‘The Art of Afrotherapy’: Decolonising Beauty via Black Girl Magic at University

ART, IMAGE ACTIVISM, WORKSHOPS

“You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”― Nina Simone

The Psychology department of Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham U.K. were looking for a creative that they could collaborate with on the topic of black women and their black hair to produce an event. One of the reasons that I was recommended to them because of this…

Contemporary Natural Hair by the Pickyheads:

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Contemporary Natural Hair by the Pickyheads is a facebook group/blog that I initially created in order to counteract the sheer lack of contemporary representation of  black beauty. Another reason why I created the group is that I wanted to re-brainwash myself into loving myself aesthetically eg. my natural afro hair texture and skin tone. Very quickly as I started to unearth more information about history, race theory, black feminism, visual sociology and ethnography and injected this into the group. I started to garner attention from people of African descent throughout the world. Im not saying Im famous by any stretch of the imagination but a friend of mine that lived in Belgium was told about my group by a Black Dutch woman who was gushing about it and my friend soon realised

‘but thats my friend Honey!!!?!!!’

I realised that the group could be used as a tool to

‘Dismantle racism, white supremacy, colourism and misogynoir, using all forms of artistic expression within contemporary culture. All with the emphasis of bigging up skin tones, hair textures, hairstyles of african heritage in order to decolonise beauty’

The Event: The Exhibition

I was asked by psychology department of Trent University and Esther Akanya Educational Developer (Success For All- Social Sciences) Centre for Academic Development & Quality at Nottingham Trent University to come up with an idea for an event that would link psychology to black hair. So I came up with the idea of creating an exhibition and a workshop called ‘The Art of Afrotherapy’: Decolonising beauty through art afro textured discussion.

AFROTHERAPY FLYER

Creating artwork with 0 funds is tricky especially when you’re covering a topic that is arguably a part of the reason why you have 0 funds #irony – but that is another blog post. I have used my years of experiencing the slow poison of the intersectionality between anti-black misogyny, fatphobia and hair texture discrimination and how that effects every facet of life eg. employment, relationships, social media.  I also wanted to enthuse a sense of self care practised through creating art, music and also through facebook blogging, providing a space for a small part of a huge community of beautiful black women and images and links that centre our us, a reconnection with nature and black culture into my art.

I wanted a part of the exhibition to be immersive and so I invited the university to write their thoughts about black women, black women’s hair, the exhibition, and here are some of my favourite comments and images from the exhibition:

  • ‘Our rich and saturated melanin! it indeed pops severely and they be MADD!’
  • ‘Colourism is colonisation’
  • ‘Dont Touch My Hair’
  • ‘Black = beauty’
  • ‘People who complain about my hair in their face while dancing, Bitch you just been blessed :-)’

I started with creating my art and in a short space of time I had created a collection of pieces that were about decolonising beauty plus the colonising minds and express. Started with creating some new pieces of art on a shoestring and collecting older pieces that tied in with the theme of the exhibition.

I wanted my work to feature womanity of african descent, the different skin tones and natural hair textures, I wanted to communicate a sense of vulnerability, endurance and the beauty within that.

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The Event: The Workshop

In the U.K. and throughout the western world we are forced to conform to ideals of beauty and femininity that are racist white supremacist, patriarchal and anti-black.So in turn the afro textured natural hair that naturally grows from black people’s heads is often deemed unkempt, dirty, un-marriable, undateable, unemployable, rebellious, masculine and ugly. As opposed to men, it is still largely socially unacceptable for women not to have hair I’ve often wondered what effect this is having on women of African descent as it is seldom measured, analysed, unpacked and discussed not even nearly enough in the UK, especially outside London. Coupled with the fact that many black women are often culturally socialised to be self sacrificial and are often expected to hold families, churches and communities together often resulting in a degree self neglect but this level of self sacrifice it is not reciprocated. I have often wondered what effect does this have on the psyche and wellbeing of women of african descent in the uk?

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There is a sizable population of women of African Caribbean descent that were born in Nottingham (largely of Jamaican descent and West African descent). Nottingham’s boasts 2 prestigious University’s both Nottingham University and of course Nottingham Trent University, both attract students from all over the globe. I wanted to to provide a space  within Nottingham Trent University that would act as a place for black women and others to vent their views on the topic of black hair, beauty and how it feels to be a black woman in the uk as there is catharsis in airing this topic usually hidden in plain sight.

I created a presentation that aided the discussion, culminating in sharing examples of black girl magic enthused artistic expressions of self care such as recording artists: Solange’s song ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, Jamila Wood’s ‘Holy’, Soul II Souls’s ‘Back to Life’ and powerful imagery of intoxicatingly beautiful natural haired fashionistas from the Afropunk Festival based in Brooklyn NY but now worldwide. Resulting in a brilliantly  nourishing, amusing, intimate and enlightening conversation. The changes that I would make to the workshop are that Id make it much more art based as I feel that there is a toxic amount of subliminal emotion tightly compacted and stored away within the intersectionality between British politeness, patriarchy and misogynoir… still to be unpacked.

