Tuesday, August 8, 2017

6th Annual Blackstar Film Festival: The Takeaway

The look of my pleasant weekend-- film, conversation, fashion, and art inspiration.

For four splendid days, Blackstar Film Festival was the beloved carnival bringing riveting fireworks excitement to Philadelphia. The rickety bandwagon came from beyond Los Angeles, talented filmmakers traveling from other pockets of the globe, delivering sensational entertainment and delicate prose, leaving behind wild applause and a heightened state of purpose.

As a volunteer, I greeted film buffs, producers, and creators, scanned tickets, sold merchandise, and collected ballots. At the same time, I made connections with artists-- some local and others from other parts of the country. At lightbox, where most films were screened, I viewed our stories alongside them, reacting with them-- laughing, crying, shaking heads, and all. It was wonderful.

On Thursday night at the opening of "Lossless" at Pearlstein Gallery, I met one of my favorite actresses of this world-- Adepero Oduye, a phenomenal actress who was simply exceptional in "Pariah" and "Steel Magnolias." She was also in Ava DuVernay's beautiful short "The Door" and part of Alex Prager's "Touch of Evil" (might be too violent for some viewers, please use discretion) series.
In between utter joy, I lived vicariously through countless experiences (I worked at my job these four days too). I often came around late evening, silently meandering through thick crowds, overwhelmed by sight of headwraps, dashikis, long billowy skirts, locs, box braids, shaved heads, piercings, tattoos, happy grins, and more. I mourned missing Gabourey Sidibe's directed debut, a piece based on my favorite Nina Simone song, “Four Women." Coincidentally, Adepero Oduye showed her short film, "To Be Free," in which she starred as Nina. I had been telling people for a long time that I thought she would be perfect Nina, no comparison. So yes, I’m still absolutely devastated to haven’t been present. I will see them both someday. I am happy, however, to have met Adepero and read her words in Blackstar's first ever film festival catalogue. It contains essays by Louis Massiah (creator of Philly's Scribe Video Center, he writes about Ava) and Desha Dauchan (a filmmaker whose "Covered" stars "Bold and the Beautiful's " Karla Mosley). In an essay entitled "Journey to Be Free," Adepero shares plight and wisdom over becoming an actress and director,
"The one thing I was and have always been clear about was that pursuing an acting career had to be done authentically as I am or not at all. It was the encouragement of others who believed in me when I at times didn't and the love of the craft that drove me, pushed me, and kept me going."
As an artist/writer, this propels me to move forward and not ever step away from the path. 


Catalogued stills from Adepero's "To Be Free." 

Writer/director/producer Ava DuVernay is a contemporary she-ro always making sure we see ourselves-- past and present. "Middle of Nowhere" is my favorite film. "Selma" is brilliant. "13th," which debuted on my birthday, is gritty and honest. "Queen Sugar" is a breathtaking television show. And at home, I still look at my autographed "Selma" poster, amazed to have won this treasure. She wrote, "Onward!" with her name scrawled underneath.

Another heartbreak, I also didn’t see Ava DuVernay’s sold out conversation, one of the huge main events. I sat in wait, near the closed doors, listening to hollers and applause, like enthusiastic thunder. Once the ushering came out, a maddening stampede of blissful, contagious euphoria, the loud echoes of excitement propelled me to steal every clipped detail. Apparently, Ava had passed her big fans, extended East Coast family, the gift of sweet knowledge and tasting this fruit secondhand sustained my sadness just enough.

I did, however, see incredible films ( I'll be reviewing a few on femfilmrogue). I enjoyed A-lan Holt's "Inamorata" and told her on Sunday night (still wow-ing over that). Dennis Dortch (who wasn't in attendance), Numa Perrier, and Tina Cerin's "Hello Cupid" delivered giggles among its candid insightfulness. Guetty Felin's "Ayiti Mon Amour," the first Haitian feature directed by a Haitian woman, took giant leaps and bounds discussing the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake of January 2010. Thus, these brilliant pieces, though fictional stories, were aesthetically pleasing, but then showcased global depth, humanized blackness, and raised awareness.

