backstory (as told to Ralf):
There is an art space in Brooklyn (BRIC) which hosts a once monthly poetry slam. The MC is poet and Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe poetry director, Mahogany L. Browne. BRIC will also be hosting the first night of the Women of the World Poetry Slam in March. I was invited to do a poetry themed mural for this event. I invited Sonia Sanchez to participate in the photo shoot with Mahogany L. Browne and based it on the Frida Kahlo painting “The Two Fridas.” However, this interpretation of that painting speaks to the migratory, trans Atlantic movement of the oral tradition + spoken word and it’s intergenerational manifestation as poetry. Mahogany + Sonia are presented as exemplars of the tradition.
Around the time of my father’s death in June 2006 I had an experience with a bird. I was outside at a friend’s condo and after 30 minutes on the phone with my dad I noticed a small bird in a nest who remained motionless and quiet with one eye riveted on me. My father implored me to come home to Raleigh with the words “come home son; dad is dying.” The moment was dramatic, confusing and ultimately true. I flew home the following day and spent 3 wonderful days with my dad before he underwent an outpatient procedure which led to his death as he never awoke from anesthesia. The bird resting quietly in it’s nest an arm’s length away from me as my dad told me of his condition represented a messenger spirit between the worlds of the living and the dead. The seagulls in the mural are signifiers of the freedom of movement across borders and communication with ancestral spirits. In honor of one of Sonia’s poems Jess and I titled the mural “We Be Darker than Blue” as it speaks to intergenerational sisterhood.
jess + i installing
sonia sanchez reading
sonia and mahogany
shout out to supa sister ursula rucker who facilitated meeting and getting to work with sonia sanchez
sonia seeing the mural for the first time
mahogany l. browne, ursula rucker + sonia sanchez
ian cozzens assisting; jess modeling
The setting for the mural is the Hungry Ghost cafe at Bric. Before doing the photo shoot with Sonia and Mahogany in January I watched a documentary called “BadDDD Sonia Sanchez” and was moved upon seeing Sonia’s old notebooks in which she wrote and edited poems. I asked her to bring a few of these to the shoot. It was magical as she’d not looked at these notebooks for some time. She flipped through pages remembering and sharing the stories that inspired the poems and discussed her process for creating poetry. These images of her hands engaging tangible memories appear on the front counter.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this project manifest – Mahogany L. Browne, Ursula Rucker, Sonia Sanchez, Jess X. Chen, Jennifer Gerow and the staff at Bric, Icy + Sot, Clara Darrason, Andrew Erdos + Ian Cozzens. I want to give a special shout out to Alexandria Johnson who reminded us all that good spirits are amongst us. Y’all made magic happen!