Issue 004: Celebration

What Celebration Sounds Like: A Conversation With Adora Tokyo

PHOTO: MIRZA BABIC. GRAPHIC DESIGN: ZAKKIYYAH.

PHOTO: MIRZA BABIC. GRAPHIC DESIGN: ZAKKIYYAH.

Interview by Lauren Ash.

Goodness, gracious, I'm so, so blessed to have such an incredibly creative and talented crew of women of color surrounding me. You may remember Adora Tokyo from Issue 001: Growth! She was our featured Wanderlust and I was able to pick her brain about self-care and travel (shout out to our friends at AFROPUNK for sharing!). Well, this time around I asked Adora to curate some good vibes for us. Something that would promote all the good feelings that come with celebrating life and personal growth. So she did. Enjoy this month's mix, read more about what's on the horizon for Adora as a creative, and be sure to keep a close watch on all that Adora touches because it turns to gold. Quickly. Follow her on Instagram @AdoraTokyo, Twitter @AdoraTokyo, and Soundcloud @adora-tokyo.

LA: The mix you've curated is inspired by the idea of Celebration. What artists do you listen to when you're in the mood for a celebration?

AT: When I'm in the mood for celebratory music  I listen to producers who have climactic arrangements and tempos to keep my heart rate up. Sam Gellaitry, all TEKLIFE and DJacid.

LA: Yes, girl! Sounds about right for me, too. And, for me celebration and wellness go hand-in-hand. How we have to celebrate the small ways in which we grow and how we have to surround ourselves with good people that celebrate all that we are, the parts that are easy to love and the parts that aren't as easy to love. Have you recently celebrated personal growth? If so, how?

AT: Realistically, I celebrate every week. I first recognize my evolution and take a moment of reflection. After reflecting, I connect with like minds and spirits and we usually drink and dance until dawn. It's more of a necessary ritual at this point. It's too easy to forget how much you've accomplished if you don't allow for celebration and self recognition. I maintain a tight creative community of successful artists and we all celebrate and acknowledge each others growth.

LA: What made you include these particular artists in your Celebration vibe mix?

AT: My goal as a DJ is to create steady vibrations and also introduce my audience to new sounds. On this mix I bounce between some popular hip hop artists to underground French house producers. I choose to walk the line of familiarity while easing the listener into artists with less commercial appeal. I chose artists with talented vocal arrangement and emotional lyrics.

LA: And I love it from beginning to end. Thank you! Adora, you're enormously multidisciplinary--you’re a Celebrity Beauty Artist, DJ, and more. You've recently focused more on music. Can you tell us more about what's in store? When can we hear more Adora Tokyo?

AT: I wanted to produce a record to showcase the ideas that usually come spilling out of me in an improv freestyle session. I've always written music and recorded background vocals, but I grew bored. My feelings and stories are worth hearing and experiencing. Again, I grew bored with playing other producers music...I knew I had original beats to contribute to the current musical climate. My Soundcloud has a couple demo teasers up now for your listening pleasure. So far, I've got the support and encouragement from some talented musicians I respect and admire. The future is looking spacious! 

Celebrating Black Women: An Interview with Niki Kobe of Niki's Groove

Interview by Lauren Ash. Illustrations by Niki Kobe.

When I first had visions of Black Girl In Om, I saw a beautiful image that served as a powerful visualization of what I hoped to manifest. This image, created by Niki Kobe of Niki's Groove, conveys three black women cultivating wellness through yoga. They look peaceful, happy, and calm. I saved this image as the background on my phone and only recently changed it (to another image of a black, female yogi, go figure)! Looking at Niki's image multiple times a day inspired me. And as I delved more into Niki Groove's artwork on her Instagram I was inspired by images of black women doing, well, everything: walking their dogs, playing with their children, combing their hair, going for a walk with their friends...the list goes on. I was curious to learn more about just why Niki felt it important to convey the various dimensions of our lives, and what her experience is like as a black-French female artist. I hope you enjoy learning more about Niki's Groove and that you feel inspired by all that she represents through her work!

LA: I'm so excited to connect with you! I am excited about featuring you in our Celebration issue because your illustrations celebrate black women in our various textures, hues, shapes, and sizes. What first influenced your focus on black women in your art?

NK: First, I focus on this because I am a black woman. My desire to focus on black women is simply because I had the impression that they are excluded from the greater world of beauty, art, fashion, and especially in the intellectual sphere. Some people have the tendency to think that we are the exception in these types of spheres. They very rarely hold black women in high regard; they criticize and analyze her curves, her skin color, and her hair texture [by comparing these images with the images created by the majority white media]. And I am here just to try to give [black woman] back her rightful place in the world of beauty, art, and more. We are not less than other women.  We are beautiful with our curves, our skin tones from the most light to the most dark. We can be whatever we want!

LA: I absolutely agree! I think it's lovely that you create artwork by request and illustrate real women from all over the world! Do you have a favorite story that someone shared with you when they asked you to illustrate her friend or sister?

