The Black Woman Is God: An Exhibit, A Movement

Today, Karen Seneferu and her team launch the second years installment of their groundbreaking exhibition, The Black Woman Is God, with a screening of their short film, “Hotcomb The Masquerade”, at the Oakland Museum of California’s Open Engagement event.

Saturday, April 30th – The Oakland Museum – 1000 Oak St, Oakland, CA 94607

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The Black Woman Is God art exhibition tells and shows you the story of black women’s divinity through the lens of black women reclaiming their ancestry, culture, history and future. The brainchild of Karen Seneferu, this project is in it’s second incarnation in 2016 and will be featuring dozens of artists in at least three separate exhibitions at different locations throughout the summer and fall. The curatorial project is lead by a team that includes karen, Sasha Kelley, Zakiya Harris, Idris Hassan and many others including volunteers from the exhibited artists. As the team prepared for the first exhibit at the Oakland Museum, they held a series of meetings to help the participants get to know one another and to help plan and prepare for the exhibit.

This series is a documentation of these gatherings in an effort to recall and retain the importance of community and sisterhood in collaboration for social justice, ideology shifts,  art, and, of course, love.

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Women and Cottonsmall

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meeting One

The room was brimming with black women;

Each one buzzing slightly in her place.

They came in many shapes: from thick and large women to those who were tall like the continent that birthed them, some who were slender and some whose bodies wound beneath fabrics like hourglass. They came in many ages: the youngest body in the room was probably the young Autistic eight-year old girl who sat beside me drinking soup in her mother’s arms, while the eldest was a grandmother from New York (as I gathered from her accent that bit away the “r’s” in her words) that sat directly in front of me. They came in many shades: from the light caramel queens, to the freckled sisters with curly brown hair, to chocolate mamas with smiles on their lips, to the dark skinned goddesses who laughed heartily from the corners of the room and called Oakland home.

Karen Seneferu began the meeting by providing us all with a context on The Black Woman Is God project and exhibit. I gathered we had all received different introductions and she was aiming to even the playing field.

“This could be a global platform for us.” – Zakiya Harris

Karen introduced some of her main co-coordinators in this project, each of whom made their own individual pitch for participants to join their team, which included fundraising, documentation, marketing, design, and community partnerships, to name a few.

“I am one of the project documentarians responsible for creating a mini-documentary of the process and the exhibition. I am also working on a feature, radio feature. That will be for Women’s Month on KPFA radio.”

– Idris Hassan

group shot
Photo by Karen Seneferu

After the co-coordinators spoke, we went around in a circle with the promise of introducing ourselves briefly. However, in a room full of black people we quickly realized this was not naturally feasible. Ha! We laughed as we decided the need to have a timekeeper to enforce a one-minute speaking rule. Still, amongst and despite this humor, enormous amounts of respect was given to elders, allowing them to speak at length because their breath was valued. Young voices and spirits quickly expressed their excitement and honor to be a part of the project as well as their aspirations. It struck me as divine that many of their dreams and goals reflected the life paths these elders had already taken. It struck me that we were all in this room for a reason.

Here is a sampling of just a few introductions:

“I’m here to do all the things I could never do at the university.” – Tahora Pitman

“Mama Karen has been very influential on my journey to womanhood. [I’m working to] really reaffirming in these young girls, most of which will be African-American and Latina women of color, that the Black Woman and that women are God. We are born with all our eggs. We have everything we need from the gate.” – Jazz Monique Hudson

“Right now I’ve been thinking a lot about cosmic mirroring and mirroring people who are the same path as you. I’m figuring out ways in which that can help us inform what we should be doing with our own lives, talents and expressions. Specifically for people of color and talking about their interactions with Spirit, capturing Spirit, visualizing the Spirit, seeing the Spirit.” – Yetunde

“I’ve been thinking a lot about imagination.I’m really excited to hear what Black Women will say when the have the freedom to say what is deep in their hearts and not feel censored.” – Kris Evans

