Making: History, Art, & Home

A visiting professor at Bryn Mawr, Stephen Vider, recently curated an exhibit in New York that collected pieces of art, narrative, and personal experience to imagine a history of how intimate spaces of home and emotional care bred resistance and activism throughout the HIV/AIDS crisis. (For months now, I have been thinking about how little I know about this history — my history, not too far in the past that had I been born just a decade earlier I may have felt the earthquake in my own circles — as an individual belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. So when I received word from a professor of mine about the opportunity to learn, I absolutely had to take it.)

On Friday, Sept. 29, I joined about thirty other students aboard an early bus to Manhattan to experience the exhibit first-hand. The walls, floors, and stairwells of the Museum of the City of New York are decorated with local art and histories, such as those pictured below in a photograph of the Croton Aqueduct over Pocantico River by Nathan Kensinger and an engraving of the same view by William James Bennett.

other pieces of local history

An amalgamation of visual art, photography, and film arranged in a home-like space, the exhibit “AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism” expressed commentary on creations of resistance, community, art and home. Artists came forward to memorialize their ideas about the personal and the political, as well as loved ones lost and lives celebrated in the form of artistic archive work, made during the ’80s crisis and brought to life through Vider’s vision. The work specifically makes an effort to celebrate, visualize, and re-center the narrative around LGBTQ+ communities of color. (Pictured below: “Scott Shaving” (1985) by Vincent Cianni & “Kachin and Michael in Michael’s Apartment” (1987) by Susan Kuklin)

photos by Luna Luis Ortiz

We had the opportunity to experience the exhibit with Vider’s guidance and were encouraged to explore the space on our own. We returned to the ground level of the museum for lunch, and had the chance to hear from five of the featured artists, each threading together an individual narrative of emotion, loss, community, and growth.

Among the artists present were Latinx photographer Luna Luis Ortiz (who took photos of himself and his LGBTQ+ family of color after his infection with HIV), found materials artist Eric Rhein (whose work embraces body and spirit regarding his emotional experience with HIV), memoirist Lori Grinker (creator of an experimental collection regarding her brother’s death), transgender performance artist T De Long (who remembers late partner Chloe Dzubilo), and filmmaker Juanita Mohammed Szczepanski (member of the Women’s AIDS Video Enterprise). Their openness was inspiring, as was the passion with which they expressed themselves wholeheartedly.

“Bath Curtain” by Hugh Steers (1992)

“Knit Prep” (2014) by Ben Cuevas

From issues of housing discrimination to ideas of chosen family and the home as a space for love and activism, Vider and the artists spoke to the exhibit’s heart: that efforts of art-making and home-making — with regard to history, politics, and marginalized communities — embody, themselves, manifestations of everyday resistance.

I am especially charmed by a piece  by Jenna Gray of PBS Newshour, centering Stephen Vider and the exhibit’s heartfelt meaning.

“Health is not just medical attention,” Vider tells Gray. “It’s about emotional care and about all the different ways that home and family are meaningful. Creating home and family and creating art are themselves acts of activism with lasting effects for people.”

The exhibit is open until Oct. 22 at the Museum of the City of New York!

Reflections

The neat thing about being a black, first-year Banter-Blogger-by-chance is the unique, fully-curated experience I’m able to offer. I adore personal narrative, and while my experience may not be echoed by other Bryn Mawr students or even fellow people of color who exist in Bryn Mawr’s spaces, I would dance at any chance to (reflect on? journal? archive?) myself and my experiences, etched forever into institutional memory.

Much like the complex elements of my identity, my feelings about Bryn Mawr are nuanced. I look at the easily-charmed, moon-eyed eighteen year old I was in August and have difficulty recognizing / reconciling her with the lovingly-critical eighteen year old I am now. I hadn’t realized then that my habit of over-idealizing could possibly extend to the change of scenery I was just eager to get, regardless of my firm belief in criticism as a healthy force with an unfit name. Just by being in the space I’m learning to recognize that complexity and criticism extend to places, too — that there are things I don’t have to love coexisting with things that I owe my growth to.

