Monday, October 26, 2009

All that Jazz and Muslims in America: An Interview with Award Winning Photographer Laylah Barrayn

Laylah Barrayn is an award winning photographer, educator and curator. I first met Laylah when I interviewed her for Upscale Magazine where she discussed her critically acclaimed Dakar Series. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Barrayn's work has been showcased in galleries across the country including the Latin Collector Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art in DC, and Danny Simmons' Corridor Gallery among others.

She was selected as one of the young photographers in “the Shootout' honoring civil rights photographer Jack T. Franklin at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Her photography was also included in the photo anthology BLACK: A Celebration of Culture. A self taught photographer, she has studied at New York University and Universitie Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal, West Africa.

YLW: Your latest exhibit Kindred Cool was featured at the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts (MoCADA) in Brooklyn. It's a jazz tribute and I read that you were inspired by Romare Bearden, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray.

LB: I came up with the idea to document the jazz community. Not the musicians, but rather the fans or people who are documenting it in a different way . . .the jazz community in their entirety. I identified these people and I had them pick people who they bonded with through jazz or their jazz friends. I had them choose their location and integrated their words into the photograph. It was just very cooperative and inclusive. I used some professors, but I also used some old school jazz dudes who were at the club. So people saw people they knew on the walls of the museum. It helped them to see themselves in another light. Like, hey, I'm in a museum now or my friends are on the wall. That's what I'm always trying to do. I want them to feel the continuum that we're all on.

YLW: What new trends do you see among African American photographers?

LB: I've noticed that a lot of my friends who aren't documentarian photographers or traditional portrait photographers don't use the race theme in their work. They're conceptional. They're discussing politics, some of their own personal ideas about sexuality or self image. But when you see the work it doesn't remind you of something that's racialized. That's not the first concept that they want to include in their work.

YLW: Why not?

LB: They're trying to be just really out there and take their most abstract ideas and put them into photographs - not even traditional photographs, but different processes. They're being really inventive and novel. I see people being very individualized and conceptual.

YLW: How would you define your work?

LB: I would define my work as community oriented. Communal. Very integrated. Very inclusive. I would define my work as very jazz. As a photographer, I'm really composing. My subjects determine what my final outcome is going to be. It's encouraging to me. It's a way for me to let them express themselves.

YLW: Why does identity play such a major role in your work?

LB: I'm a teacher so I'm big on people defining themselves. I just like to use my camera to help people do that. I've done that for myself, for some of my earlier portraits when I used to travel globally. I really wanted to have my subjects define themselves in these portraits. I'm about empowering people to take that power back to believe that they can define themselves and be this independent person and not succumb to negativity.

YLW: How do you choose your subjects?

LB: I just capture people. When I'm on the street and I see someone and their energy is good, I want to capture them. I capture energy. I also like to capture people with different styles.

YLW: How do you define your spiritual practice?

LB: I would be the more orthodox Muslim, I've been with Warith Deen Mohammed (American Muslim Mission) for a long time. They really have this African American cultural Islamic thing going on. It's very American. It fuses American culture with Islamic practices and beliefs. If you go around the world with Islam, some of the culture is going to change because of the culture that you're in. A Senegalese Muslim is going to practice differently from a Muslim from Thailand. An American Muslim is going to remember when Marvin Gaye died but for a Muslim somewhere else, it might not be as significant.

YLW: You're an artist, a Muslim, and a self described eccentric. Do you interact with people who have difficulty accepting that?

LB: It's is so hard for so many people to understand someone like me. For example. I cover my hair. Sometimes I'm eccentric and it bothers people. I don't know why. Even during my first year of college, there was a woman, I guess she was Christian, and when I would walk in the room she would do the church clap. And she would yell, 'oh, thank you Jesus.' I thought she was crazy. She did not like people who did not think that Jesus Christ was the Lord and savior of everybody. She was from D.C, and there's really no excuse because that's a diverse city. Most African Americans are Christians. In D.C, you have people from the middle East, from Ethiopia. You see these people, so there should be some type of sense of comfort. You shouldn't be that bothered because you see someone different from me. Even the woman I 'm in this organization with who is a minister, she can't process me. She doesn't like me at all.

