The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2022
by Kiini Ibura
I was at a convention some years ago and one of the authors confessed to playing games on her phone instead of keeping up with her reading. I thought: Me. You. Same. It has been a long time since I have been the reader I once was. I now spend more time viewing art than I do reading. Which means I’m still filling my life with creative pleasure. Here are some of the creative engagements I enjoyed in 2022.
As I get older, I spend more and more time managing my mental health and seeking a space of peace and joy—no matter what is swirling around me. This is, of course, impossible, but in seeking it, I can live in a state of grace more often than if I weren’t. In January, I stumbled across Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things.”
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
These lines hit me deeply: I come into the peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief. I held on to that guiding principal as tightly as I could as I worked to finish two novel drafts last year. I finished Draft 3 in April and Draft 4 in December. Writing while holding down a day job and parenting is brutal. To make it through, I tried hard to proceed without “forethought of grief”: grief over my exhaustion, grief over the lost time I had for exercise and self care, grief over missing my goals, and fear over not making it through. Telling myself that however things unfold is fine, and I do not need to add a layer of worry about future outcomes (or punishments) that have not arrived is not necessary is what keeps me going.
In January I read bell
hooks, All About Love a wonderful deep dive into all the various types of
love in our lives and what are barriers and openers to love. I also saw an
installation called Unnamed Entities by artist Daniel Lie at the New
Museum. Lie creates largescale installations that simultaneously grow and
decay. There in the museum was dirt, growing mushrooms, and decaying organic
matter. The artist sees themselves as working in collaboration with what they
call “other-than-human beings”—such as bacteria, fungi, plants, animals,
minerals, and spirits to acknowledge our shared and continuous participation in
the process of living, dying, and decaying. It was a wonderful opportunity to
look at life and art anew.
Unnamed Entities, Daniel Lie
In February, I had a fantastic time talking to three authors about my middle grade novel When the World Turned Upside Down. I read of each of their books to prepare for the talks: Playing the Cards You’re Dealt by Varian Johnson, Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert, Star Child by Ibi Zoboi. It was an absolutely rich experience to talk craft with Johnson, history with Colbert, and Octavia Butler with Zoboi. Each of these books translates important issues and ideas for young people and inspires me to have a broader view of what writing for children can mean.
In February, I also went to David Zwirner gallery to see the Toni Morrison’s Black Book exhibition curated by Hilton Als. Morrison worked with collectors of Black memorabilia and a graphic designer to put the book together as a kind of scrapbook or panorama, of Black American life. “I was afraid that young people would come to believe that Black history began in 1964,” she told an interviewer. “Or that there was slavery, there was a gap, and then there was 1964.” As a senior editor at Random House, Morrison worked with a wide variety of writers and thinkers, including Muhammad Ali, Toni Cade Bambara, Angela Davis, poet Henry Dumas, novelist Gayl Jones, and Huey P. Newton. The exhibition included some art and images from the book, but it also included quite a lot of correspondence, primarily between Toni Morrison and other authors. I was most touched by her correspondences with Toni Cade Bambara as they lifted each other up and encouraged each other forward. I was also inspired by her outrage and passion as she worked to promote the Black book through disappointment of how it was being handled. People are communal beings, and it’s always exciting for me to see the connections that sustain the great creators of art.
In the summer, I went to New Orleans to help my father downsize his books and media, and I ran into his copy of The Black Book, reminding me of how ideas are shared and spread—and how they sustain other idea-makers.
In April, on a gallery stroll through Chelsea I ran into these photographs by Ruby Rubié. I saw them through the window, and I found them to be arresting. I love how they capture the wisdom, history, and personality of these women. In their eyes, I see stories of survival, I see the strength of grandmother-wit, and I see a hard insistence that they—and therefore I, as their grandchild—will make it through. This series feeds me on an ancestral level.
Photographs by Ruby Rubié.
In April, I went to see the Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet As It’s Kept. It was a rich show with so many engaging and interesting art moments. Including:
· Awilda Sterling-Duprey creating extemporaneous, colorful abstract works while blindfolded and moving in tempo with jazz.
· Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s artist books which boldly leans into text on paper as a complete and full art form.
· N. H. Pritchard’s pages of poetry with scribbles and arrows that challenged my notion of what is or isn’t considered art.
As a visual artist whose artistic production as vast fluctuations, I’m always seeking ways to reengage my work. Taking N. H. Pritchard’s approach as guidance, I did 30 days of easy art—making works with hand drawn text on paper bags. It was a beautiful gift to have a burst of creative productivity.
Easy art by K. Ibura
In May, I went to Theatre for
a New Audience to see Wedding
Band by Alice Childress. The staging and acting were top notch, but
what really shone through for me was the writing. The play was intense, layered,
and witty. Childress has a way with words—as a writer she is playful, biting,
insightful, engrossing. It was set during a time where America was at war and
Black soldiers were returning home to a country where lynching of Black
Americans was an ever-present threat. Through Childress’ pen, the play is both
historical and modern at once. I was so inspired by her snappy dialogue and
smart humor. Good writing is timeless!
In June I saw the Black Venus exhibition at Fotografskia. The exhibition surveyed media images of Black women—from fetishized, colonial-era caricatures, to the present-day reclamation of the complexity of Black womanhood. I particularly enjoyed contemporary images interrogated or framed the gaze of the viewer.