Shantrelle P. Lewis situated in a lovely curated stage, ready to discuss the ins and outs of her book, "Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style."

Imani Perry moderated the panel discussion between Shantrelle and Darnell Brown (his memoirs come out in March).
On the final day, in correlation with Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia's Gather Series, The Blackstar Film Festival held a celebration of Shantrelle's book while simultaneously bringing festival to a DJ pumped close. Amidst old school jams, which included Erykah Badu, dancing, fashion, and food. It was bewildering to be complimented by fellow stylish company. I felt my shyness butterflies fluttering out of my belly and into the world, flying in a suspenseful abyss. Of course, they're bound to return. They always do.

A clip from Terrance Nance.

Numa Perrier's "The Bowtie."

I especially loved this short.

Green carpet snaps.
The 6th Annual Blackstar Film Festival provided so much fun, so much diaspora to the weekend. Hues of sun kissed radiant golden melanin coming out to support other creative individuals was a thing of poetry, a thing that must bear repeating. I thank those who allowed me to volunteer. Plus, a special thanks to Mr. Eugene, who was an energetic, funny, absolute delight.

My current mood right this moment-- anticipation of the 7th.
Blogger Tricks

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Creative Vegan Donut Frenzy At Whole Foods Market

"Just a friendly reminder to keep donut eating to a minimum," often said Vegan Jimina Cricket on my shoulder. It's hard to listen to her during a Whole Foods Market trip. I have been to that store many times. My heart stops, absolutely devastated when the vegan donuts are gone.
Whole Foods Market is surprisingly upping the vegan donut game. With impressive filled and powdered treats filling their bakery display cases, the popular grocery chain is jumping onto the dairy and egg free pastry wagon. Just the other day, they introduced an orange mango creme filled donut topped with dried mango. It was incredibly divine by the way.

This is the pancake donut. It had a light dusting of powdered sugar on top.
While the exterior tasted like a genuine pancake (hint of salt and all), the fluffy cream filling was thick and luscious, maple syrup notes flavoring each bite.
So so good....
Donuts also provide stamina during an intense drawing session. Thus, Whole Foods had created the blueberry pancake donut-- perfect fuel.
The vanilla blueberry cream center was wicked heaven. I'm drooling fondly over the memory....
A few weeks later, four vegan donuts were offered at the same time and they were all available. That is rare. Of course, Vegan Jemina Cricket wasn't pleased.
This apple cinnamon donut was good. I'm not a huge fan of crisp icing. I suppose that happens when holding onto a donut longer than a day. It's impossible to eat more than one within twenty four hours. One can feel the sugar coursing through them. That jolt is enough to survive on. Still, the cinnamon sprinkle was wonderful. For a moment, I could believe that this cinnamon and apples were a healthy treat.
The glossy filling alone is flickered with giant apple chunks.
Cherry lime became my absolute favorite. Cherry fiend spirit soared right through this beauty with lime frosting and plump amount of cherry cherry filling. It was a very fruity, very sweet experience.
I love cherry lime with all my heart and vow to request this flavor everyday. The blueberry pancake donut is also a second favorite. I hope that the bakers continue exploring, that new combinations take up glass display case, and tempt non-vegans as well. A cashier told me that she choses vegan donuts purely because they're not only damn good, the flavors are unique and fun. Another male employee repeated same sentiments. That often makes me smile, knowing that veganism is carving a small dent in the bakery aisle-- a place people truly believe cannot be tasty without eggs and dairy.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Rejections And Reenergizing: Finding Strength In Spite Of

"Definition of Queen" is a work escaping from feelings of rejection. I looked up Google images of Erykah Badu's giant fro while playing her poetic "soul food" music. This little happiness made my pencils and watercolors take flight, taking wings of my broken spirit to replenishing repair. 
Rejection stings. It's like a buzzing plump bee pricking stinger deep into skin and soaring away without caring about inflicted damage.

Times have been turbulent, a year fresh from graduating college, after receiving MFA.

