My vision is clearing but I’m not sure what I see. I still look at things with clouded vision – but things are getting sharper, and finally I think I’ve found a way to use my talents, and my skills, in service to the Lucumí community. College (my second attempt!) has opened my eyes to a lot of things about culture, and while I’m a student of everything and an expert on nothing I have learned this already – changing societal perception is not easy. But with the immediate issues that the Miami community is facing (again) at the hands of a self-styled, ultra-militant and rampaging Rambo, we have to start somewhere. So, I’m starting here. It is only the first step of what might be a long, long journey.
I’m studying African American Humanities, and our past two classes have focused on an essay written by Alain Locke The New Negro. You can find that essay here:
In the early 1900s at the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, Locke believed that blacks were capable of elevating themselves and dissolving the pre-slavery caricatures and mockeries by elevating themselves through art and literature – not the pop art of that time which consisted of vaudeville and the minstrel tradition, but by real art showing real black people doing real black-people things. Throughout his essay he made four major points regarding art and artistic expression that our professor very kindly broke down for us in simple language (Locke received his Ph.D. in philosophy at Harvard in 1918 and wrote for his peers in the doctorate): 1. Art should not address controversial subject matter – instead, it should focus on aesthetics; 2. Art should profess no group identity – it should focus on individuality; 3. Art (and black people) should assimilate into American ideals and institutions (THIS was the black folks’ country); 4. Art should have a collective emphasis on a connection with Africa.
These points don’t apply to us exactly, but we can draw similarities. While the most ancient roots of our religion come from Oyó and its tributaries, the true flavor of our faith is Cuban – we worship black gods with lots of sofrito and sazón! Just as Locke and others in the Harlem Renaissance (Zora Neale Hurston being my favorite!) believed it was through art that they could elevate themselves and societal perceptions, I believe it is through the arts and humanities that we can begin elevating ourselves in this country, which is OURS as much as THEIRS ("Theirs" referring to everyone who is not Lucumí). Even though I’m not well-educated in the humanities yet, I think, like Locke: 1. We should create art that is aesthetic, not controversial, things that show what our lives are like really; 2. We should create art that does not profess our group identity, but instead show the individual nature of each aleyo, aborisha, and priest or priestess in our tradition; 3. Our art should show that we do, indeed, believe in and practice the same American ideals and institutions unfolding and evolving in this country each and every day; 4. Our art should have a collective emphasis on our connection with Cuba. Our orishas came from the west coast of Africa with the Oyó slaves, but became something new – Lucumí – and began globalizing throughout the world.
To make it simple – we need to show people who we are through our Lucumí-inspired arts. And while it won’t solve our problems immediately, just as bit-by-bit we eat the head of the rat, bit-by-bit people will gain a greater understanding of who and what we are through our arts. And we, as artists, might learn to define ourselves.
I’ve created a Google group for Lucumí artists to join together to discuss, debate, and define ourselves through our arts. It is a group for writers, authors, poets, painters, tool makers, metal workers, crafters, beaders, artisans, musicians, singers, and dancers. If you consider yourself a member of the fine arts, professional, amateur, student, or established, this is a group for all of us. I have no idea what we can accomplish with this newsgroup; I have no idea exactly what we will be doing there or what we will accomplish, but I do know this – put a lot of creative people together who are focused on creating, and things get created.
If you want to join us email me at BStuartMyers (AT) gmail (DOT) com. Just introduce yourself and the type of art your create. If you consider yourself an artist or a writer or a photographer, even if you’re not professional, then you belong with us and I am sure that together, somehow, all of our creative minds can create something big. I have NO idea what will come of this -- but I do feel that togther we can do great things.
Olódumare is great. And anyone who creates art is a part of Olódumare’s ashé. Let's pool that ashé together and see just how powerful, collectively, we can become.