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.