Happy 20th issue baby boo! We love to see it! As always, I’m wishing y’all love, light, and an endless amount of your favorite Doritos (I love spicy sweet chili a.k.a. the purple bag).
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Writer’s Log #8
Last weekend, my boyfriend and I checked out the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ “The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse” exhibition.
Curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, the exhibition is described as “aesthetic impulses of early 20th-century Black culture that have proved ubiquitous to the southern region of the United States.”
As I walked through the hallways of the exhibit, I was often stifling tears—for various reasons.
Stifling is an action that I know like the wrinkles in my skin. In my mostly white town, Blackness isn’t acknowledged, let alone celebrated. There are no Black Lives Matter posters. There are no Black community groups. There are barely any Black-owned businesses.
I am always stifling, never playing my favorite music out loud in my backyard, covering up my body to keep peering eyes from staring at it, code-switching to the grocery store cashier.
I’m not used to expressing my Blackness in public. Seeing VMFA’s “The Dirty South” exhibit left me feeling exposed, filled with equal parts of validity and uneasiness.
The exhibit was stunning. It showcased southern Black culture from a lot of different perspectives: religion, landscape, music, etc. As someone who spent the majority of their life in the south, I found myself within a majority of the pieces.
A few times throughout the exhibit, I felt myself on the verge of tears. The most emotional moment was watching a short film by video artist and cinematographer Arthur Jafa entitled “Love Is the Message, The Message is Death”. The description at the exhibit states the film “presents a portrait of Black life in fragments set to a soundtrack of Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam”.
Jafa’s film reminded me that being Black in America is an endless juxtaposition, trying to find joy in often horrifying, traumatic situations. In the Black community, we are all so different, whether through gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc. But, still, the constant deciphering of how to live a joyful life on land that boasts the brutalization of our ancestors, bonds us together.
Watching that film, I met that trauma head-on while accepting the beauty of being able to see an art exhibit curated by a Black woman. My inner child soon smiled with a mouth riddled in baby teeth, finally feeling seen, after years of being dragged to museums in childhood that glorified slave owners.
I couldn’t feel all those emotions fully. I wish I could have. But, I couldn’t, because I was surrounded by white people.
I had a few weird moments while seeing the exhibit. I remember seeing a group of white people discussing the meaning of a particular painting showcasing a Black church. I chuckled, realized my chuckle had grown into laughter, and silenced myself.
During another video in the exhibit, a white woman heard me discussing the piece with my boyfriend and asked me a question about a uniquely Black part of it. I almost immediately explained it.
I felt very odd afterward, like I had symbolically held this middle-aged white woman’s hand through an exhibit about Black culture when no one—absolutely no one—had held my hand through living in this white-ass world.
The exchange only lasted for a few seconds. But, the effect lingered and I couldn’t shake it.
This isn’t the exhibit’s fault. This isn’t even the white woman’s fault. The problems are systemic, built into rules that determine how we move and who gets to breathe deeply.
The exhibit was never advertised to be a safe space for Black people. But, I think I had hope that I’d feel a little less alien than I feel in my everyday life. That’s my bad, having hope.
Although “The Dirty South” left me with a lovely sense of pride for my people, having to experience it within a crowd of mostly white people left me unable to connect with the pieces as deeply as I wanted to.
Still, I’m so thankful and privileged that I was able to see the exhibit and get introduced to artists that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. A few of my favorites featured in “The Dirty South” are Arthur Jafa, Emma Amos, Minnie Evans, RaMell Ross, Fahamu Pecou, Samella Lewis, and William Edmondson.
I’d love it if you checked out their work and shared your favorites with your friends and family. Help me increase the visibility of Black art!
3 Things I Consumed
X episodes of Wife Swap, I wasn’t counting (The whole series is on Hulu and I’m screaming. I watched the series a ton as a child and rewatching it has been like revisiting an old friend.)
Nine Perfect Strangers on Hulu (The series started off a bit boring; but man did things get riled up in the end and now I’m hooked)
Vacation Friends on Hulu (This movie was a lot Blacker than I thought it would be, and I’m here for it. It was pretty funny and a fun watch!)
2 Things I Created
This lowkey hilarious Medium series where I turn my tweets into Rupi Kaur-style poetry
This easy-peasy spaghetti carbonara dish from Spend With Pennies
Cinderella, but, make her the main character
There are a lot of stories within a hotel bar but do they want to be told?
This is my favorite prompt from this generator, intended for kids from 3rd-5th grade: “What if someone gave you a box with pieces of paper that had important things that would happen in the future written on them?”
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