YLW: One of the reasons I wrote Post Black is because many people have a limited view of the diversity in African American culture.

LB: True. You can be gay and lesbian can be black. Being in a rock band is black. You can be black and not be a traditional Christian. At the same time, I get these flashbacks from college where I'm coming from Brooklyn and I'm going to this school. It's just weird. I went to Syracuse, a lot of people who came from Brooklyn were enjoying this multiracial environment for the first time, it's like the one's who came from Brooklyn, they don't come home anymore.

YLW: You can stretch beyond your boundaries and still have a respect for where you came from. How would you encourage those who are uncomfortable with the diversity in the black community to embrace it?

LB: I would just have people calm down. If people realize that everything is a continuum and that we are so much more alike that we don't have to be at odds. People don't need to be afraid. If we start defining ourselves more and take pride of who we say we are, we wouldn't be so afraid of other people.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Black Chefs, Immigrant Dreams and Fine Dining- An Interview with Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson is one of the most sought after chefs in the nation with both award winning cookbooks and highly praised restaurants spotting the country. Samuelsson says he was surprised at how little America knew about African food, and it was one of the reasons he released the premiere cookbook Soul of A New Cuisine. His latest cookbook The New American Table explores ethnic food in the U.S and was released this month.

Born in Ethiopia, he was raised by adoptive parents in Sweden, where he acquired a passion for cooking from his maternal grandmother. Samuelsson studied at the Culinary Institute in Gothemburg where he grew up. He apprenticed in Austria and Switzerland before coming to the U.S at age 21 to apprentice at Aquavit Restaurant in New York City. At age 24 he became Aquivit's executive chef and was the youngest ever to receive a 3 Star Review from the New York Times.

Samuelsson's culinary achievements are endless. He was named best chef by the James Beard Foundation. He's launched several upscale restaurants including the Japanese influenced Riingo in NYC and the Affinia Hotel's C House in Chicago. Plus, he has his own line of Marcus cookware. However, Samuelsson hopes to encourage more people of color to pursue the culinary arts.

“Black people were cooking and serving forever before it was called fine dining and the restaurant business,” he told NV Magazine. “There are a lot of us, fine chefs, fine wine makers. It's a very tough effort to get recognized. You recognize me, but I represent a lot of people who are people of color who work in this field who are colleagues of mine.”

YLW: When you think Post Black, what comes to mind?

MS: Post Black. Barack, Michelle, black punk, the none obvious, the creative people. People who are doing it on many different levels in platforms who are not obvious. I can tell you of so many blacks who are in underrepresented fields, making major moves, doing it. The engineer, the computer whiz. Or you, being a black female film director is very post black.

YLW: Is it difficult to balance your identities as an African, a Swede and an American?

MS: As an African immigrant I think about it a lot. If you come to my house, I make Ethiopian food with American ingredients. I can make a Swedish dish for breakfast. But that's what makes me American. In any other country, take Sweden for example, I have to be Swedish to live there. Here the fact that it's a very open country, it's a simple country to be accepted in. That's why I love being here.

YLW: Why did you come to the U.S?

MS: I wanted to be here because of the diversity. There are more people of color, more ethnicity . . . blacks, Asians, Jews. I wanted to be in a diverse environment. Also, the journey that black people in America have and the Civil Rights Movement inspires me.
I'm a product of the Civil Rights Movement, although I wasn't born here, I know I'm a product of that. I always knew I had the skills and the talents but it's hard to do if you don't have the platform of people who came before you. The journey of black people in this country provided that platform. There's no way that I could do what I do without it.

YLW: Did you have to adjust to African American culture?

MS: African American culture is one of the most powerful cultures in the world. I knew about it when I was 7. I knew about it through Stevie (Wonder), Michael (Jackson), through the Civil Rights Movement. People all over the world are studying what we're doing through Barack, movies, the military. As a Black Swede I knew about Black America through the music. I don't know if African Americans get enough credit for the incredible culture that it spreads across the world. Now we don't know so much about other cultures. I didn't have to do much adjusting, though. It was easier for me because I knew so much about it. Of course there are holiday differences, but we're all one.

