I Will Not Say Nigger

Photos by Amy Olivia Pierce

The black female experience is heavily dominated by the necessity of having to navigate the spaces within and between dominant cultures. Many black and brown females are too familiar with the constant shifts that they make in behavior, language, and appearance. More often than not, these shifts are expected of them, and of nobody else, therefore situating them as ‘other’ within society. Additionally, mixed-race and third-culture kids are also familiar with the very specific experiences that fuel and are fueled by identity and sense of self.

I Will Not Say Nigger is a performance that explores the language and exchanges that take place between dominant and minority cultures/races, but often go unaddressed. These exchanges might take place in relationships, the workplace, or in social encounters. They are subtle, difficult to define, and are often brushed under the rug yet reveal that we are far from the post-racial society that so many insist exists. The character that you in this piece explores the spectrum of these experiences through her mixed-race identity and shares them in through a poetic spoken and physical confessional.

I Will Not Say Nigger, an excerpt

And while I know I’ll never be good enough I sculpt myself and I make myself pale

And I pray that I become translucent enough to disappear. Doing damage beyond repair I burn and I bleach my hair and I hope that when I walk into the room full of white faces

I’m not met with something like

what are you

And I ask myself what’s he see in me

and the dark-skinned lovers trace a finger down my thigh

as the same sun that burned the back of my brothers spills in across our faces and he tells me that im the perfect shade of beauty

but the light-skinned lovers trace a finger down my spine as the same sun spills in across our faces

you’re the color of cocoa

he whispers between my legs and disappears inside me

but something doesn’t feel right

because beside me

is a photo of him

at graduation

in front of his first school of choice

why

cant i

concentrate

 

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Studio update: Concert for Contemplation: In Solidarity with Moazzeni

Anoush Moazzeni  is an Iranian national, a permanent resident of Canada, and an internationally recognized concert pianist and performer, but is more importantly a friend of our community. A few Fridays ago, Anoush was preparing to return home from a 3-week residency at the Banff Centre and the President of the United States made it illegal for her enter the States. A few days later, just blocks from her home, 6 people were murdered during prayers in her neighborhood mosque. The murderer was a student of Laval University, the academic institution Anoush originally came to Canada to attend.

As a gesture of solidarity with Anoush and the tens of thousands of people who are peacefully, elegantly and intensely trying to live lives that positively contribute to the human condition in the face of aggression, some of us from the Maine artist community have decided to put on a Concert for Collaboration: In Solidarity with Anoush Moazzeni.

In addition to myself performers will include Duane Ingalls, id m theft able, Owen F. Smith, Paul Sullivan and Ryan Wilks among many others. The concert will include music of many types and spoken word presentations.

This performance is on Friday, February 24 at 4pm at the IMRC Center at the University of Maine. View Facebook Event. WMEB 91.9 FM will also stream the concert live at http://wmeb-stream.maine.edu:8000/wmeb so you can listen ANYWHERE in the world! 😀

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My podcast debut: My Maine Mane

Heeey!

Taylor Alexis, host of Taylor’d World Podcast, was supposed to be in MAINE last week for a visit. Taylor lives in New York City and is a friend, fellow black beauty, and was a participant in my recent piece Brown Paper Bag Test (more about that really soon). 

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“Brown Paper Bag Test” Photo by The Maine Campus, Orono. Taylor pictured front and center!

Due to the pile of snow that Maine  was just SLAMMED with, Taylor was unable to make to to Maine. However, thanks to the Internet, I was still able to have a chat with Taylor as a guest on the Taylor’d World Podcast. If you haven’t yet, grab a cup of coffee, wine, tea, whatever your fix is, and have a seat and listen. We talk art, hair politics, colorism, and just catch up! The audio on Taylor’s mic is a little funky. 😦  But don’t worry, mine is loud and clear. Just click the play button.

You definitely need to check out Taylor’s Instagram page where she posts regularly about her podcast guests and other happenings. Might as well follow me on Instagram too while you’re at it. 😉

Don’t forget, sharing is caring, commenting is cool, and following is fleek. 😀

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Taylor lookin’ fine so fine!