I found fondness in unlikely places. I received word that I was housed in Brecon and expected to hate it but only hated it for certain, very unexpected reasons. I expected to love certain spaces that I ended up never entering and found my place in responsibilities I didn’t anticipate having. I found excitement where there wasn’t previously. I may change my intended major to things I never considered. I’ve made some of the sweetest friends here, threaded together with memories that make me laugh upon reflection. And honestly, I should have known from the moment I visited the college I had previously dismissed, rooted in Philly Local Lenses and ideas about the out-of-character area I grew up near.

A note to those for whom Bryn Mawr was always their dream or was an unexpected additional application, for prospective students, committed ones, or even ones who are here, disheartened to some extent by dissonance: you don’t have to love everything about the spaces you’re in, and things may work out in ways you would have never imagined.

So, without further ado, here’s an informal and unexpected reflection in the form of lame reviews. (A lame attempt at creating laughter for myself.)

Tri-Co

I ordered the Tri-College Identity, Equity, and Social Justice Starter Pack in August of 2016, expecting fruitful guidance for activism. To my lack of knowledge the product requires you

explored the dance studio during tri-co

to assemble the pieces yourself Ikea-style and translate the instructions from a dead language. Many hours were spent with frustration, emptied energy reserves and a visual headache, but the final product (though always somewhat unfinished) was rewarding regardless. Would recommend for the strong of heart.

Customs Week

The release of Bryn’s new EP “Customs Week” features sounds from high-energy to poorly-sustained noise, hit singles like “Baby Blues,” “Eduroaming (Around Campus),” and “Yellin’ For Athena’s Mercy” painting themes of exhaustion and estrangement and summer camp colored vibes. Overall very loud and restless. Not ideal for lovers of solitude, introverts, or those prone to following their own rhythm.

Lantern Night 

my lantern where it rests on my shelf

Product was not as pictured — arrived in late October without the lantern and rain-stained? Very poor preparation despite the beautiful packaging and magic moments. I eventually received a refund (complete with the lantern this time) and came away with charming apple cider packets from the festivities, thanks to the lovely service I was offered.

Dimensions of Diversity

Placed my faith in the updated Social Justice Starter Pack free-trial and was very pleased with the product I received! Was very durable and reliable and arrived with heartfelt notes holding words of encouragement. Not fully assembled, but the instructions were easier to follow and in a language I understood. With this product I feel as though I’m capable of applying what I learned to the activism I want to create for my community; very, very happy with this product, and would without a doubt recommend to those who are interested!!

Hell Week 

Amazing service despite having been sworn to secrecy. May depend on the server you receive and the company you surround yourself with, but my personal experience was flavored and made with love.
Hidden menu treasures at reasonable prices (but only for the first year of service.) Would recommend with caution, as the taste is not for everyone.

me & my lovely pal dalia

 

 

May Day

Only came in white and one-size-fits-all, though the product pictured appeared available in a variety of colors and sizes. Would have preferred more options, but I was fortunate enough to be able to shape the item to what I had imagined with some easy embroidery and splashes of color. I very much appreciated that the product arrived with cherry-flavored sweets dusted in pink sugar as compensation, which I thought was a charming touch. Wished this hadn’t been necessary, but with some simple changes it’s possible to mold the fabric to capture your authenticity. Now, because of my persistence, I would not return it for the world, as it’s one of my favorite staple pieces and holds a special place in my wardrobe.

shirley temples & maraschino cherries

sandy’s may day outfit change

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From missing lanterns to days full of pink sugar, I hope these reviews captured a piece of my first-year experience in full color, in the variations I created to make room for myself in Bryn Mawr’s various quirks & traditions. Among moments of hardship (as there always are) I’m really happy that I was able to mold my year to accommodate myself, with the help of friend-love and a little island magic. Bryn Mawr may not always be for me in the ways that I imagine, but there’s comfort in the knowledge that I can make my experience my own (in resistance, in empowering community, and in the ways that count.)