NK: I received an email from a young black girl who had a skin problem. Her condition left her with skin tone more light than that of white people, while on the other hand she had nice, thick afro. She wrote me to thank me for my black and white drawings because they reminded her that she is a beautiful black woman just like other black women despite her condition (albinism).

LA: Beautiful! This, again, demonstrates the power that your work conveys to black women of all shades. There is so much positive response to your work! When you first began, did you anticipate this positive response? How do the comments on your Instagram make you feel?

NK: Oh my God, I am so grateful to have had no bad comments! I could have never imagined so many positive responses. Of course this makes me feel really good and motivates me to continue!

LA: We all hope you do, Niki! You are a French-based artist. Generally speaking, what is life like as a black, female artist in France? How is your art received in France?

NK: You know, in France, there is a big problem with hypocrisy. Not everyone likes when you do something for people who look like you, except when it consists of white people doing things for other white people. In France they are about communitarianism, the connection between the individual and the larger community. We are encouraged to do everything in accordance with European French people, but not in accordance with Black French people because if we do, we would be considered “not completely French.” For this reason, I don’t have much experience with white, European French art.

When I sent my profile to art agencies they rarely responded and when they did respond it was always along the lines of “your art is too ethnic or ethnic identifiable.”  France is a very old country with a lot of problems. However, black French women are beginning, little-by-little, to follow me on my social network which will allow my work to be more accessible to the rest of France. I won’t give up!

LA: Please don’t! So, it seems that for you being an artist certainly brings joy, but also brings some challenges. How do you take care of yourself and cultivate self-care and wellness? Does your art also serve as a form of self-care?

NK: Of course my art is a form of self-care. I am also very spiritual, faithful and love sports and yoga, too.

LA: Thank you so much, Niki! I hope to join you for some yoga in France, one day!

This interview has been translated.

The Quest to Celebrate the Self Every Year

By Nkechi Njaka. Photography by Anna-Alexia Basile.

I’ll admit it: historically, celebrating my birthday always brings unwanted feelings of dread and drama. This is has been true ever since about age 18 when birthdays began being horrible for me.

"The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."―Oprah Winfrey

Such a profound quote. But also so simple. Why wouldn’t we celebrate the very day we were born? In the most wonderful way we can imagine?

From ages 5 to 18, I lived in the sentiment of shameless self-celebration. I got it. As a child, I simply had no problem celebrating myself. I had no problem asking others to celebrate me. I did so with gumption, irreverence, without drama and with power.

I have a summer birthday, and every year growing up, I looked forward to throwing the party of the summer. I loved that there wasn’t a sense of urgency around which weekend to host a party because I felt I had several weeks to do so. And if I was really lucky, I would use that to my advantage--and often I did, celebrating my birthday more than once!

So when did that change? I don’t know if it is because having a summer birthday suddenly meant that, as I got older,  I couldn’t celebrate with my new college friends.  I started feeling like it was too much to ask for a birthday party, especially from high school friends that I was slowly growing apart from. There were no cool, coastal California trips to plan, crazy campus parties, or downtown LA clubs to accommodate me in Minneapolis, which is where I spent my summers.

Was I too old? Was I supposed to “get over” the desire to celebrate the birth of myself with all the people I love in the way that I wanted to? Was I resigned to a future with no more huge parties, elaborate gifts and gift bags, or over-the-top decorations? Was I fated for small, last minute dinners and obligatory Facebook messages?

For years, that’s what happened. The likely result was my crying at some point (or several points) during the day either because expectations were unfulfilled or I didn’t feel special enough. It was some weird combination of wanting to be important, then feeling guilty in getting too much attention. I often wondered if I had missed that important stage of life where I could easily turn off that desire in order to be fine with those obligatory Facebook messages and texts from friends I would only hear from once a year. Maybe I could switch from wanting to be celebrated to celebrating the things around me that give my life meaning.

A couple years ago, when I entered in my third decade and turned the  Flirty Thirty, I spent some time reflecting on things I could be grateful for because I wanted to change that “as I get older, birthdays get more and more horrible” mentality. It was an awkward transitional time for me; I had just moved back to San Francisco and wasn’t sure that I even had friends to celebrate with. At the time, it felt strange to throw myself a party, but I knew it was an occasion to celebrate because everyone kept asking “What are you going to do for your 30th?!” So I asked the new friends who showed the most interest and they helped me. People showed up. I felt celebrated. I was grateful. This was a huge lesson: No one is going to do anything for me unless I ask. I loved that I felt celebrated and I also felt guilty because it secretly didn’t fully meet my expectations.

I cannot be ashamed of the deep desire that I have to be celebrated. It became clear to me that what I needed was to make two asks. Got the first one. The second is an ask of myself to really feel no guilt. This year I embraced the inner child. I declared loudly that I wanted a party. And I was going to plan it, even if it gave me anxiety from all the years of not asking to be celebrated the way I wanted to be celebrated. My birthday fell on a Saturday. So hell YES I was going to have a party. How could I make this unlike any other birthday I have had as an adult?

