Monthly Archives: February 2012

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Y is for…


.002%. That is the percentage of licensed black female architects in the United State. This places Yolande Daniels with these elite. She is the principal, founder, and female partner of Studio SUMO, a multidisciplinary architecture firm based in New York City. The firm got its name from Daniel’s childhood nickname, Momo, and her partner, Sunil Bald’s, first name. Currently serving as the 2011- 2012 Silcott Endowed Chair at Howard University, she also has lots of experience as a professor of architecture, teaching at University of Michigan, City Colleges of NY, and Columbia University;s GSAAP.

Sunil Bald (l) and Yolande Daniels (r) are Studio SUMO.

Some of this talented lady’s accomplishments include the 2006 Architectural Vanguard Award, which highlights the young phenoms in the field. Today Studio SUMO is over 10 years old and has an impressive portfolio of projects. The firm is focused on innovative solutions that use the physical, social, and cultural contexts to shape design. In 2010, Studio SUMO were selected by the Architetural League of New York for the Emerging Voices Competitions. Daniel’s work at the firm ranges from installations to large scale buildings. One of their highly publicized projects were the window treatments, marketing images and interior gallery space of the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art. SUMO’s first international project, the Josai School of Management in Saitama-ken, Japan led to many projects with the university for their campus. Check out Studio SUMO’s work at their website or in the book New York Dozen: Gen X Architects by Michael Crosbie.

Studio SUMO's design for MoCADA.

Interior student lounge at Josai University designed by Studio SUMO.

Yolande’s ethnicity influences and adds to a few of the firm’s project’s, specifically the Mitan project in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, as well as many exhibition designs for MoCADA. Her independent research is inspired by patterns and deriving formal strategies from non-linear, informal systems. She was recently honored with a travel award from AIANY to investigate and document slave spaces in Brazil, supporting her previous work examining architecture and the politics of space. Ms. Daniels also submitted the Tea Cozy installation to the Evergreen Museum in Baltimore which drew inspirations from Asian culture, Alice and Wonderland, and the museum tearoom. She represented the city of Philadelphia in her piece for “The Dresser Trunk Project” which examined locations of refuge during the Jim Crow Era.

Sumo's design for Little Haiti Housing Project.

Rendering of Little Haiti Housing Project's Courtyard space.

Throughout her professional work, both with Studio SUMO and on her own, Yolande Daniels always asks hard questions. Her design work pulls creative influences from many reference points, yielding intriguing spaces that draw you in and art pieces that make one take a second look. Ms. Daniels research draws from her field, examines ethnicity, and finds a way to marry the two with interesting studies that provide an often unheard perspective in the field. Frankly, we need more people like Yolande Daniels doing critical work in this world.

Daniel's piece for the Dresser Trunk Project.

Tea Cozy by Yolande Daniels.

Oscar: Not so Black AND White

Last night we of Negronia rejoiced when Christian Bale announced Octavia Spencer’s name as Best Supporting Actress.  I even promised to declare today a holiday if Viola Davis won as well for her role in The Help.  (For those of you who didn’t watch the 84th Academy Awards… Viola did not win… although I am also just as happy for Meryl Streep’s Best Actress win.)  But I was reminded by my twitter timeline… for what roles are Black actors being honored?  Also, why aren’t more blacks aware of other accomplishments from black actors, film producers, directors, and creators that have not earned the gold man.

But first rejoice with me!

I thought back to all the times a black actor has won one of the coveted Best Supporting Actor or Actress nomination.  Growing up those would always be exciting nights in my house.  Then I realized, for as young as most people think I am (even though I do in fact feel quite old), most of these wins have occurred in my lifetime.    When I was forced to realize this fact, I was shocked.

This prompted my internet research, so for you I will give you a little history lesson.  The first Black actor to win the prestigious and most  coveted award in American Film was Hattie McDaniel for her Supporting role in Gone With the Wind.  For those allergic to all films old, she played a maid in the antebellum South.  I have seen the film, and of course, Mrs. McDaniel’s performance does steal the show (this is saying a lot considering the leading stars of the film).  This joyous moment occurred in 1940.

