Author Archives: Tya W.

About Tya W.

Tya Winn: architect, urbanist, designer, cultural connoisseur, and the next great thing!

Telling Her-story

Kelly Rowland as Rosie the Riveter as shot by Derek Blanks.

Rounding out Women’s History Month has been an incredible week for the black female in television and film. Hidden beneath the updates on the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the record-high Mega Millions, you may have missed some the exciting achievements of those faces that represent us everyday on screen. What excited me most was the realization of the diversity of black women being represented. While some news highlights were more on the controversial side, it did please me to realize that the anger of some may mean sisters are making some progress out here!

We can finally transcend this....

First to note was the record high number of black representation on the Season 5 premier of Mad Men. The show has been long criticized for the absence of black characters, but if the first scene is foreshadowing things to come, this may be the season for some radical change. Was I the only person hoping that Lane’s collection of resumes may result in a new secretary at Sterling Cooper Draper Price (because clearly Pete’s assistant, Clara, is not gonna cut it)! I am excited to have a representation of color in the office to challenge resident vixen Joan and her curves this season. **Crosses fingers that Matthew Weiner shares this vision**

Foreshadowing?

The last two weeks in tv land brought in a lot of new brown faces to the little screen, with the premiere of Mary Mary on WE, chronicling the lives of Grammy winning gospel duo Mary Mary. The show looks to bring cameras behind the scenes of their family and show the reality of a Christian household. Judging by their late night talk show visits this week, this series promises some true black woman moments, bringing some realness to reality tv. Vh1 continues to battle with TBS for greatest representation of brown women on a network, with the season premiere of La La’s Full Court Life and the series premiere of Styled by June. The former is a peak behind the curtain of the life of mother, media figure, and actual basketball wife La La Anthony. The show covers La La balancing her family, friends, famous husband, and adorable son. Last week’s premiere reached a ratings high record for the show. It was followed by newbie, Styled by June, featuring celebrity fashion stylist, June Ambrose. As the black equivalent to Rachel Zoe, I really enjoyed watching her remake Mischa Barton. Extra points for the first episode not featuring some stereotypically black rap artist, but instead a beloved Caucasian teen starlet and socialite. I am even more excited for upcoming episodes featuring the sassy black girl as the new intern. Reason #529282 why I’m happy for DVR.

Check out her fashion forward looks on Vh1.

If those three shows didn’t pique your interest, hopefully the mid season premiere of Shonda Rhime’s Scandal will. Starring perennial favorite, Kerry Washington as the head of a crisis management firm. The show is based on the career of former Bush Administration press aide, Judy Smith. This is Washington’s first starring role on a major network’s tv show and Rhimes’ first show centered around a black female lead. Rhimes is no stranger to strong women with her other hit shows, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice featuring prominent female leads and cast members. Look for it April 5, 2012 on ABC. No seriously, I for one need you to watch it so it stays on tv and I can continue my hopes of seeing Columbus Short shirtless weekly without having to watch Stomp the Yard (not that I own this movie).

Coming up this spring with an extended guest staring role on Glee will be Whoopie Goldberg. Of course after Sister Act we know full well that she is capable of leading high school kids in song, but as a resident gleek I am still looking forward to her arc as a college professor who judges the auditions two major characters. Check her first episode currently scheduled to air May 1. And start the speculation of Whoopies sing along selection now….  Looking forward to shows that were recently greenlit, new shows featuring Megan Goode, Regina Hall, Ne Ne Leakes, the reboot of In Living Color, and a new A&E show based on Rosario Dawson’s graphic novel O.C.T. are coming soon to prime time.

Disney Channels stars: China McSwain, Skai Jackson, Zendeya, & Coco Jones (l-r).

Never one to ignore the achievements of our youngest starlets, this week was a great one for the stars of the Disney Channel. For the first time since 1995, Nickelodeon was knocked from its top spots in youth programming by the mouse-eared channel. Why do I attribute this to the success of black women you ask? Partially due to the amazing talent in actresses China McClain, Zendaya, Coco Jones, and Skai Jackson and the black girl representation on the channel. McClain stars on A.N.T. Farm and Zendaya is one half of the headliners on Shake it Up!, two of the stations most popular shows. New talent Coco Jones is part of the ensemble cast on SoRandom, a sketch comedy show starring the remaining cast members from Demi Lovato’s old show, Sonny With A Chance. My new favorite is Skai Jackson, playing one of the children on Jesse, and always managing to steal scenes away from her costars. If you don’t know them yet, no worries, I know this is not the last of these girls acting days.

Doesn't she make you want to be a kid again?

Also premiering this month was Disney Junior show, Doc McStuffins, an animated show for the youngest set centered on a little girl who plays doctor to her broken toys. Seeing an animated brown girl in her pink lab coat with aspirations to be a doctor almost made my biological clock skip a beat. Looks like Disney is finally trying to make a better showing than Princess Tiana for our young ladies!

The #1 reason I will be seeing this movie.