I wanted to celebrate in full fashion. I wanted a party dress. I wanted balloons! I wanted desserts. I wanted prosecco. I wanted an amazing plant-based dinner with close friends. I wanted dancing. I wanted to FEEL amazing through out the entire day, leaving me with the residue of glamor and beauty for the rest of the night.

“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state--it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle....Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions."―Abraham Joshua Heschel

I thought very carefully about what I wanted my day to be like. I asked myself: “Nkechi, how do you want to feel? What is going to make you feel connected, loved and appreciated? What can you control and what do you have to surrender to?”

I thought about all the things that make my life what it is―interesting, beautiful, purposeful. I chose to schedule a psychic reading in the morning followed by a sit in the hottub and then a delicious brunch with an old friend. From there, I had a 2.5 hour massage that took me to other places. I returned back to Earth and went shopping for my perfect look (which literally took me 10 minutes) and then I had dinner at Millennium, my favorite vegan restaurant in Oakland. With every activity I had planned, I was so grateful for the experience. I was aware of the ease and flow of the day―everything was perfect. There was no drama. There was no feeling bad. My expectations had been exceeded. And that is truly what made the transition from 31 to 32 the most magical.  

What really happened is that I first celebrated who I am in my deepest heart. By honoring exactly what feeling I wanted to experience, I chose things to do during the day that I knew would support that. I chose not to feel self-indulgent or self-absorbed because those thoughts are limiting and demeaning. I chose first to love myself. Then, I was able to experience love all around me by requesting my friends to participate, and most importantly―I accepted their love.

The greatest lesson I learned was that I fully deserve to celebrate my own birthday in the exact way that I want to: without the tears, without the drama, fully expressed with beauty, joy and love everywhere.

Nkechi Njaka is the founder of NDN Integrated Lifestyle Studio where she curates lifestyle and wellness content for brands and individuals. She is a woman of color, deeply concerned about personal and global well-being. Nkechi holistically approaches her wellness with mindfulness, movement, nutrition and style. She attended Scripps College in Claremont, CA where she majored in neuroscience and dance and went on to complete an MSc. in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. She attended the Institute of Integrated Nutrition and holds a certification in Holistic Health and Nutritional Counseling. When not involved in NDN projects, you can find Nkechi teaching Mindful Movement or Mindful Style classes + workshops, taking a yoga or modern dance class or choreographing independent work. She creates, curates, coaches and collaborates in San Francisco, California.

Read Nkechi's article on growth through meditation in Issue 001: Growth, on transformation and death in Issue 002: Death and Transition, and on faith and Bhakti reality in Issue 003: Spirituality. Follow Nkechi on Instagram @Ndnlifestylist and Twitter @NkechiNjaka

 

Wanderlust: A Conversation on Celebration and Travel with Lee Litumbe of Spirited Pursuit

Interview by Lauren Ash. Creative and Art Direction of Photography by Lee Litumbe. Photography by House of Evbuomwan.

Lee Litumbe's mission is seemingly simple: she is in spirited pursuit of travel, adventure, and new cultural experiences. Sounds amazing, right? Easy? Not so much. Worth it? Absolutely. A little over a year ago, Lee founded Spirited Pursuit without knowing what was waiting around the corner. Since then, she has provided space for those who live their lives according to this bold mantra to share their stories and, in doing so, she and others have inspired many more people to begin to live in spirited pursuit, as well. I found myself recently drawn to photographs taken from Spirited Pursuit's one-year anniversary gathering, curated by Lee for a small group of family and friends. What a way to celebrate, reflect, and honor a beautiful labor of love! While reading this, I hope that you are encouraged to put together your own celebration, whether to honor a milestone in your personal or professional growth, or the blossoming of a creative project you've been working on. I gained some ideas for Black Girl In Om's one year anniversary! Follow Lee's adventures on Instagram @spiritedpursuit and on her website www.spiritedpursuit.com.

Lauren Ash: Who are you in this moment?

Lee Litumbe: Defining who I am is always a challenge, mainly because I’m constantly being shaped by my experiences. Before launching my labor of love, Spirited Pursuit, I was extremely introverted (borderline reclusive) and found it quite difficult to open up to people I was not already comfortable with. Thankfully, I have since grown from that and given myself permission to fully become the person I want to be; a decision I believe has made all the difference.

In this moment, I’d consider myself a free spirited individual with a strong lust for life, unyielding curiosity for all the world has to offer, and intense passion for expressing myself creatively. I’m still very much an introvert, but one that no longer operates from a place of fear. At the core, I’m just a young woman taking risks and making every attempt I can to forge my own path in life.

LA: Spirited Pursuit just turned one. At its heart, Spirited Pursuit tells stories. Beautiful, wild, authentic stories of travelers in pursuit of adventure. What has been the greatest story that you have experienced in the past year?