How To Turn Poets into Choirs and Words into Songs in Germany

MUSIC, WORKSHOPS

Welcome to Braunschweig, East Germany Honey!

Braunschweig aka Brunswick is a pretty little city in Lower Saxony in East Germany, full of 17th century architecture and 1980s shopping malls, brutalist realness and the ever so colourfully quirky Rizzi House by architect Konrad Kloster in honour of Artist James Rizzi. Back in October 2015 in a time before brexit,  I had flown over to Braunschweig with the Mouthy Poets (Nottingham Based Poetry Collective) led by Deborah Stevenson who is a Poet/ Dancer/ Grime MC/ Teacher. The reason we were there in East Germany was to perform with the Loewenmaul Poets aka ‘Lion Mouth Poets’ at the beautiful Staatstheater Braunschweig as a Singer and a Poet and to partake in workshops whilst meeting other poets from across the pond.

 

Most people were very friendly and welcoming there but many of the local people did stare at the people of colour in our group, as if we were aliens or refugees which was both interesting, mildly amusing but did start to have a negative effect on us after a while. I stayed with a lovely lady called Helene who looked after me well and made me feel at home.

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Staatstheater postcard

Postcard of Staatstheater Braunschweig, Germany

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Vocal Workshop: Choral Skills

Inside the grand walls of the Staatstheater, I was asked to lead a Choral Vocal Workshop, this meant that I had to craft a lesson plan that could work for a mixed ability group.

I used some of the techniques I have used with my choir The Gang of Angels such as…

  • Locating your diaphragm,
  • Breathing techniques,
  • Warm ups
  • Harmonising and being split into Sopranos (High woman singers), Alto’s (Low woman singers) and Tenors (High male singers)
  • Choral songwriting skills

 

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We ended up collaboratively writing quite an ominous, dissonant, yet amusing song called ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE’… which we sang on a round (some people still sing this to me lol).

I think that everyone did really well, they took direction and everyone participated even though some were convinced that singing was something that they shouldn’t do. There is something about filling rooms with harmony that restores something in me… I wasn’t sure if they got that same feeling but everyone appeared to enjoy it.

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Instant Feedback:

Mouty Poets and Loewenmaul Poets later did a writing exercise in one of the many opulent rooms of the Braunschweig Staat and one of the tasks was to write an anonymous note to different people in the group. In the note we had to tell the person what we had learned and or gained from them. We then folded our little notes up, put the persons name on it and gave note to them.

I had always meant to blog about this because it touched me alot, people had lots of kind words to say about me. I had kept the little notes and recently rediscovered them. I dont talk about negative experiences much but and as a woman who encounters alot of fatphobia and misogynoir, it was novel to receive a barrage of positive feedback like this all in one go!?! which made me feel appreciated.

 

Some of my favourite notes were …
‘I learned from your quiet confidence’
‘Wisdom, light and positivity’
‘I’ve learned to sing’
‘Always be yourself, without shame’
‘I love your voice and I loved your workshops, it was one of my favourites’

All in all I enjoyed my time there.

What No one Tells You About The WOW Festival & The Legendary Activist Angela Davis

IMAGE ACTIVISM
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Illustration by @thehoneyeffect

So the Women of The World Festival 2017 was fast approaching, I had previously led a heady, informative, rather risqué discussion there a couple years ago on the topic of ‘Who Owns Your Body’ I digress… and felt that the time was right to go back. I had all but given up on finding a ticket to see the Legendary Activist Angela Davis speak at the WoW Festival 2017 as the tickets sold out faster than a Sprinter of Jamaican descent… late for work.

I tried to hunt a ticket down before I got my day pass for WOW but no luck. I decided to try one last time and put an open call out on Facebook for any spare tickets and luckily an random Facebook friend Chelsea Black came to my rescue and sold me a front row ticket no less! yaassss!

So I went down to London Saturday, 11 March 2017 on a Sn-ap coach (if you have to do last minute discounted public transport I highly recommend them Notingham to London 6 pounds! bargain). Along the way down to Southbank Centre, in Covent Garden I spotted some beautifully floral collaged protest art by an artist called Sophia Tassew called ‘Mandem Need Feminism’…. how apt.

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‘Mandem’ by Sophia Tassew

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Hannah Pool in Conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge

Then I arrived at the heaving box office at Southbank Centre, filled with lots of beautiful women from all over the world of which I should’ve taken a photo of… I guess I was worried about my tickets. Then I went to my first conversation/ discussion of the day, which was titled ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge #titleoftheday who was promoting her book of the same title of which started out as a blog. She spoke about the frustrations, discomfort and social implications of talking about race. She raised topics such as whites fragility, Male fragility, intersectionality and white feminism.