Downtime & Updates

Four days until my very last class of freshman year. Eighteen until all of my finals are in, and twenty until my home among Brecon’s dark wood panels is cleared out, my plants neatly placed (again) in an empty ramen box.

my room in brecon

Meaning that I’m enjoying my time among sweet company and hoping that next semester finds me in sweeter spirits — after having celebrated this year (through completed projects & endured moments) and reflected upon my time here (in the form of an upcoming post in the works!)

The last post I wrote here (for re-imagined blacademia) was my final showcase project for my course in Multicultural Education, a blog post capturing my experiences with emotion in learning and how I feel their inclusion would create a more critical, accessible, and understanding space. I’m extremely proud of it and the things that I’ve learned this semester in class, from both my peers and our lovely professor Peggy Shannon-Baker. Though I’ll reflect on it more in addition to the other courses I took (and loved — or maybe didn’t — for very different reasons), I wanted to clarify that that post, both personal and thoughtful, is what I hope this space will become for me as I continue to move through Bryn Mawr, using the emotions and experiences of this year to guide me.

not-so-local on the lower east side

The next few weeks will see me venturing more off campus and wishing that my goals were placing together as neatly and as lovingly as my plants are. There really isn’t time for another New York visit (how I spent the weekend before last, with two friends and many trips on the metro) but whether I’ll be cozied up on campus or exploring ideal study spaces downtown (stay tuned for Notes from a Philly Native), I’ll be trying my best to make the best of it.

 

Emotion Reimagined (in Multicultural Education)

Learning the Language of Silence / Resilience

I never learned how to code-switch forms of expression in the same sense that I never really learned that black and woman and angry meant that people like me with hearts of depth and sugarcane were unpalatable. The richness of our experience is buried beneath ancient earth, beneath emotions that are unwelcome but accessible. I became fluent in the language of respectability that the black half of my family owed their success to, and the same language that, eight thousand miles and twelve years away, my Filipina mother prayed would create her salvation. Moments in educational spaces (from colorful rooms to elite settings) were full of anxiety packed into small cartons, where I tucked dreams and discomfort into books to mark the page.

I mastered the art of abstraction, exchanging native jargon for the language of academia. Softened and sweetened in favor of melting my words / my experience / myself into spoonfuls of brown sugar. I witched away emotion like a(n) (un)natural remedy for a natural occurrence, like healing abilities I imagine my ancestors learned to survive.

In many ways, I imagine that I’m no different from them. From Audre Lorde’s (art)icle titled “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” she emphasizes: “Our feelings were not meant to survive… feelings were expected to kneel to thought as women were expected to kneel to men. But women have survived. As poets. And there are no new pains. We have felt them all already.” (Why then, if “within these deep places, each of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling,” are emotional and creative approaches to education a liability rather than a strength?)

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A Week in Artful Healing

From dancing and writing to local concerts and theater productions, art, for me, has always been a form of healing when I feel like I have one foot in the dirt. Just one experiment with film photography or hour spent dancing to Marvin Gaye can remind me that I’m alive in a heartbeat, like creating is some herbal charm sent from my ancestors, dream-worlds away. I read an Audre Lorde poem. I add hip-hop dance classes to my schedule. I make mix CD’s for my friends from home, colored with themed visuals.

my girlfriend sandy near brecon hill

I’m learning to be more open about my experiences. To bare my heart (and brain) in all of its complex, brown queer glory. Which, really, is just a creative way of saying that I love creating, and appreciating creation, and that art makes me happy among hours mastering academia or unearthing my mind in therapy. So here’s the blog-embodiment of that: of openness and creative energy and celebration, featuring my favorite natural home-remedy put into practice.

