Thursday, October 20, 2016


Just as the key to understanding Picasso’s abstraction of Mari-Thérèse is to, “realize that abstractions may not represent whole things but one or another of their less obvious properties” (Root-Bernstein 2001) I took on the concept of justice – and identified one of its less obvious properties.   To me cultural preservation is a less obvious property of justice.  I looked at abstracting justice in multiple ways. For my two pieces of abstract art I took on two ways of looking at the arguable center of Anishinaabe culture – the hand drum.  Both of my pieces have a way of incorporating water justice into them as well.  For the Anishibnaabe (the people of the Great Lakes) water is very central to our culture.  Many Indigenous people are creating a movement around water preservation and cultural preservation. 

The first abstract art piece utilized photography as a medium that is further edited to create movement and light.  The photograph I took is from a march that I participated in at Houston Texas with the local tribes.  The march was in solidarity with the larger Indigenous community on the Sacred Stone/ Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota that is fighting the Dakota Access Pipe-Line (DAPL). 

Heart Beat:
I was taught about the hand drum’s significance as the first thing that we hear in our mothers womb is our mother’s heart beat.  It is the rhythm of many indigenous songs and prayers reflecting the heart beat.  It is also a beat that connects us to our mother’s earth.  The world moves with a similar beat to our hearts.  Hand drums are crucial to cultural preservation because most tribes accross North American utilize a hand drum (or similar instrument) to pass on songs and used in ceremony.  In that way we remember values, language and practices.  The picture is of someone that was in the front of the March wearing traditional regalia.  He is also holding a hand drum and is smudging with sage in a conch shell.  Even though this tribe is geographically far from Michigan – these elements of ceremony are essentially the same.  Each from is a close up of these practices.  It is movement as a cultural movement.  It is movement as a justice movement and movement as in motion.  The march for in solidarity with DAPL is also to protect the waters.

Water theme:
I very interested in trying to incorporate photography into the abstraction theme- the photo was meant to look like water (or reflect water in some way) and also to reflect the idea of intense movement – in relation to social justice movement.  The song I choose to sing (which was something I initially was terrified to do - but exploration ultimately won out) is commonly referred to as the water song.  I was taught this when I was young and women sing it, as they are the water keepers.   This particular song along with the hand drum is meant to mimic the sounds of water – from the babbling brook to a raging waterfall (I didn’t exactly get to that range – but I have heard it done).

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Patterns of Settler Colonialism:

I loved reading about patterns in Sparks of Genius – and how difficult breaking patterns can be if we are acculturated to preferring particular methods, as described in the book “[in European music]The patterns and melodies we hear are preplanned and intended.  Some tribal music however results from collaboration by the players on the spur of the moment.” (Root-Bernstein 1999)

American (Indian) Gothic - David Bradley
When I think of patterns within Environmental Justice I think of patterns of oppression and protest, oppression and protest.  At this moment I am somewhat lost on what breaking that pattern looks like.  But, last night I participated in the MSU Native American student welcome, I may have had a breakthrough. My friend, Sacramento Knoxx was performing, I love his work because it is multi media.  While he raps, his beats, that incorporate powwow music are in the background and a video (of his creation), is synchronized to the beats.  His videos are all superimposed images.  Video of him, his collective, pictures of modern day Detroit, and other Detroit hip hop artists are juxtaposed under footage of traditional Anishinaabe dance. 

I have been struggling with the concept of “Just Development” in the city of Detroit.  With the rapid urban renewal happening in Detroit its hard to distinguish what is being done in the name of progress and what is harmful displacement.  Seeing the images of the Anishinaabe people in Knoxx’s film is a concrete reminder that this is not even close to the first time that a people has been removed to be replaced by a “new-native”.  I am interested in exploring patterns of Settler Colonialism and Gentrification.

I think mainstream US culture is used to thinking about “development” in terms of a creation of a university trained urban planner.  But the patterns of the city that are created by the people and cultures that are created organically over time may be more just.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Interview with Detroit Creative Will See...

Will See is a hip-hop artist and all around creative from Detroit.   I choose him to do my creative interview because I am constantly using his music or an article of his for community workshop or university community organizing classes.  I find him to be incredibly inspiring.  A sample of his work can be found here:

I had a change to sit down with Will See this week and talk about his creative process.  There is a question we pose in the middle of this interview in bold that I would love to get feedback on from members of this class.

DC: In your own words – or however you interpret this question, how would you describe your creative process?

WS: First thing that comes to mind is Dow Jones.  I hope he continues to develop as a performer.  He posts a lot of his writing on Facebook and he has more access to writing then he does to recording.  There is something about his perspective.  Something that is very unique, very Detroit.  It is very grassroots without the meaning that nonprofits put on that.  He has this whole notion that the job system is the slave system – so he is very precise.  Like, “let me see your fists, all you abolitionists.  He has this whole analysis that he puts with in his raps – what it means to be free, what it means to be in Detroit.    I get inspired by what I read that other artists put out there – I might see a poem or a post and that will inspire me to write.  It will inspire me to stop what I’m doing and write.

