Women Who Read Are Dangerous!

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(left to right: Dr. Shamika Mitchell, Natalie N. Caro, Laura Alvarez, Carli Braithwaite and Lorraine Currelley) Saturday March 4, 2017

I had the pleasure of participating as a panelist for Women Who Read Are Dangerous by Stepfan Bollmann. The book focuses on artist’s fascination and interest with women who read.  What is it about women reading that has captivated hundreds of artists over the centuries? Stefan Bollman’s Women Who Read Are Dangerous explores this popular subject in more than sixty artworks-drawings, paintings, photographs, and prints-by iconic artists such as Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper, Suzanne Valadon, and more. We expanded the framework to include sex, race, class, and gender within a historical context. I was joined on the panel by my fellow panelists Natalie N. Caro, Dr. Shamika Mitchell, Carli Braithwaite and our host and curator Laura Alvarez.

Dr. Shamika Mitchell stated during the discussion that women were allowed to read within strict social constructs, and gained access via the Bible. Historically reading women were wealthy, books were expensive and only the wealthy could afford to purchase them. Carli Braithwaite gave a Powerpoint presentation based on Stefan Bollmann’s book prior to the start of the discussion and referenced how these women showed up throughout history.

Who are these dangerous women? Dangerous women are relatives, friends, colleagues, partners, etc. They’re women who dared and dare to challenge the status quo. Women who with threat to life and limb spoke out and speak out against injustices. Women who were and are yesterday’s and today’s pioneers and warriors. Women who refused and refuse to keep silent, knowing  their silence and our silence would not and will not protect them nor us.

Powerful moments included panelists and our host Laura Alvarez sharing personal stories. Stories centered on generational struggles to realize dreams and goals. Our common thread, the similarities that shaped and grew us.  We have successfully created paths for ourselves becoming role models for women and girls. We are duty bound and stand on shoulders of those who sacrificed for us. Everyone stressed the importance of having strong support systems and being one.

My presentation was centered on bringing my female ancestors into the room. This discussion could not happen without their represented voices. Living in critical times demand our courage. We are called to take advantage of all opportunities to share information, and speak truth. This is how we heal, This is how we grow. This is how we breathe. This is how we strategize for coping in a society that threatens to crush us, when speaking truth to power. During the discussion I pointed out enslaved Africans were not given access to books, not even the Bible. Enslaved Africans were maimed or murdered if caught reading.

Here are some names of powerful and brilliant African American women artists. Women creative’s who used and use their art in protest. Names many will not recognize nor their contributions to the struggle for equality and liberation.

I speak the names of dangerous women:

Sculptor Betye Saar challenged historically negative stereotypes of African Americans. She began working in assemblage in the late 1960s. She
uses the medium to express heritage. In 1972 she created The Liberation of
Aunt Jemima. It addressed race and gender by subverting a racial stereotype and turning it into empowerment.

Printmaker & Sculptor Elizabeth Carlett, “I’m not thinking about doing things new and different. I’m thinking about creating art for my people.” She’s known for fighting racial equality in the arts and her expressionist portrayals of Black culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Her famous Sharecropper, created in Mexico shows Catlett’s activism for African-Americans and females in the South.

Sculptor Augusta Savage, began sculpting at a young age, using her red clay soil from her Florida backyard. She attended Cooper Union in the early 1920s and was commissioned to make a bust of W.E.B. Du Bois for the
Harlem Library.  A key artist in the Harlem Renaissance, Savage was important for fighting both racial and sexual prejudice throughout her career, becoming a social activist and encouraging the work of others while nurturing her own  career in the
US and Europe. One of the most famous works, Gamin (French for “street urchin”), depicts what may be her nephew Ellis Ford or a homeless boy.

Conceptual Artist Adrian Piper has studied art and taught philosophy at
renowned institutions across the globe. Piper was a trailblazer in introducing the concepts of gender and race into a feminist art movement
and has integrated drawing, street performances, and costumes into her art. Her 1981 drawing Self Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features has a
permanent home in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the
Brooklyn Museum.

19th Century Antislavery Women
Journalist/Anti Lynching Activist , Ida B. Wells
Charlotte Forten (1784-1884)
Margaretta Forten
Harriet Forten
Sarah Louise Forten
Angelina Grimke
Educator, Sarah M. Douglas

20th Century Dangerous Women
Fannie Lou Hamer
Poet/Author/Activist, Audre Lorde
Author/Activist/Quilter/Mother/Publisher/Editor, Cheryl Hudson Willis
Poet/Author/Nurse-Healer, Nella Larsen

I speak the name of the woman who birthed me
and gave me all.