Weird Poetry on a Tuesday Evening

Noted on a poster hanging on Bryn Mawr bathroom stalls, Leah Lakshmi enchants with words of disabled, queer, nonbinary femme of color magic. On Tuesday, March 28th at 7:40pm (for the love of Bryn Mawr time) I’m charmed into an evening of intimate realness, painted in the spaces between poetry and anecdote. Leah, author of Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home and lover of the performance art project Sins Invalid, “is a weirdo who writes about survivorhood, disability justice, transformative justice, queer femme of color lives and Sri Lankan diaspora sitting in her room.” Her energy for the last ten years has gone, at least partially, towards co-creating the longest performance art tour for queer & trans people of

my signed copy of “Body Map” // “to maria: with queer, mixed, crazy, femme love + solidarity”

color in North America, Mangos With Chili. The way I understand it, by day she breaks and warms hearts as an artivist and weaver of language, while by night she witches away the pains (of loss, of mental and chronic illness, of merely existing with the identities she holds), “regrows [her] neural pathways” and creates community for those on the margins.

The way I understand it, in dreams of channeling my own disabled, queer, brown femme experiences: part-time artivist, full-time witch.

Leah reimagines disability in a way that converts pain to power. Her aura encourages candid conversation, and all of us in attendance had the opportunity to approach her after the show, purchase some of her books, and exchange words of appreciation and resonance. I bought Body Map and The Revolution Starts at Home and am planning on buying Dirty River at next chance. I’m enchanted by words that color Dirty River as “a mixtape of dreams and nightmares, of immigration court lineups and queer South Asian dance nights.” Leah’s words, “How do I dance with that ideation so it doesn’t take me out?” stick with me even now. She was extremely sweet when I thanked her, and I’m really excited to read her work in June when I’m inevitably bored eating cherry water ice.


Cozy Thursday Spoken-Word

sam & i at lusty cup

Thursday, March 30th was the opening night of the Lusty Cup Exhibition Series. The Lusty Cup we know and love was transformed into a creative space exhibiting student art, from realistic paintings and embroidered pieces to abstract photographs curated thoughtfully. Throughout the night, the Exhibition Series featured students performing poetry against a colorful window of string lights, as others cozied up to the hum of chatter and brewing coffee.

There’s something magical about watching fellow students perform heartfelt poems, complete with hand gestures and words that are allowed entrance into your system and root themselves there. I’m a sucker for poetry in all its lovely forms, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see my sweet friend Veronica perform up there (and be the mildly-embarrassing mom friend that is known to appear at events, shouting “Get ’em babe!!” among the noise.)

Loving Blackness

loving blackness beyond february

For my Multicultural Education class this semester I spent the 31st of March in the heart of Philly, observing classes at my fieldwork placement from 8am to 3pm. Low energy / sugar levels and a torrential downpour encouraged Beatrice and I to make a brief stop at Reading Terminal market to get out of the rain. Even though I’m a Philadelphia native, it had been maybe four years since I’d found myself in Reading Terminal somewhere between Chinese takeout and the smoothie stand, and recently I’d been meaning to make a trip back with my film camera to capture the neon signs and local charm.

We explored the magic of Reading Terminal for a bit before we cozied up in a creperie and ordered honey & strawberry and nutella & banana crepes. I took note of places we passed that captured my interest (promising soul food and fresh fruit and authentic honey products), and wrote myself a tiny reminder to remember my film camera next time.

At 4pm, I met under Pem Arch with the five other people who expressed interest in visiting Asian Arts Initiative’s Loving Blackness exhibit. Familiar with Asian Arts from a program I participated in and an exhibit I helped curate in my junior and senior year, I felt at home in the cozy spaces that Asian Arts embodies. Upon hearing about the Loving Blackness exhibit that opened in early February and given the fact that I’m mixed Afro-Filipina, I was ridiculously excited to attend the opening and even more heartbroken when I spent that day ill and eating fruit in my room in Brecon. The chance to visit the exhibit without the hassle of train fare was a no-brainer, especially if it meant that I could return to Asian Arts.