Ono. Oliveros. Cardew. In memory of Pauline Oliveros

Hi friends, I’m performing tomorrow night and I’d love to have you come out and watch.
 
dmp_yokoonoThis particular performance is really special as it is dedicated to the wonderful Pauline Oliveros. Oliveros recently pass away this past week and it was sad news. I had the opportunity to meet Oliveros last spring while she was visiting the University of Maine as a part of the Intermedia MFA program in which I am enrolled. Oliveros was a philosopher, accordionist, and composer and contributed profoundly to the world of experimental sound, music and performance. She was also the founder of the Deep Listening Institute. Tomorrow’s performance will be very special as we are performing a piece composed by Oliveros and I am also performing a piece composed by Yoko Ono. With no need so say more, as the semester comes to a close this concert has begun to have great meaning for me and my artistic practice. I hope that you will come and share it with me.
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Ono. Oliveros. Cardew. An evening of Experimental Music will take place on Tuesday Nov, 29 at the IMRC Center at the University of Maine under the direction of Professor Gustavo Aguilar and Professor N.B.Aldrich. The program includes works by contemporary composers Yoko Ono, Pauline Oliveros and Cornelius Cardew performed by students of the University of Maine Intermedia MFA program and the University of Maine at Farmington Experimental Performance Group, myself included!!
 
The evening revolves around works that promote the idea of music as an opportunity for individual and social meditation, and for performance as an opportunity to create community. 
(c) 2010 vinciane verguethen
(c) 2010 vinciane verguethen

Studio Update: All Knotted Up

I am very excited. I spent that last several weeks giving my website a facelift. It looks completely different and has a lot of new work. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out!

I just published two new pieces of work, Weave of Support and Felicia with the Good Hair. I write this post to talk more about them in greater detail as they coexist and their conceptual framework is connected. Both pieces are in response to recent discussion on cultural appropriation specifically surrounding hairstyles within black communities.

A recent incident that really got to me was Marc Jacobs’ show at New York Fashion Week. All of his models, most of them white, sported bright faux dreadlocks on the runway. The Internet was in an uproar. Some on the offense, some otherwise. There was even pre-show ANTICIPATION that people were going to be upset. So, then why did it happen? Hmm. Some say privilege, some say ignorance. (Apparently this isn’t Marc’s first run-in with the black hair community.) Others argue he had creative right to do it. I get it, it’s complicated, and I don’t think it’s simple to break down. However, no matter how you frame it, black hair is political and there is still much to be acknowledged about black identity and its relationship to hair. I do believe that creative expression in 2016 should be more liberated than it is. However, Marc’s response is just one example of many that serves as an indication that we are simply not there yet. Check it out:

 ” – funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair…I don’t see color or race – I see people.”

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You’re right Marc, you don’t see it. I think you’re missing the point. Appreciation and inspiration is a beautiful thing. I think we all get that. However, women of color are not criticized when they straighten their hair, wear weaves or wigs, because they are criticized when they don’t. Dreadlocks and Bantu Knots could cost them a job. They are deemed unprofessional, unkempt, dirty, and unattractive. Until young girls don’t have to protest just to wear their natural hairstyles to school, it is appropriation. Until the women that serve our country and fight our wars can wear braids, locks, twists, Afros, curls and baby hairs without worry, it is appropriation. Until those industries that take from the oppressed begin to give credit, royalties, and opportunity, it is appropriation. It is political. It is not okay. No matter how complex it all may seem, black hair is political. That is a very real and simple truth. Credit and advocacy can go along way, Marc.

Ahem…now to the artwork.

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Weave of Support

Weave of Support, is bra woven out of synthetic braiding hair. Synthetic hairstyles are worn in an attempt to assimilate, meet corporate dress codes, and in response to media that do not represent black women and their sexuality in a positive and accurate light. The bra, has long time been recognized as a symbol of oppression, an object of sexualization. Women are expected to wear bras while they also serve the male gaze. I wear this hairy undergarment as a visual parallel between the well-known bra and the mysterious weave and what the weave represents to black women, their identity, sexuality, and social standing.