YLW: I recently saw a very emotional interview with an accomplished African American chef who read about you when he was an inmate, and it opened his eyes to the possibility that a black chef could cook more than soul food.

MS: I know who you're talking about. In fact, I know him very well. I think it's important that we are diverse that I'm out there and that there are other black chefs out there. As a creative black person, for people of color all over the world it's important to inspire others. We've been in cooking all our lives, now it's time for us to be in fine dining.

YLW: Why aren't there more African American chefs and restaurant owners in fine dining?

MS: Black people cooked a lot in this country. We've been in the service industry. So when people were able to send their kids to college, they sent them to white collar jobs. Cooking wasn't at the top of the list.

YLW: True.

MS: Fine dining wasn't at the top of the list. It's up to us to inspire people. There are African Americans with their own wineries. We have Derrick Oliver, one of the best beer makers. I know a black person who wants to open a sushi restaurant. There are African American innovators in the food industry. We have to have our own awards, just as we have in other fields. We're not there yet. That's why it's important for me to have my line of cookware.

YLW: Tell me about your new cookbook The New American Table?

MS: The New American Table talks about the diversity of American food. We as a diverse nation have done something that other countries have not. I wanted to talk about our journey as Americans and immigrants and people of color. Every family has stories and cookbooks. I wanted to show the diversity of American food: Chinese American, Jamaican American, American Southern. American food will always move forward because this is a diverse nation.

YLW: I never thought about the diversity of our food. Does it make American food unique?

MS: All countries have great food, but the fact that you can have Vietnamese, Thai, Southern on any block of any corner that makes us an incredible nation.

The New American Table is currently available on It launches in stores on Oct. 25th.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Raw Food Life, Culture and Diet, An interview with organic food expert Nwenna Kai

Organic lifestyle expert and author Nwenna Kai hopes to support people who are making the healthy lifestyle switch. She wrote the book The Goddess of Raw Foods and currently does consultations and caters her all raw food recipes. She also created “My specialization is in raw foods and lifestyle movement. But I find that my target audience are people who are looking to include more raw foods in their diet,” said Kai. “Within the raw food community, most are extremist. They either don't drive or drive hybrid cards, they wear clothes made of hemp, they live a hippie lifestyle. I don't target that audience. I simply wanted to reach an audience that wants to eat healthier.”

YLW: How do you cultivate a raw food market?

NK: I am more interested in creating a market of people who want to have more raw food in their diet. I do have a very large African American following. I do some coaching with people. A lot of my clients are women who are in their 50s and 60s. They're fierce. They know they need to do something but don't know what to do.

YLW: How did you get involved with the raw food movement?

NK: One, I have a personal story with raw food. I've been vegetarian since I was 14, vegan since I was 18. I started eating raw food when I was 24, 25. I was very ill. I was tired all the time, acne, depression, a thyroid problem. I thought I was so healthy, and didn't understand why I was having problems. I started drinking liquids and eating vegetables for the next few days. I didn't know about raw food diet as a lifestyle. It was Feb. of 2000 in Chicago. I was with artists who were smoking. It was a very lonely experience. But within a few days, I had more energy, my acne cleared up, my vertigo went away, my depression went away. I took myself off of thyroid medication a few months later.

YLW: Did you immediately bond with other people who eat raw food?

NK: I found Karen's Raw Cafe, a raw food restaurant in Chicago. Karen Calabrese became a mentor to me. I moved out to LA in 2003, I was producing TV. It was hard for me to work 12 hours a day and eat the way I was eating. So I started catering. I had the restaurant for 4 years. Closed it down in 07 and now I do raw food consultations.

YLW: What is a raw food diet?

NK: It's a diet made up of organic fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, spouted grains and superfoods. Superfoods include hemp protein, which is a good way to include protein in a vegan diet, acai (pronounced asiya) which is a Brazilian berry, spirulina - a blue green algae full of protein, bee pollen, and cacao, what you make chocolate with.

