Moving Behind Moses Project – 11 months down, 6 more to go

I didn't think I was going to get this grant because there appeared to be a poet purist on the selection committee who didn't think a visual artist/poet/playwright/karate black belt/samba dancer/Berkeley MBA making a living in finance would ever pool it off – "not going to happen," she told her fellow judges/jurists.  She used Paul Hoover's recommendation (editor of Postmodern American Poetry – A Norton Anthology, as well as several poetry books – most recently desolation: souvenir from Omnidawn) against me.  Paul wrote in his letter that I was a poetry student and then switched to writing a play for my thesis.  OOPS.


People hate the betwixed and between until they are dead and gone.  I'm glad the poet/player hater was overturned.  And here I am – 11 months in.  I've used the grant money received by the San Francisco Arts Commission to travel to New York, DC/VA, and LA doing research.  Wait – you whisper.  I thought this was a poetry book?  Well… it's betwixed and between (just like me.) 

Right now my desk is filled with Harriet Tubman and images from several collections (Schomburg, Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, and the 20th Centurty Fox Research Library.)  The words… still on Moses and reeling over historical facts like she knocked her own teeth out with her pistol to "kill" the pain.  More to come as I get closer to the finish line.


UC Berkeley “Lost” Sargent Johnson Art – Million $ Relief “$Found” for $150.00 then Reacquired by the Huntington Library

This is an amazing report of  a 22 foot relief  by celebrated African American artist tied to the Bay Area "lost" to one of the school's storage stacks, sold for the pre-tax price of $150.00 then resold to the Huntington library – its first major acquisition of an African American artist.

Artist Mark Bradford – collaging a life with paper/glue/string – retrospective now at SFMOMA/YBC Feb 18 – Jun 17

I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical of SFMOMA’s full page ad in The Examiner announcing Mark Bradford’s concurrent show with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; skeptical of what I would actually see on their white walls.  “Mark Bradford’s lush, richly textured, large-scale works express the energy of the urban environment through layers of materials scavenged from the street and subjects addressing race, class, gender, and sexuality.”  What the hell is the urban environment let alone its energy?  I was born in LA (I guess that could fit the definition) moved to South Pasadena (nope, not urban really but part of LA County and 10 minutes away from downtown LA via the Pasadena freeway), and now live in San Francisco (urban to most, for example the south side of Bernal Heights hill that overlooked the Alemany projects,  but no – not urban where I live now in District 7.)  Did the curator/copy editor mean City Life or Street Life because they aren’t one in the same.  Needless to say the ad worked.  I went to see the shows, looking to make the ad wrong (or right) – where and how was race, class, gender, and sexuality an integral part of Bradford’s art?


Bradford partially answered the call with an audacious piece, a taxidermied black crow flying so far above my head/slamming beak first into a wall at SFMOMA that I almost missed it; as I found throughout the show, Bradford is playing, poking, & prodding in his titles as well as the work itself. The broke beak bird offers overt and subtle references to Jim Crow laws as well as black-face minstrel shows.

Mark Bradford panel 4 "Rat Catcher of Hamelin"

                                                                                                            On view at YBC is Bradford’s 2011 Rat Catcher of Hamelin. YBC’s website describes this as “a large-scale four–panel mixed media collage created for the Istanbul biennial. 50 billboards collected from all around South-Central Los Angeles form the basis of this socially charged abstract art. Sanded, stripped surfaces reveal what lies below.”  

As a writer and a visual artist, I am a sucker for words or letters or literary messages embedded in living color within an object of art.  What YBC’s teaser on-line left out you find out in the show.  The four panels partially contain fragments of 50 billboards previously posted to assist the LAPD in the Grim Sleeper serial killer case (photos of unidentified women found in the suspect’s possession.)  After public uproar over the “postings” to assist in the case LAPD pulled the billboards; Bradford contacted authorities and obtained them for his own appropriation/art-making.  Breathing new meaning to appropriated billboard materials/found images – this is at the core of Bradford’s artistic practice.  In Rat Catcher of Hamelin, his source images are as important as the structure/they are obliterated/barely there yet articulated – CAN YOU HELP – technically the paper build up is so thick, the words are carved up & out.

Bradford hits gender (identify) over the head with an earlier piece Paris is Burning (I remember when the film came out.)  “Fuck straight people” is embedded/carved right there in the collage for all to make out if you look close enough to see.

While beautiful – both in technique and inventiveness – Bradford’s work goes beyond pretty things.  There is meaning for me here hanging on the walls and in his process; I am willing to trust what Bradford digs in and claws out.



