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A #BlackArtNow Manifesto

By 651 ARTS on November 28, 2017

This Manifesto is written by Mahogany L. Browne.

#BlackArtNow is a call and response. is a demand for space amongst colonized territories. is a reclamation of blackness and joy and critique in traditional academic spaces. is all an actualized body working the canvas or stage or page or fabric or photograph or/and/still pushing the edges of these disciplines as their actual bodies transform and transition throughout the world, a survival song.

#BlackArtNow is a constant search of these shimmering opportunities which promise to expand the flattened landscape that has our blackness attached. that has our black names attached. that propel our black tongues into the sky or on the web as if it can fly. because blackness is fly. because black people are fly. and fly begets swag. and swag begets beats. and beats beget a tremor in a community. and the community fuels art. and the art feeds the community. and what a lovely necessary cycle of being.

#BlackArtNow exists because white supremacy is a murder weapon. is America’s self-diagnosed amnesia. is a dirge filled with bodies of black and brown and othered bodied people. is wanting this manifesto to end quickly. white supremacy gathers strength in the silence. what a privilege, to never fight to speak in your own tongue. what a privilege, to never argue your own valid breath. what a privilege, to be taught as the canon and exist within imaginary borders. O, what a privilege, to stretch in honor of growth, with no threat of being ostracized, maimed, your lineage cauterized.

but #BlackArtNow is a shattering sound. it creates art that questions, challenges and requires the homogenized a life of discomfort. #BlackArtNow excavates the dirge brimming with racism, sexism, classism and xenophobia.

in Brooklyn Public Schools, a young women’s high school advisory group discusses the work of Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby. the domino sugar factory housed a building sized black woman sphinx. made of hundreds of tons of sugar and surrounded by “tar babies.” the art exhibit was a massive success and incited responses that included lewd gestures towards the sphinx’s exposed breasts, vagina and buttocks. the exhibit became a multi-faceted discussion requiring the viewers to analyze their appreciation of black art and their desire to abuse a Black Artist’s artistic statement. upon witnessing the responses, pictures posted and the history laced within the construction of Kara Walker’s exhibit, the classroom became a sea of black and brown girl faces. there are dry faces, stoic and full of knowing. there are tear streaked faces wracked with a painful understanding of how the black woman’s body is consumed and disregarded until dusted down into edible bite sizes. #BlackArtNow allows those conversations to occur, where blackness isn’t diluted for the sake of tradition or comfort. in fact, it is full bodied and bold. it is painful and pretty. it contains multitudes.

in Manhattan an after-school judge mandated writing program is introduced to the poetry of Ross Gay. in this poem A Small Needful Fact Eric Garner is remembered and celebrated. the video recording of police officers choking him to death, five white bodies aim to tame his one black body on a random street in Staten Island until he is no longer alive. the young men in this afternoon writing program are victims of the prison industrial complex, know this story too well. they understand their existence in this room, looking at art, as sentenced by the judge. it is what it is: time to reflect, but also time to bury their things. the young men, dark around the eyes and knuckles, know a baton too well. know the slight hand holding a gun. know the kiss of handcuffs. a young black man raises his hand and asks to read the poem again. we do. this poem is set; before his last utterances. before his breath, became still and then, no more. in this poem, he is alive and his ability is swirling on the page, gusts of life sprouting up and outward. the young man reads slowly about Eric Garner, the class reads along, their mouths open and expecting the nightmare to be only that. the poem gathers the memories of Eric Garner’s previous gardening job and how he offered the city of New York a small gift of easy breathing as a result. we read this poem, one out loud and the rest along under our breathes. no one moves a muscle. except our reader, his jaws are clenched. his eyes moist this is what #BlackArtNow allows us to do. a space of mourning and celebration. a space to rise and thrive. with our outpour and stake in this mighty world. a space to love ourselves despite the campaigns conditioned for our disbelief in our own glorious bodies.

#BlackArtNow is a vibration, ringing. is a blaring reminder that our blackness is a treaty with glory. is ascension and flight. is soaring in whichever space we deem worthy of our energy. is a fight for what is rightfully ours, with our joy intact.

About Mahogany L. Browne

Mahogany L. Browne

The Cave Canem, Poets House & Serenbe Focus alum, is the author of several books including Redbone (nominated for NAACP Outstanding Literary Works), Dear Twitter: Love Letters Hashed Out On-line, recommended by Small Press Distribution & About.com Best Poetry Books of 2010. Mahogany bridges the gap between lyrical poets and literary emcee. Browne has toured Germany, Amsterdam, England, Canada and recently Australia as 1/3 of the cultural arts exchange project Global Poetics. Her journalism work has been published in magazines Uptown, KING, XXL, The Source, Canada’s The Word and UK’s MOBO. Her poetry has been published in literary journals Pluck, Manhattanville Review, Muzzle, Union Station Mag, Literary Bohemian, Bestiary, Joint & The Feminist Wire. She is the co-editor of forthcoming anthology The Break Beat Poets: Black Girl Magic and chapbook collection Kissing Caskets (Yes Yes Books). She is an Urban Word NYC Artistic Director (as seen on HBO’s Brave New Voices), founder of Women Writers of Color Reading Room, Program Director of BLM@Pratt and facilitates performance poetry and writing workshops throughout the country. Browne is also the publisher of Penmanship Books, the Nuyorican Poets Café Friday Night Slam curator and recent graduate from Pratt Institute MFA Writing & Activism program.  Follow her on Twitter @mobrowne.





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