H(OM)E: A Conversation with Cultural Curator Janice Bond

Interview by Lauren Ash. Photography by Shelby Stone.

Janice Bond, recognized by most as a cultural curator and arts advocate, has been an enormous catalyst for BlackGirlInOm's blossoming. We first met serendipitously this past summer on a day that has become one of my favorite memories: the Silver Room Block party. A day when creative, black Chicago celebrates, dances, mingles, and eats for what many of us agree is the best day, and day party, of summertime Chi. I forgot that I met her, however. Our encounter was brief and I barely caught her name, but remember thinking she was dope! (I was new to Chicago and things weren't quite sticking yet.) Fast forward to September when I started to voice my ideas about BlackGirlInOm to people who would listen to me (RJ Eldridge, Eric Williams and others). People were almost singing Janice's name in unison when I told them what I had my up sleeves. One fateful day in November, Janice opened up her office hours to anyone who wanted to meet about a creative vision. I was the first to respond. I was at work (my 9-5 job) and signed-out for what ended up being a two-hour meeting with her. One of the best decisions I've ever made. 

I will never forget first walking into Janice's space. I was immediately fascinated with her alter, filled with dried and living plants, multicolored candles, mysterious wooden boxes, personal letters and incense. Our meeting impressed the kind of person Janice is: passionate and mindful about the importance of wellness as a woman of color and as an entrepreneur, unapologetically ambitious, and fiercely visionary. At the end of our meeting not only did I feel more curious about the sort of person she was and how she housed so much beauty and care, both physically in her space, but also spiritually around the very nature of who she was, but I felt truly blessed when she offered for me to begin BlackGirlInOm the very next week in her home. Well, shoot. I wasn't going to say no! Now, four months later, the positive energies of BlackGirlInOm yogis and community members have been added to the energies already swirling within her space, as she has graciously hosted many a BGIO gathering. I'm excited to have Janice as our first H(om)e feature, an ongoing section of our online publication that will highlight the ways in which people of color intentionally curate their spaces to be life-giving, inspirational, and peaceful. Enjoy this conversation and may you be inspired to more intentionally create your home and work spaces to be sources of inspiration.

LA: Who is Janice Bond in this moment?

JB: This morning who I am is...is open! I am an arts administrator, cultural curator, arts advocate, mother, recent yogi, astronaut. (laughs) Just kidding. I always say I'm a part-time astronaut. You have to be if you work in the arts. But, with all those titles that sometimes I answer to, I think right now I feel like I'm open. I'm open to the different ways that all of those titles or surnames connect and what they have to offer and also what they bring in 

LA: I thought you were going to say open because this elixir that you've been making for the past week has opened up possibilities for you to become an elixir queen and quitting everything else and starting your elixir business. (laughs)

JB: You know, I've been a reluctant artist for awhile. I do make art. There are things that I think about making. Obviously there are things that I do from time to time that are artistic, especially in the healing arts. But mostly those are for me. They start as for me and then maybe the people close to me. But the attention never for my own personal art or healing art. It never starts out as a commercial venture. It's just something that I know I want to get better at. Or it's something that I know that it's something I want to see and if it doesn't exist then I just make it.

LA: Yes!

JB: And then often, people decide that they want it, too. So, of course it's available to them if they want it. Especially recently with the elixirs. There are teas. There are candles. There are medicine bags that I told you about. All of these things are things that I've known how to do, or want to do, or come naturally to me but I've never made the time to pursue any of it. And as of recent it just sort of came to me. Just like with anything else, you could always be doing something else. You'll never "have" time. So, if I want to do it, you know, then I just have to take the time to do it.

So I am open to those possibilities. It's beautiful because it's revealing to me that it's really kind of necessary. Because there's little to no resistance for it to move forward, you know. I woke up this morning (laughs) and the last two [elixirs] were sold, of the first batch. And I checked again and there was another person who was like "I want in" and I was like "well, I don't have any more, technically." So now I have to make more. It's kind of one of those things where before I even got started, demand exceeds supply. So, I'm cool with that. I haven't had my own...I need to find a way. (laughs)

LA: What you said about yourself being a reluctant artist, particularly involved in healing arts...that is why I would love to talk with you. I think the first time I met with you, in a formal way, was in your home. Our first meeting. From when I walked in I noticed aspects of your home that were healing. Whether the art, or your live plants you have in most corners of your room, or your alter. So, speak more to how you've created your space to be a space that when people enter they feel at peace, they feel calm, they feel inspired. When did you start making your space an intentional space of peace, of "om"? (chuckles) 

JB: Well, truthfully, I think, and it came to be after a visit back to Houston where I'm originally from, this is something that originated from my Grandmothers. I think about my late Grammy, and then my current Grandmother. Both of them, they had different styles, right? One was conservative, Roman-Catholic, Louisiana, couple generations in, farmer's daughter kinda thing, right? And the other was a California transplant, violet-lipstick, five different pairs of the same colored shoes, she still argues with me that they're not the same color ... One thing that were similar for both of them, was the fact that they both have homes ... Their homes felt full :there were blankets if you needed a blanket, there was always food in the refrigerator. I'm not going to say that happens with me. (laughs) In their homes, they had scissors. They were just prepared. They had plants.