The next win was for Best Actor by the ever respected and beloved Sidney Poitier in 1963 for his role in Lillies of the Field.  This made him the first black person to receive at least two nominations for best actor ever.  In 1982, Louis Gossett Jr. won Best Supporting Actor for his part in An Officer and a Gentleman.   For all the times I have watched that movie, I discovered this fact on Wikipedia this week in my pre- Oscar’s historical research.  Next came Denzel Washington in 1989 for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory.  In 1991, Whoopie Goldberg won Best Supporting Actress for her character in Ghost.  Cuba Gooding Jr. followed in 1996 for his supporting role in Jerry Maguire.

In 2001 we all rejoiced and sang that it really was a new millennium when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington took home Best Actor and Actress.  The controversy that was stirred around their roles that year surprised me, because why wouldn’t we have questioned what images of us Hollywood had awarded us for before?  This moment also made Denzel the ONLY black actor to win an award more than once.   Jamie Foxx won Best Actor in 2004 for his starring role in Ray while Morgan Freeman took home Best Supporting Actor for his part in Million Dollar Baby.  We came in twos again in 2006 with Forest Whittaker winning Best Actor and Jennifer Hudson in her breakout role won Best Supporting Actress.  In 2009, Monique won Best Supporting Actress for her terrifying portrayal of the mother in Lee Daniel’s film Precious.  Bringing us to last night when Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress.

That’s It.  Surely, you thought this is just a para-graphical break?  Where on earth are the others?

History has been made. What about the future?

Now think of all the other wonderful black actors and actresses you have ever seen on screen and ponder… where is their golden statue?  I think of this and I am mad for people like Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Ruby Dee.  The old guard of black cinema.  Who are praised by critics and always on the list of great performances one must see.  I think of the often overlooked Don Cheadle, who has played some of the most memorable characters I have seen on screen (and this is coming from a person who owns 300 dvds and has seen all the movies that were ever in the Netflix Top 100 in the past three years). I think of Viola Davis, who I still believe deserved the win for her part in Doubt.

Legends in their own right.

Additionally, only three movies produced or director by blacks have ever been nominated for Best Picture.  They are… wait for it…  The Color Purple, Precious, and The Blind Side.  For Best Director, only John Singleton for Boys in the Hood and Lee Daniels for Precious have even been considered.  [ Spike Lee’s tirade at Sundance is starting to make a little more sense now isn’t it?]  This is when I realized that as much as a I rejoiced at our small victories, there is clearly a bigger issue at hand here.

Now we know why he's mad....

One of my twitter followers said it well last night when she said although she was ecstatic for Spencer and crossing her fingers for Davis, she could not wait for the day where a black person won for being a “normal person”.  Hell, I would take a consistent recognition for positive reflections or images of our culture.   I will stop forcing myself to be excited to see yet another talented black actress regulated to the part of the maid, no matter how touching or endearing the story.  While I understand that it is a historically accurate representation of what many black women did and still do professionally, I refuse to support Hollywood for consistently choosing these stories to tell.

Where are more scenes like this?

There are so many talented blacks in the film business, both ON and OFF The camera that it is time that we make a stronger effort to demand that there be a more diverse depiction of our  culture and ethnicity on the big (and little… don’t think I forgot about tv just because this is about movies) screen.   If we do not make a stronger effort to support independent black films and protest when the typical types of black movies are released, we are simply aiding and embedding the issues at hand.  I urge all of you to do your part and make a point to get out there and support the lesser known or celebrated roles and movies, because you may be pleasantly surprised by what is not being talked about in Hollywood.

Love Viola, but, We are better than this.


Disclaimer: Because I know some person is going to bring up Mr. Madea himself, I would like to say that yes I acknowledge he is a producer of both television and film.  But seeing as he has yet to earn the golden man hmm…I wonder why?  he was not relevant to the article and actually just as guilty for all I talk about here.  So mention at your own risk, but know I do enjoy a healthy debate.

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Who remembers as a child when you would make life size silhouettes of yourself by tracing yourself at school in art class? Stepping back and seeing this representation of yourself allowed every kid to play Peter Pan for a few minutes. Artist Kara Walker takes this technique to a another level, with her wall scenes that explore themes of race, gender, and sexuality. Her work has earned her a McArthur Fellowship (at the time she was the youngest fellow ever honored) and earned her the Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2007.