LL: Within the past year, I feel very blessed to have traveled to some amazing destinations like Namibia, Costa Rica and the Canadian Rockies. However, I believe it is the people I’ve connected with that have made the journey a fulfilling one. The evolution and growth of Spirited Pursuit has been both my greatest achievement and the greatest story I’ve experienced thus far. It’s a magical feeling to be in the company of so many dynamic storytellers that also strive to inspire, inform and enrich the lives of others by sharing their own unique experiences.

LA: You recently curated a celebratory gathering to commemorate SP's one year anniversary. Who celebrated with you? Tell us about this experience.

LL: The gathering was an intimate one I wanted to share with close friends and family. Childhood friends who have watched me struggle and fail over the years, family that has uplifted and encouraged me during trying times, and loved ones that I can call at 2 a.m. in the morning for anything. Pretty much all the people in my life that I can always count on. I’ve noticed that strangers can sometimes be more supportive of your work than the people already in your life, so it was extremely reassuring to be surrounded by people I love that also genuinely wish me well.

To celebrate, I knew I wanted to create an effervescent experience for my guests and infuse components of some of my favorite things like Cameroonian food, great wine and lots of cheese! While I planned and selected everything from the rose gold flatware to the deep oak furniture myself, I had a lot of help from my friends and family in bringing it all together. It is because of them that the gathering felt so much like love. After months of planning, I was elated to finally see my vision come to life.

LA: Spirited Pursuit celebrates and creates space for other spirited world travelers. What is one of your favorite featured stories on Spirited Pursuit and why is it your favorite?

LL: This is a tough question because I hate playing favorites! Every story I publish is one that I myself find interesting and informative. That said, the contributors that are able to paint vivid pictures with their words and choose to explore regions that are typically under or inaccurately represented in Western media tend to move me more. One such contributor was Jon Collins, a photographer and particularly gifted writer that spent several months backpacking through a few African nations. I thoroughly appreciated his ability to dignify each of his subjects and avoid reducing them to “exotic others” — something not commonly done by photographers that travel within Africa. I’m also always looking to feature individuals with a genuine curiosity and desire to explore people, places and cultures from a perspective of cultural relativism. Jon’s story was one of that embodied that philosophy perfectly.

LA: How do you cultivate self-care and holistic wellness while traveling so much? What provides balance in your life?

LL: To be completely honest, I’m actually struggling to find balance in my life right now. The stresses and pressures that come with working a full time job, managing all things Spirited Pursuit (I’m a one-woman-show right now) and trying to be a good friend/sister/daughter can be overwhelming at times. However, I’ve been making a conscious effort to make daily deposits into my mental health bank. I noticed I was allowing others (and even myself) to make too many withdrawals, which is not emotionally sustainable.

Strengthening my relationship with God (though I’m much more spiritual than I am religious) through prayer is a large part of how I seek balance in my life. In addition to that, I also try to only eat foods with good nutritional value, practice a bit of yoga and make a daily gratitude list.

LA: What's on the horizon for Spirited Pursuit? Where do you hope you will go, literally and metaphorically, in the next year?

LL: The goal is more travel, more stories and more inspiration. I’ll be in Haiti for a few weeks next month, which is a trip I’m really excited about. Beyond that, I’d much rather show you than tell you. So please stay tuned for what’s next for Spirited Pursuit and I.

 

Counternarratives As Healing and Photography As Self & Community Care: A Conversation with Artist RJ Eldridge

Interview by Lauren Ash and Zakkiyyah. Photography by RJ Eldridge.

RJ Eldridge is a Chicago-based writer, emergent multidisciplinary artist, curator, educator and thinker. We view him as indicative of the "multiplicity of black geniuses" of which he speaks in our conversation. We were able to peek inside RJ's mind a bit this past March with his profound interview with poet Ladan Osman in Issue 001: Growth. Ever since then, we've been waiting for the right moment to highlight a facet of his work more intentionally. Over the past few months, RJ's growing body of photographic art which spotlights South Side black folk including artists, creatives, and everyday people simply living life, has been making waves and touching lives. We hope that you enjoy this conversation and feel inspired by RJ's tremendous contributions to the world so far. For more of his art and thoughts follow RJ on Instagram @thenouveaunoir on Twitter @rj_el and his website www.whoisrjel.com.

L: So, RJ, I’ve noticed, over the past several months, your body of photographic work capturing black people on the South Side of Chicago. You’ve been doing this for awhile now. I’ve noticed it recently, however. Can you speak to the work that you’ve been doing and the greater intentions behind it?

R: Yes, I like photographing black people. It’s a great pastime!

I’m influenced by a great many folks in the black visual tradition. Gordon Parks, Jacob Lawrence...Not just the visual tradition, but performative as well, and just overall creative tradition. Folks who have wanted to look at blackness-as-embodied in critical ways. As a visual artist, I’ve always been interested in how representation affects the way that we read the world around us. As a photographer, especially I’ve been very interested in one, capturing images of creatives, black creatives, people who think a lot and who think in strange ways. And, two, in presenting them with compositions that exalt them.

