#Chicago: The Black Ink Book Exchange

A project I’m very excited about:

Black Ink Book Exchange is a pop up library open for the exchange of books by black authors, and about black culture. The project aims to create a space around books as a cultural currency, and consists of creative workshops, a reading lounge and book barter. The project will begin at the Arts Incubator in Washington Park this spring, and with support, will continue through the end of the summer in other South Side Chicago locations.

Contribute to the IndieGoGo. Like the Black Ink Book Exchange on Facebook.

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Event Recap: Ghana Must Go at Shacks & Shanties

IMG_1322It was maybe a few years ago that I first learned the name of these bags that I had seen often in my childhood home. I was reading a post on a blog from Oroma Elewa. I was immediately confused as to her naming of the bag — Ghana Must Go. Reading the Google search results for the term infuriated me. How could a traumatic event such as the mass expulsion of immigrants be trivialized so? Last year, was probably the first time I heard my mother use the phrase. We were in standing in her friend’s kitchen in a suburb of Accra. She pointed at stack of empty bags and asked me to hand her a Ghana Must Go bag. When I asked her why she would use that term, she said it’s no different from Black people using the N-word. As writer invested in migration, identity, and postmemory, it was a bit disturbing to hear but my mother’s language is not reflective of all Ghanaians, of course. I’ve heard that some reference the bag with a phrase that means “A White man has died.” Needless to say, I was intrigued when I heard that a Nigerian-American artist (Abbéy Odunlami) created an installation and performance inspired by the Ghana Must Go bags as part of the Shacks & Shanties Project. My recap follows:

Abbéy Odunlami‘s performance at Shacks & Shanties was, according to an attendee, much different from his other performance pieces. On a wooden platform situated in front of the shack (the physical structure for the installations in the Shacks & Shanties Project), Odunlami, sat at a small white table with his laptop in front of him. Instead of seeking an active participation from the audience during the performance, he read an essay that was interluded with tracks he played from his laptop. The effect — at least in the eyes of Faheem Majeed, organizer of Shacks & Shanties — was newscaster-like. Even so the performance was engaging (check the guy holding his chin in the picture below).

For Odunlami’s installation, entitled “Ghana Must Go!” he covered the shack with the plaid plastic material that is used to make Ghana Must Go bags. Inside the shack, were stuffed Ghana Must Go bags. On top of a plastic US postal service container sat a red boom box. A track (comprised of six individual tracks that Odunlami layered on each other) emulated the sounds of a busy market in the space. Odunlami’s essay began with a few examples of the appropriation of “poverty culture”: cowboy gear donned by those who could well enough make beyond the median salary of a real cowboy (20,000 USD); overalls worn by non-farmers who probably don’t run businesses that are consistently in the red; ripped jeans that may cost hundreds of dollars; and lastly, high-end bags made by designers like Louis Vuitton that feature the patten of Ghana Must Go bags.IMG_1327

As Odunlami noted in his essay, the Ghana Must Go bag and pattern didn’t originate in West Africa, yet it holds historical significance in the region. During the 1970s, the Nigerian oil boom attracted many Ghanaians to the nearby nation. In the 1980s, as Ghana was dragged into greater political and economic instability, increasing numbers of Ghanaians left their homeland (or chose to remain wherever they had migrated for school or work). As the oil boom began to subside and conditions in Nigeria began to deteriorate, immigrants became a target. In 1983 and again in 1985, the Nigerian government expelled significant numbers of immigrants, most of whom were Ghanaians. Those being expelled packed their belongings in these plaid plastic bags that were subsequently referred to as Ghana Must Go bags.

Ironically, Odunlami’s installation was hosted in a garden adjacent to a building that supposedly houses many Ghanaians.

For more images of last Saturday’s Shacks & Shanties performance, check them out here. And for the remaining installations schedule, click here.

Chicago as a Galaxy

Probably the most important thing I heard this weekend during the Black Collectivities Conference (which at times was overwhelming in the way that the academy is):

“Like a galaxy giving birth to stars, that’s what Chicago is to black people” – Cauleen Smith, experimental filmmaker, afrofuturist

Whenever I tell folks from my past that I live in Chicago now, there is almost an immediate reference to the city’s problem with violence. I’m not naive; but I know that I’ve had some of the most healthful encounters and relationships with black people since I’ve been here. I also know that my artistry has grown exponentially in the past several months. So as a black woman exploring herself as an artist in a city with black population often denigrated by the media, Cauleen’s statement was perfectly timed and thoroughly felt.

#BlackArtRising, October 2012

I don’t know if every October is this packed with amazing art events, but I’m claiming October 2012 as a month of Black Art Rising because I’ll be supporting quite a few indie Black artists this month and I’m more than excited.

A few events in NYC I’d be at if I still lived there…
New York Film Festival
09/28 – 10/14
Punk in Africa would be on my agenda if I were in town. Check out the full schedule here.

Congo in Harlem 2
10/8 – 10/23
Two weeks of Congo-related films and events.  Check out the details here.

Change the Mood: Africans Are Real Release Party
10/13
!!! Binyavanga Wainaina is DJing at this party!!!  Apparently the incredibly talented writer also has some DJ skills or he’s going to completely wing it; either way I have a feeling it’s going to be good and I’m really annoyed I can’t be in NYC for this. Check out details here.

Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series
10/13-10/14
Byron Hurt’s Soul Food Junkies is the feature film and Sam Pollard is teaching a workshop.  Check out full details and schedule here.

I hope all you New Yorkers enjoy these (and the million other art events going on this month)!  Thankfully the Chicago art scene ain’t too bad. Here are a few things I’m planning to check out

Chicago Artist Month
THE WHOLE MONTH!!!
I just discovered this last night so I haven’t completely checked out the calendar but 20 Neighborhoods, a woman-centered exhibition with workshops looks interesting. All details here.

Chicago International Film Festival
10/11 – 10/25
A FEW of the films that are on my agenda:
Alaskaland
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
La Playa DC
43000 feet
You can check out the full festival schedule here.

In other Chicago film news, Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere opens on the 19th at AMC River East and the Steve McQueen retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago opens (to the public) on the 21st (Shame & Hunger are screening on the 19th).

And on the music tip, there are a couple of Felabrations in the middle of the month and Nneka is performing on the 25th at Lincoln Hall!

Suffice it to say, I’m excited about October in the CHI! How about you; What’s going on in your city?