Erin Kendrick

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her own things

Self-love is necessary for survival.

Survival is a rebellious act.
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As an undergrad in art school, I struggled to tell my story. I couldn’t find a safe space to speak up for myself. I felt like I was being a nuisance, singing the same song of oppression and violent acts against black women throughout history. I assumed that no one would want to want to hear it, or at the very least no one would care.

I discovered bell hooks, for colored girls, and myself, all at once.

I was introduced to the writings bell hooks, an African American feminist and cultural critic, in an African-American Studies class. Her teachings on the oppositional gaze and the necessity of self-love taught me the power of challenging the constructs of black female identity in America, that self-love is a powerful way to confront internalized oppression and as such, is a political act.

When I was introduced to Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem, For Colored Girls who have considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf, it gave voice to how I was feeling at the time. I was a black girl at a pre-dominantly white university in a studio art program where I was the only…the only African-American, the only African-American female. I spent a lot of time trying to find my voice within context of what was going on around me and it was impossible. Then I saw a performance of for colored girls.

As I watched the performance, I was simply delighted and inspired until somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff was performed. It changed me. In the poem the lady in green claims that someone has taken all of her “stuff”, the things that defined her identity – her laugh, her love, her toes, her chewed up fingernails, her rhythms, her voice. She repeatedly asks for her stuff back while contemplating how it was taken – did she give it up or was it stolen. This exchange was between her and a male lover…for me, there was no lover who had taken my stuff. There was only a history that had defined what it was to be black and female in America. A history that taught us that we were less than, incapable, made for service over thought, much like Shange’s character, “a simple bitch with a bad attitude”. But I knew better. I needed to figure out what parts of my identity had been stolen. I needed to acknowledge what parts of my identity I had given away. I wanted my own things back.

Shange’s, for colored girls, is also significant because she disregards hegemonic discourse by writing “as a woman for women trying to find a woman’s voice”. More specifically she is a black woman writing to black women. This is where I found the solution to my problem. As an artist, I was speaking to the wrong audience. I needed to be talking to myself and to other women who looked like me. I needed to look back at my own reflection. I needed to stare back at the representations of black women in the media, socio-political constructs, and in our day to day lives. I needed to have a conversation with black women.

her own things… is a conversation between black women.

yellow. by Erin Kendrick
red. by Erin Kendrick
purple. by Erin Kendrick
orange. by Erin Kendrick

Oh, Snap

What happens when we stare back?
When we see you seeing us?
When we see us seeing us?
When I see me seeing me?
Reckoning.

This is the beginning of a story I want re-tell.

My work has always been rooted, conceptually, to the oppositional gaze, a term penned by cultural critic bell hooks. For me, it is the intentional act of changing one’s relative position from spectacle to spectator. It is to snatch back the power of looking and the agency that it presumes.

While studying the history of the Black Arts Movement (the mid-1960s – 1970s), I ran across a plea from its founder, Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), in his “imagetext,” In Our Terribleness, a book that united his poetic narrative to photographer Fundi’s (Billy Abernathy) documentary photography. The book is an exploration of the power of the gaze. In it, he speaks of what he considered the state of hypnosis that Black Americans were under. A trancelike state of mind that left us disconnected from our authentic selves both ideologically and aesthetically. The goal of the Black Arts Movement was to revision what it was to be black in spite of historical assumptions, acts, prejudice, and conditioning. To not only to marry the ideological and the aesthetic but to fully align them as one, hence the slogan, “Black is Beautiful” – Black. Is. Beautiful. He insists, though, that he cannot lead African-Americans in the decolonizing state of counter-hypnosis. He urged Black Americans to “try to see your own face when you close your eyes” then “get up and go.”

Knowing that my exhibition would be paired with a musical performance, I dedicated some time to listen to the music in an effort to tie its influence into my body of work. The music of Sybarite5 almost immediately made me think of the word trance. Its sweeping effect lulls you into a space where only they exist. A space ripe with anticipation that binds you to that moment. Then it lets you go. Leaving you to reconsider where you were, or even who you were, in the first place. This is the space wherein the music and my studies came together.

“Oh Snap.” is an exploration of the moment after we are snapped out of hypnosis, the instant when we let go. The immediate confrontation between who we are and what we see staring back at us…ourselves and you.

Two-Faced by Erin Kendrick
Piss Tail by Erin Kendrick
Oh, Snap. by Erin Kendrick
Two Faced, too. by Erin Kendrick

Pikin.

In spite of the relentless adultification of young black girls, they are children first. To experience adolescence authentically without the intrusion of racial bias and spiritual, emotional, and physical violence is their absolute right. However, the idea that black girls are small black women is highlighted in various capacities in the US - disproportionate discipline rates for black girls in schools for subjective infractions, expectations of keeping family secrets in spite of sexual, emotional, and physical trauma, resistance to non-traditional gender identities, a lack of empathy in cases of black missing and endangered girls, incessant, unwarranted police violence, as well as the age-old myth of the black superwoman.

Solutions to these disparities have been proffered in the form of fortified assimilation, complacent longsuffering, and apathetic disregard, but the emergence of what has been termed, Black Girl Magic, has presented itself as an effective solution. The term highlights a renaissance of black women and girls, reclaiming agency, and stepping from the margins to the center in the last 10 years. By centering the authentic lived experiences and the voices of black women and girls—as both salve and resolve to these disparities—we grant our black girls a fighting chance.

On Pikin.
This exhibition was inspired in part by the memoir “Taking Flight” by ballerina, Michaela DePrince, as part of the 2020-21 FSCJ Author Series.

Michaela DePrince's origin story is one of loss, disposal, and redemption, and personal absolution. Each the residue of the power of choice. Born Mabinty Bangura in Sierra Leone, as a child Michaela DePrince endured the tragic loss of her parents and abandonment by an uncle who considered her too ugly and too smart for his time. Often referred to as “pikin” meaning child, she was sold to an orphanage whose caretakers substituted punishment and shame for love. With the hope of being adopted into an American family, she persevered and found strength in standing up for her orphanage bestowed best friend, Mabinty Suma. Each considered outcasts among the children, young Michaela's imagination and fortitude would win them both friends and eventually legal sisterhood by adoption. DePrince survived all of this before the age of five. Her story, like so many black girls, is one of resilience, and she has tendered her lived history as a beacon for girls like her.

“Pikin” is for the Mabintys of the world. Fire-breathing dragons. Standing up for one another time and time again

Tay. by Erin Kendrick
Shai. by Erin Kendrick
Ra. by Erin Kendrick
O. by Erin Kendrick
 
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