My Grammy ... she inspired me this summer because I was like "oh, I don't have space [for a garden]" but then I was like "wait a minute" --my Grammy used to have an urban farm on her balcony. Like, she grew nine types of peppers every year. I would pick up a jar of peppers from her that she grew on her balcony, among other things ... she had a whole urban, garden oasis on her balcony. (chuckles) There were always plants.

My Grandmother has some plants. But [Grandmother] changes out her complete furniture and kitchen design, like every 5 years. So, she takes pride in that ... so it feels very much like her. She had decorative aprons during the holidays. And my mother is the same way, so now when I think about my Mom ... [by the way] my Dad is the exact opposite he does not care. (laughs) He's like "whatever...give me a work table....and a sheet...a fitted sheet" (laughs) My Mom has art, not that she's an artist, she's more of a humanitarian, but she keeps things framed, she has a china cabinet ... When you go to my mom's home you feel like it's a home ... When you come back to it it feels like someone lives there.

I travel quite a bit. My home is for me. It's a reflection, a balance, of all of the work that I put in, you know, in my life. So when I come home. I always say in regards to my altar that pretty much the most valuable things to me can fit [in my altar]. So I look at my place and I think about the plants, and the art. There's something functional or something memorable that's attached to almost everything that I own. There was a time when I used to just buy stuff. Not so much anymore ... the things in this home I've chosen to be here. So when I travel or when I come back it feels like a place that re-charges me. Gives me space to think. And so when other people come, I think they catch onto that. They feel that, too. They feel like it's a place where something happy is happening. Not just a transient spot where someone comes by to shower and halfway eat. I think part of it is history and the second part is that I don't like paying rent (laughs) so if I didn't have a space that I love to come back to, then what's the point?

LA: Right now the light is entering this space so right. But, to be honest, you have such large windows that let in this natural light, that every time is a good time.

JB: At night, I turn off all the lights and the city is your nightlight. I love the windows. I love being reminded that I'm in the city. But at the same time I can have my own, somewhat oasis. That's kind of like life, isn't it? There could be sirens, crazy stuff going on, it's cold, but you can, to a certain extent, control the environment that you opt into. And I think that's what creating a home is about. Creating a space that pulls you back together.

In my journey of life, I've gained and lost a lot. So, even though I love the beautiful things that are in this house. I'm not 100% attached to them, at all. I love who they are and the fact that they are here, but if I lost anything in this house it wouldn't end me.

LA: Love it. Sidebar, I'm learning a lot about me as an interviewer and I say "love it" a lot. It's true though, I love it. So, I'm looking at your altar, I'm looking at your altar. There's some books, there's some letters. What inspired the altar and

JB: Well, it changes form every time I've moved. I started having one officially back in 2009, 2010. I was having just a really challenging time with some stuff and I had a really close friend who was like, this is what you need to focus your energy on. Create a space, create an altar, to meditate. At the time I was working from home and [was] here and there. I was completely unbalanced. Working all the time, every day, no boundaries. I was one of those people who was like "sleep is the cousin of death" which is insane. Go for it, just know what that means. So, my life was just completely out of balance and started to reflect that. 

And so my friend was like "just take this small table" (points to the small table). So I started with this small table and it had....you see that glass bowl in the back that has mysterious things in it? It has all kinds of stuff in there ... plants, tea, movie stubs, drawings, keys, it's just a found object heaven and maybe once or twice a year I pull that thing out. There's so many memories in that bowl. I started with that and a little sketchbook. I would doodle and meditate ... there was a quote or two that I used to read in the morning. But as I moved on it started to evolve.

I've always liked boxes. Some of those boxes were gifts. Most of them were gifts from different places, India. I have two boxes that were given to me from Ghandi's granddaughter, Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya. I know that you haven't seen these until recent months (points to bangles and bracelets). I've owned these for years. They were in one of the boxes. So, this bangle was given to me by Gandhi's granddaughter when I visited her home. This was given to me from a friend of mine in Senegal. I got this Om Nava Shiva bangle for myself from my first time going to the Taj Majal. On the way I purchased this. These used to all be in those boxes. I feel like I needed to wear them for awhile. I looked at them and I was like "you know what? It's time to bring these back out." And so that's where they were.

