Once, I heard Dee Rees talking about Pariah on the radio and she said to Elvis Mitchell, “Everyone has to shed their costumes in order to be happy.” I realized how infrequently I found myself listening to black women, let alone queer black artists, talk about the creative process. I started to cry.
The other night I went to the video store and got a movie called The Fits and it was outrageously sweet to watch it dawn on this little black protagonist that she wanted to dance. And to see two little girls just be little. Dancing out of sync and running around, giggling in gold costumes in a boxing gym; the discipline and effort of their training. It reminded me of when I was a nine-year-old gymnast working my ass off five days a week so that I could learn to launch my small, chalk-covered body into the air.
And remember how those first few images of Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” brought to mind the photographs of Lorna Simpson? And she danced like a gold, shimmering bird? Remember how it felt to watch the last few scenes in Moonlight? How you were buzzing?
I read once that the painter Jean Michel Basquiat was obsessed with a book called Flash of the Spirit by Robert Farris Thompson, who studied the relationship between African and African American art. In the attempt to describe how the Yoruba relate to creativity, Thompson relays the following sentiment: “As we become noble, fully realizing the spark of creative goodness God endowed us with, the shining ororo bird of thought and aspiration, we find the confidence to cope with all kinds of situations. This is ashe. This is character. This is mystic coolness.” THIS IS MYSTIC COOLNESS. Whether it’s the blues or a flash, there is this tradition of alchemy. Using art to turn suffering to light.
I don’t know if this is a tangent or if it is my entire point, but: remember the audition scene in Flashdance?
I hunger for black art these days. And I don’t mean opinion pieces—I want to crawl into people’s imaginations Being-John-Malkovich-style while they dream and sing and move through the world. Because you know what? Black artists are on fire right now. It’s not just the Knowles sisters—just ask Morgan Parker. We’re in the middle of another, quiet renaissance, and I have the sneaking suspicion that you are part of it.
Who am I? I am Aisha, and I like to read and write and teach about art. This month I’ll be curating this series. Specifically, I am looking for personal essays about how your black queer life has been saved or influenced by art in all forms, including art categorized as “pop culture.” How do you craft and cope? What was it like the first time you realized Nina Simone was (is) trying to get your attention when she sang To Be Young, Gifted and Black? Who are your poets? Where are your choreographers? Who draws your comics? Can we come with you to a museum or a movie?
We are offering $100 per personal essay. Alternately, if you’re planning to attend A-Camp in May (registration opens January 31st), you have the option of taking $100 cash or $200 credit towards your A-Camp tuition. (The A-Camp option is not transferrable, you can only use it for yourself.) Essays should be at least 2,000 words long, but there is no word count maximum.
The deadline is February 6th, but we encourage you to submit as soon as you’re ready!
You can submit your work here. Select “Renaissance – Black History Month Essay Series” from the drop-down. If you are a queer black illustrator who’d like to collaborate on imagery for the series, please email laneia [at] autostraddle [dot] com, who will pass your information on to me.
Below, find some essays from our archives that are similar to what we’re looking for if you need some guidance: