"I'm a real rebel with a cause."--Nina Simone
For too long I've taken Nina Simone for granted. It didn't hit me how prolific she really was until I realized how often and how much of her work has been covered and many times appropriated. It hit me when I tuned into my Nina Simone Pandora station and heard her perform her own work and I found myself saying, "Oh, she was the one who originally wrote that? I didn't know that was her."
I'm embarrassed to admit that.
But I still didn't know enough, really. I read about her and how tumultuous her life was but I still didn't really know or understand her. Thank god for the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? that I really began to get an inkling of her depth and complexity, how much she raged to just be, even when mental illness made it unbearable to her and those that were around her.
Like Ida B. Wells, she was a bad-ass from an early age. One of my favorite anecdotes about her was when she was a young girl in North Carolina and was about to perform an piano recital in front of a segregated audience. When young Nina realized that her parents would be pushed to the back of the audience because they were black, she refused to play until they were brought up front. It might seem like a small gesture to some but to me that is pretty ballsy for a young child to be willing to defy such injustice, seemingly without fear. That a child was so unaware of such injustice at a young age is also remarkable.
It seems say that her gift was salvation from the temptation of deadly rage in the face of anti-black hatred of the 50's, 60's, and 70's. It has to be soul-wrenching to be a witness to such unrelenting ugliness but yet still feel deeply satisfying to write something as blatant as "Mississippi Goddamn" to bluntly express the rage that so many black people feel after the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that took the lives of those four precious little girls. Nowadays, I feel myself humming that song whenever I hear about another deadly episode of policy brutality, the neglect of a mostly Black town, another senseless killing of the innocent.
I believe it takes superhero strength to be able to channel that anger, survive an abusive marriage, the music industry all the while battling with mental illness for the majority of her life. Most people would have ended themselves long ago but Nina somehow persevered even when she seemed to becoming undone. I am grateful that her struggle with this illness has come to light in that highlights the importance of protecting and attending the mental health of black women.
When making this portrait, I wanted to use an Inkscape that reflected Nina's passion, and fearlessness, hence the red tones. I liked the idea of reflecting the expansiveness of her talent by adding interstellar images in her profile. The contrast of red and black tones speaks to her own complexities, her layers upon layers.
I am grateful that there is a world where Nina Simone existed, and still endures through her music.
“But art is not simply works of art; it is the spirit that knows Beauty, that has music in its being and the color of sunsets in its headkerchiefs; that can dance on a flaming world and make the world dance, too.”--W.E.B. DuBois
My next subject in my Black Superheroes collection is scholar, intellectual and activist W.E.B. DuBois.
One of my main goals this year is to read more of DuBois' writings as I am not as well versed in his work as I feel I should be. In what I have read, I am drawn to the beautiful way in which he writes; his work reads like poetry. What is also astounding is how little things have changed since he penned his writings.
When making this Inkscape Portrait, I wanted to emphasize his intellectualism by directing a light source emanating from his head and using warm hues throughout. I also centered this portrait off center to play with space and to emphasize his profile, which is calm and contemplative. I have to admit that this one of my favorite images of the series because I really like how the texture of the Inkscape contemplates DuBois' profile.
Stay tuned for more Black Superheroes!
"I’d rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I said."--Ida B. Wells
It's Black History Month! While I think Black History should be everyday and not just relegated to February, I did want to commemorate it with a series that I recently started. My newest Inkscape portraits celebrate trailblazers and icons. They are my Black Superheroes.
I found images that were in the public domain (because getting sued for copyright infringement is not something that is on my bucket list) and merged them with previous Inkscape photographs that I had taken. It was somewhat of a painstaking process because I really had to dig to find the right Inkscape for each portrait. I wanted them to feel magical and ethereal and used color to reinforce the mood that each portrait inspired.
I deliberately decided to start my series with the amazing Ida B. Wells because, quite simply, she was a bad-ass and she simply doesn't get enough credit. In spite of being born into slavery, Ida seem to have a firm understanding of her rightful place in this world and refused to let her race or sex relegate her to sub-human status.
After being orphaned at the age of 16, she supported her younger siblings by becoming a teacher in a black elementary school. By the time she she got to college, she was keenly interested in the rights of black people and women. Incredibly, over 70 years prior to Rosa Parks, she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a train in Tennessee and was forcibly removed. This sister didn't stop there, though; she she also sued the railroad company and initially won a $500 through the local circuit court, although that ruling was later reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
As an investigative journalist, Ida B. started an anti-lynching campaign and revealed the correlation between local economics and lynchings in articles that she published in her newspaper, Free Speech and Headlight. Because of the constant threats against her life, she was forced to arm herself with a gun and the offices of her newspaper were eventually destroyed. She would later go on to write Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, a pamphlet that pointed out that whites lynched black men not because of supposed allegations of rape committed against white women, but rather out of fear of black economic progress.
I admire Ida's ability to reveal the hypocrisy of the suffragist and liberal movements that not only ignored continued violence against black people, but also failed to include blacks in suffragist and temperance movements in the South. To learn more about how Ida B. Wells butted heads with Frances' Williard and how she also went on to read her for filth, please read the Root's article on racism in the suffragist movement. Her confrontations with such movements precedes the still ongoing problem of feminist movements frequently ignoring the plights of black women.
Ida B. was a fearless lioness that did not let fear, racism, or sexism get in the way of her beliefs, even when her own life was under constant threat. I wanted to highlight her bravery by creating a glowing light emanating from her center, her soul. Her convictions were her guiding light. I cast her in deep purple because her fortitude and pride instills a feeling of royalty.
To say she was a pioneer who was ahead of her time is an understatement. Ida B. was everything.