On May 13, 2016 black pop artist Beyoncé published the single Sorry. It was released it on her full-length visual album Lemonade. The entire album caused a stir among fans and critiques in that it confronts the artist’s alleged cheating partner. Sorry’s lyrics no doubt caused the most buzz. They provide a clue to the identity of the supposed mistress, directly referred to as Becky. Becky, a traditionally white name has several other slang definitions.  More importantly, Becky is said to have “good hair.” Good hair is hair that is soft, manageable, easy to maintain, sexy and desirable. White, if you will.

Felicia with the Good Hair, is a photograph that is in response to the underlying issues of rejection, sexuality, and female acceptance in black communities. Especially in regards to hair, skin color and relationships.

When Beyoncé calls out Becky in her music video, she is in a similar pose as I am seen here. My hair, in African Bantu Knots, is a style that is believed to have likely been worn by most slaves when they first arrived to America.

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Felicia with the Good Hair

Taking it one step further. The name Felicia, often used with the comical and dismissive phrase “Bye, Felicia”, and was made famous by the film Friday. Felicia then becomes an unwanted and needy woman. In this context, it is read as a black name. It is also my middle name.

The photograph is no doubt sexualized. My aim is to  draw attention to the fact that natural hair is seen as the less attractive, less sexualized, and less desired. It is not good hair. In the same breath, the piece reclaims ownership of the black female body, natural hair, black history and associations of black female identity by making it good and impossible to ignore.

At the end of the day, both pieces are intended to serve as conversation starters. It is not going to do any community any good to lash out aggressively. What we all need is healthy conversation and exchange of experiences, information and ideas, even if it’s uncomfortable. What are your thoughts on all this? I’d love to hear from you. Start a conversation in the comments below and be sure to visit my website.

The Act of Coming Together is the Act of Saying Goodbye

Last time you heard from me I was in Tokyo and getting ready to head to Forest Village in Chiba with an awesome team of men and women to welcome 40 AMAZING high school students, from all over the world to give them an interdisciplinary educational experience. Well, we did the thing. There is no way I can tell you everything that went down, but here are some highlights. 😃  If this isn’t enough, check out a kohai blog post here.
THE NEST was designed by our Artists in Residence Yuta Koga and Laura Hilliard. We built a nest in the trees of Forest Village. It served as our morning meeting place,  housed our flag and where we sang our camp song. The purpose? To remind us daily that THE ACT OF COMING TOGETHER IS ALSO THE ACT OF SAYING GOODBYE.
I KNOW! LET’S DRESS IN DRAG!
What is a SHPILKES? Most summer camp experiences end with a talent show. For the sake of giving the kohai a chance to get their talents out of their system so they could focus one the new and unknown, we held a SHPILKES shortly after their arrival. We had a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, a trickster unicycle show, magic tricks, and song and dance. To join the kohai in the fun, sempai dressed in costumes and drag.
THE SHANTY SHACK
After two of our sempai led conversation and discussion on community, disaster mitigation, and architecture we broke into small groups equipped with a limited amount of basic supplies and instructed kohai to build a shelter that would serve as protection after a natural disaster or emergency. In order to spend the night in their shelters, they had to pass a rigorous Code of Inspection.(My team’s shelter, aka the Shanty Shack, didn’t make the cut). Real world skills here people.  Real world skills.
 CIVIL WAR
 It’s raining. It’s early. Each team is given a colored box that is taped shut and led into the woods where they are left in distant unfamiliar locations. No words are exchanged and teams are left to fend for themselves. In each box is a series of prompts, limited tools and food, instructing teams to build a civilization. Sempai then delivered equipment and prompts to impact the fate of the thriving or struggling civilizations in development. Civil war broke out among one team while peace reigned in another neck of the words. The project served as a great investigation of group dynamics, definitions of society, and communication. It also was another excuse for us to dress up and run around the woods.
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS & HAIKU PORTRAITS
This particular theme was one of my babies in designing the thematic arc of the camp experience. This was a collaborative workshop series. Together we developed a series of workshops that explored social constructs, identity, gender, culture, historical narratives and mass media communications. In my particular workshop, the idea was to challenge the sempai to think about how they consume, create, and present representations of themselves as well as others.
The outcome my social construct workshops was a collaborative sound collage that was exhibited at the FEASTIVAL in my tatami room, called HAIKU PORTRAITS. The audio collage was the outcome of a series of iterative writing activities, and hours of audio recordings. Click here to listen.
LET US FEAST
Everything that we presented the kohai with essentially served as a tool kit for the FEASTIVAL. The FEASTIVAL asked kohai to ask themselves, WHO ARE YOU, what do you REPRESENT, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SAY. Using their concepts to guide them, we encourged them do work in new materials and explore something they’re never done before. To our amazement, every single kohai created a piece of work and made themselves vulnerable to their mentors and peers. Exhibits ranged from theatrical performance, writings about their childhood experiences, letters to family, photography, animation, music, installation, sculpture and so much more. Then we feasted and burned the nest down. Everyone laughed. Everyone cried. Everyone said goodbye and parted ways.