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

Where as I thought this talk was interesting and Journalist/ Writer Hannah Pool asked cool questions, though I could hear metaphorical eggshells being crushed in the room. I think that this particular was designed for white people (of which probably reflects the point of the book). I say this in part because a small part of the conversation was spent reassuring a white woman who said she was a diversity leader that does everything she can to help PoC’s.

who while asking a question, proceeded to burst into tears whilst devolving into a puddle of the finest white guilt… centering herself of which felt like a misogynoiristic attack. Hannah Pool reassured the white woman and said that we appreciate your vulnerability, I disagreed under my breath…. I’ve witnessed so much fragility in life that I could drown in white tears #crymeariver #Imonfire.

Reni told the woman in a very tactful considered manner that her tears were misplaced and it would be better if she transformed her white guilt into action and helped towards dismantling white privilege and redistributing power (I’m paraphrasing but you get it).
Its super hard to have conversations about race in a room full of middle class white women in the uk and not upset one of them so much that you can almost see your career smashing to smithereens on the ground. It was positive that it happened and I cant wait to read the book.

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

Crown of Confidence by Rachael Young

Rachael Young performance artist extraordinaire led the next workshop, it was a fun, a much needed rest bite from serious discourse about white feminism, Black feminism and white supremacist patriarchy. Crown of Confidence is a DIY Hair Salon, an intimate social space for practically re-imagining yourself through the art of hairstyling. We spoke of our childhood, heros, gender norms and I sprayed my hair blue and others sprayed their hair pink and exchanged social media with a couple people too! funtimes

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

Open Toolkit For How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be Lauren Laverne in Conversation with Gemma Cairney

TV and radio personality, journalist and teen ambassador Gemma Cairney talked about her new book, OPEN: A Toolkit for How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be, exploring everything from mental health and families, to first love and technology with broadcaster Lauren Laverne. I found this surprisingly inspiring, I found Gemma’s young, quirky style, fun use of language and summery approach to DIY teen girl empowerment to be unique.

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

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@tammyscribbler @kikibaby79 @thehoneyeffect [Photo Credit: Tamara Gausi]

Then…

Jude Kelly In Conversation with the legendary… Angela Davis

Legendary African-American activist Angela Davis talks to Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly CBE about women, race and class in the post-Trump era. This was phenomenal, the grandiosity of the hall was packed with feminists and headwrapped and natural haired womanists of every shade of brown as far as the eye could see. I was talking to countless beautiful black women of all ages some had come down from as far away as Birmingham, Leeds and even North London despite a train delay a woman confessed lol. We talked about the day thus far and the conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to be held after Angela Davis. We talked about how the tickets for this sold out Conversation with Davis were like gold dust and about other activists we’d like to see and would like to have seen such as bell hooks, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston. The atmosphere was set to ignite, anticipation was killing us all softly, you had to be there.

Queenly figure of Angela Davis crowned with golden afro curls arrived on stage to a much deserved rapturous standing ovation. After a couple minutes she gestured the crowd to be seated as if to playfully say stop being silly and the conversation commenced.
Davis dropped gem after gem and spoke of  Womanism, Islamophobia, the abolition of gender policing, White fragility, Audre Lorde,’Evolution Feminism’, ‘Never mind the glass ceiling that white feminism is trying to break through, what about the floor that keeps falling from beneath women of colour?’
‘I’m not a feminist I’m a Black woman’
Intersectionality and much more.
She asked men to stand up and clap for all the women in the crowd, my phone was on 1% and I decided to bask in the moment and let the applause wash over me (Reminded me of that classic hip hop tune by ‘Black Girl’ by Talib Kweli).
The talk had been insightful and powerful but it felt like the the air was pregnant with something as if something explosive was going to happen…

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

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and then it happened…
She asked if anyone had any questions and I was about to raise my hand but noticed a black woman a seat away desperate to be heard almost standing, raising her hand as high as it would reach… I thought to myself I happened to be sitting a seat away from a Black British Activist Marcia Rigg, Marcia is the sister of Sean Rigg who died in Brixton police station in 2008. Marcia is a mental health activist and runs the Sean Rigg Justice And Change Campaign. Marcia gushed an outpouring of love and respect for Davis by referring to Davis as being her hero and asked a poignant and highly emotional question about black people secretly dying in police custody in the UK and mentioned her loss and activism, plus asked how to cope as a black woman activist. Davis gave her a heartfelt thanks for her question and answered it with grace and tact. Then soon after Marcia Riggs leapt up on stage and gave Angela a big hug! the crowd gave them both a standing ovation, needless to say the whole room got in their feels, not a dry eye in the room.
Needless to say Im thankful I got my last min ticket!
What an exquisitely inspiring day!

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