Moko Jumbie for the codes in his fabric are one of protection, life lessons, cautionary tales and superstitions prevalent in the American South. It’s the 5th mask I made in the Antebellum Tribal Afrikanface Collection. I feel like my art instinctively connects to my past and to my loved ones. Moko Jumbies are stilt walkers. Moko means healer from central Afrika and Jumbie means ghost/spirit from the West Indies that may have come from the Kongo language word zumbi. Moko is also said to be a Yoruba Orisha God of retribution. Moko Jumbies are also thought to have come from West Afrikan tradition brought to the south by those in the Caribbean.
This mask is likely my favorite because it resonates with the energy and spirit of my ancestor and brother David Berry. I feel the same energy of protection, sacredness and timelessness. A presence strong, bold and statuesque just like my brother was in this life and most certainly is an ancestor in ethers. Check out my process in the images below. Now on view @pavaagallery.
Sometimes when we create a work of art messages and meaning don’t always show up in the beginning. I didn’t know the story in her fabric would be connected to Ogun until earlier this week after reading a summary from “Surfaces: Color, Substances, and Ritual Applications on African Sculpture”. I was in awe that I somehow channeled all of the colors associated with Ogun. Literally, even down to the deep black of her face. It was a pleasant surprise to read line after line, tapping in deeper and deeper, but then again this work is spiritual so it makes so much sense. Ogun has been an impactful energy in my life from his inspiration from the Shadowkeepers & Roothealers exhibit at Amtrak. According to Yoruba creation mythology, Ogun led the orishas to Earth and helped them survive and adjust. He cuts paths through all thickets and obstacles with his machete. Ogun is a culture hero: he taught people ironworking like that of railroads etc., as well as magical and spiritual rituals, hunting and warfare. Now on view @pavaagallery.
I call her AfroDalit, for the story in her fabric was sourced from India. The 4th mask I made in the Antebellum Tribal Afrikanface Collection. I created this piece, one to show that Afrikans live all over the world and two to correlate shared experiences of the oppressive caste systems of Afrikans born in the American South to those born in India like (the Siddi” descendants of the Bantu people and the “Afro Dalit” better known as the “untouchables” of India who are darker skinned Indonesians).
Did you know that Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife once visited the land of Mohandas Gandhi in 1959? After being introduced by another distinguished person as a fellow “untouchable”, he was at first offended. However, story has it that he began to think about the 20,000 Black people he was fighting for in the US, people consigned to the lowest rank for centuries, smothered by poverty, quarantined in isolated ghettoes, and exiled in their own country. He then said, “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.” In that moment, he realised that the land of the free had imposed a caste system not unlike the caste system of India, and that he had lived under that system all of his life. And the irony is that still happening today. Now on view @pavaagallery!
Meet Ojise the Griots Griot, the 3rd mask I made in the Antebellum Tribal Afrikanface Mask Collection, whose name means messenger in Yoruba. The stories in his fabric is one of mystery and magical and holds secrets and tons of messages to be unearthed from past, present and future antebellum Afrikan descendants. Check out photos below of my process. Now on view @pavaagallery.
I call him Mr. Jute, the 2nd mask I made in the Antebellum South Afrikanface Mask Collection for the codes in his fabric are durable, tough and textured. His eyes are spiritual and possess life times, stoic, peaceful, calm. The epitome of resilience, stillness. It’s the second mask I made in the Antebellum Tribal Afrikanface Collection. Check out my process in the images below. Now on view @pavaagallery.
These masked wallhangings are part of my ongoing collection, Antebellum Tribal Afrikanace Masks with a focus on the interrelationship of natural textile fabrics and Black Afrikans born in the Antebellum South and how that all ties into the vastness of the Afrikan diaspora throughout the world. Antebellum Tribal Afrikanface Masks tell so many stories of an Afrikan past, present and future generations in the American South whose cultural fabric and framework carried over literally from the continent and have held together the world around us because our stories are alive in our blood, our features, our ceremonies, our dialects, rituals, spiritual practices, traditions, our love.
Before I share about how the project came about, I can’t begin without thanking my little Big brother and ancestor David Berry who blessed me the idea through dream visitation. Identity, belonging, and heritage have long been recurrent themes for me especially when it comes to my art and spiritual practice. I didn’t always feel Afrikan or at least that I had the “right” to claim and Afrikan existence since I wasn’t born there. But I always knew that I was deeply connected to the continent. Thankfully my undergraduate experience and the teachings of Kwame Ture gave me the unshakable knowing of who I am. That I don’t have to accept a hyphenated version of myself. I am West Afrikan born in America. I don’t need to ask permission from anyone because my parents Afrikan DNA gives me that. I believe that all of my art is a direct reflection of my cultural lineage from the cosmos to the continent.
