Tag Archives: Art

My Layered Love for Kanye the Artist

Post written: January 5th, 12am.

Sooooo I was supposed to be editing my essay right now but instead i am following Kanye’s epic rant currently occurring on Twitter.  Why is this more important than editing an essay on the community organizing of African Diasporic women in Toronto as part of my application to Graduate School (deadline in two days)?  It’s not.  But I’m caught up.  And Kanye has inspired all of this creative energy that academia cannot currently satisfy.

The magic and twisted sickness of social media that allows you to feel connected to someone you have never ever met and probably never will…is scary…yet…boundary breaking.

It is so crazy that Kanye is ranting like this hours after I started and then deleted a post I was preparing to write about my love for him (instigated by my avid fascination with his VOYR video diaries – a behind-the-scenes look at the Watch the Throne tour).  This is a love for Kanye the Artist, not Kanye the Man.  I cannot speak on Kanye the man, because I have never met him and  maybe never will, which is totally ok. I am not particularly interested in speculating on who he sleeps with, how he feels or why he does what he does, in a gossip-column/reality-tv style which although sometimes entertaining (I am definitely guilty of watching more than a few segments of Wendy Williams’ Hot Topics) often leaves me feeling as though I lost brain cells between the time I started and the time it ended.

But I do retain the rights to my initial intention for posting.  I love Kanye.

I think it is a generally agreed upon fact that he’s a love him/hate him kind of figure in pop culture.  But I know that a lot of people – especially people who try to create simplistic categorization in Hip Hop like “conscious vs. mainstream rap” (which I hate – maybe that’s a rant for another post) – generally assume I would be on the hate him bandwagon due to my affinity/identification with Black feminism, community activism, alternative education, critical analysis, etc.

Nope. Wrong Assumption.  I love him.

The adrenaline is running…I don’t know if I can even get to sleep now…from Wall St. to the London riots to Chicago murders…I sit everyday and ask what can I do to make a difference…” – Kanye

Now don’t get me wrong.  It is a critical love.  It is a turbulent love.  It is a love that comes with pain and sometimes…a little embarrassment.  But it is also an inspiring love.  A love that can sometimes provide me with motivation.

And that to me is what makes Kanye so special.  He invokes sooo many feelings inside of me because he brings such a layered, nuanced, complex and raw way of being that I cannot compare to anyone else in current Hip Hop/popular culture. 

I mourn the departure of College Dropout Kanye and recognize with sadness that he will never and can never return to that person again.  I also screamed and rhymed along with every song until my voice was hoarse for Watch the Throne Kanye two months ago at the Air Canada Centre.

His video for Monster made me cringe and hurt inside, wondering why he would conceptualize female bodies as lifeless props and reflecting on where all of this twisted misogynistic hatred for women inside of him derives from.  However his performance of Power on Saturday Night Live left me speechless; captivated by the beauty, brilliance, passion and simplicity that he created utilizing the female form through ballet.

His infamous interruption of Taylor Swift made me embrrassed inside for him as I saw him stumble and stutter.  His interruption of Mike Myers during Hurricane Katrina made me raise a fist in the air nodding encouragement through his stumbling and stuttering and whispering affirmations of “Yes Kanye…tell them!” at my TV screen.

Kanye’s 2009 short film made with director Spike Jonze “We Were Once a Fairytale” left me feeling so sad and disturbed me for days wondering about his mental health and the risks of creating on the edge as an artist.   His 2011/2012 VOYR video diaries leave me with energy and inspiration that make me forget small things like my need for sleep as I become more comfortable answering my desire to create, create and create…

I’m on a pursuit of awesomeness.  Excellence is the bare minimum.” – Kanye

What is the purpose of an artist if not to invoke feeling? To challenge? To push? To go to the uncomfortable places and expose the beauty and the ugliness and everything in between? So much of Hip Hop and mainstream media in general is boring because it is about superficial commercial nothingness – it sold out to the institutions that continue to demand the dehumanization of the population in order to maintain our acquiescence to the status quo.  As a result FEELINGS – real feelings, real expression of the layered and raw feelings we all have all the time, feelings that push us into action and movement – they are not given space to breathe…they are dismissed as crazy…maybe it is crazy to want to feel in this world.

It’s crazy and its delusional before it comes to fruition. You always gotta see the end goal. Everything else, just fill in the blanks.” – Kanye

So yes.  I love Kanye.  It was at the Watch the Throne concert in November as I watched him run from one end of the stage to another in a black leather kilt that I realized I could no longer deny our love (yes I said our love not because I’m crazy but because I believe he has put love out and I am returning it into universal energy…and maybe because I am crazy).  Jay-Z is  a legend.  His following is cult-like and his swag is out-of-this-world-undeniable as only someone with his story can own and wear.  But Kanye…he just had me going WITH HIM.  He invites everyone to come with him on the epic emotional rollercoaster of raw creativity that is his artistry – for better or for worse.  As Shad K said on Kanye in a recent Watch the Throne Concert review: “He just cares more.”  ❤

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Kujichagulia: Affirmations from The Wire’s Marlo Stanfield and African American Poet June Jordan

Today is the 2nd Day of Kwanzaa and the principle for today is Kujichagulia which means Self-Determination.

