FOR THE LOVE OF BLACK PINUPS: HONORING THE ORIGINAL HANG HER ON THE WALL GIRL

1383991_367781190022898_986335139_n-3.jpgMy black pinup collectible series is the art I’m most proud. I first discovered that our legacy surpassed the obvious like Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge about 5-years ago. I attended an event at the Art Scape festival in Baltimore Maryland. My best friend and I went to a “fetish” themed, interactive art performance. There was so much going on that it took us nearly all night to get around to everything. Towards the end of the performance there was a scene on pinup queens and burlesque. All of the pinup performers were white. The film they showed starred a white woman. The magazines, calendars, jewelry, tees, and art they sold were plastered with white women. My best friend and I shared a brief glance, a glance filled with unspoken sorrow and disappointment that we didn’t exist there, how black women in history could literally be glossed over in the 21st century without a thought. There was a void that only black women can understand.

IMG_1825.JPGI asked the curator and one of the artists of the show where the black pinup models like Josephine Baker were. I assumed that there was more to the performance. She told me that she had never heard of any black pinup models before and that she really wouldn’t put Josephine Baker in the category of a “real” pinup model. I was hurt-it was written all  over my expression. I couldn’t shake the feeling of how even a seemingly free thinking, college educated, white, female artist from a metropolitan area had no clue about any black pinup models, even just by chance during one of her college courses or something. I vowed to myself and my best friend that I would get to the bottom of all of this. It took me sometime, but I finally did my own research. I was down on myself thinking why I hadn’t thought of it sooner. It took me several weeks to find viable and honest resources about black pinup queens of the time, but I found about 100 images.

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Aside from the images I was shocked to learn that there was no representation of art online or otherwise featuring vintage black pinups. I felt isolated about the whole thing, so I started generating conversations about it with family and friends. And after discussing the topic with several women I realized that I was no longer alone and that other women of color had similar convictions. I was moved by the excitement and curiosity in the conversations I was having, the spark that was lit in all of us. Something that I had tapped into, filled something in us all, stirring something much deeper than a mere moment. There were so many concerns from the women I conversed with for example, feeling tired of being underrepresented in media and history books, being subjected to white pinup models like #marilynmonroe #bettiepage and #bettegrable as if they represented the standard of beauty in all women, and lastly the sadness of seeing young black girls wearing teeshirts and other fashion trends that mimicked white women-how so many young black girls despised their own bodies so much to change their very own images, altering their Afrikan heritage, a rich and ambitious heritage all its own.

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As a trendsetter in my community, lover of vintage errrydamnthang (well maybe not everything), but basically as a creative person I was disappointed that my search revealed nothing. Naythan reflecting vintage black pinup models online. ZERO Y’all! The lack thereof set forth in me a spiritual motion. I decided to be the first, but certainly not the last to create such art the way I envisioned it. I knew that my vision was not going to be like anyone else’s, so I went for it. My goal was to create wearable vintage art for people of color to be proud-to identify with. I thought of how dope it would be start a movement, a revolution, an awakening of something we know so little about. My earlier pinups were “buttons/pins” comprised of personalized sonnets and some adorned with  mixed media materials. I gifted them to the women in my life. I did that to guesstimate how many would actually be brave enough to wear them. I know “brave” is suggestive, but you’d be surprised of how many of us black women feel shame and ridicule about our bodies. I was proud of the folks that willingly engaged my art, a topic that is otherwise taboo and unheard of.

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Over the years, I began to transform my pinup button collection into other forms of wearable art like earrings and necklaces. My creative process with the pinups has been one of #spiritual fortitude. Freeing with an abundance of creative energy. And while I’ve added my own creative twist to the collectibles I wouldn’t be able to do any of it without them. The women’s images themselves-women that posed for a myriad of reasons. Brave birds. I always thank them. I always ask them to find me. I always tell them how I wish to honor them, never overpowering or overshadowing their stories, their beauty because they’re enough. I always ask them for guidance. Our relationship is similar to the way I view my ancestors and the alter I worship them on. I view each pinup as her own alter that will be a blessing to the lovely person that is called to her.

