Tuesday, August 8, 2017

6th Annual Blackstar Film Festival: The Takeaway

The look of my pleasant weekend-- film, conversation, fashion, and art inspiration.

For four splendid days, Blackstar Film Festival was the beloved carnival bringing riveting fireworks excitement to Philadelphia. The rickety bandwagon came from beyond Los Angeles, talented filmmakers traveling from other pockets of the globe, delivering sensational entertainment and delicate prose, leaving behind wild applause and a heightened state of purpose.

As a volunteer, I greeted film buffs, producers, and creators, scanned tickets, sold merchandise, and collected ballots. At the same time, I made connections with artists-- some local and others from other parts of the country. At lightbox, where most films were screened, I viewed our stories alongside them, reacting with them-- laughing, crying, shaking heads, and all. It was wonderful.

On Thursday night at the opening of "Lossless" at Pearlstein Gallery, I met one of my favorite actresses of this world-- Adepero Oduye, a phenomenal actress who was simply exceptional in "Pariah" and "Steel Magnolias." She was also in Ava DuVernay's beautiful short "The Door" and part of Alex Prager's "Touch of Evil" (might be too violent for some viewers, please use discretion) series.
In between utter joy, I lived vicariously through countless experiences (I worked at my job these four days too). I often came around late evening, silently meandering through thick crowds, overwhelmed by sight of headwraps, dashikis, long billowy skirts, locs, box braids, shaved heads, piercings, tattoos, happy grins, and more. I mourned missing Gabourey Sidibe's directed debut, a piece based on my favorite Nina Simone song, “Four Women." Coincidentally, Adepero Oduye showed her short film, "To Be Free," in which she starred as Nina. I had been telling people for a long time that I thought she would be perfect Nina, no comparison. So yes, I’m still absolutely devastated to haven’t been present. I will see them both someday. I am happy, however, to have met Adepero and read her words in Blackstar's first ever film festival catalogue. It contains essays by Louis Massiah (creator of Philly's Scribe Video Center, he writes about Ava) and Desha Dauchan (a filmmaker whose "Covered" stars "Bold and the Beautiful's " Karla Mosley). In an essay entitled "Journey to Be Free," Adepero shares plight and wisdom over becoming an actress and director,
"The one thing I was and have always been clear about was that pursuing an acting career had to be done authentically as I am or not at all. It was the encouragement of others who believed in me when I at times didn't and the love of the craft that drove me, pushed me, and kept me going."
As an artist/writer, this propels me to move forward and not ever step away from the path. 

Catalogued stills from Adepero's "To Be Free." 

Writer/director/producer Ava DuVernay is a contemporary she-ro always making sure we see ourselves-- past and present. "Middle of Nowhere" is my favorite film. "Selma" is brilliant. "13th," which debuted on my birthday, is gritty and honest. "Queen Sugar" is a breathtaking television show. And at home, I still look at my autographed "Selma" poster, amazed to have won this treasure. She wrote, "Onward!" with her name scrawled underneath.

Another heartbreak, I also didn’t see Ava DuVernay’s sold out conversation, one of the huge main events. I sat in wait, near the closed doors, listening to hollers and applause, like enthusiastic thunder. Once the ushering came out, a maddening stampede of blissful, contagious euphoria, the loud echoes of excitement propelled me to steal every clipped detail. Apparently, Ava had passed her big fans, extended East Coast family, the gift of sweet knowledge and tasting this fruit secondhand sustained my sadness just enough.

I did, however, see incredible films ( I'll be reviewing a few on femfilmrogue). I enjoyed A-lan Holt's "Inamorata" and told her on Sunday night (still wow-ing over that). Dennis Dortch (who wasn't in attendance), Numa Perrier, and Tina Cerin's "Hello Cupid" delivered giggles among its candid insightfulness. Guetty Felin's "Ayiti Mon Amour," the first Haitian feature directed by a Haitian woman, took giant leaps and bounds discussing the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake of January 2010. Thus, these brilliant pieces, though fictional stories, were aesthetically pleasing, but then showcased global depth, humanized blackness, and raised awareness.

Shantrelle P. Lewis situated in a lovely curated stage, ready to discuss the ins and outs of her book, "Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style."

