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 ÂŠ 2017 by Contemporary Museum, Inc. contemporary.org 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 Womenâ€™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.
Scroll 4: A TENDER THING
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
A PROCLAMATION OF SELF-LOVE
“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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THE VERY BLACK PROJECT IS BRIDGING THE DIASPORA IN THE DIGITAL AGE
A PROCLAMATION OF SELF-LOVE
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: theveryblackproject.com
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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GENESIS OF THE VERY BLACK PROJECT
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
WE CAN BE EACH OTHERS' SAFE SPACES AND WE DEFINITELY SEE OUR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM AS A SAFE SPACE.
A: I don’t think 2016 is necessarily different than what was
a tender thing
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
A PROCLAMATION OF SELF-LOVE
of color, black
just give it, and
is all colors
it’s actually very
filling. It doesn’t
there is no way
deplete me. I may
that Very Black
have thought to
give love may be
you. If you are a
away of myself that
have a spirit
I could never receive
and you have
I’ve actually realized
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
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
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
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.
A PROCLAMATION OF SELF-LOVE
I THINK THAT IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT [THINGS] TO WALK AWAY WITH: TENDERNESS. CAUSE IT’S ALL A TENDER THING. LIFE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS VERY ARDUOUS, MISERABLE PLACE. IT CAN ACTUALLY BE TENDER, FORGIVING, AND WE CAN TRANSCEND. I’M TRYNA GET ON THAT MOTHERSHIP–– I’M VERY GEORGE CLINTON. ANDRÉ
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Above: Brooklyn, New York. Below: Havana, Cuba. Right: Baltimore, Maryland.
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CATHARSIS AND CRAFT
November 25, 2016
CATHARSIS AND CRAFT
On November 25, 2016, the Scroll team met with
friends Robin Lynne Marquis, and Najee Haynes-
Follins at Robinâ€™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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DETOXING AND CULTIVATING EMPATHY THROUGH ART
CATHARSIS AND CRAFT
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.
CATHARSIS AND CRAFT
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 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. NAJEE
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December 12, 2016
WE NEED THE BELL
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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DIY SPACES AS ARTIST SANCTUARIES
WE NEED THE BELL
“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,
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
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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WE NEED THE BELL
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.
a tender thing
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
WE NEED THE BELL
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,
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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A DIALOGUE BETWEEN JOYCE J. SCOTT AND MORGAN MONCEAUX ON LEGACY, ARTIFICIAL BARRIERS, AND VOODOO
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 donâ€™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.
HOW HE’LL MAKE A PATH FOR OTHERS TO WALK ON. JOYCE
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
THIS LIFE WILL ABSORB, TAKE EVERYTHING FROM YOU. IT’LL GIVE YOU BACK A LOT BUT IT’S GON’ SUCK A WHOLE LOT OUT OF YOU.
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
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
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
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
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
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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WOMEN AND WATER: MAKING SPACES FOR HEALING DURING WAR
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
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,
a tender thing
THROUGH ART THROUGH ACT HAVE FOUND S THAT IS BIGGE THE WRONG I THROUGH. TO TO BE CREATI GENERATIVE O AND MAKE ME OF SOMETHIN AND TRAGIC H HELPED ME FE OF POWER AS 60
T AND CTIVISM, I SOMETHING ER THAN HAVE LIVED O BE ABLE IVE AND OUT OF THAT EANING OUT NG SENSELESS HAS REALLY EEL A SENSE S A SURVIVOR. QUILTING RESISTANCE
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 A T E R I S S A C R E D
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
VIOLENCE AGAINST NATIVE WOMEN HAS BEEN USED AS A TOOL SINCE COLONIZATION STARTED WHEN COLUMBUS LANDED, AND
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.
a tender thing
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
a tender thing
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,
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
Published on Jun 6, 2017
Produced by Iris Lee, Jenna Porter, and Shan Wallace, Scroll 4: A Tender Thing explores what drives artists to create work and community—som...