Building a Creative Utopia for Black Women

Ming Au for the “I’m Tired” Project
Collage by Cynthia Silveria

Solange’s ‘Cranes in the Sky’ details all the methods she did to try and get rid
of her depression. I too tried many of those methods. I was on the brink,
crying and bartering with some unseen entity for my last gasp of air. I wanted
to give up, I gave up – Black Blossoms a platform I started to highlight the
voices of black women in the creative industries and education, saved me.
Probably how Seat At The Table saved Solange.

I was faced with the fact that my biological being as a woman had been
constructed by society that along with my race I must be emotional and savage,
therefore my depression made others around me view me as the ‘angry black
woman’. Although I was angry, I was more sad, in pain and heartbroken. I
was angry because black women do not have the space to show their pain, as
we are depicted as ‘angry as we are as strong’.

The troupe of the angry black woman has stifled and silenced black women
for decades. This most recently played out in a debate about the erasure of
black women from British civil rights movement in the new T.V show Guerrilla.
An audience member asked the director about the lack of black women in the
show, which is marketed as a historical drama. The next day mainstream
news outlets had framed the black women who had asked a very legitimate
question as angry and bitter.

The angry stereotype is waged against black women to stop them speaking
up in public spaces about politics, sexism, and racism as well as other social
issues. Hence why black woman are also described as strong as they take all
the pain and injustices thrown to them by society and silently carry on.
The last Black Blossoms conference was in 2016 and was based on self-care
and mental wellbeing. My life problems at this time had intensified alongside
my job as an elected student activist, constantly fighting the status quo all of
this had a detrimental impact on my body and mental health, I was getting
more depressed and anxious, struggling to get out of bed, interact positively
with friends and family members I was truly in a sunken place and worst of all
I felt alone. Whilst organising the conference I kept on going back to thoughts
of Angela and Fania Davis “self-care and healing and attention to the body
and the spiritual dimension—all of this is now a part of radical social justice
struggles” I made sure the conference reflected their vision of self-care there
was yoga, a panel on misogynoir plus useful survival workshops and
discussions.

Photo by Lara Cardoso

However, I didn’t find my strength through a workshop. I found healing in just
being in the presence of over 50 black women just being themselves not
having to play up to patriarchy as no men were in attendance nor having to
assimilate or shrink themselves in fear of being judged by their white
counterparts. Black women were, laughing, networking, chilling and that for
me was glorious. I was in black feminist utopia.

I was buzzing for weeks, but if you have faced depressions you will know that
it just doesn’t disappear overnight. It comes back with paralysing effects. I
can’t really articulate all the pain I feel at times nor do I desire to re-live the
trauma, which gets me to that place. As a mother, I knew I could not continue
on this downward trajectory. I started to pay closer attention to my triggers,
which included getting involved in debates on social media and Piers Morgan
– I blocked that fool. Swimming helped clear my mind all I could concentrate
on was my breathing and doing the right strokes in water – every session felt
like a baptism drenched anew with optimism.

I applied to do a Black Blossoms exhibition in UAL showroom after an
inspiring talk from Jon Daniels founder of Afro Supa Heroes about how he
managed to showcase his archive of black superheroes memorabilia at the
V&A. I didn’t actually think my application would be accepted, when I received
a confirmation email, I was screaming with joy. I have achieved many great
things, but curating an exhibition, highlighting the voices of 18 black women
students in UAL, will always be a golden memory.

Then the exhibition came to an end. The artwork would no longer be there to
communicate to the viewers about our lived experiences as black women. –

“I tried to drink it away…I tried to work it away but that just made even sadder.
” (Lyrics from Cranes in the Sky) but I wasn’t as sad as before.

The exhibition was confirmation I had found my calling, which was to build a
creative utopia for black women on the principles of black feminism and
sisterhood as written about by Patricia Hill Collins, the Cohambee River
Collective and as of late Kimberlee Crenshaw. To summarise their teachings
we must continue to tell our stories, through writing, poetry art, performance
and other tools accessible to us. Our movement must be intersectional as
class, gender and race are not separate identity makers but are inextricably
linked to define our lives. Finally, as Angela Davis proclaimed at Women of
the World 2017, we must want to create a transformative society not one
mirroring existing power dynamics in place.

 

In response to a question about their creative practice, Travis Alabanza
answered, “ my primary reason for creating was to heal myself and to be
therapeutic, that really drives me when creating. – That I knew this would be
healing for me and in turn maybe others.” Late 2016, I decided to take the
exhibition on tour, very ambitious of me to think it would be an easy task.
However, the constant hard- work, bidding for funding and negotiating with
galleries is met with many hours of working closely with black creative
women. This is my therapy. I didn’t realise when I started Black Blossoms
that it would be a source of healing. Centring black women in my work has
healed me. In creating this platform I have started to make a community of
people who are motivating, loving and free. A black feminist utopia not limited
to just events and exhibitions.

 

All image credits – Lara Cardso

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