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Sadly, the majority of the magazines and news spreads graced by black women were disproportionate, often hyper-sexualized, and lewd. Unlike #white pinup models of the time, praised for their #beauty, black pinup models were #fetishized for their #sexual prowess and curvaceous attributes. #Blackgirls who weren’t cherished by soldiers overseas, pinned on walls, or lockers, but were hidden under mattresses, beneath floor boards, cloaked in secrecy, fetishized in private, disposed of and belittled in public. Black pinup girls were not idealized versions of what was thought of as #beautiful or attractive. And despite the fact that #josephinebaker #dorothydandrige #lenahorn & #earthakitt were all categorized as #burlesque or #pinups of the time, black pinup models in general weren’t as widely distributed or paid as white women of the same time period.

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I felt a sense of pride, the bravery it took to be a black woman, sexually free, an exhibitionist during a time of racial disparity and civil unrest, a time when hate crimes against black bodies-Afrikan bodies born in America-born in different parts of the world was as natural as breathing air. To the ones exploited, demeaned, and murdered I lift you up! Your stories deserve to be told. And although we weren’t acknoweledged by our names more so by our frames we were never insignificant and we exist for every reason. We deserve to be upheld triumphantly, free to be sexually empowered and beautiful-valued just as the white women were. How the single encounter at an art show some years back ignited so much more inside of me than simply creating art.

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This collection is to honor, not overshadow those black women before me like mama #SartjeBaartman taken from #Afrika to #England and placed in a freak show because of her “disproportionate” body parts. To those that took risks and loved it. To those that loved art and #selfexpression. To the women in these images I thank you for letting me find you. I thank you for giving me cosmic permission to #honor you this way. Through #blackart from my #brown #black hands and beating #heart! To all black women learning of black pinup queen honey bees for the first time know that we were there! We are here now! And we are in the future-#INLIVINGCOLOR!

Art heals,

Thee Amazing Grace

Coal-tar Black is Beautiful

Remembering a night out in Lancaster at ‪#‎JoeCapps‬. I remember raving about how beautiful this woman’s dark-melaninated skin was. I recall the moment she scowled at me insisting she wasn’t ‪#‎Afrikan‬. She rejected everything I had to say about it. Time was still as we stood in the middle of the bar with drinks in hand. I couldn’t believe it. The self hate was so strong, apparently taught to her and she was so old. I almost cried. Shout out to those! And shout out to Perley Cooper for teaching me about such an awesome phrase that he came up with “Cole-tar Black. ‪#‎MelaninMatters‬ #TheeAmazingGrace Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 2.33.44 AM

Telephone

Just reminiscing about the first time Perley visited me in PA. How we talked about my ‪#‎sunflower‬, brother David Berry. He said some beautiful affirmations in honour of his spirit and then played this song in dedication to him. I hadn’t heard this song in so long! I could feel David all around us that moment as if to solidify Perley and I connecting. Brotha always lets me know how he feels even beyond the sky. How beautiful the gesture and what a beautiful song! Thank you P. ‪#‎RestinBruceLeeFlicksmydearbrother‬ ❤ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UghiVZtyEUo

Cotton Naga-NUBIAN

I began what seemed like the most tedious task. I picked out the seeds with no EN(GIN)E. It took me a little over 25-minutes to pick 12 seeds from the tiny bit of cotton I gathered. I prayed to my ancestors right then. I begged for their forgiveness. I begged for them to rest in eternal peace. I asked them to dwell inside of me, so that we will always work things out together. I demanded them to feel power from where they are. I conjured the spirit of the Nagas-the Nubians to heal inside us all of the days of our lives.-Thee Amazing Grace

Source: Cotton Naga-NUBIAN

Cotton Naga-NUBIAN

Being #alivewhileblack, female and queer is often a multilayered experience that compromises our mental and physical health moment by moment. It’s as if people of Afrikan descent have an instinctual ability to sense when white people are uncomfortable around us or when they’re being racially insensitive even when they’re not blatant about it. In fact their negative behavior is often a reflection of the irrational fear they feel about us. And it down right sucks to always be aware of the elephant in the room on some level.