Imani Perry moderated the panel discussion between Shantrelle and Darnell Brown (his memoirs come out in March).
On the final day, in correlation with Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia's Gather Series, The Blackstar Film Festival held a celebration of Shantrelle's book while simultaneously bringing festival to a DJ pumped close. Amidst old school jams, which included Erykah Badu, dancing, fashion, and food. It was bewildering to be complimented by fellow stylish company. I felt my shyness butterflies fluttering out of my belly and into the world, flying in a suspenseful abyss. Of course, they're bound to return. They always do.

A clip from Terrance Nance.

Numa Perrier's "The Bowtie."

I especially loved this short.

Green carpet snaps.
The 6th Annual Blackstar Film Festival provided so much fun, so much diaspora to the weekend. Hues of sun kissed radiant golden melanin coming out to support other creative individuals was a thing of poetry, a thing that must bear repeating. I thank those who allowed me to volunteer. Plus, a special thanks to Mr. Eugene, who was an energetic, funny, absolute delight.

My current mood right this moment-- anticipation of the 7th.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Creative Vegan Donut Frenzy At Whole Foods Market

"Just a friendly reminder to keep donut eating to a minimum," often said Vegan Jimina Cricket on my shoulder. It's hard to listen to her during a Whole Foods Market trip. I have been to that store many times. My heart stops, absolutely devastated when the vegan donuts are gone.
Whole Foods Market is surprisingly upping the vegan donut game. With impressive filled and powdered treats filling their bakery display cases, the popular grocery chain is jumping onto the dairy and egg free pastry wagon. Just the other day, they introduced an orange mango creme filled donut topped with dried mango. It was incredibly divine by the way.

This is the pancake donut. It had a light dusting of powdered sugar on top.
While the exterior tasted like a genuine pancake (hint of salt and all), the fluffy cream filling was thick and luscious, maple syrup notes flavoring each bite.
So so good....
Donuts also provide stamina during an intense drawing session. Thus, Whole Foods had created the blueberry pancake donut-- perfect fuel.
The vanilla blueberry cream center was wicked heaven. I'm drooling fondly over the memory....
A few weeks later, four vegan donuts were offered at the same time and they were all available. That is rare. Of course, Vegan Jemina Cricket wasn't pleased.
This apple cinnamon donut was good. I'm not a huge fan of crisp icing. I suppose that happens when holding onto a donut longer than a day. It's impossible to eat more than one within twenty four hours. One can feel the sugar coursing through them. That jolt is enough to survive on. Still, the cinnamon sprinkle was wonderful. For a moment, I could believe that this cinnamon and apples were a healthy treat.
The glossy filling alone is flickered with giant apple chunks.
Cherry lime became my absolute favorite. Cherry fiend spirit soared right through this beauty with lime frosting and plump amount of cherry cherry filling. It was a very fruity, very sweet experience.
I love cherry lime with all my heart and vow to request this flavor everyday. The blueberry pancake donut is also a second favorite. I hope that the bakers continue exploring, that new combinations take up glass display case, and tempt non-vegans as well. A cashier told me that she choses vegan donuts purely because they're not only damn good, the flavors are unique and fun. Another male employee repeated same sentiments. That often makes me smile, knowing that veganism is carving a small dent in the bakery aisle-- a place people truly believe cannot be tasty without eggs and dairy.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Rejections And Reenergizing: Finding Strength In Spite Of

"Definition of Queen" is a work escaping from feelings of rejection. I looked up Google images of Erykah Badu's giant fro while playing her poetic "soul food" music. This little happiness made my pencils and watercolors take flight, taking wings of my broken spirit to replenishing repair. 
Rejection stings. It's like a buzzing plump bee pricking stinger deep into skin and soaring away without caring about inflicted damage.

Times have been turbulent, a year fresh from graduating college, after receiving MFA.

I faced many, many "no" letters. I wasn't a good fit for various art shows, residencies, fellowships, and retreats in both art and writing categories. I admit, tears came. I cried so hard that painful headaches came on. In order to feel better, I slept tons, greedily consumed chocolate, listened to the sappiest songs (The Smiths on repeat), and binged on romantic things, living vicariously through women who were concerned about dates and lipsticks matching outfits.

The final self-portrait in a trilogy series. See the other two here.