YLW: Do you have to sell your clients on the benefits of raw food?

NK: I never have to sell people on it. They just don't get the 'how to.' People feel that the raw food diet is so limiting. The challenge I have is showing them the abundance in it. Also to eat intuitively. They want me to tell them just what to eat. You can sprout things, learn how to grow your own food. People think it's carrot sticks and celery. I can make a cheesecake, an apple pie, a blueberry cobbler all using very natural, and organic ingredients.
YLW: So you make raw food soul meals?

NK: Being African American I've learned how to tailor my food. I make a macaroni and cheese out of coconut meat. I have greens with kale and spices, it's just not cooked. I make a raw yam. I learned how veganize it.

YLW: Many people find that when they want to change their diet there's this resistance among friends and family. It's viewed almost as if you're abandoning your culture if you shift your diet.

NK: I can tell you stories upon stories. I've been vegetarian since I was 14. But my African American family still doesn't understand why I do what I do. My grandma asks do I eat fish. My uncle thinks I'm a snob. My aunt says you eat white people's food. There's a whole cultural tie to food. It's like you do as the tribe does.
You heard the story of the woman who cuts the ends of the turkey, and her mother does, and her mother did it, but no one knows why? Our culture is ridden with diabetes, heart disease. We still don't understand the connection between eating and lifestyle. The connection between diet and health, we're just not getting it. The fact that I don't eat chicken wings and pork and people have this view that I'm eating white people's food and it's ridiculous because it's killing us.

YLW: What causes this resistance?

NK: A big factor is that tie to the family. I had that fear. When I first started, I wouldn't tell anyone what I was doing. I would tell them I wasn't hungry. They knew I was vegan, but raw food only is very different. It's that social factor. Who am I going to eat with? Food is such a social part of our culture. Food in general contains memory. There's all of these other attachments to it,

YLW: What do you mean when you say that food has memory?

NK: I loved oatmeal as a child. I haven't given it up. Now I make a raw version of it. Oatmeal makes me feel comfortable. My mother used to always make oatmeal in the morning. Taking certain foods away is like taking those memories away. People think losing weight is just losing weight. But French fries make you feel a certain way that kale or avocado doesn't. We have a lot of work to do with that attachment.
The same person you're dating, you two probably eat alike. A lot of people have resistance because they realize they have to start changing their lifestyle. One woman I know has five kids, she had a very standard American diet. So there's a problem with her eating her food, and them eating something else.

YLW: You see a connection between the resistance to healthier eating, culture and identity?

NK: I was doing a lecture in a high school and mentioned sprouts, and the kids said, 'black people don't eat sprouts.' As humans, we tend to eat the same thing all the time. We tend to eat the same foods over and over. And with us, its like you eat what your family eats. Your aunt had diabetes, your mom has thyroid problems, but you keep eating the same food. We won't deter from our tradition to save our lives.

Our culture is crippled with disease and it's tied to the food. You can't get certain kinds of fruits and vegetables in ghetto supermarkets. Nina Simone has a song where she talks about that. You have that in L.A. In Chicago there are certain neighborhoods where you can't get guava, or pomegranate, or a mango. There are certain places where you can't get asparagus. So if someone wanted to eat healthier, imagine how hard it would be? How many people are going to go outside of their neighborhoods to go shopping two or three times a week?

YLW: Those areas are referred to as food deserts because there's no fresh or organic food in the neighborhood.

NK: There are a great deal of farmers markets in communities. In California we have it. But you can live in a high rise in New York and grow your own food. All you need is a window, sunshine and some water. You don't even need a patch of soil.
YLW: More people are changing their diets, though.

NK: It's more of a conversation now because of the health care issue and because people need serious help. People are in desperate situations. You have no idea how many emails I get a day. It's gotten so bad. It's weird now for me to see a kid who's not overweight. Thats' crazy.
I thought of being a black woman as being bigger and more voluptuous. Everyone in my family was big. So I felt I wasn't voluminous enough or wasn't big enough and as a result, wasn't black enough. Their parents would say oh, black women we're just bigger naturally, which is a lie. Black women are not naturally bigger women. It gets really, really heavy because this obesity issue and diabetes, and this health care thing. Health is going to be the million dollar question. It's like people are fighting for their health. Your health is your prosperity.