“I’ve been collecting Black Women’s stories for about a year and a half related work. Speaking of spirit, that is the only reason why I am here, no doubt about it. For all obstructions in my path, I shouldn’t be in this room. So thank you.” – Precious Stroud

“I am a messenger of the African Diaspora. I know there was a time when our ancestors came together and they prayed for us to be right here.” – Collette Helluja

Meeting One Group Picsmall

 

These introductions affected me greatly. I practiced how I would introduce myself at least three times and when my turn finally came I forgot everything I intended on saying. Rather, I explained that this project would be a part of my thesis and my aspirations as a writer, educator and healer. I called for elders and queer or trans* identified people to reach out to me as I wanted to represent them and share their intersectional stories

The meeting ended with a prayer. Sister Zakiya led us all as we held hands and lowered our gaze. She manifested the future of our efforts as a coalition working to represent The Black Woman As God and reminded us why we had all come to this gathering, what had brought us here.

“Everybody take a deep breath in. Exhale out. Again. Exhale out. Last time, breathe in. Exhale out with a sigh. Ahhhh. Releasing. Knowing that the first being that walked on this planet came in each and every one of our image. We are the absolute beginning; there will be no end that we are not a part of. We are standing on the shoulder of all of our ancestors who have prayed this exact moment into existence. We know just by the fact we are touching and agreeing that this project is already done; this project is already blessed. Yes. Not only have our ancestors blessed this, the orishas have blessed this, the spirit guides have blessed this, the fire has blessed this, the wind has blessed this, the water has blessed this, the plant-animals, our star brothers and sisters, each and every part of the cosmos.

We are holding this creative power in our wombs, as black women, understanding that we are in the midst of the greatest shift that we have ever realized on the planet. The healing, it will be ushered in by black women, but not black women that are shouldering the burdens of humanity but heal them as we heal ourselves, by holding one another and looking each other in the eye, bringing our gifts together like never before, in complete, unapologetic, boldness. So we seal this knowing that it is already done, knowing that there is no way all of these women could not gather in this room and there not be ripples that will be felt throughout the area, this country, throughout the world. Mhmm! Our sisters all around the world are feeling our presence. We are heading a call that came from deep within our wombs; each and every one of us was called forward and we looked up and found each other. We will continue to find our sisters and our brothers; knowing that we are the ones we have been waiting for. Ase!”

The room burst into cheers and hoots. Someone screamed “Who is the Black Woman?” and the crowd responded vibrantly “GOD”, three times in row and we laughed it to a close.

We hooted.

We loved.

Aśe.

 

 

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Meeting Two

Swirling smells of food and herbs filled the air

Accompanied by dozens of laughing beauties with spontaneous smiles

Walking up to the meeting space for the second The Black Woman is God gathering, happy hollering women and smiling faces greeted me before I even entered the restaurant. We were at Miss Ollie’s – owned and operated by Chef Sarah Kirnon who named the restaurant after her since grandmother and created a blend of cuisines from the West Indies and the Caribbean. Miss Ollie’s is in Old Oakland and Sarah has lived in the Bay Area since 1999, these two facts plus the truths that Sarah is a black woman and an immigrant from Barbados create something unique within the walls of this restaurant. It makes the space a “meeting place” and not just a place to eat, as Sarah, herself, has said.

Miss Ollie and Friendsmall

 

Inside, black women huddled in groups, greeting each other as if it had been decades since their paths crossed, even though for some this was their first meeting and for others they had seen each other yesterday. One mother named Sakeena, which means peace and tranquility in Arabic and served her well, entered with her young daughter and a basket of gifts for the whole community. Her carrier was overflowing with lemons and oranges as well as hand bundled sage, lavender, and rosemary smudges that she handed out graciously, not asking for anything in return.

We were welcomed by Karen and with a ceremony led by Zakiya, which means gratitude and charity in Arabic (yes these women tend to have beautiful African names). We all stood, holding hands in a circle that stretched into every crevice of the room. It always a pleasure to hold the hand of a fellow queen.