I faced many, many "no" letters. I wasn't a good fit for various art shows, residencies, fellowships, and retreats in both art and writing categories. I admit, tears came. I cried so hard that painful headaches came on. In order to feel better, I slept tons, greedily consumed chocolate, listened to the sappiest songs (The Smiths on repeat), and binged on romantic things, living vicariously through women who were concerned about dates and lipsticks matching outfits.

The final self-portrait in a trilogy series. See the other two here.

Life passes by with roaring speed of light. Former classmates receive entrance into exhibitions across the country and gather honorary rewards along the way. “No” notifications fill my inbox, waiting clickbait piling up like a mountain. Watered eyes can barely finish these missives, instead discarding without fully reading beyond, “Dear Applicant,” “Thank you for applying,” and the dreadful, “We had over this many application.” For a moment, pencil falters, paintbrush stops moving, and fingers at the keyboard suffer impediment, all feelings failure bring under treacherous wings. Questions arise. Instead of considering that jurors have specific aesthetics that my work didn’t meet, my abilities as an artist and writer are put on trial. This vulnerability, this inexplicable sadness often threatens to dismantle my creativity, desiring to stop the making that drives my heart and soul.

"'less classically beautiful than her,' Viola Revealed That We're Not All Halle Berry," graphite and watercolor on wood panel, 16" x 20," 2017

"'preference for dark skin prevailed,' In Lupita's 'Black Girl Magic' Speech," graphite and watercolor on wood panel, 16" x 20," 2017

"keep your stupid mouth shut," graphite and watercolor on wood panel, 8" x 10," 2017

By powerful grace, I found strength to continue creating. I have to.

The faucet cannot turn off. I know that I am meant to be an artist. I cannot resist drawing. I could fight the urgent need for days. In the end, I cave. I cave in to the feel of the pencil between my fingers, the compulsion to render braids and afros on a brown face means the world. Partly, it's working at the museum that quenches my thirst, the sight of paintings that tempt my desire to draw shapes and forms.

I am now drawing from inspirations of daily sight watching. Philadelphia has a mecca of fashionable people walking around. It happens at the most unexpected times. Often, I don't carry a sketchbook around. Yet my memory is sharper than a dagger tip.

While walking down Chestnut Street on a humid afternoon, I saw this adorable couple: she in short bobbed box braids, giant glasses, a bright yellow crop top tank and flared denim skirt and he in a Nirvana band tee and jeans. I didn't want to ask for a photo, instead drawing them from memory and combined Google images.

"Black Nirvana" progression joins two pieces of paper. Sometimes an idea just needs leg room.

On my way to the train station, I ran into the most stylish duo, in head wraps and colorful outfits. The third girl (box braids, Africa continent earring, and seamless tuxedo jacket) is invented.
"It's Lit" with "it's lit" tee. Lady still has no arm and her loss are not finished. There will be a bottom to this piece as well. The style statement that these girls made will hopefully amaze. Like "Black Nirvana," this too will have a bottom.
My pop culture obsession webs itself so intricately into drawing and painting as well. Everyone knows I love Frida Kahlo. I draw her all the time. I also, however, enjoy employing other female artists, especially Harlem Renaissance she-ro Augusta Savage and influential contemporary painters like Faith Ringgold and Amy Sherald. I haven't painted in a year. These two latter drawings are the beginnings of remedying that horrific situation. I should be painting every single day.

A drawing comprised of gluttony and humor. On the day I came to NYC to see Lynette Yiadom-Boakye speak (and eat sweets at Cocoa V), it had been the anniversary of Frida Kahlo's death. 
In progress sketch work of "The Black Romantic Party" is a loving celebration of American soap opera romances throughout daytime television history. This had been a major part of my upbringing and why I'm so obsessed with love. Varied soap opera couples are gathered around a cake that features Prince Escalus and Rosaline Capulet of the canceled Shondaland produced TV show "Still Star Crossed."
At last, I received the most wonderful great news last Friday. Two of my works were accepted into Da Vinci Art Alliance's "Connotations" exhibit. Originally, I didn't believe I got in. Thus, the surprised reaction was utterly genuine and quite humorous.