YLW: There's a health divide?

NK: Absolutely. People are going to have to go back to the basics. Eat better, grow your own foods. Real simple stuff. It's not hard.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Documentarian Jacqueline N'Namdi discusses Black Artists in Paris, Her New Doc and the N Word Overseas

Filmmaker, marketing professional, and educator, N'Namdi, a trilinguist, has lived, studied and worked in seven countries in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Along with her husband, Jacqueline, a Chicago and New York City resident, manages G.R. N'Namdi Gallery, the leading fine art gallery in the United States specializing in African American fine art. She and her husband Jumaane N'Namdi spent last summer filming their latest project “In Search of the Light: The Legacy of African American Artists Abroad. They launched the website to www., a catalog of African American artists. Here, she talks about traveling as an African American woman, and her latest project.

YLW: How has traveling abroad shaped your identity?

JN: Internationalism is a big part of who I am as an African American woman. Not touristic travel, but work and study. The more I see, the bigger it gets and I can understand myself, the country, and myself as an African American. It's priceless. I like meeting someone from China and saying, oh I used to live in Hong Kong, They immediately take me on as family. I would love for that to be reciprocated, for people to take interest in my culture. If someone told me they knew about Meta Vax Warrick Fuller, (African American artist) I would be excited.

YLW: What languages do you speak?

I speak French and Spanish. And I have studied Italian. Every country I go to I can say things in their language.

YLW: How has your experience abroad changed your concepts of African American identity?

JN: When I go abroad I'm able to see and experience how the rest of the world sees us. I have gained a tremendous respect for entertainment, music, film, all of those things that we produce. It's really important, because that's the only access they have to the African American experience. We have to depict ourselves in a full range.

YLW: Why do you say that?

JN: I've never been called the N word in the U.S. But I was called that overseas. I was in Macao which is an Island off the coast of Hong Kong. This guy says, I love your hair and he asked 'are you half a nigger?' I asked him where did you learn this word? And he said 'Die Hard 3: With a Vengeance.' I wasn't upset because I knew he didn't understand what he was saying and I told him that was a derogatory word. He was so embarrassed.

YLW: Have you had many experiences like that?

JN: I was in Venezuela with my girlfriends at the beach. We're in our swimsuits looking very cute. These guys are yelling 'niggers.' We got scared. Then we realized it was a truck full of young guys, waving out the truck flirting. They were happy to see us. And we said this is crazy, they don't even know what they're saying.

This summer, my husband and I were shooting the documentary. We had traveled to five different countries. We were checking into this hotel and this nice little lady asked Jumaane about his name. She asked where are you from, he said Detroit. America. She said no what country? He responded, America. But she was confused. Then she said, oh I see, you're from slave. Ytasha, I wasn't ready for that.

YLW: Wow.

JN: When I say America, they're thinking I don't look like whatever they think is the American girl next door. They want you to say a country. If you say you're African American they want you to say a country in Africa. So when she said, oh you're from slave. She wasn't trying to offend us. But that was her understanding, African Americans are descendants of slaves. It was awkward. We're enjoying ourselves, and she's like oh, you're from slave. That was a part of our experience, but there's more to us.

YLW: Are you constantly explaining your African American identity abroad?

JN: It's interesting, my white friends don't get haggled about where they're really from. They don't have to explain that their great great so and such was from Ireland. I've been places where people thought I was Algerian or Moroccan. I had an Algerian man who got mad at me when I said I was American, he didn't understand how that was possible.

Many people have never met an African American. They've met Africans, because there are a lot of Africans in Europe. A lot of them are afraid of us. They see things on TV or they reduce us to oh, you're from slave. It gives me more drive.

YLW: What experiences have you had with Africans and African Americans abroad?