Where I’m spending my time these days

The GAKKO studio is where I rush off to every morning. It’s less than a mile away from my apartment, and I commute by foot. It’s a beautiful place to work. The space is fluid and is well equiped to harbor multiple projects. The biggest challenge right now is the lack of space due to us 40 sempai. However, with so many people on one space, the energy is high and it’s hard to be in a bad mood for long.
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I captured these photos during several different experience-prototyping exercises, so they offer you a feeling of what it’s like to work, play and create in this space as well as several fun and unexpected perspectives.

City parks

 

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One of my favorite parts about Tokyo so far, is how easy it is to find a quiet place to get your daily dose of nature and Vitamin D. There are parks and shrines everywhere and they are quite large. Easily accessible little nooks where you can go and grab some peace of mind, meditate, pray, read, rest, and be alone before you carry on with your day.

 

Evangeline and I decided to take stroll down to Shiba Park to go on a search for some materials to build a still life drawing station for the studio.

Eve

Shiba park is less than a mile away from the studio, in the shadow of Tokyo Tower and is home Zōjō-ji temple.

Zojoji_frontal_steps.jpgPhoto by SElefant, CC BY-SA 3.0

Wishing Tree

Wishing trees hold prayers and wishes that have been scribed onto colorful flags.

 

Waterfall


Yoyogi Park is located at the heart of Tokyo. It’s a little harder to get to, but from quiet paths, to large temples, small shrines, ponds, and sprawling lawns for social gatherings, it’s well worth the journey. Yoyogi Park is also home to Japan’s first powered flight.

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Amra and Yuvul take a brake in Chuo Hiroba, Yoyogi’s Central Plaza.

 

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By Kakidai, own work [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Meiji Shrine is one of Japan’s most popular and visited Shinto shrines. It was built in honor of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912).

 

Yoyogi Wedding

Just after paying my respects, I was fortunate to turn around just in time to witness a traditional Japanese wedding in the courtyard of Meiji Shrine. It was so quiet that it was easy to miss the procession. Those who had their backs turned missed the entire thing. It was very beautiful.

Yoyogi Park 1

Prayers and wishes are written on these wooden plaques known as ema by Shinto believers. They are left near the shrine. This particular collection was large and a variety of languages was represented. Here is a well written post about ema boards.

 

Yoyoshi Sake

This is a large wall of barrels of sake wrapped in straw. These beautiful barrels are annually donated to Yoyogi in honor of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

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Monochrome Tokyo

BWOne thing that most travelers have in common, regardless of travel style, is that one of the best parts of traveling is learning how to navigate a new city, and losing a sense of direction as a way to discover and stay curious. Wandering the streets of a new environment allows you to take in new surroundings for nothing more than what they have to offer and is one of the most liberating feelings in the world.

