Black art is rarely considered good art or classic art in academic spaces. Coming from a predominately white institution, unless it’s the Harlem Renaissance or jazz, the latter of which is often reclaimed and never referred to as black, hardly ever does one learn of the significance of black art and/or the Black Arts Movement. Performing poets and newest additions to The Strivers Row collective Aziza Barnes and Safia Elhillo take a moment to rectify this. In their powerful performance of “To the Girl in My Jazz Class” performed at AfroPunk AfterDark Presents: The Strivers Row “Black Joy” showcase, Barnes and Elhillo destroy any attempts to define black art as “degrading, a reduction of the art.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, you couldn’t be racist…” We’ve all heard that one before. From the jump, Barnes (right) and Elhillo quickly dismantle the hangups that come with “colorblind” society and their skewed views. “First of all, take a nap. Eat a sandwich. Or, do any of the other things that go under the heading of not talking.”
As both poets take turns in issuing fiery line after line, they dispel the notions that not seeing color will erase all issues relating to color, a popular view held by the oh-so problematic #alllivesmatter group. They say all the words that we all long to say, but oftentimes, lack the patience to, addressing the main problems of erasure, cultural appropriation and indirect racists that surely can infuriate you if it’s an off day. “Colorblindness does not make you a martyr for racism.” Standing unapologetically in their brown- and blackness, be sure to watch the full video to not miss a beat.
2 of 4 members of The Divine Fabrics Collective along with group mates Camonghne Felix and Sean “Mega” DesVignes, these four insanely talented creatives of color were announced as the newest members of The Strivers Row family in early 2015, following the departure late last year of the renowned Alysia Harris. Most noted for her breakthrough performance of “That Girl” on HBO’s “Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices,” Harris has since started pursuing a career as a solo artist, collaborating with her former Strivers alum and contemporary Jasmine Mans in a joint tour called MOMMA atlas earlier this year.
Aziza Barnes is a poetry & non-fiction editor at Kinfolks Quarterly, a Callaloo fellow and graduate from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, currently pursuing an MFA at the University of Mississippi. Her work can be found in PANK, pluck!, Muzzle, Callaloo, Union Station, other journals and many Button Poetry videos. Her group mate, Safia Elhillo (pronounced like mafia), is Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, currently living in New York City. A Cave Canem fellow and poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly, she received an MFA in poetry at the New School. For more information or works from Barnes and Elhillo, be sure to check them out at www.thestriversrow.com.