That's interesting. When I was in Africa, I did a story on the perception of the African on the African Americans and vice versa. I was at the University Chiekh Anta Diop in Dakar, we met with the English club. I was very interested to see how they perceived us. One thing that astounded me was their knowledge of us. They had all seen Roots. Many of them had read books like Native Son, books by James Baldwin. They listened to rap. We went to the Goree Island where they exported many slaves. The African guide said 'This was the Door of No Return. But this is not true anymore,' he said,' because you are here and you have come.' I thought it was interesting how proactive they were about learning about us. On the other hand, African Americans knew very little about Africa. We didn't know how many countries there were.

YLW: How do you feel about the way African Americans perceive themselves?

I think we don't know enough about ourselves. My prime example is the fine arts. Even those who are highly educated. They could have went to the finest universities in the country, ask them about the African American fine artists, and they don't know about them. I feel as African Americans we're still learning about ourselves. Just like the people overseas are listening to the music and watching movies to define our identity. Well, the kids are doing that, too. That's why its important that people in the industry are mindful of that.

YLW: Why did you decide to produce “In Search of Light?”

JN: It's very fascinating. I think it's important to building the self esteem of African Americans, but its important as Americans that they know this. There's a lot of discourse on African American performing artist, or literary artists. If I ask most people to name an African American performing artists from a previous generation, they can do that. If ask about a visual artist, they can't name one. If they can name one, then I say, ok name two. All these artists were with Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, and others at the same table overseas, but when they came back no one knew them. Visual artists were under more pressure.

YLW: How so?

JN: Baker was entertaining people. But for the visual artists, it just wasn't seen as being as important. Even during the Civil Rights Movement, people were questioning their commitment or their blackness or their dedication to the cause because they were visual artists. They were ahead of their times. Oftentimes they were overseas alone. They were forging their own path. In some cases they were starving. They had a scholarship to go over there, but didn't have the funds to return. But they supported themselves with their art.

YLW: Do you just focus on artists who went to France?

JN: We explore African American artists who traveled overseas. Many went to Europe, but others went to Africa, Central America, Asia and South America. I asked artists why they kept coming back to Europe. And a lot of them talk about the quality of the light. They're talking about the sunlight quality, but for me, I feel they're talking about the knowledge, the experience the exposure.

YLW: Why did so many African American artists study or work abroad?

JN: For one, they had opportunity. They didn't have opportunity here. It was difficult to be an artists and be African American. There was this perception that there were so many other things that were important for us to be doing, so people felt like why are you studying art? There was so much exclusion. If they stayed in the U.S. They wouldn't have been able to develop their work.

YLW: Which artist among those who studied abroad intrigued you the most?

As I've done this research, I found so many artists, I even had to categorize them. Pre WWI, which includes enslavement, then post WWI, post WWII, then modern which is after 1970. I divided it based on wars, but what a lot of people didn't realize was that a lot of artists were veterans. That was the first way they were able to go overseas. Coming back as a veteran sometimes they were able to receive funding like the GI bill which allowed them to study overseas. Others wanted to go overseas but couldn't.

YLW: Which PreWWI artist impressed you?

JN: For one, you had African American artists who were exhibiting in Europe during the period of enslavement. Jules Leon, he was of biracial heritage, and he went overseas, he was born in France and he was exhibiting in the salons. He won the Paris Exhibition of 1833 for his lithographs. His father was a wealthy immigrant of Dutch/French descent. Their were a lot of people from New Orleans of rich heritage, their wealthy fathers would finance their trips. In fact, their were abolitionists groups who were offering scholarships during slavery.

YLW: Did any other artists resonate with you?

JN: Meta Vax Warrick Fuller. She graduated with honors from the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, she won first prize for sculpture in the late 1800s. She got her teachers certificate and went to Paris. She went to the American Girls Club, where acclaimed American artists hung out, but was denied access because of her race. She was later a protege of Auguste Rodin. (Henry O.) Tanner was one of her mentors, he told her “Don't worry about this.” He became a Godfather to a lot of these artists. A lot of African Americans would go to Paris and seek him out.

YLW: What can artists today learn from those struggles?

