Angela N. Carroll in Conversation with Balti Gurls Founder Jenné Afiya
My first encounter with BALTI GURLS was during February’s All Over Street crawl, at the Copy Cat’s Penthouse gallery. BLK LUV, presented visual and performative works from BALTI GURLS members as a sprawling collective homage to Black History Month.
No after-school special subjugation recollections here, though I am a strong advocate for inclusive and informed representations of history, dig Michelle Alexander, Cheikh Anta Diop, or Howard Zinn for introductory jewels, BALTI GURLS reflections on identity and history were nuanced, youthful and left me with a generally warm inspired and slightly mushy feeling inside. Something akin to the feeling you get after playing Donny Hathaway’s Extensions of a Man from start to finish, or watching Bruce Leroy finally get his glow in the cult classic The Last Dragon, an affirming ancestral, “we gon’ be alright” tingle that still resonates weeks after the show has closed. I should note that I am not the type of gal to get blurry eyed over Valentine’s Day consumption or many things for that matter, but BLK LUV was pure #blackgirlmagic.
Maybe it was all the love in the air, or my general excitement about EDGE CONTROL the consistently invigorating and high energy art and music showcase BALTI GURLS presents at at EMP Collective—but I had to learn more. I caught up with BALTI GURLS founder, Jenné Afiya, to learn more about the collective.
Angela N. Carroll: What is BALTI GURLS?
Jenné Afiya: BALTI GURLS is a women of color artist collective based in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 2014 by artist and city native Jenne Afiya as an informal discussion group among friends, it has evolved into a 10 member collective. With a particular focus on new media and cross-disciplinary practice, our mission is to cultivate platforms and “creative safe space” for other women of color.
Who are BALTI GURLS?
Currently we are 10 member collective of artists who work in a variety of media. We are DJs, filmmakers, painters, photographers, graphic designers, and performance artists. Current members include Jenné Afiya, Suldano Abdiruhman, Khadija Nia Adell, Ashley N. Chambers, Chanel Cruz, Christianna Clark, N’Deye Diakhate, Jessica Hyman, Alejandra Nuñez, Joy Postell, and Stephanie Alexandra Wallace.
How/Why did BALTI GURLS form?
It was very informal at first–just a meeting between a few friends to discuss our dreams/goals/frustrations as it related to our creative work. What kept coming out of those meetings what that there was no “safe space” for women of color to meet or exhibit work in ways that celebrated us. That people are often unfairly critical about work that explored “identity” or “background”; and that shouldn’t be! So, instead of trying to make those spaces or people see it our way, it was like “Okay, let’s do this!”
In so called post-race America, why form a collective of black brown female identified artists?
Because we still live a society that does not value or discuss intersectionality. That makes you choose which identity you value more–being a woman, of color, queer, etc. In reality, these aspects of our identities impact our experiences in a number of complex ways. For example, even if you’re at an event where the attendees “look like you,” there can be a lot disrespect towards women, particularly women of color. Or, if you’re in a space that is “for women,” there can be a lot of un-nuanced pluralizing of experience, or even just out and out racism. That is why what we, and others like us do is so crucial! It allows us, our bodies and experiences, to be respected and validated.
Why not? Baltimore is our home. It is in our name. And many of our members are natives, or transplants who have spent a number of years here. Being here is very much a part of why we formed and where we are excited to be. To see what happens as the city enters this turning point, and to also be vocal about what those changes mean, and how they can be effective and meaningful for groups like artists and people of color.
Talk a bit about your artist residency at the EMP Collective.
Yes, we have been working with EMP Collective for the past year. Our first event with them was a screening of the short film by British filmmaker Cecile Emeke “Ackee & Saltfish”. And recently, we’ve begun doing a series of music shows called EDGE CONTROL which features all women of color musicians and DJs. All of these have been hosted at EMP. It’s been great to work in a space that allows us such freedom and flexibility. We couldn’t ask for a better partner.
Are BALTI GURLS all students?
Some of us are, but that is not a requirement. In fact, one of our main goals is to give young women of color a platform outside of institutions. Being independent of that is very important to us.
Art, Literature, Music, Movements that influence BALTI GURLS?
What is happening online right now definitely has inspired us. #BlackLivesMatter #CareFreeBlackGirl #BlackGirlMagic are all online/social movements that have informed our work. But there is also so much here in Baltimore that excites us and keeps us going. The work of other collectives like Earthseed, Llamadon and Dwelaa, or zines like True Laurels and Beast Grrl Zine. It’s amazing to see such a vibrant community coming up here in Baltimore, and it is a great feeling to know that we are a part of that.
Any other projects/showcases/exhibitions/music in the works for BALTI GURLS?
Currently, we are collaborating on an event with Black Girl Magik in April, as well the third installment to our music show/party series EDGE CONTROL, which will be held sometime in the Summer. To stay up to date and get news on our events and other projects, follow us on social media: @balti_gurls. Or, if you’d like to reach us directly e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Angela N. Carroll is an artist-archivist; a purveyor and investigator of contemporary culture.
Photos by Jazmine Johnson