There are some things in some of those boxes that are not going to come out. Old amulets, among other things. Boxes are keepers. They are keepers of many things: of medicine, of secrets, and at the same time each of them has their own architecture and purpose and they find me in different places. I have a leather box I picked up in Africa on my last trip. One of them wood carved. One of them I got in New Dehli India at a temple. All of them have something.

And then the flowers, you know. The ones that are on the floor close to the fireplace, Irina [Zadov] gave me those on my 30th birthday. And, you see next to the paintbrushes there's a class with petals on there? Those are the tulip bowls from the flower arrangement that was at my first gallery opening at my gallery.

Anyone can walk in and look at the altar and say "Oh, it's beautiful" and feel something, but they don't know why. There are a lot of great memories and a lot of lessons [in the altar]. There are things that are there that are from my mother, from friends ... a few of those postcards are gifts from friends. Those two churches are handcrafted pieces from Haiti that were given to me from a friend. That succulent in the corner came from the Black Cinema House, Theaster [Gates'] place. I traded it for a poem with my daughter, one day. So, there are a lot of great energies and memories, I charge things over there. I deposit things. I take energy away, but I'm always bringing something back over. So I've been building it for five years. And it's expanded--clearly it's starting to take over the whole left side of my house. (laughs) I think that's kind of how it should be. I think if your entire house feels like an altar then everytime you come home you're sitting in your spirit.

LA: And in the spirit of all the other people and the experiences you share. One day you'll have a separate room for your altar only. It's going to continue to grow. Do you have a favorite product you use every day, something that relates to self-care, self-love. I know you're an avid tea-drinker. What else is part of your ritual every day? 

JB: I don't use it every day. But I totally recognize and know the power of the coconut and baking soda blends.

LA: Tell me more!

JB: Okay, if you blend coconut oil and baking soda together you create a paste. And that paste can be used for so much. One, you can use it to brush your teeth, to brighten your teeth and to pull toxins out of your mouth. Two, if you use it on your skin it's a light exfoliant because of the graininess of the baking soda, but it's not harsh at all so you can literally use it every day. On all different parts of your body. It balances out your PH but then it also moisturizes because of the coconut oil. You can literally use it all over. It's amazing. When I used it regularly there was definitely a difference!

Then, to a certain extent, on my really messed-up boots. I've used it to clean and polish and moisturize on some of my older leather booths. To get some of the salt out. After, of course, using apple cider vinegar. But, yeah, it's so simple, but baking soda and coconut oil works wonders. And, in your hair, too. Because baking soda and coconut oil is going to lift it up! And, it's also going to balance the PH of your hair and moisturize it. It's one of those all-over things.

Other than that, I would say that it's not one thing. A couple years ago, I said to myself, "I want to one day have a majority of the things that I consume regularly either be self-made or purchased locally or from someone that I know." I'm somewhat on the way there. I know where to buy tea or I know how to make them ... I know where to get a lot of stuff. I know that I don't have to buy soap from the store. There are several vendors that I know that make the soap that I like. Outside of the candles that I buy for my altar, there are several people that I can buy candles from locally. One of my goals is to be more intentional about that in the short term. Writing down a list. I think I might even ask some people to join me on that. Take a list of things that you do or use regularly and ask which of these things can you, in a network of people, buy, share, trade? Just to look at things a bit differently. Things don't come from the store. We buy them at the store. (chuckles)

LA: (chuckles) That's so real.

JB: That level of interaction. It changes how you value people. I know that there's a woman, Michelle, in London. I left her face scrub in my Air BnB in New York and I'm tore up about it. I hit her up like "can I buy another, please?" It's completely vegan. It's one of the best face scrubs I've ever had. It's affordably priced and it comes all the way from London. So, come on! It's handmade and it's under $20. That's the world that we live in. I can get a hand-crafted bar of soap, hand-poured, fresh herbs, for less than $10. Like, that's why we should just buy like that. Ultimately, doesn't it feel better to attach such things to it?

LM: I think everyone should do that activity. I think we'd be surprised to see who we know in our immediate circle, if not extended who create products that we use everyday. And create it in a more healthy, organic sort of way.

JB: Yeah, let's do it. Like I said, it changes the way we look at each other. It's called community, Lauren. (laughs)

LA: (laughs) One last question, Janice,...

JB: Only one? We just got started! 

LA: (laughs) I've been here in the morning, I've been here in the evening and I know that you like to listen to different things depending on the time of day. What do you like to listen to, and why?

JB: Hmm. It depends, but you know what? I realize that I have a couple of combos for music. Depending on the space and time of day. For example, this morning I'm most likely going to turn on an old favorite because I need to feel energized, but at the same time I want to have a little bit of nostalgia, at the same time I want to be calm. I'm most likely going to listen to Jazzanova's "No Use" featuring Claire Hill, which is one of my favorites. And then I'll probably listen to "Talk" by Coldplay because I heard it in Whole Foods last night and I was like (sings the song) yeah I miss that! Spotify! (laughs) They can take my money every month!

