Why did you choose the artists featured in as they lay’s BMA Salon exhibition the softer i feel, the freer i be…? Why that title?
First off, I was trying to give Maya Angelou with that exhibition title, can you tell? Asha Jamila Holmes, Jalynn Harris, Khari Johnson-Ricks, Darius Johnson, Moses Leonardo, and Kyle Vincent Scott are all in the BMA Salon. Each of them approaches tenderness from their own lens; for instance, I live for how much Khari leans into Afrofuturism in their piece “ight bet,” where two queer bodies are depicted on an octopus. You can see the gaze of one figure locked onto the other—that’s tender. Kyle, Asha, and Darius all explore the tenderness and satisfaction you get from that relationship to yourself.
I’m obsessed with the idea of tenderness and Black folks dwelling in our softness. Society projects limited ideologies onto Black bodies—for instance, the notion that ALL Black femmes are strong and tough, that they’re supposed to be taking care of everybody else but themselves, or when Black AMAB bodies want to play with their femininity and embrace their softness they’re ridiculed. With all that pressure, how can they have the capacity to be tender?
I encourage Black folks to dwell in our softness to resist oppressive ideologies. I believe that tenderness and softness are connected to the erotic, the feminine, and, as Audre Lorde suggested, when we tap into those energies we can tap into our deepest knowledge of selves and collective knowledge, to tap into what we feel. In our society, feelings and emotions are taboo, especially with Black bodies. So we gotta resist against that to truly know our whole selves and this world. To be soft is to feel and to be soft is to be free.
Each of the artists selected explores softness and when we do that we imagine like these artists did. When we do that we dismantle, challenge, and threaten the existence of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.
What have you done with as they lay so far?
As they lay supports queer’d counter-ideologies, artistic partnership, and radical creative work that set fire for visions of new worlds that are delivered from modern-day oppressive pathologies.
- “blakkFRUIT” at Waller Gallery (November 2019): A celebratory sound & poetry performance with myself, Pangelica, Maya Martinez, and Jalynn Harris whose poetry is featured in the BMA exhibition. DJ Hoeteps spun some records.
- “Legacy Legacy Legacy” at BMA Lexington Market (December 2019): Myself with one of my key collaborators, Karryl Eugene, who is also in the BMA Screening Room as part of the current virtual BMA exhibition. We were accompanied by Theljon Allen, Michelle Luong, and Bashi Rose for a collaborative multimedia performance at BMA Lexington Market, located in the historic Lexington Market at 400 West Lexington Street.
- “Things I Imagined” at Trophy House (February 2020): This was a one-night-only joint, an ephemeral exhibition featuring poetry, text, sound, and visual art that speaks to how Black, Indigenous and People of Color using our power of imagination serve as a form of resistance against oppressive metaphysical structures.
- “What Is Your Legacy” at the Baltimore Museum of Art: I was so honored to have a video and sound piece I created with Karryl Eugene featured in Mickalene Thomas’ A Moment’s Pleasure, alongside some of my friends and favorite artists. Black folk in collaboration is a radical act!
- Black Arts Legacy Fund: Being reflective of the economic disparities of COVID-19, I decided the best thing to do was to give financial support to women-identifying and/or LGBTQ-identifying Black artists based in Baltimore. I called my design collaborator, Rush Jackson, and on April 26, I launched a digital fundraiser to gain $1,000 so that I can distribute ten micro-grants of $100. I met my goal in less than 24 hours and even gained some extra coins on top of that! The success of the fund has inspired me to make this annual grant with even bigger goals in 2021.
You recently wrote a letter to Mayor Jack C. Young that has gone sort of viral online. Why did you write it?
When I saw the proposed budget for Baltimore City in 2021 I gasped! I mean, we all expected an increase in police funding. They are doing that all over the country. That’s some bullshit. How is Baltimore’s police department still one of the most funded police departments in the fucking country? It is wild. I think we’re number one actually, per capita. We get more funding per capita for police officers than New York fucking City. So when I saw that not only is the police department budget increasing by $13 million combined with the fact that there is a next-to-$0 increase in the budget for arts and culture, I gagged! I went the fuck off… if anything the artists of the city is what makes this city.
Why do artists in Baltimore City deserve more funding?
Artists make Baltimore the beautiful, golden, charming city that it is. [The city] relies on us so much to make Baltimore seem like anything other than what the media paints it to be. They exploit our labor, our talent, our legacy that we’re building when it’s convenient for them. It’s crazy. Arts and culture—within any culture, within the fabric of humanity—are important for economic development, intellectual development, cultural development, and educational development. They need artists. I’m tired of this country not recognizing that. I’ve been to European countries that realize art is just as important as food and health.