DC: You had mentioned that you see Dow as being very Detroit.  And that is interesting to me because that is how I think of your work – that your work is very Detroit.  Do you think there is something about the city that is a source of inspiring that you can draw inspiration from?

WS: In a subtle way.  When I was taking a poetry class with one of my mentors Vivee was telling us – this isn’t the 60s anymore.  You don’t have to say things like I’m black and this is what being black is like or I’m from Detroit and this is what that experience is.  You just have to tell your story and who you are will shine through.  She just encouraged all of us to tell our truth – and know all those things you are will be there.  Like take the houses back – talking about things that are happening in Detroit – but I never explicated say that this is Detroit’s thing. 

DC: Take the houses back is one of my favorite pieces that you have ever done.  We've talked before about making your Basics album into a curricula.  Do you have any ideas of how you might take your work into the classroom?

WC:  I just met with a women today and we talked about the incinerator and how to take issues of the incinerator and issues that affect children's health into these different schools.  She got excited about me talking about Environmental Justice.  The first thought about my raps – would be at a college level because some of the issues that I rap about  a lot of folks have not heard about – or thought about as societal concerns.  So I think there would have to be some articles to go along with that.  Then again I talk to second graders and they have not had a lot of the brainwashing that goes along with getting older.  They know what’s right – they have lived experience – so I don’t know – maybe some of my work would organically appeal to a younger audience.

DC: There are a lot of brilliant teachers in this class – so I’d like to open it up to them.  As you listen to ‘take the houses back’ and read some of his words – how would you translate this work into a lesson or curricula?

WC:  I would love that - I would really love to here about what they think.  You know I always want to work with your classes.

DC:  Is there a preferred method for how you capture thoughts? 

WS:  I did the artist method.  That requires that you write a little bit everyday.  Basically it is like viewing creativity like practice.  Just like a basketball played would throw 100s of free throws a day so that when it comes to a day when those few baskets really count – you’re ready.

It’s like that with creativity – you try out this, you write that – you don’t get too attached to any particular thing.  It’s an ongoing creativity – so when you want to write a song you tap into the practice of creativity that’s been flowing all along.  A lot of the things I really do are like practice.

DC: Do you favor paper and pen to the computer?

WS: oh yeah.  Paper is the best.  On the computer you can cut and paste – but with writing with an insterment maybe it’s the body memory, maybe it’s the whole body movement.  Something about it is better.  I do write on the computer because I have my music on the computer so I can rap and write to that.  But something about a sheet of paper is more organic.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Re-imagine Justice

All of my work centers around environmental justice.  I’ve been doing community organizing around environmental justice.  This week I was challenged to think of something that in many ways is an old topic for me in a new way using sensory clues.  I’ve been thinking about what does justice sound like.  Maybe it’s the sound of voices and music at a protest.  Maybe it’s the sound of the Anishinaabe hand drums and shakers as people learn about their culture for the first time – or remember old songs.  I can imagine seeing justice in new ways, I can feel justice in new ways.  But certainly I can’t TASTE justice…

This week my mind wondered as I was working to the image of O’keeffe’s teaching dissecting a jack in the pulpit creating a life long, almost obsession, for this artist and the details of flowers.  This scene was described in ‘Sparks of Genius’ as artists looked at familiar objects in new ways.  The flowers remind me of a Detroit community garden that’s in the North End on Oakland street that’s in my neighborhood.  I often take comrades from other cities and students here to show them part of the vision of what community resilience can look like.  Well – here I guess I could investigate what Environmental Justice - more specifically FOOD JUSTCE – tastes like...

Climate Justice activist from around the country at the Detroit Oakland community garden

The Oakland st community garden is the same distance from my house as a grocery store – King Cole.  I decided to take a walk to these two locations this morning with my taste-testing expert – my 5 year old son.  First we walked to the Oakland garden to see what kind of items were available for taste testing. 

We found some really lovely cherry and pear tomatoes, pears (they also just started a jamming and canning business on the street) and Kale.  We also bought some strawberry preserves from their new business ‘Afro-jam’.  Walking home we stopped by King Cole and bought almost the same items – regular beef tomatoes (from south Africa), a hard pear (from New Zeland) and some Kale.  They had smuckers jelly – strawberry.[1]

Now for the test – my son ate up all the cherry tomatoes and said – no thanks to the big beef tomato.  He liked both cut up pairs – but ate all the pears from the garden.  The response to the Kale was similar – yuck.  But when I put the community Kale in a smoothie with the pears his response was – this is delicious!  As for the jams – he like them both on toast.  I think I’ll stick to the afro-jam.

Thinking about creativity and justice my mind also wondered to some of my favorite movement artist – the BeeHive collective and their Just Transition work they have been doing for us that does appeal to the senses asking people to think differently…

BeeHive Collective Banner for Detroit's Just Transition work

 All in all – I have a good idea as of today what justice tastes like. 

[1] There is a lot to say about the difference between the ‘food-sheds’ of the two and the environmental implications of that – but I’ll leave that as a footnote for now!