I remember my brotha @phototheft calling my home a mini art museum because of the introspection, the look, the way it felt. He went on to call me Ogeechie, as if there was something special about my past. Made me nostalgic of my college days, the way people seemed enamored and terrified of my freedom all at the same time lol! Made me feel that perhaps I was in fact born fully realized after all lol! Art that is meant for me always finds its way home. Meet mama Kenya and mama Bessie Smith two of my newest. Both wildly vintage. Both starkly beautiful. Timeless. Women crush. Both thrifty in price. Having been a conscious collector for about 25-years, I collect art for the way it makes me feel and for the stories behind it.
Came to me from an online resource in rural York County PA about a month ago. The person that owned the piece of art spoke of it as an inanimate object that had no meaning or value. Said that it had been in his basement covered in cobwebs & dust for 35-years. He continued to share a story about his girlfriend back then that worked as a missionary in Nairobi Kenya, East Afrika. He described how cool it was when she came back with all these sculptures, the shield and a spear. As you likely can guess the relationship didn’t last and in time the shield aka Mama Kenya was forgotten. I asked him why NOW did he want to get rid of the art piece. He told me that it frankly didn’t go with his current motif, plus he was married with children, LOL!
It’s funny, in a weird way, the way it all happened because he had no way of knowing the cultural significance the “dusty” old shield from Nairobi Kenya meant to me. How, my life’s work is literally to love and liberate my Afrikan cultural identity and those attached to it. How, I had just completed my Afrikan DNA test through africanancestry.com, the day before. How, I was in the process of making Afrikan inspired shields for Imani Edu-Tainers African Dance Company’s 23rd Annual recital coming up in June 2018. When we made the exchange of money and goods I beamed inside and hurried into my car before he could change his mind. I thought, what a gift I was just granted. He thanked me for being the one. I welcomed mama Kenya home!
She appeared to be waiting for me at the corner of Woodland Ave and Chester Ave. My family and I went over to the Uhuru Flea Market in Philadelphia that day, the first one of the year, last month. There she was, a profile, beautiful like the black behind a starry nighttime sky, leaned up against an old dilapidated vendor table. She was the first portrait in a stack of about 10 other portraits and profiles. I fell in love with how she wore Afrika on her skin and in the depths of her eyes.
Interestingly, I remember learning about her in 4th grade at Samuel B. Huey Elementary School in Philadelphia and again while in undergraduate school at Lincoln University in PA, but never took the time to really know her story, her music, her legacy. That night I submerged myself in her brief bio on Wikipedia. I gleamed at the way she lived such a vibrant and full life. I cried at the way her life ended at age 43. How racial discrimination of the time lead to her death. How racist white doctors and ambulance drivers refused her entry into their white hospital near by. How the image of her broken body going into shock from the blood loss. How time wasn’t on her side and they left her there to die in route to the black hospital, hours away.
I was moved by ancestors to smudge. I smudged everything. All of the air, her picture, mama Kenya, mama Bessie’s terryfing final moments. I smudged it all away and asked for their permission to uplift their memories. Their vibrant memories. I believe the acceptance came when the wind blew calm and warm.
I’m always grateful to love my people through all of our stages through life, death and in-between. To hold space for these ancestral artifacts in my home and in my heart is more than art collecting, its my birth right of passage, an honor and a privilege.
In awe of their stories.
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