So, I look at the ways that black people are generally represented in the mass media and I know that that is a kind of speech act, right? To present the black body in that way. I look sometimes to make a counternarrative to that in the work. It also is an act of love. I think that when you celebrate (especially young) black people, it is a subtle defense or strike against stories that diminish us. It’s like planting a seed when you have a path that’s being burned down. When you have the black body, the young black body being disregarded on a large scale... I’m finding ways to love that, to celebrate us in a way that is not just an act of overt sexualization, as we often find in images that are supposed to counter the narrative of us being undesirable. There’s nothing wrong with sexuality, but I think there are ways that sexuality can be employed to diminish, too.

I’m very interested in discovering the light in people’s eyes, for instance. I took photos of Jamaica Kincaid recently and it was important that the way I presented her was direct. So you’re looking at her eye to eye. And also, to exalt, from below her, to see the photograph of the ceiling behind her, the structure behind her. And when I photograph my family, it’s the same thing. If all you see behind someone is the sky then you have to look up them. That’s one of the intentions behind shooting black people, and the ways in which I do so.

I’m also working on a manuscript of meditative essays that deal with transcendence and think about what this moment in time means for the black body, and about way that we use different forms of stories to read who we are in the world. A story, to me, is about engaging a particular moment, a particular place and time, and expanding it to open it up to meaning. As a photographer and as a writer I think ... how does this particular moment resonate in the wider moment, of history. And I make the work with that meditation in mind.

Z: You said something about blackness. Being someone who goes around the city photographing all these different people, how do you see blackness being embodied in Chicago?

R: I’ll put it like this: Chicago, in the consciousness of black people in the world, and especially in the consciousness of black people in Chicago, is this cutting edge place, right? Especially for black people. People have had historic relevance coming from and through the city of Chicago since DuSable. Anyone from Oprah Winfrey to Kanye West to many others who seemed to be able to break past the limits of what blackness has been defined as. And do it more and expand the definition of blackness for other black people who throughout history have not been granted the opportunity to thrive in such a way.

Blackness, race, has always been tied to the body. It is an embodied term. It at least has to do with a kind of bodily heritage. You can define yourself philosophically or theoretically in the presence or absence of other concepts. But it is not incorrect to say that blackness has always had something to do with the body. The ways in which we embody blackness is often centered on how the body moves. Black speech or dances or a way to walk or carry yourself. It’s also been and still is defined by what is done to black bodies. In various ways in this city you can see blackness embodied. That’s my long preamble to the answer to your question. Ha! I wanted to frame my answer to how I see blackness embodied in Chicago.

It’s transcendent. It’s transcendent in various ways. In Chicago, right now, you have people experimenting. Whether you call it style, fashion, art, the spirit of the moment. People experimenting with thought around blackness, pushing beyond the limitations, making work that calls a lot of assumptions about blackness into question. You see it everywhere, from music to theater to poetics to visual art to just how the youth act and what they’re interested in. This moment in Chicago seems to be about pushing the bar from the mundane into the speculative. And often doing it by making something that’s so attractive and sexy and interesting that people can’t help but pay attention to it. Chicago has always been a cutting edge place for blackness and will continue to be. I just want to be present to the magnitude of the moment and make work that brings some good.

PHOTO: Zakkiyyah.

PHOTO: Zakkiyyah.

More about RJ Eldridge:  RJ is the Associate Director of the Chicago Slam Works House Ensemble, and teaches creative and critical writing and photography with Young Chicago Authors, Chicago Slam Works, Chicago Danztheatre and the Storyographers Digital Storytelling Organization. He made a national television debut last September in the NAACP Image-Award nominated series, Lexus Presents: Verses and Flow. A graduate of the University of South Florida’s Master’s program in Africana Studies, with a focus on literature and theory, he has engaged widely on the role of the arts in the construction of identity, and seeks to expand the dimensions of thought on the intersections between performance, race, history, ontology and myth. He has instructed at the University of South Florida, Young Chicago Authors and the Noble Network Charter Schools in Chicago, and has gained a reputation for enhancing literacy through critical thinking. He currently resides in Hyde Park.

H(om)e: A Conversation with Artist and Art Collector Raub Welch Of Afro Opulence

Interview and Photography by Zakkiyyah.

I first encountered Raub Welch a few years ago when I attended one of his beautifully curated art shows. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with him at his lovely south side home in one of Chicago’s most culturally historic neighborhoods, Bronzeville.

Walking into Raub’s home, I was immediately drawn to how meticulously curated his space was, and of course, his captivating art collection. His intentional decor ranged from his own work to artists such as Kara Walker. Raub has quite the curatorial eye and a home that is definitely worth celebrating. Learn more about Raub, also the Founder of Afro Opulence, by visiting his site focused on art, entertaining, design, and lifestyle: www.afroopulence.com.

