Supporting professional and emerging artists of African descent
As a poet who often writes about mental health, I get upset whenever I hear the phrase, “It’s all in your head” or the phrase, “Get out of your head.” I have been told to repress what has been in my head so much in this short life that I have the need to defend it with vigilance. However, by protecting only what is in my mind, I have spent little time with my body. I have spent little time with my obsessive compulsive disorder-ridden mind’s relationship to my Black multiracial queer nonbinary body.
My appreciation for poets who encourage us to engage with our bodies has increased multifold in recent years. Arisa White is a poet who encourages us to engage with our bodies wholeheartedly, and it was wonderful witnessing her engagement with us as Indigo Arts Alliance’s 2022 summer Artist-In-Residence.
I had the opportunity to engage in community with Arisa at the Words of Fire Retreat in September 2021, a retreat organized for Maine-based and other New England-based writers of color who are also of marginalized genders. There were three lead workshop facilitators that year.
Valeria Bembry facilitated a workshop on how art criticism talked about marginalized bodies in art, and created a space for us to ask questions about the lens each critic portrayed.
Signature MiMi, who was Arisa’s mentee during her fellowship time, facilitated a writing workshop which involved painting with our feet in order to encourage us to write with our bodies before our minds; most writing settings have taught us to write the other way around. Arisa said, “I loved MiMi’s willingness to go with the flow. To be moved by spirit and feeling and [to let] that be the direction for the day. Our mentorship helped me to relax into my own flow; to find my flow again. And in finding it, I reunited with an aspect of my aliveness, with my own unique way of being, and all without that need to correct, control, and temper.
I relaxed into being—into being with the feeling, sensation, desire, and the possibility unannounced. And in doing so, I became more present in the moment. I wanted to occupy the moment more fully with a fuller sense of who I am and what I can bring and share.
Arisa facilitated a workshop on hair braiding and writing, where many of us talked about who taught us how to braid, what visuals of braiding we wanted our poems to reflect, and how hair braiding embodies touch and feelings.
Arisa’s workshop made space for us to feel the senses and talk about the discomforts that rose within our bodies when talking about the expectations around our hair. As with all of the workshops she facilitates, she also led us in the direction of picking a title for each of our pieces of writing – a practice I greatly admire. It’s an honor to know she got to utilize similar somatic practices in her workshop “A Practice of Residing in Your Own Humus Soil” in July 2022.
Arisa described participants’ feedback from the workshop as “thankful for the unconventional ways I help them generate material. Something as simple as using the letters of your names—rearranged and reimagined—to answer their own questions or find images to spark the writing of longer pieces. Ultimately, what I try to get at in my workshops is that you have your own answers—if you can be a better witness to yourself, your process, your experiences, there is always a route to inspiration. And that inspiration is you!” Her residence encouraged nourishment and reflection of the full self; not just the self from our minds.
In Dark Matter: Celestial Objects as Messengers of Love in these Troubled Times (2019), made by Wilson, she offers a fully immersive space that is dark and blue. The space is constructed in such a way, to make the viewer feel like they are traversing into another world. The shotgun house, central to her previous work Eliza, is also on display through abstracted form, suspended in the space at Gallery 1 & Jackman Goldwasser Catwalk Gallery in Chicago. Smooth, slick orbs hang from the ceiling and rest on the floor. There is a soundscape that accompanies the enveloping space to engender and prioritize a somatic reckoning for the exhibition’s visitors. Throughout its duration, visual artist and poet Krista Franklin and jazz composer Ben LeMar Gay were invited to respond to the show through their craft performances.
In retrospect, the work recalls the literary endeavor by the American novelist Toni Morrison, entitled Love. The narrative centers around the character Bill Cosey and the rhizomatic romantic entanglements he has with the women in his life. More significantly though, there is an elusive character in the book, named Celestial, who ultimately serves as an almost amorphous figure, and an unexpecting binding agent in repairing a relationship between two women in Cosey’s life who had long been estranged. More significant is the way communication is shared between these women. Through the form of the vernacular piglatin, they honor their lives together as friends before the rupture. It is through this opaque and secret form of communication that love is enabled again and made possible between the two women.
While occupying distinct polarities in narrative, Dark Matter and Love both explore the unending opportunities that might be explored through the epistolary, of intimate correspondence, out of a desire to work through troubled times. In Wilson’s work, the fictitious characters have made contact with otherworldly beings. These beings offer up data and pathways for transcending beyond the current state of things.
Wilson made this work prior to the epoch of the year 2020. In many ways, this work becomes an intuitive and prophetic call to wonder about recovery. I would argue that we have nothing left to do but dream about the uncanny encounter, potentially with celestial beings. Nothing but wonder and longing plagues us after so much grief and suffering. In this way, Wilsons work is a prompt to submit to such impulses, out of fulfilling a desire of complete freedom.
Arisa White is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Colby College. She is the author of Who’s Your Daddy, co-editor of Home Is Where You Queer Your Heart, and co-author of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, the second book in the Fighting for Justice Series for young readers. Her poetry is widely published and her collections have been nominated for an NAACP Image Award, Lambda Literary Award, and has won the Per Diem Poetry Prize, Maine Literary Award, Nautilus Book Award, and an Independent Publisher Book Award. As the creator of the Beautiful Things Project, Arisa curates poetic collaborations that are rooted in Black queer women’s ways of knowing. She is a Cave Canem fellow and serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press, as well as the Community Advisory Board for Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Arisa is currently working on an Afro-speculative opera, set between the material and spiritual worlds, where three females’ lives intersect because of a murder-suicide. Post Pardon: The Opera, in development with composer Jessica Jones, is a transgenerational apology.
Taylor Renee Aldridge is a writer and independent curator who has dedicated much of her early career to documenting (in)equities that exist within systems throughout the “art world”. In 2015 she co-founded ARTS.BLACK (“arts dot black”), a journal of art criticism from Black perspectives.
Taylor is continuing to examine dynamics of power and ethics that exist, or run scarce within creative sectors in and outside of her hometown, Detroit, Michigan. Concurrently she is pivoting towards queries that concern performance, Blackness, satisfaction, spectatorship, and the queering of the sacred.
Taylor has held a curatorial position at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and has worked with the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, and The National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institutions). She is the 2016 recipient of The Andy Warhol Foundation Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant for Short Form Writing. Taylor has written for Art21, ARTNews, ContemporaryAnd, Detroit MetroTimes, SFMoMA’s Open Space and Hyperallergic. She received her M.L.A from Harvard University with a concentration in Museum Studies and B.A from Howard University with a concentration in Art History. She is currently in her Saturn Return.