“I want us to thank Sister Sarah for opening up her home and her medicine cabinet to us. [Applause] This is not just food; this is healing. That is at the root of what The Black Woman is God is about. As we move forward in this process think about that, think about the art you are going to create, the scholarship we are going to create, the installations we are going to create, the multimedia we are going to create. It’s all about healing our community, so that means we have to also be in the process of healing ourselves.”

– Karen Seneferu

Karen then invited Zakiya up, asking, “Sister Zakiya can you lead us in a prayer?”

Without hesitation Zakiya stood and began, “Can we all stand and hold hands?” There was a shuffling but also an immediate will to be standing among godess and touching hands. She continued:

“Look at that formation. [Laughter.] I’d like to have us start by looking at one another and just make eye contact with the sisters around you and make eye contact around the circle. Look at your reflection, look at the reflections of what we are creating and the portal that we are creating together. We are going to begin by acknowledging our ancestors. Honoring all the people, all the women, all of our ancestors who prayed for this moment, for us to be here today.

Knowing that there is nothing that can’t be created when a group of black women make a circle together. Knowing that we are standing at the absolute top of the greatest paradigm shift of our lives.

It will be led by us.

It will be led by us through our healing, through our loving, through our celebrating, through our dancing, through our joy, through our art, through our creativity, through our expression, through our fearlessness, through our boldness and for our unapologetic blackness, for our Africanness, for our queendom, and it will not be delayed. We just want to give thanks, give thanks for our health, for our wealth that we define for ourselves. Giving thanks for each other; giving thanks for this moment, for coming together in a beautiful city on a beautiful day in a beautiful space with beautiful people to eat beautiful food.There are so many more people than are in this room that we are standing for. This is bigger than us. We are bigger than us. Together.

We are going to seal this with the absolute knowing in gratitude, knowing it is. Ase. Ase! Ahoy. Ahoy! Amen. Amen! And so it is. And so it is!

The food was served on communal plates placed on long cafeteria-style wooden tables. We sat shoulder-to-shoulder and munched on the all vegan soul-food menu. We discussed agenda items as pre-assigned by Karen based on our interests and skills. We built for the future exhibits and manifestations of TWBIG exhibit.

Leaving the gathering I felt well connected and rooted like a tree. I could tell by the look in other women’s eyes that they felt the same; that The Black Woman Is God was become less of an abstract concept and ideology and more of a lived experience and tangible network.

“Spirit says that we are to give from our overflow. We, [as Black Women], give from the bottom of our cup and we are dying because of that. And that’s not going to happen anymore. I want and hope to give the healing so that we have full cups that are spilling over and we can give from that.”

-The Black Woman Is God

 

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Meeting Three

The set was white with black beauty

The sky was white with the black god

As I walked up to the meeting place for our third gathering, the “set” was quiet. There were a few black women dressed in all white, adjusting their drapery and veils, beside a few black women with cameras and mics, testing lighting and sound. After saying hello to all the women, i joined my tribe of women in tech and began fiddling with the camcorder and external microphone I had brought to record the photo and video shoot.

This meeting was an intentional gathering of women whose art is going to be exhibited in the Oakland Museum and throughout the several galleries TWBIG will be touring. The shoot was intended to shoot footage for a promotional video to be aired on the exhibitions opening at Oakland Museum and in promotions for future shows. This was Karen’s way of attempting to honor every woman participating in this project, regardless of their role: by filming them as incarnations of God, Black Women in all white taking space with their divinity and magik.

Once we cued up and began shoot, the next three hours were a blur. For that reason and others I will allow a few photos to provide you with the energy and vibrations of our gathering and photoshoot. Stay tuned for more profession and edited photos from Karen and her team as well as during the opening at Oakland Museum. For now, I will leave you with these photos and the quote:

“This is not an exhibition. This is a movement.”

– Karen Seneferu

In solidarity, peace, and divinity,

– Shah Noor Hussein

Melanie Goddnesssmall

 

Cotton Goddess Afarsmall

 

Cotton Goddesssmall

 

Mama & Babysmall