Self portraits by Shawanda Corbett
Self portraits of Maud Saulter as she embodies 19-century actress Jeanne Duval
In July, I saw Garmenting: Costume as Contemporary Art. From the description, I wasn’t necessarily interested in the show, but luckily my art crew had identified it as a destination. There were some amazingly crafted garments in the show. Works that stretched the imagination and, in many cases, tugged at the emotions. All of the work had powerful impact as the artists used a range of techniques and materials to make art from body coverings. Costume exhibition at MOAD.
Installation by Saya Woolfalk
In August I went to L.L. Cool J’s Rock the Bells music festival in Queens. It was a day of performances form hip hop artists who established the genre. LL Cool J had a very clear mission of honoring and celebrating the roots of the culture and foundational artists who created the art form. In the jam-packed open-air Forest Hills Stadium the entire crowd was electrified, singing along word for word so many hip hop classics. I was taken back to my youth. Over and over again, I marveled and the creativity, tenacity and vision of artists who created a lane in music and in life for themselves from nothing but their own imagination, grit and life experiences.
Still from Isaac Julien’s Once Again … (Statues Never Die)
In August, I also saw Isaac Julien’s installation of Once Again … (Statues Never Die) at The Barnes Foundation. It consisted of African sculptures and three large screens showing various black-and-white films that worked in concert to explore the work of Alain Locke, famed philosopher and cultural critic, known as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance.” Part of the film series also explored Locke’s relationship with the foundation’s namesake Dr. Albert C. Barnes, who was an early US collector and exhibitor of African material culture. The films were stunning, and they mixed narrative recreation, sound, visuals, and facts to explore space and place in history, interpretation of value, the power of philosophy and positioning and so much more.
In September I went to an outdoor screening of a documentary of Sidney Poitier, titled Sidney. It told the story of his amazing journey from a small island in the Caribbean to worldwide superstardom, as well as his fall from the embrace of fans. There was so much history wrapped up in his journey, and so much daring. How do you decide who to be when the world has decided—erroneously—who you are? Sidney Poitier was his own powerful engine, he defined himself and built a career that changed what it meant to be Black in Hollywood—and many American’s perceptions of what it meant to be Black period.
In October, I went to Venice to the Venice Biennial. There are exhibitions all over the city, with two concentrated areas featuring art from around the world. Each country has a building where an artist or group of artists exhibit work. In the Belgian Pavilion, I saw a beautiful series of videos of children at play around the world called The Nature of the Game by Frances Alys. The French Pavilion hosted Algerian artist Zineb Sedira whose beautiful installation was a set and film studio looking at Algerian life and resistance in the 60s and 70s. There was lots of beautiful work but our journey was a pilgrimage to see the Simone Yvette Leigh exhibition in the American Pavilion. I recognized the pavilion from the distance because Simone had transformed the pavilion with one of her signature materials and created a bold and grounded environment for her works. I’ll not add my words to what the artist is already saying with her work. You can see the exhibition in the video linked here.
In November we went to see a workshop of a Toshi Reagon work in progress called You’re Having Too Much Fun so We’re Gonna Have to Kill You. The musical she’s working on focuses on disco and it’s inspired by the infamous death of disco where DJ Steve Dahl, incensed by the success of disco held an event in a Chicago stadium and invited people to burn disco records. The Guardian reports this reflection on the event.
Lawrence realised something wasn’t right: people weren’t just turning up with disco records, but anything made by a black artist. “I said to my boss: ‘Hey, a lot of these records they’re bringing in aren’t disco – they’re R&B, they’re funk. Should I make them go home and get a real disco record?’ He said no: if they brought a record, take it, they get a ticket.” He laughs. “I want to say maybe the person bringing the record just made a mistake. But given the amount of mistakes I witnessed, why weren’t there any Air Supply or Cheap Trick records in the bins? No Carpenters records – they weren’t rock’n’roll, right? It was just disco records and black records in the dumpster.”
Toshi explains that disco’s reign abruptly ended and many artists lost their careers. They were having too much fun and dominating in a way that—as Black, Brown, and queer people—was not allowed. She’s written the show as a celebration of the life force that has kept Black people alive while under attack, and as a defiant act to say: You can’t kill us.
In December I went to an exhibition called Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces at MoMA. JAM was an art gallery founded by Linda Goode Bryant. She created it to give Black artists a space to flourish. Walking through the show I saw the works of celebrated artists alongside the work of artists whose names I didn’t know. I could feel the collective energy running through the exhibition. Artists have been gathering in collectives since forever to help fuel their work. We need each other to keep going. I think it’s amazing how communal artmaking is—at least at the outset, where behind each individual artist is a community that supports and nurtures them. It was inspiring and invigorating. It was also sobering, as the exhibition included a wall of invoices, bills, and collection letters to the organization’s founder—who managed a massive amount of debt for the duration of the gallery’s existence. As Americans like to say “Freedom ain’t free.”
In 2022, I also ran into a video clip of Ornette Coleman sharing this philosophy:
“It’s like you’re living on a ghost of a chance. But the best thing to do to clean all that out, from where I stand, is to just try to play.”—Ornette Coleman
I’ll leave you with that. Let’s use 2023 to play—let the art flow!
K Ibura is a writer, editor, and artist from New Orleans—the original home of the Chitimacha Tribe. She writes essays about identity and gender, and fantastical fiction about ancient histories and future imaginings. She is the author of two speculative fiction collections: Ancient, Ancient—winner of the James Tiptree Award— and When the World Wounds, and a novel for children, When the World Turns Upside Down. Her ebooks examine the emotional underpinnings of the writing life. Learn more about her at kiburabooks.com and kibura.com.