I was told by one of my mentors that one of the most important tasks one has to do when creating a business is guard their reputation.  I didn’t make the connection at the time, but I recently realized that I already knew that.  For better or worse, guarding my reputation has actually been of paramount importance to my own personal sense of self.  Growing up as a young Black woman in Malvern and later on the south-side Jane strip, I saw so many examples of the way that reputation could make life easier or harder.

However the most significant learning lesson came in 2005: I was in university and was beginning to develop a politicized sense of self that was excited and eager to make a difference in the world.  I was connecting to and being inspired by numerous artists and activists whose knowledge, passion and eloquence both inspired and intimidated me.  One of those individuals (who shall remain nameless), I foolishly put on a pedestal.  He was one of the first people I met who used their art as a political tool.   He was connected to everything that was progressive and revolutionary in the city and introduced me to numerous spaces.  He also believed in me and told me he thought I could do great things…I was floored.  Little, old, me?  Not recognizing my own value, I foolishly allowed him to define it for me.  However truth always reveals itself over time…I started to see the distinction between leadership and ego, confidence and arrogance.  I saw how his words on the stage did not match his actions in life. I saw his lack of respect for many of the young people he purported to support and I began to recognize his deep-seated aggression toward women.  I made the decision to distance myself from him.  He made the decision to ruin my reputation.

One day, he held court in front of a number of people who were artists and activists in Toronto and proceeded to tell a story he had concocted of my supposed sexual exploits with a number of men in the community.  The individual, did not describe these imagined sexual exploits as a site of empowerment or informed assertion of my sexuality. No.  He called me a groupie.  He called me a ho.  He belittled my work as opportunism.  He expressed his disgust for me.  And not one of the over 30 people who were present in this moment spoke up in my defence.  No one challenged his words.  No one contested the inherent infringement he was making on my right to tell my own story.  Not the self-identified feminists in the group.  Not the so-called homegirls who told me about it later.  No one.

Whew! Even thinking back on it now, it gets me heated.  This was an attack on my reputation.  And of course he targeted my sexuality and vilified it as a space without integrity, depth or beauty because that is the strategy patriarchy has informed the world to take when attacking women. June Jordan illustrates this so beautifully in her piece “Poem About My Rights.”  It remains one of my favourite poems.  Here is an excerpt:

I have been the meaning of rape  
I have been the problem everyone seeks to  
eliminate by forced  
penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/  
but let this be unmistakable this poem  
is not consent I do not consent  
to my mother to my father to the teachers to  
the F.B.I. to South Africa to Bedford-Stuy  
to Park Avenue to American Airlines to the hardon  
idlers on the corners to the sneaky creeps in  
cars  
I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own

I have the right to define myself.  For myself.

I do not consent to the forced imposition of his/your/their external perception.

The legitimate rage I felt at that time has mostly dissipated, but the more important legacy of this experience was what happened subconsciously: I became obsessed with protecting and strengthening my reputation.  From that point on, I began working at making sure that if anyone in this city tried to fabricate stories around my character again, there would be ample evidence to challenge their tales.

The desire to protect my reputation was/is largely subconscious. However, I am beginning to recognize that it informs (in part) the mass emails I send out, the facebook statuses I put up, the reason for this blog, the reason for Twitter – these are all platforms I can ‘control’ to tell my story so that someone else cannot tell it for me.  It is problematic to allow external perception to hold so much weight…but when the right to be self-determined has been taken from you, it becomes a space of crucial importance.  Self-determination is partly personal: at the start of my journey as an artist and activist in this city – before I had done anything and was just on the verge of emerging with so much excitement, hope and idealism – someone purposely tried to define who I was to everyone else and received no contestation on the tale he chose to spin.  Self-determination is also partly historical and communal: this experience is a microcosmic example of what oppressed people consistently experience when they are robbed of the right to name themselves and tell their own stories: until the lion learns to speak, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

All of this to say…that this explains why this is one of my favourite scenes from the greatest television show of all time: The Wire.  It is one of the few moments where I felt connected to the character of Marlo Stanfield (played by Jamie Hector).  It may be odd to connect this ruthless character to a principle of Kwanzaa but Marlo is all about self-determination. “My name is my name!” He states.  He affirms that subconscious desire/need/urgency to not only name oneself but also to protect that name.  He embodies the rage that is felt when that right of self-definition is taken away without consent.  I get it.

I have the right to define myself.  For myself.

I do not consent to the forced imposition of his/your/their external perception.

So I continue…like Marlo and like June Jordan…to guard my reputation.

