It’s kind of like raising the bar a little for the things that surround you and focusing on the things you keep that bring you joy rather than thinking about how much you need to discard which is kind of a negative action, right? We’re shifting the perspective to: let me make sure the things that surround myself are things I love.
Creating a space that supports both our work and wellness, is not always an easy feat. Nikisha’s journey of living with ADHD, depression and anxiety makes the need for a self-crafted space even more vital to her mental health and wellness. Dive into our conversation and prepare to expand your wellness tribe with this rebel woman.
Not only do we live on the Earth, but we are a part of it, and that means that we can’t care for ourselves without caring for it too. We’re all connected to and by it. The air I breathe, the water I drink, the ground I walk on and how I interact with each element affects and connects me to you. How then, can I say I love you and I love myself but not love the tree’s branches and roots that look like veins?
Interview by Lauren Ash | Photography by Naima Green
I have to admit; this conversation is one of the most powerful features we have had on Black Girl In Om thus far. The work that Brooklyn-based photographer Naima Green is engaged with is deeply important for all of us as human beings on a planet that shows signs of dis-ease, but particularly for black and brown people. My hope is that in encountering Green's touching work, more of us will be moved to think about the role of representation and accessibility in art, environment/place/space, and environmental activism. Read on, and be sure to follow Green's journey on Instagram @naimagreen and on her website www.naimagreen.com.
LA: Your Jewels from the Hinterland series is a focus of yours at the moment, yes? Can you please share your vision with this project, as well as some of the ways you see it manifesting?
NG: The series began in photographic form in 2013 as a way to visualize and process my personal experience. Three years and 50+ portraits later, I absolutely want this project to be a book. Fragments of the work, collections of six portraits or less, have been shown in galleries in New York, D.C., and Martha’s Vineyard but the entire series has never been seen together. I have not even seen all of the work together because I am still shooting and do not start my postproduction process until late fall working through the winter.
LA: When I look at the images from your Jewels from the Hinterland series, I sense that your intention is to honor and exalt people of color, in particular black folk. Most of the portraits convey individuals staring directly at the camera. At the same time, each individual seems to share the focus with the environment; almost blending with the greenery behind them. In one image, light and shadows dance off of the individual's skin making her appear like the bush she is next to. In another, the individual's skin tone and dress almost makes her fade into the plants that she is comfortably residing in. Can you speak a bit more about your approach when selecting individuals to be a part of your series, as well as your approach when selecting where they will be photographed? What is your artistic intent to communicate with these images?
I absolutely seek to celebrate and honor the beauty and power of Black people. I also try not to limit myself in my own definition of Blackness. Those who participate identify themselves as belonging to the African Diaspora, and there is a beautiful range within that. I have photographed people who identify as: Cuban and Jewish, Jamaican, Black, Dominican, African American, Antiguan, Puerto Rican, Nigerian, and the list goes on. This project seeks to be expansive in its visualizations of Black and Browness and that is not limited to one particular place. When asking individuals to participate I am drawn to their sense craft, their aesthetic — people who I find to be visually stunning — and those who might support my intentions behind the series.
While honoring participants, I also am recognizing the place, the city, green space, all of it. Green spaces in New York vary. There are two approaches when selecting a location for a shoot. I try my best to collaborate with participants in a space that is convenient for them, such as a park or community garden they spend time in. However, I also have a list of parks and green spaces, and want to shoot across all boroughs. With all things, there is a negotiation that happens.
LA: Do you consider yourself an environmental advocate or even activist? If so, how?
If believing that all people should have access to and feel both comfortable and safe in green spaces makes me an advocate, then perhaps I am. We need green spaces in cities. We need a break in the hard architecture, in the stone, brick and metal. We need to see and experience natural growth. Fortunately, green space and the urban landscape are no longer talked about as binaries, but there is not a wide discussion around communities of color and green spaces in New York.
LA: Would you consider your work womanist?
NG: In her collection of essays “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” Alice Walker explores what it means to be a womanist. She describes a womanist as “a black feminist or a feminist of color;” a woman who is not separatist across gender but committed to the “survival and wholeness of an entire people, male and female.”
Yes, this work, my work, is womanist.
LA: How did you come to embrace the term hinterland and why do you feel it is important to define it for those who engage with your work?
