Monday, July 17, 2017

hey, it's me!

when i first moved to harlem from brooklyn in 2003(ish), strangers on the street had quite a lot to say about my free and natural hair.  "do your hair!!!" was yelled at me as i walked down the street.  many times.  ms. lillian, my neighbor out on the stoop every day, just shook her head at me in dissappointment as i came and went.

a couple years ago i was looking on google images for a silhouette of a woman with an afro for a calendar i was making called "harlem portraits."  i couldn't find anything suitable.  then i (finally) realized that was me.  so i took a selfie, traced it onto a print block and cut out the image.  i ended up hand printing it onto all kinds of things -- rice paper, swatches of silk, handmade notebooks, etc.

for some reason, this summer, i remembered this image and decided to make it my personal logo, having it printed on a t-shirt.  yesterday was the first day i made those "afro-printed" tees available to the public.  and i learned something.

it was the "go africa!" street fair in harlem.  i lost count of the many natural-haired, mostly bespectacled, women who walked past, saw the shirt, and exclaimed:  "hey, it's me!"  not only did i sell a boatload of shirts, but i met so many new family members -- sisters, aunties, nieces, of all different hues, shapes and styles.  it is an indescribable feeling to have so many strangers look at an image of you and see themselves.  that level of interconnectedness is soul-stirring.

one of my new sisters at the go africa! street festival
i had noticed the sea change in the neighborhood for a while now:  ms. lillian had long-ago begun to defend me from the stoop to suspicious passersby; "do your hair!!" was eventually replaced with "i like your hair!"; friends who used to have no problem spotting me at an outdoor concert, now need to text me because there are so many afros today.  so many women with afros.  so many sisters.

it was such a pleasure to meet you all.  shall we have a family reunion at harlem week?

Monday, July 10, 2017

a can of forgiveness

so, hey.  it's been quite a number of years since i've done this blogging thing.  and even then, it wasn't so regularly accomplished.  shall we try it again?

i was at a flea market this past weekend, selling hair accessories and handmade books.  but, at the urging of my furniture-artist brother, i included a third item:  cans of forgiveness.  it's an art project i did for lent a while back, where i made something every day for 40 days.  some themed for lent and others just for fun.  so, forgiveness in a can.  i took a can and added a label:  "Forgiveness" with some advertising lingo "now with easy access pop-top!" and the nutrition facts, ingredients listing, and recipe suggestions that might be found on a food product.  there is even an allergy warning: "caution:  produced in a facility that also processes peace."  i thought it was funny.  but also, i personally believe that forgiveness is an essential element of life and that it's something we've already been given -- we just maybe need a tactile delivery mechanism to help us remember that.

so, back to the flea market -- in a small town, selling hair accessories and books.  and forgiveness.  as you might imagine, people had quite a bit to say about it.

Man 1:  "so, what's forgiveness going for these days?"
Me:  [laughing] well, the forgiveness is free.  it's the packaging that's going to cost you.
Man:  [laughing] now i've seen everything.
My brother:  [laughing]  so, you can go home now?
Man 1:  [laughing]  Yes, i've surely seen everything, i'd might as well go home...

some encounters weren't so jovial:

Man 2:  [picks up can, examines it, and puts it back down, starts walking away]
Me:  do you need some?
Man 2:  [looking back, dejectedly]  if only it were that simple... [slumps down and walks away]

many people who hurriedly walked past backed up to take a closer look at the cans.  my favorite customer of the day was a bright-smiling woman:

Woman 1:  hah!  [laughing and shaking the can] what's IN here??!
Me:  there's an ingredients list on it...
Woman 1:  [reads can, bursts out laughing]  oh, my brother needs this!!!  how much is it?
Me: [apologetically] it's five dollars.
Woman 1:  [digging in purse for her wallet, laughing] oh, yes, my brother needs this.  he's so mean to my mother.  she's 84!  can you believe it?!  and he's mean to her!  [laughs, purchases the can, and strolls off, smiling]

i'm thinking i might just pop open a can for myself.  cut myself a break for falling off the blogging (and making!) train and just hop back on.

"can" you forgive me?