My brother David and I were sitting at a large, round, wooden table, in a sunny room with all the windows and doors open, the breeze was gentle like feather, house music vibrated the window panes, the walls, sipping libations as he showed me how to stay open to the faces revealing themselves through the fabric, that literally formed before my very eyes. We went on to talk heavy like we always do when he visits my dreams. We debate about what traditional Afrikan anything means or doesn’t mean these days and how devastating colonialism was in eradicating Black people, places and things. We talked about blood memory. We shared stories about how our families blood memory informs the deepest parts of us, no matter how far we feel removed from it. Blood memory is long established, connecting us to our art, languages, songs, spirituality, teachings etc., therefore can reveal itself through any generation. Ase-O little Big bro!
Each mask possess their own energy. I received more spiritual downloads and visits than I’d like to admit. But with guidance from the ancestral realm I was able to conjure each one up through and bring them into this life. Some of the faces feel familiar like we’ve met before. You’ll notice a variety fabric, colors, beads, shells etc., on each one. I was intentional about the fabric and other objects I used. For instance, I used burlap, cotton, and sheep’s wool because they were all considered “negro cloth” or “poor peoples fabric” in history. I call the full lip and centering of Afrikan feature in my work, Mookies Mouth. I wanted to glorify Afrikan rich features, so I named the process after one of my brothers to heal painful adolescent memories of racism toward him and I during our time in foster care.
Tradition in the Making
I want to be clear that my reference to the masks being traditional comes from my birth right. A framework that under my ancestors literal and spiritual tutelage allows me to create traditional art inherently. An Antebellum Tribal members perspective of masks made from the same fabric we tended that without us wouldn’t have grown the worlds economy and put the USA on the map. This is not to replace, erase or divide what we know as traditional on the continent, but to conquer the idea that identity is fluid and constantly expanding in the Afrikan diaspora. We are a community, vast and wide. To rid ourselves of the idea that Black Afrikan people born outside of the continent are somehow perceived as less valuable in our lived experiences, credible or spiritual, reeks of colonialism. My life’s work is to add to the many layers of an Afrikan existence that all people of Afrikan descent have an inherent right to. Antebellum Tribal Afrikanface Masks tell the stories of many generations whose cultural fabric and framework carried over literally from the continent to many other lands by brute force, still thriving and holding together the world around us. Keep vibrating higher!
To learn more a little more about enslaved Afrikan cloth history see references below:
I was commissioned by Music for Everyone to create original artwork that will be paired inside the sleeve of a record that will feature a speech by Frederick Douglass titled, The Hypocrisy of American Slavery, for their Songs for Justice project.
Thoughts on the speech: I interpret Frederick Douglass’ speech, The Hypocrisy of American Slavery, as a battle roar that ironically mirrors too many experiences faced on a global level by Black communities today. However, the biggest lie taught in our worlds history that must be unlearned is the delusion of white superiority and being afraid of the dark. These times may be many things, but certainly not dark.
About the piece: I named the piece, Ancestor Tones because I want to pay homage to melanin. All shades of Black skin are vibrant, biological reflections of nature and the universe. In fact, the very cosmology of enslaved Afrikan people and their descendants is a form of universal wealth. It’s an unspoken truth and inherent birth right, no matter how one was born into it. Ancestor Tones explores themes of Afro-futurism connecting past, present and future. I think of Frederick Douglass as an Afro-futurist because he paved the way as a community educator and revolutionary for the Black people of his time. Not to mention he was the most photographed human-being of the era. He embodied what reimagining a Black future looked like by the way he controlled the narrative of his Afro-diasporic experience of the day. And continues to inspire generations in modern times. Take Amanda Gorman for instance, the youngest Black inaugural poet in American history. She credits Frederick Douglass with teaching her how to use technology for social justice. She reminds us of how intentional he was about capturing a counter-image to the Black American stereotypes at the time and how important that message is in her own work. You’ll notice hints of red and gold, a symbol for Amanda Gorman on Inauguration Day. The glow of her young, gifted and Black spirit, shining so much bigger than her body. Center to deep, Black, shadowy cowrie shells, wool and cotton, symbols of the million and one ancestral spirits surrounding her, journeying with her as she reclaims her humanity.
Liberation is in the movement cause movement affects everything. Played outside today! Berry fruit in the Roots. Through achy body moved to give thanks with my whole body, my whole spirit. Moved to protect my peace. Moved because it is a privilege.
To all our ancestors that came before to liberate their own experiences, the ones that sacrificed to liberate mine. Berry fruit playing outside in the Roots. Through achy body I moved to give thanks with my whole body and spirit to those ancestors I know by name and those I don’t. Thank you. From the depths. Ase—O
🎶 Yu Nd I by M.I.Blue & How Glad Iam by Melanie Charles
Always managed to write my life, but never imagined I could illustrate it too lol! If 2020 taught us anything, it is resilience in it’s most unbridled form. Romanticized the idea of writing several styles of books for the last 20-yrs, but never did. Collaborating as illustrator on Zetta’s newest novella, showed me that I can do it too. I’m no longer willing to put my dreams on hold just because I don’t know how or where to start. This project taught me to start somewhere. Thank you so much for this opportunity @zettaelliott! Trusting it will reach all those that need it’s fruit.