“My Blackness Is…” webinar series provides platform for Black artists

Black creatives share art expressing what “Blackness” means to them

Sent+by+Sabine+Jacques

Sent by Sabine Jacques

By McKenna Premus, Assistant Social Media Editor

A mini webinar series called “My Blackness Is…” ran Tuesday through Friday for over an hour each night. Event attendees were able to tune in and watch different groups of Black artists present poems, songs, raps, videos, monologues, paintings, dances and other artwork which expressed what Blackness meant to them. Following the presentations, the group of artists engaged in a facilitated discussion led by Sabine Jacques, the creator and founder of “My Blackness Is…,” and Sandra Seoane-Serí and Afrikah Smith, both of whom helped Jacques orchestrate the event.

Jacques, a 24-year-old graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, said the inspiration for “My Blackness Is…” came after hearing about the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade.

“Not only was it George, but also hearing about Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless lives that are stolen from us that we don’t even hear about—being inundated with all of those messages and images, I just felt powerless, but I needed to do something,” said Jacques.

“I know that art heals. I know that my art family needs space for healing, they need space where their voices are going to be heard. I wanted to create a space in which we can come together and share our art, because that is what helps in our healing,” she continued. “We are artists, and art leads that way. What can we do, what conversations can we start having that will allow us to envision the change that we want to see and utilize our art as a way of bringing that change to life?”

“This space is for imagining a new world and using our art to bring that new world to life,” said Seoane-Serí.

Attendees registered for “My Blackness Is…” by filling out a Google form linked on a Facebook page dedicated to the event. After registering, attendees were emailed a link to access the webinar on Zoom, an online remote video conferencing service.

A description of the event, posted to its Facebook page, said that “‘My Blackness Is…’ is a webinar series that will serve as a space for Black artists and creatives to be in community with one another as we celebrate our blackness by centering dialogue and art that addresses the importance of Black Love and Black Joy in our continuous fight for liberation. I hope this space can exemplify the ways art for social transformation doesn’t solely center our pain. Rather it tends to it, and chooses to nurture alongside it love, joy, and celebration.”

Artists performed a variety of pieces, reading self-written or handpicked poetry, presenting paintings and artwork, singing and rapping original works, showing original films and animations and performing self-choreographed dances.

After performing a dance during the first night of the webinar series, UMass student Izzy Marseille spoke about what dancing means to her.

“Dancing has always been home for me, so it always feels super liberating just letting out every emotion that I feel,” said Marseille. “I’m also a pianist, so I’m very into music and the technicalities of music as well, so I really like to get into the rhythm and tie that into dance. I feel that, for me, it helps me strengthen all the more of my expression. It was extremely liberating and freeing.”

Steve Folmar, a theater major, read a poem dedicated to his two aunts who recently passed away, both of whom helped inspire his creativity. In a discussion following the performances, Folmar described how he finds freedom in theater and in creative spaces.

“Creativity is the place where I find freedom,” said Folmar. “It’s where I feel like I’m flying. And I learned that from my two aunts. Hands down, they were the most creative people I knew.”

“I don’t think I’m going to stop smiling tonight because we did it,” Jacques told the first group of artists Tuesday night. “We are here. Our voices are important. Our voices matter. Our breath matters. And I want us to remember our breath is sacred, and our tongue is sacred. Breathe and speak life into the things that you and your community want and need.”

MarHadoo Effeh Jones shared a poem on the second night of the webinar series. Inspired by Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play “In the Red and Brown Water”, Jones wrote a piece derived from the play’s main character, Oya.

“We live in our Blackness each and every day, it’s a part of our existence,” said Jones. “It was really hard to put that into words, and my initial instinct was to find a monologue, or some kind of poem that spoke to what I felt it meant to be Black. I really had to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Well, what does it mean for you to be Black and what does your Blackness mean?’ I just kept hearing the word ‘journey,’ and instead of trying to fit that into what people had written from their own perspectives, I wanted to write something from my perspective.”

“Growing up as a Black person, it’s so hard to figure out who you want to be when you’re surrounded in a world that really tries to tell you that you can’t be you, you have to be something else,” said Phillipe Janvier when discussing the background and inspiration behind a video he produced and shared at the event.

Brandon Medina, a communication major, presented a poem he had written inspired by his childhood and the importance of education about Black history and culture.

“We all inhabit our Blackness in different ways,” said Medina. “I don’t want our narrative to be monolithic. I don’t want our narrative to just be, ‘This is our story and why people have to learn from us,’ but rather Black people have to learn from each other too.”

“Me personally, as a…Black man who is from a privileged background, there’s a lot that I have to learn,” he said. “This is very much a journey in terms of positioning myself as a Black artist and recognizing all Black people.”

Regina East shared a painting she had made and talked about the inspiration behind the piece. East detailed the work and steps she took to make the painting, as well as the meaning behind the different media.

“My Blackness is deep and it’s loud and it’s emotional,” said East. “It’s like gentle little petals and soft tears. But my Blackness is also in mourning, and that’s what this piece is about. It’s about the mourning process and it’s for all of us.”

Mary Elineema-Kidela, an operations and information management and communication double-major, recited original poems and spoke about using art and poetry as a method in her process of healing.

“I put a band aid on things that weren’t fully healed and I have to take that off and let it heal and grow into what it really is,” said Elineema-Kidela. “I had to understand that process, and learn how to funnel that into some sort of art.”

“That’s why we create, that’s why we’re creatives, that’s why we do all of the things we do because it’s therapy,” she continued. “Using that as a process, making your pain something beautiful and great that somebody else can maybe even relate to, and then hopefully coming out on the other side and really truthfully enjoying that journey and appreciating it for what it is.”

Jacques said she hopes attendees and artists left “My Blackness Is…” knowing their voices matter, and the definition of “Blackness” is multilayered and can mean many different things for different people.

“A message that I want folks to walk away with is that Blackness is more than just what society has deemed it to be, and when I say ‘society’ I think about the white supremacist structures that we live under,” said Jacques. “Blackness is more than these tropes and these stereotypes. It’s more than our suffering and our pain. Blackness is beauty. Blackness is ethereal. Blackness is joy. Blackness is love. Blackness is care.”

“I want folks to leave knowing that your voice matters, and what you experience and your feelings matter,” she continued. “You deserve to have a space in which you can safely express what is going on with you internally and how you are feeling, and I don’t think we have enough spaces like that.”

“At the end of the day, we are all Black people, and if we all allow each other the space and comfort to just be ourselves within the community and truly unite, then that is where our strength is truly going to stem from,” said Marseille.

“I really think this is a healing space,” said Medina. “This isn’t a space on social media where we all have to endure so much Black pain, we all have to find the perfect arguments, our politics, where we stand. No. This is a place where we’re here as ourselves.”

“Artists lead the way,” said Jacques. “We create worlds onstage, and people escape their worlds to come into the worlds we create. Not only does art hold up a mirror to what is going on in the world, but art holds up a mirror to what the world can be.”

Jacques plans to expand the event, whether that means hosting it more frequently or using an alternative media platform such as a podcast.

“We know that this is a space that Black artists need, the Black community needs and just communities need in general to see who we truly are,” said Jacques. “We’ve been talking about possibly doing this bimonthly, monthly, or maybe even a podcast. We’re currently figuring it out, but I know that I want to expand this after this week, because these spaces are vital, they’re necessary, and I know that we need this right now, especially with all that’s going on in our world.”

“Also, in thinking about the pandemic, it’s a new world. So, in wondering what this new world is going to look like, we can create spaces in which we can figure that out together,” she said.

McKenna Premus is an Assistant Social Media Editor and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @mckenna_premus.