Zakkiyyah: I was walking around your home and of course, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful art collection throughout your space, which is very impressive. Your home is just immersed in art!

Raub: I’ve been collecting art for about 20 years now and I owned a gallery in Wicker Park, but I’m also an artist. And I remember when I bought my first piece I was about…19 or 20. I had just gotten out of school, I remember walking up to this gentleman and saying, “I want to buy this painting”. And it was like $1,000 and I told him I couldn’t afford it but that I was an artist and I really wanted that painting, so he sold it to me for half that price. And I’ve just been buying art ever since. I have a lot of friends who are artists, so I try to support them when I can, but it’s also an addiction. Now I pretty much have a house full of stuff. It’s like second nature, and it’s a lifestyle.

Z: How has your lifestyle as a practicing artist influenced the way you have arranged your home?

R: Well for a long time I was an interior designer, because I couldn’t get work with my art, just like so many artists starting out, you can’t make a lot of money. I was recruited to come to Chicago about 15 years ago to work at a design firm. I knew that was my passion at that time in my life, but I still had this yearning to do something in the arts. I knew I wanted to be in front of an easel doing what I loved to do.

Z: So I’ve noticed that around your home there seems to be this continuous color scheme with a lot of beige, crème, and white. Is there a reason for that?

R: Well this house is about the artwork, and I didn’t want anything to compete with the art. Everything is very neutral, but my favorite color is green such as the sofa you’re sitting on, it’s like earth for me. It’s all life for me. Everything around here is about uplifting the work that’s on my walls. If I buy a piece of art, I want it to be able to go anywhere in my home.

Z: You seem to have a vast collection of work around your home by artists of color, which I really appreciate. Could you elaborate on that?

R: About five years ago I told myself that I was only going to buy art from people of color, it was a very conscious decision. There are not enough of us to be buying black art works as well…and so I just started buying work from black artists. I love black art. My work is steeped in it, and I’m black. There came a time when I just realized that I have to buy art for the legacy of my people…and that legacy is to have these artifacts that are made by them. That’s why I buy black art.

Z: I can tell that you put a lot of love and work into your space. Do you see your home as an uplifting or celebratory space?

R: For me, I think it’s a celebration of things that I’ve chosen and things that I love to share with others. So anytime you’re in a community where you’re giving or hosting or even entertaining, it’s all celebratory… all of it, you know? It’s fun! It’s all about celebrating the things that I’ve done and the things I have. But most importantly, celebrating it all with the people I love. 

 

Daymaker: A Conversation with Artist of Love Katra Awad

Interview by Lauren Ash. Photography by Marcus Russell Price.

Self-proclaimed artist of love Katra Awad has an aura you can feel. With a colorful energy, manifested through her equally colorful jewelry, featuring stones and crystals and names like Calypsoul Nile and Valley of the Queen, she is clearly an artist with a desire to convey her artistry and ancestry as one. As an artist whose work celebrates her cultural heritage and ancestors, I knew I had to feature Katra as our Daymaker for our issue focused on Celebration! Be sure to follow Katra's Journey on Instagram @katraawad and check out her gorgeous jewelry at www.katraawad.com.

Lauren: You reside in Brooklyn, but your Instagram mostly conveys lush, green gardens with you gorgeously basking in them. Is nature related to self-care and wellness for you? Do you escape from the city often, or do you seek and discover greenery within it?

Katra: I tend to bounce back and forth between Brooklyn, Pennsylvania and California. Wherever I am, I often seek out nature. In California, I usually bask in the sunshine every morning. When I feel like I need to be closer to home, I escape to the local neighborhood gardens here in Brooklyn. It helps me stay grounded.

L: Ooh, a nomad, of sorts, who listens to her spirit. Very beautiful. Katra, you're an artist and jewelery seems to be one of your major crafts of choice. Your necklaces feature names of Egyptian gods and goddesses — on your site you share that the Pyramidion collection, in particular, celebrates and pays a tribute to your ancestors. Can you share a bit more with us about when you decided that you would illuminate your own cultural and, perhaps, spiritual beliefs through your art?

K: In the beginning I started as an artist of several mediums. When I began creating jewelry I was very inspired by all the great artifacts of the 18th Dynasty. Being that part of my heritage is Egyptian, I decided that I wanted my first collection to bring life to tangible pieces that were symbolic and could honor the past, present and future. I believe our ancestors play one of the most important roles in our existence today.

L: Absolutely! I’ve recently realized the importance of ancestry through one of our meditation series that invites the ancestors to communicate with us. It’s powerful. Alright, the focus of this month’s issue is Celebration. Do you feel as if it's important to celebrate the little things in life? If so, why? And how do you celebrate success and growth?

K: The little things are what make up this beautiful journey. We have been born with gifts to share and accomplishments to reach in such a limited time. Every evening I make it a point to find something that I am thankful for that day, whether it’s my first meal or my last interaction I’ve had with someone I love. I have an affirmation that I recite every morning. Honing my sense of gratitude daily is my way of celebrating.