Let me first define the project: Jewels from the Hinterland is a photo-based series that investigates questions of place, belonging, and perceived cultural identity within the African Diaspora. I have made, and continue to make, portraits of creative individuals in and around New York City, where figures anchor overgrown fields with abstract forms and vibrant colors. Those who choose to participate are creatives who find comfort in verdant environments. As nature grows around the individuals, so does the city landscape, like a continuous grid. In these photographs are city dwellers who identify with natural green spaces, regions where Black and Brown urbanites are not expected to inhabit. Our hinterlands.
So what is a hinterland?
ˈhin(t)ərˌland/ (noun) 1. The often uncharted areas beyond a coastal district or a river's banks 2. An area lying beyond what is visible or known.
For me, this twofold definition is seamless. I felt like my experience growing up in and around green spaces was never seen or expressed in the media. So, for me, my life was lived in a hinterland. Places that those in our community knew about that were very real and legitimate for us. But on a larger national consciousness, felt like an uncharted area. The beauty of this project is the ability to unify the participants through place and green spaces even though we all have incredibly different lived experiences and histories.
There are dominant and pervasive narratives that suggest Black and Brown bodies can only exist in hard, concrete, urban environments. I seek to add to the narrative by documenting growth in lush environments; and by showing the evolution of Brown bodies in green spaces, which was traditionally limited to depictions of work. I ask my participants to confront these ideas, the viewer, and the camera by gazing directly back at me. This gaze explores the nuances of ownership, confrontation and belonging.
LA: What contemporary artists of color, not necessarily photographers, do you consider to be playing and exploring the same topics you are?
NG: When I started shooting I was deeply inspired by the aesthetics of Deana Lawson. I have been revisiting her work this year. After viewing Kehinde Wiley’s retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum I see parallels between his use of floral motifs and the way he re-imagines the art historical canon with Black and Brown figures.
LA: How does your work relate to self-care and self-love? Both as a process for you, as the photographer, as well as for the work you're creating for other people of color to interact with?
Blackness is constantly being contested. Whether it is Army bans on hairstyles, children murdered, or teenagers being assaulted at pool parties — Blackness is often, if not always, challenged. Art making is my way to process that contestation and confront it. I have to create a tension, a rub, and a resistance to institutional messages.
As I have shared and discussed the work with wider audiences, it has been wonderful and daunting for me to talk with people who have never seen what I am creating. Someone said, “we never see Black girls in flouncy dresses on swings” when referring to my photograph of Aja Monet. While I make these images primarily for myself and communities of color, it is important for many types of people to see these photographs. However, in talking about self-care, it is not my job to teach everyone that Blackness exists in this way. I can create and visualize, but the onus is on the individual to see, research and be present with the work.
LA: Thank you, Naima. I am deeply honored to be a part of your vision and to witness your work unfold.
Interview by Lauren Ash.
This month’s Black Girl In Om Wanderlust is Lynnette Astaire, a fabulous healthy food chef based in Mexico. LiveLoft, Lynette’s juice detox and raw food seaside retreat place, sounds too good to be true. You mean I can vacation, relax, and stay committed to my health goals all at the same time? I’m there!
Lynnette reached out to me a couple of months ago when she stumbled across what we’re cultivating through Black Girl In Om. I’ve been moving toward making smarter, more preventative decisions with my health through my eating habits so I was thrilled to hear from her. I’ve been considering the ways in which I can view healthy decisions with food as liberating, rather than constricting. And in talking with Lynnette, I’m encouraged to commit to my recent (re)turn toward a plant-based diet―and to consider a wellness-based adventure for my next vacation. Be sure to check out Lynnette's website for clean eating and creative living inspiration. You can also follow Lynnette on Instagram @LiveLynnette and on Twitter @LiveLynnette.
Lauren: You embrace a plant-based diet and avoid using the term "vegan" intentionally. Why?
Lynnette: Veganism is more than a diet. For example, I wear leather. Plus, there is a current stigma with veganism that I’d rather not even enter until there’s more food education. However, 75% of what I eat on a daily basis is a vegan-identified, raw food. There's a great article on Renegade Health that can help people who want to successfully incorporate more raw food into their diets.