The Art of Self Adornment – Henna

I snapped this in Marrakesh; our guide pointed to the small crowd  in a nonchalant way at the same time trying to be informative as a zookeeper is informative about the mating rituals of monkeys.  It was his tone, the undertone if you will, describing this thing that women do – henna.  These women were in line mind you; their henna hand art was for sale.  I wanted desperately to let the rest of the group go on while I got mine done, but this would have been gender-line crossing heresy.  Our guide would have never understood my desire to do this womanly thing.  It would have been embarrassing (not to me…).

Missing Morocco

I miss Morocco.  The breadth and call five times a day.  The men who almost look like me, their hair like mine.  I miss the push of the street, the meat, the vegetables, the village dust.  I miss the mint tea, the no protein for breakfast but perhaps a little yoghurt and an egg.  I miss the rose water in our riad, the fear/excitement of not knowing a language (are you Berber?)


Black History Month – Busting Jim Crow Tennis

Don Budge Wimbledom champ
My great uncle is famous for losing.   It was a big loss and a historical win at the same time.  He lost to this man – Don Budge grand slam champ in 1940.  Uncle Jimmy was the ATA tennis champ at the time.  I wonder what it is like to be a famous loser/winner?  Jim Crow tennis got busted that day.  I don’t know much about any of this from my own family.  What I do know is Jimmy and my grandmother Aileen were brothers and sisters.  I know my Dad and Jimmy’s son Willis were practically best friends/brothers since they eventually ended up together (read raised) by my great grandmother Ruby McDaniel.  I know my father used to talk a bit about tennis and golf in LA and not being so impressed with being around crackers and all of that.  Tough talk I know.  Life is complicated.  Life isn’t what it seems it should be.  I read recently in an excerpt from an eBook on blacks and tennis that Jimmy was sent from LA to Northern California on a statutory rape charge – getting a 15 year old White girl pregnant.  This is the kind of stuff you read about because no one in your family is going to talk this type of stuff out loud.  Still – losing makes you stronger.  I am proud of this winning loser!,9171,761915,00.html

Black History Month – Celebrating Our Warrior Women


I took this picture while during research at Arlington Memorial, the site of the Women in Military Service for America memorial.  I found this beautiful warrior glaring, thinking.  I don’t know where she is, I don’t know where she was going.  I imagine her in a helicopter enroute to a mission with her comrades, or perhaps a training mission waiting to jump from the plane or not.  I do know this.  At the time of this photo, she was on active duty and her beautiful image is on display representing women’s contributions to the U.S. Military.  Thank you for your service!

Black History Month – Buffalo Soldier Baseball


Family history had been a mystery to me prior to me “data mining” for my latest project “Moving Behind Moses – A poem celebrating African American Women’s  Contributions to the United States Military”.  My father didn’t talk much about his father, other than he left his mother.  My father was actually raised by his grandmother in 1930’s Los Angeles (think victory garden and picking greens from the railroad tracks for eats.)  My mother always talked about her father “pappa”.  He was a career military officer – all I knew of him was a black and white picture in uniform that all of my aunts and uncles have.  I never met him.  He was an old man when my mom was born.  My grandmother left my grandfather for a Filipino farmer in Salinas, California.  My mother was essentially raised by her sisters.  The Collier family had always held their heads metaphorically high – their father being a Buffalo Soldier – an officer in the 10th calvary, this was the equivalent of being a professional (albeit military) man.  A big deal.  My uncle Sarge has dedicated his life to keeping the legacy of the Buffalo Soldier alive, as well as keeping himself alive.  His activities in meetings and dedications across the country over the last few decades is stunning.  So it was a natural next step to talk to my mother to see if she would talk to her brother to talk to me about family history and military life.  My mother said Uncle Sarge was the one to talk about family history; he probably had pictures I might be interested in for my research project.  The attached was in his photo album, a picture of his uncle (my great uncle) in company M (circa 1911). I am still confused since I read online my uncle was in the 10th calvary, 1911.  The photography clearly has 9th calvary hand written on the bottom.

Further intrigued, my creative research for my book led me to an anthology “Buffalo Soldiers in the west – A Black Soldiers Anthology” edited by Bruce A. Glasrud and Michael M. Searles.  As written in the chapter Community of Soldiers, “by the late nineteenth century, athletics also became an entry to community activities, allowing blacks to engage with whites in positive ways…Overall, athletic events between white and black teams created a venue for interrelations between white and black, whether civilian or military, that was mostly positive.  There were other results.  In at least one instance, a black defeat of white teams led a white military officer to argue that blacks should not be allowed to compete (especially against whites) because it was unseemly for an inferior race to defeat a superior race.”  page 219

To Uncle Chick Collier – I celebrate you and your glove this Black History Month!