhibitions and events outside of this effort.

Trae, André, Justin, Najee, Robin, the evicted

This publication comes at a time when the

Mr. Morgan, and Rebecca—thank you for the

discourse around violence, trauma, justice, and resistance is dramatically heightened. Initiated in September 2016, it was impossible to predict how the urgency of this project would morph throughout its duration. I commend Iris, Jenna, and Shan for remaining both persistent and flexible as the emotions and stakes surrounding these issues have

residents of the Bell Foundry, Ms. Joyce, generosity you’ve shown this project, and the generosity of your practices. Like everything The Contemporary does,

Scroll is made possible through the efforts of

our entire staff and board. I want to extend my immense gratitude to our team: Deana Haggag, Erica Goebel, Ginevra Shay, and Lu

been in flux.

Zhang for the care and attention they’ve

Working against what Scroll calls a “climate of

world-class board for continuing to prioritize

stepping up to consider the ways in which art

interns, but to give them the space to make

normalized violence,” artists are increasingly

extended to this project. Thank you to our this program—allowing us not only to pay our

can be both resistance and care. This year

whatever they want. And finally, thank you to

Room and Canaries: Refuge In the Means

and your tenderness with us this year. We

alone, projects like Simone Leigh’s The Waiting

Iris, Jenna, and Shan for sharing your vision

have opened space within art institutions for

can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.

wellness services and conversation about care. Carrie Mae Weems’ new performance

Lee Heinemann Education Director March 13, 2017

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