Lauren: That’s me! So I’ll have to read that article later. So, I’m curious about how your experience as a holistically minded woman of color has varied from living in the United States to living in Mexico? Have you been received differently? If so, how?
Lynnette: There aren’t enough foreign women of color here to make a comparison to. So I am simply a black woman, which in smaller villages can be an event in itself. In Mexico City [women who sell tacos] add meat to my taco after I say veggie, but my Mexican friends say it happens to them so I think we're all being received the same!
Eating healthy, for some, seems like something that keeps you from certain things including sugar, carbs, and meat. However, in my own wellness journey, I've seen how it truly liberates you from addiction, disease, and more.
Lauren: I totally agree! After my Mother was diagnosed with cancer and changed her diet, I started to consider how I can do so, too, in a preventative way. She’s cancer-free, but has still committed to eating foods that aren’t going to harm her now or in the future. I’m striving to do the same! Lynette, in what ways has eating healthier liberated you―physically, emotionally, perhaps even spiritually?
Lynnette: I'm liberated from choice and time. You end up going down only one or two aisles in the store when you live like this. It's so much easier to shop when the goal is nutrition. I recently wrote an article on what happened after I unintentionally eliminated processed foods from my diet for two years. The post became popular because, the truth is that a variety of food choices actually makes us slaves to our over stimulated tastebuds, which usually aren't even good for us.
Lauren: You have been traveling in Europe this summer. In your pre-travel blog post you mention that Italy is a place where you have overindulged in the past. Was the temptation there this time around? In addition to your Golden Rules, what other best practices do you adopt, and would you recommend others adopt, when traveling while simultaneously striving to stay healthy in mind, body, and spirit?
Lynnette: With so many changes during travel it's always good to keep some constants. We're not so different than babies when it comes to changes but we just don't practice enough self-care to realize it. I try to stick to my normal routine of a raw food breakfast and lunch and indulge at dinner (and dessert) which is usually the most social time of day.
For long distance & long term travel I’d say adopt a fitness routine ASAP to manage your energy! A big time zone change can really affect you. I've definitely been feeling the seven hour change these past few weeks.
I just posted a YouTube video explaining how to avoid jet lag and a few other tips. I also have a new post featuring a short list of travel essentials.
Lauren: Great tips! These will come in handy for me and Zakkiyyah as we have some travel on the horizon! So, I haven't yet done a detox. There are millions of people just like me who are generally healthy and health conscious, yet new and a bit nervous about detoxing. Where and how would you recommend we begin?
Lynnette: Like most things, begin with the past! Many spiritual leaders throughout history, from Jesus to Buddha to Muhammad have spiritual stories about fasting. These days it's more about diet but I believe if it starts with the spirit everything else will fall into place. I've had so many breakthroughs over the 10 years I've been detoxing plus I think it’s been a key to me maintaining my weight as I get older.
I always suggest to start detox in the summer. Your inclination to drink is much higher, plus it's often "too hot to eat." The biggest thing to remember is that the concept of food is mostly in your head since you can survive about three weeks without food and only three days without water. But if you have any major health issues or medications check with a doctor, though most are, unfortunately, trained to treat with pharmaceuticals and not nutrition.
My detox page includes vlogs, blogs and books about my 10 year journey that you can access for free here.
Lauren: What's your favorite memory, involving wellness, from your recent travel adventures?
Lynnette: The Mediterranean Sea! I've always lived near large bodies of water so I feel at home in waves, but in Mexico I live at a surf beach. It's been nice to be able to just lay back in the calm water without having to look over my shoulder for the next wave. The salt content is higher here, too. So it’s been great to get a mineral soak, although how ashy my skin looks afterwards is not so great.
I'm also loving the wild lavender in Croatia! It’s cool to walk down the street and get random whiffs of "aromatherapy." I got into the habit of putting fresh pieces under my pillow every day and even created a lavender iced tea recipe that can be made from fresh or dry pieces.
Lauren: What a beautiful, simple ritual, Lynnette. Thank you so much for all that you do to inspire more of us to cultivate mindfulness in relation to what we eat and how we live!
Want more inspiration to jump-start your mindful eating goals? Be sure to check out Lynnette's article,"A Recipe for Healthy Food Humility!"
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.
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.