Sunday, May 1, 2011

Alter Egos Class at Cultured Expressions Studio

Thank you Lisa Sheppard Stewart of Cultured Expressions for hosting the Alter Egos Doll Class! I had a blast and I hope my students did too. Thank you Joan N, Joan "Always", Josie, Sondra, Tanya MontQ, Diane, Jackie and Nathasha for making it such an enjoyable experience! And don't forget to email me photos of your finished dolls!

Opening Night - Embracing the Orishas at Yema Gallery

From the top: Artist/Drummer Geraldine Gaines; Jody Leight; Shirley Panton-Benjamin; Rahmon Olugunna (artist not shown); Toni Thomas (artist/curator) with artist/drummer Mansa Mussa; Lynn Presley; Bisa Washington (artist not shown); Janice Anderson; Adrienne Wheeler; Toni Thomas with son, Justin; Yemaja Altar (Janice Anderson); Elegua/Esh Elegbara (Janice Anderson)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Embracing the Orisha at Yema Gallery, 540B Freeman Street, Orange, New Jersey. Opening April 29 6-9pm through May 28. Curated by Toni Thomas

Embracing the Orisha

Elegua (Esu/Elegba)
Fiber Art Dolls& Mixed Media Installation
20” (cloth, paperclay, wire armature, mixed media)

At a crossroads in the history of the gods, when each wished to find out who, under God, was supreme, all made their way to heaven, each bearing rich sacrificial offerings. All but Esu-Elegba, who wisely honored the deity of divination beforehand and had been told what to bring with him to heaven – a single crimson parrot feather positioned upright upon his forehead to signify that he was not to carry burdens on his head. Responding to he fiery flashing parrot feather, the very seal of supernatural force and ashe, God granted Esu the force to make all things happen and multiply. Outward signs of submission and material bounty were no match for wisdom and humility. Once granted his powers of dominion, Esu instead of arrogantly subordinating everyone to himself, did the “cool” thing – he agve a vast feast to share his newfound prestige and to honor God for the priceless treasure of ashe.

He is the guardian of the crossroads and messenger of the gods, the ultimate master of potentiality. Favorable, he modifies the worst of fates; hostile, he darkens the most brilliant of happenings.

- from Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosphy by Robert Farris Thompson

Yemaya (Yemoja)
Fiber Art Dolls& Mixed Media Installation
20” (cloth, paperclay, wire armature, mixed media)

Yemaya-Olukun is the Mother of the Sea, the Great Water, the Womb of Creation. She is the Mother of Dreams, the Mother of Secrets. She is natural wealth, the mother of pearl and Veiled Isis. She is the mermaid, the full moon; and intelligence beyond human comprehension. She is envisioned as a large and beautiful woman, radiant and dak; nurturing and devouring; crystal clear and mysteriously deep. Yemaya rules the house, nurtures the child in the waters of the womb; and has jurisdiction over the affairs of women. Gaze upon the waters of Yemaya for your own self’s sake. Perform rituals on the ocean at sunrise and midnight for your healing. Watch Her shimmering in the light of the full moon and be renewed. There is no mountain of trouble that Yemaya cannot wear down; no sickness of heart that She cannot wash clean; no desert of despair that She cannot flood with hope.

- from Jambalaya,, the Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals by Luisah Teish

Embracing the Orishas, Yema Gallery, 540B Freeman Street, Orange, New Jersey. Opening April 29, 2011 6-9pm through May 28, 2011. Curated by Toni Thomas.

This exhibit is a continuation of Yema Gallery's recognition of the 2011 UN Resolution 64/169 designating this year as the year for people of African descent by paying tribute to the culture and traditions of the African people. This exhibit will be presented along with an exhibit of the work of Nigerian artist Rahmon Olugunna. Also featured are Adrienne Wheeler, Bisa Washington, Janice Anderson, Jody Leight, Joya Thompson, Shirley Parker Bejamin, Lynn Presley and Geraldine Gaines. The artists were asked to present work that reflects their interest in a deity (orishas) associated with Yoruban spirtual practice.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Alter Egos - Creating the Doll

I will be teaching my first dollmaking class at Lisa Shepard Stewart's Cultured Expressions Studio on April 30, 2011. For those of you who do not know Lisa, she is a quilter, crafter, author, designer, instructor extraodinaire, who sells and teaches us to use and incorporate African textiles in our art/clothing projects. I credit Lisa with being the instructor who taught the first quilting class I ever took several years ago, which got me hooked on crafting with dollmaking soon to follow. The rest is history.

The class, Alter Egos, is a workshop about telling our stories and expressing ourselves through the magic of dollmaking. Together we wil explore such issues as body image, self-esteem and ancestor appreciation, in a safe, fun and supportive environment - a judgment-free zone - while learning dollmaking skills, unleashing creativity and developing a narrative (whew!) Come, silence your inner critic, and give yourself permission to play!