Just being able to have entry into the fine art schools is something our generation should definitely not take for granted. Sometimes, its still difficult to find galleries. But that's why its important to do what we do. After school they have to be able to exhibit.

YLW: One of the reasons I wrote Post Black, was because there seems to be this definition of black life, and anything that didn't fit in that box is seen as an exception, not a part of the collective experience.

JN: Our gallery presents abstract art. It's non representational. We were at Art Chicago. A very well know art critic, was in our booth and he was looking for his friend. I asked, 'Did your friend come down.' He says 'Well, I don't think he would be in here because he doesn't like black art.' I wanted to kick him out the booth. I was just like, wow. There's no color in this work. Nothing on this wall has anything to do with color, well it has to do with color tones, but not race. How do you look at Ed Clark's work and say 'I don't like black art?' He doesn't paint people. He doesn't even paint landscapes.

I also have a problem with this term primitive when we talk about African art. I would get into arguments with everyone when I worked at the Guggenheim Museum in Italy because I had a problem with them calling it primitive just because they were self trained and didn't go to art school. I'm a linguist. I'm trilingual now. I respect the power of words. Even the psychology of words. When I hear primitive, I get offended, because the root word is primate. It's offensive. That word only refers to work that comes from Africa. In Russia, you don't call art buy untrained artists primitive, you call it folk art. I will always speak against that word.

YLW: Are people jealous of your international lifestyle?

JN: If I do perceive it that way, I change my thinking. And tell them how I did it. This wasn't a situation that was handed to me, I spent a lot of time researching and applying for things. If they feel that way, I shift it to them. My flight to Paris this summer cost $50, because I use points. Last year I want to Paris for free, to Brazil for free, because I'm anal about earning points. It becomes an opportunity. My best friend, I met in Venezuela overseas.

It's just a lifestyle actually. It's not about wealth, I was a student and I was traveling everywhere. I made money, I had access. I was willing to work. I've always been a hard worker. I would babysitting for this couple in France and they gave me an apartment on, the 16th, which is like the Beverly Hills in Paris. I was working, when all my friends went to the bar. I was babysitting and rushing these kids back and forth from school. In exchange, she gave me a little apartment, next to hers. In Venezuela, I lived with a family that didn't know English. My friend's a school teacher and every year she finds a study abroad program.

YLW: You don't want to be limited?

JC: Who's defining you? One day I'm in Italy looking at the Sistine Chapel . A man did this while painting on his back. Then I see the statue of David, and it's like Michaelangelo did both of those? Or Barbara Chase Riboud, she wrote about Sally Hemmings. She's written all these books. You don't even have to talk about her as a sculptor. Then you look at the fact that she's a major American artist with works all over the world. We interviewed her in Paris and Rome. She does all these different things. That's one thing I hope we get as African Americans. We're innovators. Hip hop came out of taking funding from music departments. They input these technology courses, then you have these deejays popping up. I hope we see that in ourselves.

I was reading this article about this kid in who made windmills in Malawi, Africa. He couldn't afford school, went to the library, studied windmills and starting making one out of scraps that changed his community. His name is William Kamkwamba and he wrote The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. The elders said he was part of the cheetah generation. The cheetah generation was driven. They want to excel they want to be self made if they have, too. I think those of us who grew up in the 80s are like that. We can't get too comfortable. Yes we have access, yes there's an African American president, but we still have to be that cheetah who's still hungry, because their are still those who don't have those opportunities. We're the first generation who really has that power to tell our own stories. Our parents earned that power. It's so important that we tell these stories because people don't just know.

For more information on Jacqueline “In Search of Light” go to

Friday, October 2, 2009

Jennings "Not a Lame Male Pig" (We know that already)

In a recap with hip hop professor John Jennings, he shared that Peggy Mcintosh was a pioneer in the study of "whiteness." "You have to add her to the list of scholars," he said referring to the list of professors currently studying the subject.

Mcintosh is a feminist and anti-racist activist. She's also director of the S.E.E.D project, on Inclusive Curriculum. Her work "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondence through Work in Women's Studies" was pivotal in framing the discussion on privilege.