Seeing your art on a gallery wall brings apart the sweetest emotional sentiments. Yet when kind strangers compliment the pieces, waterworks are always on the rise. I'm used to crying for different reasons.
Last night, at the opening, I met Gerald Silva, the juror, who not only loved my work, he wished all three pieces had gotten in.

"I had no room," he said, regrettably.

Here, I thought that "keep your mouth shut" wasn't pleasing enough.

Still, the night gets better: I was asked to have a solo exhibition! A solo exhibition-- in Philadelphia? I suppose we start somewhere. This just may be the place.

Not to say that the art life isn't filled with more negatives than positives. It always will be. At least, for most of us. We creative beings will continue to face rejection until our hourglass sifts its final grains of sand. I'm applying for a few more things to wrap up the year. I hope to bear more fruit. For now, I'll revel in the beautiful bits offered. Eventually, crumbs become a meal.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tofu Scramble With Broccoli and Artichoke

Veggie packed tofu scramble is perfect addition to any weekend brunch.
Trader Joe's has a slew of amazing new products including artichoke hearts and ginger caramel popcorn. The latter has been buzzed about throughout the store itself and of course on Instagram, all vegans are spreading love and joy. The artichoke hearts are amazing too. These curled floral looking buds are ready to go in any salad, pasta dish, whatever. I added them to my broccoli tofu scramble, pleased by the soft, creamy texture of the artichokes in contrast to the slight crunchy notes of broccoli. For a little color, I suggest adding juicy tomato slices or steamed, sweet carrots. 

Not one of the cheapest things to buy at $5.99, Trader Joes Tapas Style Artichoke Hearts are a little splurge if you're not up to prepping fresh artichokes.
Tofu Scramble With Broccoli and Artichoke Ingredients and Preparation

1 cup frozen broccoli, cooked
half of 12.9oz package Trader Joes Tapas Style Artichoke Hearts
1/2 block extra firm tofu, crumbled
3 tablespoon nutritional yeast
2 tablespoon almond milk (or any dairy free milk)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Italian Seasonings
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon pink salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a medium sized bowl, mix all ingredients together.
Toss the tofu scramble into a hot pan or skillet and stir every few minutes or so. Cover if desired.
In about 12 minutes, tofu scramble should be ready to devour.

Simple, easy, and flavorful with varying degrees of texture in every gratifying bite.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Pacifica's Devocean Deeply Devoted Natural Lipstick in Firebird

Flossing at work with a chic "new" vintage style dress and popping vegan lipstick color.
Happy National Lipstick Day!
To celebrate the coveted day, Pacifica is offering a special buy one, get one free promo! The cruelty free, all natural lipstick brand is definitely has plentiful must haves for your purse, especially since lipsticks and glosses are a reasonable $10 each. Hurry hurry! Sale ends tomorrow at 11:59 PST time.
I came to the museum, feeling glam and beautiful in a rare showing of boldness that seemed to have everyone talking. I only intended to make a fashion statement, but I suppose when a balm and tinted gloss lady arrives with a zesty red lip, someone is going to talk about the switch up.

I tested out Pacifica Devocean Deeply Devoted Natural Lipstick (love their gold and white ode to Art Noveau package design goes with the overall sleek, slender stick). This is in Firebird, a warm, rich inviting red color of tulips.

The lipstick is matte and smooth. I put balm on first before putting this on and it didn't against the extra lip protection. The color is absolutely great on my skin tone. To think, I was so hesitant...
My pleasantly sophisticated Firebird survived lunch breaks (I reapplied of course), a book shop fair, and an opening reception at Traction Company. I also really loved how the color matched so well with this embossed collared dress (a $5 steal at Buffalo Exchange) as well. All in all, great product for sure! For the buy one, get one free, I purchased the Power of Love Lipstick in Nudie Red and the Plushious Mineral Lipstick in Velvet Kiss. Stay tuned for reviews on those sassy hues.

Extreme Veganism and Oreo Cookies: What the What?

What is the definition of an extreme vegan?