L: Mind sharing your affirmation with us?

K:  I learned this affirmation from my spiritual teacher and I've added things to it over the years. It begins with: "I am thankful for all that I am and all that I have, I am open to receiving all the abundance of opportunities that this life has to offer, I remove any blockages I may be feeling mentally, physically and spiritually." Before you start, close your eyes and visualize something beautiful. Take 3 deep breaths and take one breath after each sentence in between. It works wonders!

L: Beautiful, I'll have to try this, Katra. So, you had a unique upbringing. We all do, to varying degrees, but yours is special in that you were raised in various countries by two people who met serendipitously while traveling, as well. Did you notice cultural differences in the way that people celebrate life? If so, how?

K: My mother is Hispanic and my father is from Egypt; they met in Rome while traveling. Since my mother was a flight attendant for 17 years I got to travel to many places in Europe and the Caribbean. We traveled to Greece, stayed in Italy for several months and also lived in Mexico, where I went to school for a year. During a summer in Mexico, I remember often being surrounded by art, clothing and paintings in my aunt’s shop and gallery. I would spend the day with my cousin eating raspados, observing local vendors that would come in to sell their goods that they hand-crafted. Life is celebrated differently in many places all over the world. In Italy, people are very close and affectionate. Every meal always felt like a celebration, I love that about their culture.

L: Through your art, have you contributed to someone else's celebration or milestone in life?

K: Yes! I was recently invited to recite a short poem I wrote on the radio. It’s about a moment I experienced caring for my grandmother with my mother during the last few months in her home in California. It was a very personal and special time we had with her. I’m currently working on a selection of jewelry pieces that a stylist pulled for a new film currently in production.

L: Beautiful. You certainly have brought love and light into others’ lives through your art! I’m curious to know what you believe makes you unique — perhaps as a woman, person of color, or artist? How have you learned to embrace these unique qualities about yourself? Are these qualities celebrated now by those who surround you? Were they always celebrated?

K: I consider myself to be an artist of love. Someone that focuses on the good before anything else. Everything I work on has to have an intention, a purpose. I’ve always cared a great deal for humanity and I’ve had to learn to embrace that I’m a nurturer and creator by nature. I feel fortunate that my mother was extremely supportive of these qualities and she has always encouraged me to pursue them. I think it is really important to have a selective support system. The friends and family I choose to share with are very encouraging.

L: Thank you, Katra!

The Two-Step Guide to Celebrating Small Wins

By Chakka Reeves

Birthdays. Proms. Graduations. Weddings. Baby Showers. As we get older, particularly if you are unpartnered and not a parent, it may feel like the celebrations in life are few and far between. We celebrate others when they hit these life mile markers, and often set goals with the celebration in mind. The feelings of accomplishment, worth, satisfaction and happiness we assume will come when we meet these moments. Celebrations are typically associated with major life events, but as someone who has had clinical depression since I was 16, I’ve broadened what constitutes a celebration. I had to, for my treatment and survival.

When I was a Resident Advisor in college, my Resident Director introduced me to the idea of “Small Wins,” or celebrating the small steps we take each day to make ourselves better or serve others. The logic behind celebrating “Small Wins” is that if we don’t celebrate the little steps we make towards progress, we won’t have the motivation to keep going until we see big results. Through therapy and self-care, I manage my depression, which has evolved into more of a consistent low mood, also called dysthymia. Whereas I don’t have the crying spells and thoughts of self-harm that I had in the past, in its milder form I still deal with low energy, lack of concentration and lack of effect. These factors are a party-poppin’ trifecta, but I have a process to deal with them head on.

1. Keep track

I keep a logbook. I got the idea from Austin Kleon, author of the book Steal Like an Artist.  It is different from a diary in that it is a running log of things that happen in the day that are worth mentioning. I also keep a separate diary to process my thoughts and feelings, but this daily log is a chance for me to keep track of the tangible things I do in a given day, goal-related or otherwise. Maybe I got out of bed with the alarm and didn’t linger under the covers. Or, I successfully nicked a negative thought before I could spiral. Perhaps I ignored negative self-talk about how awkward I feel on the phone at times and I gave someone a call. All of these tasks seem small, but for someone with a mood disorder, these small actions constitute a glimmer of a healthy productive life. With enough actions, the glimmer will expand, until eventually, you start seeing some light.

2. Take time to feel

I track the moments big and small, but celebrations require another element, one that depression can take away. I became aware of this during a five-month period when I finished my masters program, traveled to Ghana and became, at the age of 26, the youngest Assistant Dean at Drexel University in Philadelphia. I was in the process of preparing for the workday when I took a moment and noticed something, rather, the lack of something. Emotions. I experienced three amazing and positive life changes in a short period of time and I felt nothing. In my head I knew that these changes were good, but I didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel anything. I stopped and lightly thumped the side of my head softly with my fist. I then took my hand and placed it over my chest and wondered what it would take to get my heart to match my circumstances.