Her technique employs painting, drawing, and cut-paper silhouettes she adheres to walls depicting elaborate scenes referencing history. Her scale ranges from individual life sized to full room cycloramas. Some even include live performance, light displays, or video features. Walker questions our perceptions with images from slavery taken from the text books we all grew up with. Kara’s art is controversial, often forcing people to examine stereotypes and cariacture. Her pieces walk a fine line between social critique and exaggeration, both in subjects depicted and the features of the people she represents. Her work makes you confront your own identity with regards to race.

“I’m reducing things down a lot, but I’m also characterizing everything and everyone as a black thing, and it comes from a way of viewing the world, looking for blackness, in its good and nefarious forms.” – Kara Walker

Playing with emotions of desire and shame are also themes Walker’s work explores. Her fun caricature appear cartoon-esque and inviting, making u want to view the jovial moments in her scenes, but then there is always a twist. She also depicts very violent acts of hatred, violation and pain, evidenced by her images of sexual assault, domination, misogyny, and belittling. Her vignettes tell a clear story, where she draws material from history- both fact and fiction. It is clear to see influences from Southern novels and movies represented throughout her work. There is a slight ironic humor in her work, often evoking the nervous laughter at the banal jokes or “toliet humor” around the acts her subjects depict. This depicts the absurdity of slavery and our constructs of race, sexuality, power, and American history. As a viewer you are challenged to question your own reactions to her work… are you too a part of the problems she exposes? The artist also has website with dialogue questions and activities to accompany her work and allow viewers to respond online, encouraging her viewers to not be passive participants.

For her critical look at blacks in America and her attention to detail that goes beyond the walls itself, I applaud Kara Walker for her thought-provoking pieces. Her bravery and boldness to depict scenes that are controversial and at times disarming forces us all to confront our own beliefs and behavior. She takes seemingly simplistic forms and adds a layer of complexity to the work that becomes an”I Spy” like game for the viewer to unearth the full story behind the art. Like all great forms of art, Walker grabs us on multiple levels with one move. Power like that is not easy replicated.

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U is for…

“somebody/ anybody sing a black girl’s song… sing her song of life she’s been dead so long closed in silence so long she doesn’t know the sound of her own voice her infinite beauty” – Ntozake Shange

When I think of Urban Bush Women, this quote immediately comes to my mind. So much more than a dance troupe, the non-profit organization was founded in 1984 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, and offers a female centric perspective to the untold stories and histories of the disenfranchised members of the African Diaspora. Using dance as a medium of self expression, the group uses the art form to express and expose issues of social justice and encourage engagement. Based in New York City, the award winning ensemble is internationally known and is heavy on the festival circuit.

Urban Bush Women performing Praise House.

Their core values really embrace community and confidence in oneself. They strive to uphold validating the individual, being a catalyst for social change, entering the community and co-creating stories, building trust through process, celebrating the movement and culture of the African Diaspora, and the importance of place. As a response to the needs of black culture and their surrounding community, Urban Bush Women have hit all the right notes.

Volunteers at a community service project sponsored by Urban Bush Women.

In addition to their unique choreography and multi-talented troop that sing, act, and dance in their amazing stage performances, the group is dedicated to outreach. Urban Bush Women has and monthly culture and community series in BK called Being Bushified, that offers community dance workshops. Their Summer Leadership Institute, is a ten day intensive allows the troop to connect with their fans and examine a pressing issue in the community. Through workshops offering dance, civic engagement, and dialogues and asset mapping, interested minds 18 and older can contribute to their movement and have a taste of performance. The Institute will be in New Orleans in 2012, more information available here. They take people of all levels, so even the most inexperienced dancer should feel inspire to participate!

Participants in the Summer Leaders Institute in New Orleans!

The real magic takes place when you experience their performance live. I first saw them perform when I was a little girl and was taken by the beauty in strength in the black women moving gracefully before my eyes. The choreography always draws you into their story, expressing the varied experiences and emotions of black womanhood. Some of their most famous performances Shelter, Soul Deep, Walking With Pearl, and the more recent piece, Body Talk are masterpieces in their own right. The newest generation of performers are impressive, with most current company members having joined in the past 5 years. In 2010, they were honored during their 25th anniversary when the U.S. Department of State asked them to inaugurate their cultural dance exchange program. They were one of three companies asked to participate. This is a testimony to the power of their art and ability to speak to people of all walks of life. These young women under the direction of the supportive and impressive staff are definitely a positive representation of the artistry of dance and a testimony to the strength and creative power of black women.

Performace of Zollar: Uncensored Dance Theater Workshop in 2010.

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