I especially love getting lost in new places with a camera. Color photos do provide an accurate sense of visual aesthetics, however monochromatic images give me a delicious opportunity to notice textures, shadows and light as well as subtle nuances that are so easily lost with the distraction of color.

I took these photos on my first day off in Tokyo and of all of the bright images that  I captured, these bring back softer moments from the day in a very special and personal way. IMG_5188

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Bathhouse Bonding

What breaks down barriers between colleagues better than stripping down to your birthday suit and taking a bath together? Well, nothing really. This week I had my first experience in an onsen (温泉), or a Japanese bathhouse. An onsen is one of two types of Japanese bathhouses, the other being a sentō (銭湯). Unless it is noted otherwise, you can assume that the water at a sentō is treated tap water. At an onsen, water is sourced from 温泉 (natural hot spring) or volcanic water from deep below the earth resulting in water that is naturally rich with minerals.
After getting lost in the Tokyo metro (‘lost’ may be a dramatic word, my cell battery died and I had to…wait for it…use a paper map), getting locked out of my apartment after wandering around the city ALL day, and blistered feet, this trip was a MUCH NEEDED treat. I’m going to say this once, if you EVER have the opportunity to visit an onsen or sentō, do it.
About 16  of the GAKKO team decided to make a late night visit to the Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari (OOM). It amazes me that community bathing, as ancient a tradition it is, is still regularly practiced across one of the most technically advanced and developed countries in the world.
An onsen visit is an enriched and enriching experience with a variety of customs and practiced traditions that guests are expected to participate in.
When you enter the onsen you immediately remove your shoes. After checking in, you are provided with a robe called a yukata. OOM allowed us to choose our pattern and color. From here, men and women separate into large locker rooms where they change into their yukata. Instructions indicated that we leave our underwear on. We did not believe that there could possible be yet another changing room specifically for our underwear. Before you enter the bathhouse, you are able to meet your party (all genders) in a meeting or common room. Here, it was called the Hinomi Yagura. There is a bounty of food and drink and entertainment that you can partake of. Everyone is wearing their yakuta, and is barefoot. Little did everyone know, that we were also commando.
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Photo by Indrik myneur

Then, at one’s leisure, you enter the final changing room where you disrobe and remove your undergarments and retrieve two towels. One large towel joins your underwear in your third locker. The smaller will accompany you to the pools. The smaller one is not intended to get into the water, because as bathing suits, they are considered unsanitary and increase the risk of spreading disease. Nor are they to be used to cover your fine body. You’ve got to be ready to let it ALL hang out. The small towels are simply for the convenience of wiping your face dry in the pools. You can rest them on the top of your head, or set them neatly on the side of the pool. On the same topic of sanitation, before you enter the public pools, you’re required to bathe thoroughly with sudsy soap and water before entering. A series of seated showers and mirrors are made available for this. Tattoos are also not allowed and guests will actually be asked to leave. This is due to the Yazuka, (the Japanese mafia) who are typically marked by heavily tattooed bodies.
A large bathhouse will have a variety of pools to choose from, varying in temperature, size, shape, depth, and material. Some may be indoors, outdoors or both. I first decided to sweat it out in the steam room. After which I plunged into a very cold pool. This didn’t last for much more than a second. I squealed,lost my small towel in the pool, jumped out and headed someplace warm. This called for laughs all around.
The rest of the evening was followed by a free-spirited indulgence into each pool. Temperatures ranged from the ice bath described above, to almost too hot to submerge. The exterior ponds were accompanied by large rocks for lounging (like a mermaid). There were even small wooden tubs just large enough for two. Many onsens also offer body massage, foot baths, salt beds and many other traditional Japanese body treatments.
When the night finally came to a close at midnight (YES, this onsen is open all night) I entered the humid summer air with skin that felt smooth and tingly in the breeze. My body felt relaxed, rejuvenated, and alive. I finally climbed into bed at 2:30 and I’ve been dreaming about visiting an onsen again ever since.