“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” -Helen Keller
We are, to our very core, a social species. We operate under a primitive pack system whether we realize it or not, and when we are isolated we feel it acutely. There is cruel logic to solitary confinement as punishment for society’s worst offenders. Alone we humans often find ourselves casting about in the dark for meaning. Together though, we are capable of wonders beyond measure. We have built societies, torn them down, enacted glory and pain alike.
Natasha Ria El-Scari is in Kansas City, Missouri where she is working on Steelife, a book about four generations of black feminism. In this collection El-Scari draws from her daughters, her late sister, her mother, and her grandmothers. Steelife will be El-Scari’s first self published work. She feels that self publishing is “the most black feminist act” that she can do. It allows her to retain complete control over the work. “I was not even considering any gaze let alone the white male gaze, or the white female gaze, or the black male gaze. I am really just making sure that I give exactly what I want to in this work,” El-Scari says.
Through interviews over more than 20 years, El-Scari has collected stories from the generations of women and girls in her family. She hopes the book will be out by October. El-Scari is also a poet. Some of her work speaks to the “secret life of breath-holding” that black mothers endure. The unique fears for their sons who are vulnerable to the violence of a society that treats black men differently than white men. Other work manifests as something of a love poem to our own flesh. When her sister passed at age 32, El-Scari considered that she was only gone in the flesh. This made her realize that the flesh is everything and prompted a careful consideration of what this means. El-Scari has a love of stories and story telling. Her work draws on the oral tradition of African American storytelling. It is important that work “always be able to invite our audience into it so even if they miss some of the meaning or they don’t even like it, they can at least appreciate the storytelling quality of it,” she says. As a child El-Scari loved hearing adults tell stories, particularly those she wasn’t supposed to hear. This love of storytelling is present throughout her work. To hear more from Natasha Ria El-Scari including readings of her powerful poetry, listen to the complete interview.
Mildred Beltre is a Brooklyn based artist. In her studio she is working on prints and drawings at the moment. The drawings are text based abstractions meaning that the text isn’t immediately visible. She is working on changing the materials she uses for the drawings. Another series incorporates self-portraits but the strategy is similar in that the image isn’t immediately clear. The figures are more easily read from further away, becoming more abstract as the viewer moves closer. In this way, what one thought they knew perhaps isn’t really there. Another, ongoing series of work is titled Slogans for the Revolution that Never Was combines text and figurative images in machine woven tapestries. Beltre was long involved in political organizations in which a non-hierarchical system was used–decisions were made via discussion rather than top-down organization. Reflecting on these practices inspired her to create the work in the Slogans series incorporating jokes that she felt those involved in these sort of organizations would appreciate. Beltre draws text from many places. Some is borrowed and some is original. Humor mixed with seriousness and sexiness all play off each other in Beltre’s work.
Beltre has a solo exhibition set for June, 2019 at the Kentler International Drawing Space in Red Hook, New York. Another important aspect of Beltre’s work is collaboration. Together with a few friends/colleagues she opened up conversation on the streets of Crown Heights. Crown Heights has been largely West Indian for quite a long time but is currently in the throes of an extreme gentrification. This process comes with a police presence that “protects” the new people moving in while criminalizing those already there. Beltre’s group project aims to collaborate with anyone who wanders by in her Crown Heights neighborhood. One very important component of this project is snacks! Beltre and her collaborators have found that by offering a snack they are able to more easily get people to come by and open up. This ongoing project is called The Brooklyn Hi-Art Machine. This project has been something of a catalyst for further exposure in that it has allowed Beltre to think about how to create opportunities. Applying for group shows and grants is a regular part of Beltre’s practice. To hear more from Mildred Beltre, listen to the complete interview.
A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:
Generation after generation has been built not by a single hand, but by the collective work of those who came before us just as we, together, will build the future.
Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.
Books to Read
What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Natasha Ria El-Scari is reading The Complete Stories of Zora Neale Hurston. Mildred Beltre is reading Black and Blur by Fred Moten.
Colectivo R.A.R.O is a new style of residency in which artists choose two or more ateliers in which to work during a residency period lasting at least three weeks. There are no time limits to R.A.R.O residencies, rather the artists and the collective decide on a timeline prior to the start of the residency period. Artists work collectively with the other residents at their chosen ateliers. Some grant funding may be available. For further details, visit the website. Deadlines are rolling.
Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.
Thanks for sharing this article. I needed this today. I recently lease a new space in Harlem as an expansion of my current working art studio & showroom also in Harlem. I was planning to do it all alone as I have done in the past. After reading the article, I was inspired and contacted three other artists to at least discuss the possibility of collaborating. In addition, Brianard, I think it could be great, if you would do some live “artist talk” in the space in the future. Stay Tuned.
Hey Reginald, I’d be happy to do a talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org