Mother/Writer/Dancer/Activist/Community Leader, Annie Daniels Currelley

I speak the names of women who influenced me.

Godmother/Community Activist, Beulah Gardner
Nurse/Journalist/Activist/Educator, Alma John
Godmother/Community Activist, Lorrayne Younger
/Community Activist/Educator, B. Taylor
Mother/Community Activist, Helen Currelley
Historian/Author, Paula Giddings

I’m honored to be one of these dangerous women along with my fellow panelists. A
panel of women who understand we have nothing to lose but our chains!

Our audience contributions of shared experiences and questions enhanced the overall discussion. We were enriched by their added voices. Thanks, Laura Alvarez and the NYC Department of Parks and St. James Recreation Center. Thanks, to my fellow panelists
for sharing their experiences and insights.

©Lorraine Currelley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Afro-Writing on the Margins, A Necessary Discussion

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The Bronx Council for the Arts and BAAD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance presented Afro -Writing on the Margins, with yours truly, Lorraine Currelley, Executive Dir., Poets Network & Exchange, Inc. and Ron Kavanaugh, Editor Mosaic Magazine. The theme was Afro- Writing on the Margins. The program started with a poetry reading  featuring me. Following the reading I was joined on stage by Ron Kavanaugh and moderator  Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Co-founder of BAAD! the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, for a panel discussion. Both panelists and moderator examined feminism, ageism, sexism, racism and LGBTQ rights through the lens of afro-diasporic perspectives and how they inform contemporary literary production in the age of #BlackLivesMatter. It culminated with a Q&A and public discourse.
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As artists we work as activists and cultural workers, seeking to provide spaces and opportunities where these needed discussions can take place. Safe and supportive non-judgemental spaces. Saturday’s panelists and moderator did not skirt around issues. Speaking unapologetically and authentically, we spoke of the threats, brutality and murders of Black and Brown people of color.  Both panelists and attendees spoke passionately and emotionally about trauma experienced witnessing repeated video and audio recordings of the murders of innocent citizens. Needed are more spaces for expression, healing and free agency over our minds and bodies, an agency this society does not afford people of color, the poor and marginalized.

According to BAAD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance The series delves into the work of acclaimed writer and public intellectual James Baldwin who spoke about the tense relationship between America’s democratic ideals and our fraught racial history. Each week we will explore how Baldwin’s readings impacts contemporary issues and movements such as Black Lives Matter!, Queerness, gentrification, and police brutality. In addition to the herstory of revolutionary possibilities between Audre Lorde and Baldwin.

The consensus from attendees during the Q&A segment,  activism depends on the degree individuals as artists and citizens wish to or not engage issues of social injustice and equity. The individual as citizen and artist defines how and what that activism is to look like. (Paraphrasing) Ron Kavanaugh shared we can each do what we can. My activism might not look like your activism. I do know that I can write an excellent lesson plan. One that addresses societal concerns via Mosaic and programming. We left inspired and strengthened, with a sense of hope by the exchange. Thanks to Charlie Vazquez, Bronx Writers Center Director at Bronx Council on the Arts, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, the BAAD! staff, Ron Kavanaugh, Mosaic Magazine, and attendees.

BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance is a Bronx-based arts organization that creates, produces, presents and supports the development of contemporary dance and all creative disciplines with a unique focus on women, People Of Color and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual & Queer communities.

Bronx Council on the Arts (BCA) is a private, non-profit membership organization that has been the official cultural agency of Bronx County since 1962. Recognized nationally as a leading arts service organization in providing cultural services and arts programs, BCA serves a multicultural constituency of almost 1.4 million residents. BCA provides an array of services to 5,000 artists and more than 250 arts and community-based organizations.

The Currelley Literary Journal is an online blog founded by African American poet, writer, educator,  mental health counselor and advocate Lorraine Currelley. The Currelley Literary Journal features commentaries, articles, interviews and reviews. We write about the African diaspora through a historical, herstorical, educational, cultural, socio-political, context, nuance and lens.

©Lorraine Currelley 2016. All Rights Reserved.