There’s nothing like a convention to make you wish you could pull a Multiplicity and assign a clone to see everything there is to see. The studious one could attend all of the workshops and panels while the gregarious one could bust it up in the vendor area.
I was faced with that dilemma when I stepped onto the campus of Temple University, the host institution for the Black Speculative Arts Movement during its Philadelphia tour stop (#BSAMPhilly). Co-founders Maia Crown Williams and Dr. Reynaldo Anderson brought a slew of artists and intellectuals together to share their corner of the Afrofuturist multiverse.
“Black Art & Community” with Danny Simmons
For the most part, I went the way of the merchant, but I did get a chance to hear Danny Simmons of Def Poetry and Corridor Gallery fame. He spoke candidly about his path toward success, knowing his worth, and using art as a healing and spiritual foundation. Moderated by Quentin VerCetty, artist and founder of BSAMCanada, this in-depth look at Simmons work and process was as entertaining as it was eye opening.
Simmons is a recent Philadelphia emigrant because after building a veritable artistic empire, launching various international careers, and engaging in community-revitalizing art education in NYC, he realized he wasn’t creating his own pieces. He said removing himself from the hubub of his life in the Big Apple gave him the time and mental space to create more in a few months than he did over a span of years back home.
Still, he is getting acclimated within the appreciative Philly art scene. He knows what he brings to the table when he partners with any entity, and his mission when he crafts art education for young people is – not so much to create artists, but creative thinkers.
This frank interview was a litany of life lessons, but the one that best encapsulated his never-scared attitude was, “All you need for a gallery opening is a wall and a cheap box of wine.”
Other panels included, “Hip-Hop and Artivism,” “The True Story of Nat Turner Rebellion 1831,” and “Afrofuturism 2.0: The Next Wave.”
Out On Artists’ Row
Talking to someone about their creations is such a joy. They get that twinkle in their eye and pride in their inflection. It’s fascinating to hear where they came up with their ideas and informative when they talk about their pitfalls.
I met Erica “FocsiMama” Parker, pronounced Foxee-mama, of course. She makes tee-shirts, acrylic earrings, and other adornments with distinct characters drawn in her own unique style. One of the pitfalls she spoke about was the proliferation of knockoffs. She met that challenge with a system of artistic watermarking so buyers know they’re getting the genuine article.
Eric Cooper is the author of Night Seeker, a work he calls a “Caption Novel,” which – so far, boasts some vivid characterization and heart. He is an avid con goer with an extended universe of diverse characters to explore. I’m keeping an eye out for a book coming early next year, featuring a queer character named Merge. I got a ‘FlameCon Exclusive’ print of him (and his boo thang) as a gift for getting the first Night Seeker book! He and one of his collaborators, Phoe-nix Nebula signed it for me.
Greg Anderson Elysée has a graphic novel that’s on my radar called Is’Nana: The Were-Spider. It’s about Anansi, the trickster god from West African lore and his son. The art is piercing and the story seems right up my alley.
Question of the Day
It wasn’t just schmoozing and merch procurement; I was also on a mission. I had a QotD to ask:
Do you think your art/practice will change with the shift in culture we’re about to see as a result of the national election?
“I feel people tend to forget where they come from. Art is starting to get a bit more Black in the last year or two, and it motivates me to keep getting more work out because there’s an audience for that voice. There is so much we can do with our own characters. We have a culture so let’s raise it up!.”
“You don’t change what you do. I’ve never been fearful… I think Black artists need to be more fearless. We gotta go to “Fuck you,” and just create what empowers more of us.”
~ André Leroy Davis, Noted Artist – Creator of iconic, “The Last Word” for The Source Magazine
“I love creating jewelry and using crystals. I find that we’re moving into this era of awareness and being interested in working together toward the liberation of Africana people throughout the world. Reclaiming of culture, a Blackness that’s not monolithic that makes room for the Black girls with crystals and the Black nerds and the cosplayers. “
“It encourages me to do more artwork that addresses social change. Art can be used as a weapon. And I like to think I can use my art work to counteract some of the biases and misconceptions that general media wants to promote regarding people of color, African-American women and men. What’s happening in the world doesn’t frighten me at all. This is the game we’re playing right now. Let’s get to it.”
All told, I had a great day. Stay tuned for a profile on BSAM Co-Founders, Maia Crown Williams and Dr. Reynaldo Johnson coming soon.
Now, don’t be shy about clicking on some or ALL of these links above for a little holiday patronage. Tis the season for Cooperative Economics!
*- An earlier version of this article did not credit Quentin VerCetty in the picture with Danny Simmons above.