“tar baby” by priyanka dasgupta & chad marshall

We took a rented van into the city and to the location near Chinatown. My heart warmed when someone at Asian Arts recognized me from my project internship last May and when the weird artwork and cozy lounges felt familiar to me.

thrifted tshirt @ asian arts initiative

Taking advantage of our time in Chinatown and the $20 flat rate for the van that was applicable for a few more hours, the six of us agreed easily upon an evening out for dinner. I’m personally fond of Philly’s Chinatown for its hidden treasures and underground market, attached to memories of mid-autumn festivals and lunar new years spent warm and exploring the streets. Having not yet mastered the art of local restaurants (regardless of the fact that I’m vaguely familiar with them), we decided upon a seemingly-new restaurant named Shangai I. We shared soup and vegetable dumplings and had a nice time getting to know one another outside of weekly, hurried ASA meetings.

Battle of the Bands

Technicolor shapes melt together, bathing the Campus Center full of movement and laughter and rich color. Students from the Tri-Co gather under vibrant lights and dance in the spaces between as they come alive with music, almost unrecognizable in the dark.

Uncommon Grounds is closed on Friday night to accommodate the celebratory Battle of the Bands, and instead of running around on my normal 10pm to closing shift I replace my Uncommon-brand hat and t-shirt with my favorite thrifted ones and make my way to the Campus Center with my friends.

This year’s line-up featured eight local bands, all including members of the Tri-Co or recent alum. By the time we arrive, well after the show had begun (due to forgotten times and 8pm trips back to Brecon from the city), Hometown Hero, Iowa Timeshare, The Marauders, Altair, and (yes, we were that late) My Chemical Platonic Friendship had already graced the makeshift stage, and we rolled in — on matching Heely’s — just in time
for My Chemical Platonic Friendship’s very last song: a cover of Jimmy Eat World’s classic “The Middle.” We exchange looks, Veronica asks, “Wanna mosh?” and we make our entrance into the crowd, moshing and laughing and dancing wildly under vibrant lights.

We step out for some air in between sets (mostly because we want to Heely around in front of the Campus Center) and are recognized as The Underground Heely Club by people from Haverford, none of whom are the least bit familiar to us. We shout excitedly to Baby Bush’s punk feminist sound and hug our friend Stevie, their drummer, when they come offstage. We dance to the smooth tunes of Bazmati Vice when the iconic Kristian Sumner adds their celestial vocals. We vibe to Good Good Not Bad’s pro-black, political rap and jazz blended sound, their words of healing and solidarity vibrating through the air.

A lover of local concerts and underrated music, I was reminded of how much I adore the way that shows make me feel alive. Especially with the scene that exists here in the heart of Philly, more trips into the city (my home) for performances will take special priority when fall semester rolls around.

underground heelys club

Music, Underground

My friends and I made a last-minute decision to roll (pretty literally) into FUCS on the night of April 1st, my gold chrome Heelys caked in dirt from the walk. Knowing absolutely nothing about the artists scheduled to perform, we find our way past the laundry room and into the space, immediately met by low ceiling lights and dark, dancing shapes. Unlike my first FUCS experience captured by the graffiti-stained walls and painted strobe lights of James House, Lunt Basement is hangout-space turned underground venue, located under Lunt dorm and near a conveniently-placed coffeeshop. A performer takes the stage when we enter, and soon Lunt is alive all thanks to Sammus, a black rapper from Ithaca, New York whose hip-hop sound, full of rhythm, radiates afrofuturist, feminist, nerd energy. With a heavenly stage presence and lyrics that celebrate the complexity of blackness, Sammus is described, by the FUCS event, as:

“hip hop born from the ashes of video game design; the sharp rhetorical cut of a phd candidate; the dynamic beats to match” – some1 at vassar?

The entirety of her performance is spent dancing, the words matching the musical pulse of my black, femme heart as Sammus paints visuals of anxiety, natural hair, belonging and nerd culture weaved together with blackness as a common thread. If I had to choose one song to name as my favorite, I love “Nighttime (feat. Izzy True)” for its dreamy quality, chorus, and opening lyrics. The mentions of crippling anxiety, Hermione, and Ida B. Wells hold more personal meaning to me than I’m able to express. But needless to say, I adore Sammus and the moment during her last song where my friend Akili and I maneuvered to the front to shake her hand.

from left to right: sandy, me, akili, veronica (in the front) and sam (in the back!!)