I will be teaching my technique for creating a wire-armatured soft-sculpted doll to decorate and embellish at will.

Skill level: Beginner and up (if you can sew on a button, you can do this!)

For more information go to events calendar.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Susanna/We Are a Dancing People

When Sue Wears Red

When Susanna Jones wears red
Her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.
Come with a blast of trumpets, Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.
Blow trumpets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like pain.
Sweet silver trumpets, Jesus!
- Langston Hughes

Sometimes I work better on a deadline, even though I really hate deadlines.

Sandra West, a writer who I have been acquainted with for decades, formerly of the Newark Writer's Collective in the '80s, contacted me just before vacation time in December. She told me she is curating the Black History Month Exhibit at the Newark Public Library. She wanted to put some of my dancing dolls in the exhibit. I was delighted at the request -- problem is, I didn't have any dancing dolls.

So, I committed to making a pair for the exhibit, even though I was on my way out of the country on vacation.

Well, true to form, the male doll did not cooperate/come together as I had envisioned. (In fairness, its not really all the doll's fault. I have always found male dolls to be more difficult. They take a lot of needle sculpting in order to make them more real, because of the angles needed to form the musculature - and I never should have committed to making one on short notice). However, the woman doll came out just fine.

When Sandra saw her, she asked what is her name. I hadn't thought of a name and the doll didn't speak her name to me, so I told Sandra she could have the honors. Sandra named her Susanna, after the Langston Hughes poem, When Sue Wears Red.

Here is an exerpt from the Library press release for We Are A Dancing People:

The Limbo, Cakewalk, Lindy Hop, the Shimmy –some of the most famous and enduring dance steps in America – can trace their roots to tribal rites such as Sowu, the Ghanese “dance of life’, and the Focadaba initiation dance from Guinea. These dance styles were carried over in slave ships, became fused with European influence in the South, and flowered into new and unexpected variations. That progression is explored in this year’s Black History Month salute “We Are a Dancing People: The History of Black Dance from Then Until Now” at the Newark Museum, 5 Washington Street, Newark, New Jersey.

Curated by Sandra L. West, who manages the Library’s James Brown African-American Room, the exhibit is paired with a photographic display, The Art of Dance, by photographer/collagist Mansa K. Mussa.

In addition to dance inspired photographs by Mansa Mussa, the exhibition features:

- A quilt entitled Shaking Senoras by artist Glendora Simonson;
- A dancing fabric doll created by Janice Anderson;
- One poem by an African American poet on the theme of dance installed in each of the twelve display cases in the gallery;
- A nineteen page essay We Are A Dancing People installed in the display cases written by curator Sandra L. West, previously published in the online literary journal Chickenbones: a Journal of Artistic and Literary African American Themes.

Both shows run from January 26 through March 15, 2011, with opening night reception February 10, 2011 from 6 to 8 p.m. This celebration features music by the Sherry Winston Trio, an African dance performance by the 7th Principle Dance & Drum Ensemble, a talk about the art of dance by dancer photographer Mussa, and a reading by East Orange author/publisher Cheryl Willis Hudson from her new book, “My Friend Maya Loves to Dance.”

For more information or to arrange a tour, please contact Ms. West at (973) 733-5411.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Clearing the Head, Zihua Vacation, and Frida Kahlo as Inspiration

This is my last day of vacation. Tomorrow, back to the day job. We spent Christmas with my cousin at their home in Zihuatenajo. First things first - Thanks to Michielle and Frank for showing us an amazing time. Michielle and Frank were wonderful hosts. I rested, created, walked, swam and got to spend time getting to know Mi Prima. Frank and Michielle are both accomplished painters and their home is a little oasis of creative inspiration. Michielle gave LaShay painting lessons. L now makes really good palm trees.

I made a Frida Kahlo doll as a gift for Michielle and Frank. They are both Frida-files as am I, and she made a perfect addition to their home. Everywhere you look in Mexico, you see images of Frida. She is a national and international treasure. I think often of the beauty she created while enduring such unimaginable physical and psychic pain.

Being away at Christmas was a little different, but I think it was good for me and my little one, who loves to travel and didn't seem to mind at all. In fact, she wants to know are we going back next year or where else are we going. Kids are amazingly adaptable.

Life is much slower and simpler in Zihuatanejo. Roosters crow in the morning and the Bread Man delivers fresh rolls in time for breakfast. I got to just sit and think about things. The need to incorporate quiet creative time everyday. How I had slacked off on blogging, thinking I don't have anything so exciting to say. Maybe its not all about excitement. Maybe its about just being, and giving myself permission to relax and play. I used to know that.

So this year, my one resolution, is just to take things easy, not so serious, and make sure to put art/creativity into every aspect of life .. not just when I have time. Art making is a spiritual, meditative pursuit. I had almost forgotten.

I'm setting a goal of writing daily, and posting weekly, even if nothing "exciting" is going on. Let's see how that goes.