I had to learn how to let all the emotions in, not just the pleasant ones—disappointment, sadness, anger—all of it. During a particularly emotionally flat time, I did a week-long yoga and juice fast program. After one of my juice pick-ups, I started crying while driving, hard and loudly. I stuck with it and the sad feeling eventually gave way to relief and wonder. Wow, I thought. That was kind of nice. Sadness is unpleasant, but unlike depression, it feels temporary. Like a dark rain cloud, surrounded by lighter clouds and peaks of blue sky, you may get wet, you may even be drenched, but you know it will pass.

My “Small Wins” celebrations are more India Arie than Kool and the Gang. I record them and stay present with them. I may seek an external reward to go with them, such as quick check-in with a favorite person or a piece of chocolate, but only occasionally. This process strengthened my ability to hold a moment in my awareness and feel it completely, allowing myself to be present and humbled by it. I now know that when the next major milestone comes, I will experience it fully.

PHOTO: RASHID ZAKAT

PHOTO: RASHID ZAKAT

Chakka Reeves is a writer, educator, filmmaker and media nerd. Primarily, she is the writer and editor of Freedomreeves.com an online publication that looks at the intersections of identity and media. She has also written for Clutch Magazine and TheRoot.com. As the daughter of an expert cook and home economics teacher, wellness through nutrition has always been a part of her life. Emotional wellness became her passion in college, as she studied Psychology in part to gain an understanding of her own struggles with depression and relationships. Currently, her path includes seeking spiritual wellness and cultivating a community that appreciates feminine energy as a necessary and balancing force in the world. Chakka believes that black women intuitively understand the importance of this force, however, this energy has been pathologized by the Western/European world in which we now find ourselves.

 

 

Wild Weeds

By Lauren Nixon

When weeds become too wild, too unruly, too demanding, human beings tend to uproot them. As a woman who farms and gardens, I’m all too familiar with spending days upon days ripping up weeds as the heat from the sun cradles every inch of my body. It’s arduous and time consuming, but it’s a task that has to be taken care of. At the end of the day, I’ll gather the weeds and pile them into a compost heap, more than excited to rid myself of them.

Weeds have a bad reputation. They get in the way of the “real” things that we’re growing. But the truth is that they’re nutritional powerhouses with complex flavor profiles and interesting histories. Over the past few years, I’ve embraced the wild weeds. Instead of discarding them, I take them home, research their healing properties, and happily cook with them.

The weeds in our lives also get a bad rap. We tend to celebrate those parts of ourselves that are the most attractive, the least messy. Perhaps we highlight our sense of humor, or the degree that we just received, the new romantic relationship, the promotion. But our identities are bubbling over with so much more.

The wildness is there, burrowing inside of us—the rage, the fear, the insecurity, the sensuality, the myriad of other emotions and feelings that we attempt to omit from the glossy, clean versions of ourselves that we present to the world.

I dare you to filter out the notion that your weeds are too wild—that they’re unnecessary, embarrassing and shameful. I ask you to pause and think about how your weeds can be educational tools, guides, sisters, allies and a part of your everyday narrative. I urge you to celebrate your light and your darkness, and everything in between.

Wild Greens Frittata

Ingredients:

6 eggs

1 tbsp coconut oil (plus 1 tsp for coating baking dish)

3 c wild greens (I used wild dandelion greens and wild plantain greens, but purslane, amaranth, lambsquarters, sorrel, and chickweed are all fairly common wild greens and fairly easy to procure depending on your location) / -2 spring onions or scallions (the firm white stems only, sliced thinly)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

A few pinches of salt to taste

A dash of pepper

Note: Do your research before foraging wild food. Additionally, forage from areas that are clean and a good distance away from the walking paths of humans and domestic animals. Not all wild plants are fit for human consumption. Many wild greens are sold at farmers markets and your local farmer can give you more information on how to use them.

Directions: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Whisk eggs thoroughly and add a pinch of salt. Set eggs aside.  Melt coconut oil on the stove on low heat and add minced garlic, spring onions, and a dash of salt and pepper. When garlic and onion are fragrant, add greens and cook until greens are wilted. Use coconut oil to coat a shallow baking dish. Pour eggs into the baking dish followed by warm vegetables. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until frittata is firm. Cool before slicing.  

PHOTO: SOPHIE SARKAR

PHOTO: SOPHIE SARKAR

Lauren Nixon is a Food and Wellness Educator who guides youth and adults in creating healthy, nourishing relationships with local, sustainable food through cooking instruction and educational workshops. She has had the pleasure of working with sustainable food and environmental education organizations including FoodCorps, Urban Nutrition Initiative, Raices Eco Culture Micro Farm, Johnson's Backyard Garden, Hidden Villa, and many more. Follow Lauren on Twitter @LaurenNNixon or at www.laurennixon.com

 

Read Lauren's article on finding spirit in Issue 003: Spirituality, on healing in nature in Issue 002: Death and Transition, and on growth through ritual in Issue 001: Growth.