LA: They're going to think this is a Spotify ad. (Sidenote for our readers: follow BlackGirlInOm on Spotify!)

JB: I support the music arts every month (laughs) But not just through Spotify. So in my house in the morning it's usually some sort of fusion. Something that is engaging, but doesn't completely consume me one way or another. If I'm cleaning, specifically, it might be something a bit more contemplative especially if I think there's an energy that I need to get out. If I'm driving at some point it turns into 90s alternative. (chuckles) Always. Or, rock. In my car, I think my Spotify list shows up on my Facebook page. It sounds creepy, but you will always know when I'm driving somewhere. You're going to see Incubus pop up. You're going to see Def Tones pop up. Or you'll just see Meshell Ndegeocello on repeat. (chuckles) She's good for the home or the car. Depending on what's going on at the moment.

In the evening, depending on how I'm trying to wind down, I'm very about that when it comes to music. I have maybe 15 or less CDs that haven't been opened. Some of them I've had for a year. I have some down here that I've had for longer that I haven't opened. So, I listen to stuff when I'm ready. Unless I have to for work. There's only certain things I want to allow in when I want to. I think of music very much like the artwork on my walls. I could have filled all these walls with stuff I make even. Just like the art on my walls. Like Lamont [Hamilton]'s piece. When I saw that piece in the show, I thought want that. I'm just as intentional about the music. Because it does impact you. Which is why I love BGIOs Playlists. (takes on cheesy voice of generic yoga instructor) "Let me put on this yoga meditation CD. Downward dog, everybody." No, it's not like that. (laughs) That's one of the things that I've always liked about the BGIO playlists.

LA: Thanks for giving us a little shoutout in your interview. Is there anything else you want to say?

I've rekindled and expanded my love of eucalyptus. So, I've had it in the shower for awhile. But I've started to incorporate it more in arrangements around the house. So, pretty much one way or another, for awhile at least, you'll always see eucalyptus in this house. Its made a difference. The air is different in this house. I feel like my plants are growing more because there isn't so much strain on them to provide. Especially my larger plants. Although (looks at and talks to money tree) we're going to have a talk. What did I do to the money tree? Or maybe the money tree is giving me so much energy because it wants me to make so much money that maybe I need to go there and hug it. Because I'm about to get a big fat check. So, I am with you, money tree, we are with you. Or I'll just put a crystal in the dirt or something. (laughs) Yeah, I'll give you some rose quartz or something. But yeah, eucalyptus has recently been a huge part, as well as I purchased a few more Himalayan salt lamps. Those are natural air purifiers.

And, I don't know if you know this, but I intentionally own my desk and this table. And the ones by my altar. The make-up of these tables is very intentional. My desk is intentionally a glass-top desk. I have this thing about...unless they are hand-carved, or wood desks, they just feel so heavy. My work space usually feels so light. There's a lightness to it although the work behind done there is really heavyweight. So, I've always kept my desk and the space around it organized, but very simple, very minimal. And the tabletops and the things that I place things on I need them to be very well-crafted.

LA: That's food for thought for me. Creating lightness in spaces that are typically heavy spaces or the full spaces. 

JB: Mmhm, being inspired. Feeling your way through your work space and unifying it that way is really important. Why is my bedroom that room when that [other] room is bigger? Well, first of all the washer and dryer is in that room so that if its running I have no control over the temperature. And this room has more light.  So, I plan my spaces accordingly. 

LA: Thank you. We made this interview happen, Ms. Janice Bond.

Join BlackGirlInOm and Janice Bond on Thursday, April 2nd for the first of many workshops in our collaborative series Alchemy 101. We'll learn the benefits of elixirs and make one together! Learn more about Janice Bond on her website www.janicebond.com. Follow Janice on Instagram: @janicebond.

photo: shelby stone

photo: shelby stone

Shelby Stone is a photographer, interdisciplinary artist and thinker. Having been a resident of the west coast for over two decades, and after completing her B.A. in Studio Art with an accompanying minor in Cultural Anthropology from San Francisco State University, she relocated to Chicago in 2013. She moved to fulfill a blossoming desire for travel and deeper exploration of culture, space and self. Having recognized a spiritual and purpose-based rootedness in Chicago, in conjunction with building her fine-art practice, she hopes to engage her passion for process, film-photography and the human condition. She focuses her endeavors towards building spaces that nurture the intersections of creativity, identity, self-expression, art making and education. Shelby works to further aid in developing the narratives and social values of individuals and communities in Chicago, San Francisco/Bay Area, and beyond. She currently resides in Hyde Park.