I suppose that is me. I am the reason people hate vegans. At least that was the response directed at me via social media from a domestic abuse activist who is only vegan due to a dairy allergy. In case you didn't already know, I don't consume meat, eggs, dairy, fish, poultry, or honey. I don't eat chocolate not of the Food Empowerment List. I don't wear leather/suede/wool clothing and shoes. I don't use cruelty laced beauty products, preferring a few brands and/or making my own.

A few days ago, this woman cosigns with London based dietician Sophie Medlin over her ridiculous  "veganism is not a healthy 'diet'" tirade (here's a redunk) and suggests that vegans eat pretty bad things like Oreos. Once an Oreo lover, I despise Oreo cookies now and not just because of the high fructose corn syrup content. Let's not even mention that Oreo's chocolate association likely isn't fair trade friendly either. To this dairy allergy vegan, who suspiciously acts behinds her allergy and not for sympathy of animal mistreatment, I claimed that Oreos weren't vegan. She quickly brings up an Accidentally Vegan List and a snippy, uncute "ahem." When I mention that a company spokesperson backed my honesty, she goes, "that's why people don't like vegans" and unfollowed.

The words stuck with me. This notion that a vegan can turn off people even a vegan. Perhaps it is partly due to discomfort. No one wants to hear that cramped animals are militantly lined up on conveyor belts, electrocuted, and butchered apart. They are raped daily with mothers having to part with rape product babies. But it is the taste. The taste is what matters more. The look and the taste of flesh. It is especially hard to give up this taste when history is involved, this meat-and-dairy-consumed inheritance passed down generation after generation. Then, you have vegans who don't want to hear about Oreos or anything on that list not being vegan. Again, it's the same factor-- taste.

Weeks ago, while having dinner with a friend in Chinatown, she asked me to sniff her food because it smelled like "wet cat and dog." I rolled my eyes, finding this caring only about house pets grossly offensive. Why condemn the violence against certain nonhuman creatures and accept the malicious treatment of others? It is privileged behavior. Pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, and fish are extremely intelligent beings that deserve as much respect and compassion as treasured cats and dogs. 

I refuse to be ashamed, to feel guilty for my compassion for the authenticity of my veganism. For Medlin to argue that this lifestyle is unhealthy is purely based on falsely delivered information that makes meat and dairy consumers feel less shame for the harm inflicted on animals. I will never buy that the flavor of murder is the only way my body can live and thrive on this planet.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Return to Biss: Revisiting Cocoa V

I sampled the delicious salted caramel chocolate. The beautiful pattern is stenciled on.
If I believed in heaven the first time around, it flew tenfold on the next visit to Chocolat haven, Cocoa V. A few weeks ago, I decided to pop by for a treat and reprieve, having already decided that the convenient location was a perfect early dessert fix.  I met Pamela, the owner, who made me the most amazing salted chocolate milkshake and chatted about contemporary film/TV with Chelsea over chocolate samples and chocolate picture snaps. She told this wonderful story of a vegan man from France who had visited actual location where Chocolat was filmed. Apparently, Cocoa V remind him (and me) of the place. I made a mental note to include that in my November trip to Paris.
Furthermore, Cocoa V, with Leon Bridges playing rustic, smooth blues in the background, has a treat for every kind of chocolate lover. From the chocoholic addictive fiend to the person who's that "once-in-a-while-gotta-have-chocolate, everyone is going to having either a slice of cake, a piece of candy,  a bag of bark, or a scoop of ice cream.

Brownies weren't present in my last visit. Alongside tasty looking sandwich cookies, doesn't cellophane wrapped treasures  make your mouth water with hungry anticipation?
Macaroons and chocolate dipped pretzels were also enticing treats that were new to me.
Gold dusted Yes Bars have a dose of Willy Wonka "Pure Imagination" magic appeal.
The double chocolate salted caramel milkshake made with coconut based ice cream and chocolate chips is absolutely scrumptious! I also took yummy S'mores Bark to go. Giant clusters of crunchy graham cracker and soft, gooey marshmallows doused in incredible dark chocolate will bring out the adult camper in anyone.