I remember the first time I heard the racial slur “cotton pickin” used in a professional setting by a white person. I was working as a mental health professional in a hospital. My new clinical director at the time summoned me to her office to discuss my annual employee evaluation. Keep in mind that she perpetuated racist stereotypes toward me since meeting her. She would wait until no other staff member was around and began speaking “urban” colloquialisms for instance “yo” or “what up homegirl”. She used swear words in my vicinity in excess as if (looking for my approval) on some #DrivingMrsDaisy shit and how she categorized me in racially biased stereotypes projected onto black people like “you know how it is growing up in the hood” or “y’all blacks got they rhythm”. The instant I entered her office she told me to “wait a cotton pickin’ minute” while she went to the bathroom. I was like no this bitch didn’t just say that to me. I regressed to less than favorable memories of my first human examples cautioning me about white people. How my gram, aunts and uncles told me to never say much in their presence and if we did speak,  to do so “white” like them. I learned to speak in my best speaking voice to avoid any dialogue that would make me a target-to not give them a reason to cast me out and to never give a white person a reason to disrespect me. And while I know now that wearing suits or Sundays best will never prevent racism from targeting me I was sorely mistaken back then.

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I felt emotionally raped by my supervisor because I never gave her an invitation or any permission to access me. I would remain mute on purpose anytime she came around and never shared anything about me with her. After she came back I told her that I was offended by something she said-in fact that I had an entire list of things that offended me about my encounters with her. She was visibly shaken and in a tone less than condescending she said really…what could that be? I asked if she was familiar with the historical etymology of the term “cotton pickin”, she told me no. I gave her a brief lesson on diction about how #cottonpickin was a derogatory term used to slander people of Afrikan descent that picked cotton in America. How cotton fueled the racist genocide of black bodies in America. Cotton that generated much of this countries wealth. Cotton that systematically benefits european Americans to this day. She chuckled and said shit! Then told me how she didn’t mean anything by it. I gave her a copy of the list of complaints about our encounters. After making a series of excuses justifying her behavior toward me she gave me a half ass apology. The moral of the story is that American lexicon is filled with many slang terms, slang terms that are often rooted in racism. And that some colloquialisms are best avoided by anyone with a modicum of racial sensitivity.

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The Healing Feel of Cotton: I was raised hearing stories about how my Afrikan ancestors picked cotton during the days of American slavery. How bone breaking. How humiliating. How exhausting. How unforgiving it was to them. How they worked from sunup to sundown with guns trained on them. My partner and I were driving along a back road in Alabama and came upon fields that looked heavily sprinkled with snow, but there being no way in hell it was snow since it was 69 degrees outside. I witnessed for the first time in person a field of white cotton. We pulled over on the side of the road. I got out of the car and walked across the field. The best way I can describe the feeling is to imagine all of the blackness between the stars embodying my my body. #Melaninmatter aligned ALL of my chakras that instant. I wept. I kneeled. I was humbled to my knees. I couldn’t conceive of what I was experiencing. I kneeled, taking in what felt like endless breaths, endless landscape-like a deep abyss of land surrounding me. My spirit hovered over my body like Sankfoa. I could hear and see all types of painful things. Pain. I couldn’t feel the triumph-there was no triumph. My sneakers sank into the damp, red clay-mud beneath me. I could feel an increase in pain in my back and legs. My head hurt as I kneeled underneath overcast skies.

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It was surreal! Then I remembered GirlrillaVintage and how our legacy didn’t start with cotton picking. How powerful we were. How beautiful our hands. How we were hunters and gatherers of our own land. How spiritual our steez. How we set trends that made the world follow. How loving our families and traditions. How we worshipped deity’s and ancestors. How we are still suffering from the voyage. How damming the residual effects are today. How we never fully recovered. The fear of white people killing us off. How we never gave ourselves permission to heal. I cried for our black bodies all torn to pieces and for the moments of our lives. And yes, I took some cotton. I took cotton to commemorate my ancestors experience. I took cotton to share with the black children in my life. I took cotton to tell stories of our people to all of the black babies I love.

I got back in the passenger seat of the car and we drove off. I began what seemed like the most tedious task. I picked out the seeds with no EN(GIN)E. It took me a little over 25-minutes to pick 12 seeds from the tiny bit of cotton I gathered. I prayed internally to my ancestors right then. I begged for their forgiveness. I insisted that they rest in eternal peace. I asked them to dwell inside of my soul. I promised to always work with them and to honor them. I sent them gifts of strength and power. I conjured the spirit of the Nagas-the Nubians. I asked them to heal us INSIDE OUT all the days of our lives.

-Thee Amazing Grace