Another young actress faced a lot of attention this week on a bigger screen. Amendla Stenberg showed true poise and strength after outrage this week about the race of her character Rue, from blockbuster film, The Hunger Games. Many racist morally questionable moviegoers took the web to protest the race of three of the movies characters. Many quotes pulled from twitter were horribly shocking (especially from the mouths of some youngsters) criticizing the film for using black actors. Even more foolish were explanations of the original book text describing characters as having dark brown skin and people saying they were surprised they were black. Stenberg spoke out praising her cast mates and film creators and saying how much she enjoyed the experience. I haven’t had time to finish the book yet, but her movie poster alone is enough to entice me to ignore mixed reviews and support Ms. Amendla. For my fellow movie buffs, she also played young Cataleya in Columbiana alongside Zoe Saldana and for those who saw this movie know she is a future action star in the making for sure. Moving from one ebony action star to the next, I was extra hype for the first footage of Naomie Harris in the next installment of the James Bond saga. This British star underwent lots of training before filming began to play Eve, a field agent. As a big fan of the Daniel Craig Bond movie’s intense action, Skyfall is sure to be a great addition to round out the trilogy.

Major film projects that got some legs this week celebrate lots of black women. The first was the announcement that Kasi Lemmons, director of Eve’s Bayou and Talk to Me, was named director of the film adaptation of Zadie Smith’s award winning novel, On Beauty. This book was my personal favorite of Smith’s work, and is about British/American mixed race family, the patriarch’s academic rival and his Trinidadian family, and the racial/social/familial politics when all collide in a New England college town. More excited are my visualizations of the characters in my head (With the kids being played by Zoe Kravitz, Evan Ross, Chris Brown, and KeKe Palmer in my daydreams… but I’m no casting director). Also in the works is a Queen Latifah produced and starred remake of Steel Magnolias. The Lifetime film will also star Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott, Condala Rashad, and Pariah star Adepuro Oduyere. The movie is being described as a contemporary re-visioning with a projected premiere for 2012. Originally, Steel Magnolias starred Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Dolly Pardon, Olympia Dukakis, and Darryl Hannah.

What will a black reboot be like?

For young and mature black women, there are sure to be lots of interesting representations and portrayals of our varied experience in the next few seasons. How timely for the announcements to fall on the heels of Black History month and during Women’s History Month, giving us plenty to look forward to in the coming months.

But when are we gonna see another one of these?


The Blacker the Berry….

I have yet to see this documentary, but I am hoping to catch a screening soon.  This trailer just made me shed a tear so I had to share the link.  This doesn’t need any more words.  Just watch. reflect. how did u feel when you finished?

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.


Y is for…

YOLANDE DANIELS

.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.

W is for…

KARA WALKER

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.


U is for…

URBAN BUSH WOMEN
 
“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.


S is for…

SUPERFRONT

The staff of SUPERFRONT in the BK Gallery.

This design organization came about in 2008 and has experimental gallery/labs in three cities already. Founder/Director Mitch McEwen was really interested in making the field of architecture more engaged and involved in its surrounding community. The group’s ground zero, SUPERFRONT BK, the group began putting on exhibitions in a gallery space geared towards the public. The non profit organization is focused on promoting architectural experimentation and interdisciplinary exchange. Many of the Brooklyn gallery’s projects have been praised by the forward thinkers within the profession, and SUPERFRONT has produced exhibition catalogs that are available for sale online.

SUPERFRONT collaboration to transform their public space.

The exhibits often feature radically experimental works by young designers that are built and exhibited on very limited budgets by the SUPERFRONT staff in collaboration with the artist. Each year the organization hosts designers-in- residence, and 2011 featured urban designer Manuel Avila Ochoa, culminating in his project Participatory Urbanism: Crown Heights. The project used a landscape urbanist’s approach to envision and rethink the residual spaces adjacent to the Franklin Avenue shuttle line. Avila involved the local community in his research and final exhibition, looking to create a common ground between constituents and residents while involving them in the conversation about public space. The project was one of ten selected visions for NYC honored at Urban Design Week 2011.

Invitation for Artist-in-reisdence Manuel Avila's Exhibition.

This is just one example of how SUPERFRONT’s work is making a difference. SUPERFRONT Detroit, spearheaded by SUPERFRONT member Chloe Bass has been working to re- imagine what the future of the city will hold. Their exhibition Detroit: A Brooklyn Case Study was a combination of art, architecture and documentary. SUPERFRONT released an RFP for a design intervention on a vacant lot site they owned, resulting in the LIGHT UP! Installation by artists Ellen Donnelly and David Karle. There was also a crowd-sourced documentary, SUPERtube, inviting residents to use YouTube as a communal think tank and create their own vision and proposal for how the city should change. Contributors were asked to pick one lot, block, or neighborhood in Detroit and create a 1 minute video based on SUPERFRONT prompt questions.

Light Up! Installation as part of the Detroit projects.

In 2009, SUPERFRONT LA began as an offshoot of the Brooklyn site, at the Pacific Design Center. The gallery produced exhibits here through August 2011. The LA portion of the operation hosted the traveling exhibit Detroit: A Brooklyn Case Study and curated Unplanned and Anthony Gross:Crime Scenes. Unplanned has an accompanying publication available for purchase on SUPERFRONT LA’s website.

Art installation at the LA Gallery.

Across all cities, SUPERFRONT is in your face and asking the hard questions. It is bringing the ideas of design, its process, and consequences direct to the constituents in affects the most. More impressive is this forward thinking group that features many young, female, minority designers making big things happen. Their work is definitely worth an in depth look and for those readers on the east coast, make a point to visit their Brooklyn Studio next time you are in the New York area, there seem to be some very exciting things happening there!

SUPERFRONT from Urban Omnibus on Vimeo.