 

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Excerpts from “nOTES oF a cOLOURED gIRL: 32 sHORT rEASONS wHY i wRITE fOR tHE tHEATRE” by Djanet Sears

I have never formally met Djanet Sears.  I have stared at her from a distance and smiled shyly at her…but I have not yet found the courage to approach and tell her how much her writing and her work have meant to me.  I have not yet had the privilege of seeing her work on stage, but I have read Harlem Duet and Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God.  I have few words to explain what those plays meant to me.  At the end of reading both, I felt changed – something which I always seek but rarely find in artistic experiences.  I also proudly own Volume II of the anthology she edited: Testifyin’: Contemporary African Canadian Drama, a collection which I searched for in vain at local bookstores and online (it was no longer in print) until coming across it one day when looking around a UofT bookstore under a Drama/English course that had it assigned (I have found so many out-of-print gems this way! Yes, yes I am a book nerd that spends hours searching shelves of bookstores looking for gems).  Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day grinning to myself and feeling so excited to have this incredible collection in my possession.  I still haven’t had much luck with Volume I, but I am sure it will come in due time…

These excerpts come from an introduction she did at the start of her published edition of Harlem Duet. Re-reading the play today, I was reminded of the sometimes irrational urge I feel to stifle my desire to write…why? I don’t know.  Reading and writing are the only forms of therapy that I have ever remained committed to….the process of reading and writing affirms my sanity within this (in)sane world.  It casts out the linear boxes that push me to the edge of cliffs and reminds me of circles and connectivity to deeper parts of self and soul.  It grounds me past concrete to earth, root and spirit.  In this introduction Ms. Sears’ reminds me of the urgency to follow this calling…

Excerpts from “nOTES oF a cOLOURED gIRL: 32 sHORT rEASONS wHY i wRITE fOR tHE tHEATRE” by Djanet Sears

7 She (djanet’s niece) must have access to a choir of African voices, chanting a multiplicity of African experiences.  One voice does not a chorus make.  And I will not wait.  8 I harbour deep within me tales that I’ve never seen told. 9  I too must become an organ and add my perspective, my lens, my stories, to the ever growing body of work by and about people of African descent.

12 An old West African proverb states that, as a people, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.  13 Lorraine Hansberrry is my mother – in theatre – and she accompanies me wherever I go.  14  I have been known to drop her a few lines, now and then.  15 Yes, she responds.  16 As a woman of African descent, and a writer for the stage, I stand on her shoulders.  They are a firm and formidable foundation on which to rest my large and awkward feet.

17 Acting is a craft that I have been called to by my nature.  Writing is a craft that I have chosen to nurture.  18 As a young actor, I soon realized that a majority of the roles that I would be offered did not portray me in the way I saw myself, my family, or my friends, in life.  I became consumed by my own complaining.  19 Complaining, imploring, and protesting only served to disperse my energy.

23 I have a dream.  A dream that one day in the city where I live, at any given time of the year, I will be able to find at least one play that is filled with people who look like me, telling stories about me, my family, my friends, my community.  For most people of European descent, this is a privilege they take for granted.

26 My good friend Clarissa Chandler, a business consultant, educator and motivational speaker, shared with me a process for using my nagging mind and raging heart, as a way to get back in touch with my innermost knowing and creative desires.  She identified three steps of transformation that I could use like footprints leading me back home.

27 First: identify the place of complaint (This can sometimes be evident in the complaining we do in hiding, in conversation with friends and/or in the privacy of our own minds.)  Second: Say it out loud.  Create a mantra out of it.  (Give it room in the world).  Third: locate a creative point of expression for this mantra.  28 Paint it, dance it, sculpt it, or write about it.  Why limit yourself?

30 For the many like me, black and female, it is imperative that our writing begin to recreate our histories and our myths, as well as integrate the most painful of experiences…Writing for me is a labour of love, probably not unlike the experience of giving birth.  In a very deep way, I feel that I am in the process of giving birth to myself.  Writing for the stage allows me  a process to dream myself into existence.

31 In a recent clinical study at Duke University researchers found that racist comments can not only lead directly to an overworked heart, but the internal stress caused by racism was found to tear the lining of blood vessels.  I must write to save my own life.

32 There are a great many times when I forget.  I forget why I’m doing this.  Days when the blues move from a deep cerulean to icy cold pale.  So I have the following words by Langston Hughes from “Note on Commercial Theatre,” on my wall, just above my desk, for those times when I most need reminding:

SOMEDAY SOMEBODY’LL

STAND UP AND TALK ABOUT ME,

AND WRITE ABOUT ME –

BLACK AND BEAUTIFUL

AND SING ABOUT ME,

AND PUT ON PLAYS ABOUT ME!

I RECKON IT’LL BE

ME MYSLEF!

YES, IT’LL BE ME.

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What Can Art Do?

Reminders and re-affirmations.

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