Life passes by with roaring speed of light. Former classmates receive entrance into exhibitions across the country and gather honorary rewards along the way. “No” notifications fill my inbox, waiting clickbait piling up like a mountain. Watered eyes can barely finish these missives, instead discarding without fully reading beyond, “Dear Applicant,” “Thank you for applying,” and the dreadful, “We had over this many application.” For a moment, pencil falters, paintbrush stops moving, and fingers at the keyboard suffer impediment, all feelings failure bring under treacherous wings. Questions arise. Instead of considering that jurors have specific aesthetics that my work didn’t meet, my abilities as an artist and writer are put on trial. This vulnerability, this inexplicable sadness often threatens to dismantle my creativity, desiring to stop the making that drives my heart and soul.

"'less classically beautiful than her,' Viola Revealed That We're Not All Halle Berry," graphite and watercolor on wood panel, 16" x 20," 2017

"'preference for dark skin prevailed,' In Lupita's 'Black Girl Magic' Speech," graphite and watercolor on wood panel, 16" x 20," 2017

"keep your stupid mouth shut," graphite and watercolor on wood panel, 8" x 10," 2017

By powerful grace, I found strength to continue creating. I have to.

The faucet cannot turn off. I know that I am meant to be an artist. I cannot resist drawing. I could fight the urgent need for days. In the end, I cave. I cave in to the feel of the pencil between my fingers, the compulsion to render braids and afros on a brown face means the world. Partly, it's working at the museum that quenches my thirst, the sight of paintings that tempt my desire to draw shapes and forms.

I am now drawing from inspirations of daily sight watching. Philadelphia has a mecca of fashionable people walking around. It happens at the most unexpected times. Often, I don't carry a sketchbook around. Yet my memory is sharper than a dagger tip.

While walking down Chestnut Street on a humid afternoon, I saw this adorable couple: she in short bobbed box braids, giant glasses, a bright yellow crop top tank and flared denim skirt and he in a Nirvana band tee and jeans. I didn't want to ask for a photo, instead drawing them from memory and combined Google images.

"Black Nirvana" progression joins two pieces of paper. Sometimes an idea just needs leg room.

On my way to the train station, I ran into the most stylish duo, in head wraps and colorful outfits. The third girl (box braids, Africa continent earring, and seamless tuxedo jacket) is invented.
"It's Lit" with "it's lit" tee. Lady still has no arm and her loss are not finished. There will be a bottom to this piece as well. The style statement that these girls made will hopefully amaze. Like "Black Nirvana," this too will have a bottom.
My pop culture obsession webs itself so intricately into drawing and painting as well. Everyone knows I love Frida Kahlo. I draw her all the time. I also, however, enjoy employing other female artists, especially Harlem Renaissance she-ro Augusta Savage and influential contemporary painters like Faith Ringgold and Amy Sherald. I haven't painted in a year. These two latter drawings are the beginnings of remedying that horrific situation. I should be painting every single day.

A drawing comprised of gluttony and humor. On the day I came to NYC to see Lynette Yiadom-Boakye speak (and eat sweets at Cocoa V), it had been the anniversary of Frida Kahlo's death. 
In progress sketch work of "The Black Romantic Party" is a loving celebration of American soap opera romances throughout daytime television history. This had been a major part of my upbringing and why I'm so obsessed with love. Varied soap opera couples are gathered around a cake that features Prince Escalus and Rosaline Capulet of the canceled Shondaland produced TV show "Still Star Crossed."
At last, I received the most wonderful great news last Friday. Two of my works were accepted into Da Vinci Art Alliance's "Connotations" exhibit. Originally, I didn't believe I got in. Thus, the surprised reaction was utterly genuine and quite humorous.

Seeing your art on a gallery wall brings apart the sweetest emotional sentiments. Yet when kind strangers compliment the pieces, waterworks are always on the rise. I'm used to crying for different reasons.
Last night, at the opening, I met Gerald Silva, the juror, who not only loved my work, he wished all three pieces had gotten in.

"I had no room," he said, regrettably.

Here, I thought that "keep your mouth shut" wasn't pleasing enough.

Still, the night gets better: I was asked to have a solo exhibition! A solo exhibition-- in Philadelphia? I suppose we start somewhere. This just may be the place.

Not to say that the art life isn't filled with more negatives than positives. It always will be. At least, for most of us. We creative beings will continue to face rejection until our hourglass sifts its final grains of sand. I'm applying for a few more things to wrap up the year. I hope to bear more fruit. For now, I'll revel in the beautiful bits offered. Eventually, crumbs become a meal.