in the times of mothering myself

i wish the floor were clearer

DANIA LEWIS

“in the times of mothering myself” is a multidisciplinary virtual photo album inspired by Ntozake Shange’s poetry, her multidimensional art, her personal letters and journal entries. My artistic project includes poetry, photography and performance art. The photos are from Shange’s archives which align with the sentiments of healing and black girlhood. Paired with Shange’s photos, I have used photos that I have taken which includes a collection of selfies, before, during or after my engagement with Shange’s texts as well as photographs of nature and mundane objects. Alongside the photographs I have taken, my fellow artistic collaborators have captured of me. “in the times of mothering myself” centers my personal journey of archiving healing, pains, celebrations and the impacts of Shange’s work and the tools they provide on my path towards continuous mental wellness.

This project was made possible by the Ntozake Shange Archives at Barnard College, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, and The International Center of Photography.

“in the times of mothering myself” focuses on the multitude of self-portraiture and its representation through photography, poetry and performance art, which carves out a space for an expansive definition of black girlhood and the relationships-friendship, daughterhood- that are the transitory space between black girlhood and black womanhood.

*all photos are taken by me unless noted otherwise

i look like a tree to myself

i look like a tree to myself

 

through movement and color

 

i claimed all of you in a dream

i claimed all of you in a dream

 

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picking myself up

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we get here in the names of our beloved(s)

“the place where i decided to meet myself” is the most unknown place to me/the most uncharted territory/ a place filled with mystery/ with doubt/ a place filled with voids in dire need to be filled/ a place filled with so much potential for music/with music/ a place filled with the potential for so much love/ with love/ a place of love/ a place filled with hatred/ a place that only knows hatred/the place where i decided to meet myself is one wrought with tears in the darkest of mornings/ with years of ancestral pains so raw and fresh/ with unfortunate unforgettable childhood(s)/with sun-flowery days/with silence that heavies the body/with light that is blinding/ with lighting that is just bright enough/ with a mother that loves too much and not enough/ with a father who’s presence is undesired/the place where i decided to meet myself is always new but stains in a way that feels old and stale /the place where i decided to meet myself had gates/ has gates/ gates that were closed/gates that are closed/ gates that will try to remain closed/the place where i decided to meet myself is filled with flowers/lonely roads/lovely lovers/ choking lovers/ the place where i have decided to meet myself/is the place i have met myself.

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when little black girls sing because love whispers in their ear/you have always sang to me/ your voice was clear and solid/ it was safe/you sang and reminded me that I too, should sing/ it is those songs that keep me from silencing myself/the softness and tenderness that sat on top of and in your voice makes me sing/and now you listen to my songs/ father, you listen to me.

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music shaped my girlhood. it sunk its teeth and fingers in the softest parts of my back. the marks still sit there. it reminds me to stay alive when I almost died/ when I died/ and when I was all dead// music reminds me that life manifest itself in the twirl of my fingers/the flash of my pen/ the steps of my hopscotch/ to the cries that were my lullabies/music molded n molds me/ when all else fails/music is what i have/music moves me/music puts me back in sync with myself/with my healing/ with my love/ music still moves me/and the ways that shange has taught me/ when i have music i cannot be harmed

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“Feeding myself” addresses the complexities of being a black girl whilst healing and loving. It addresses the hardships of caring and loving one’s self as a black girl with limited or no resources as well as an abundance of immeasurably possibilities. It addresses the meaning for myself to reclaim and own my body and my mental wellness. “Feeding myself” takes into account the collective effort that is required for growth and healing.It centralizes the body as an archival space and a home.“Feeding myself” takes the concept of the literal and metaphysical action of pouring. The vulnerability to mother oneself as well as accepting unconventional motherings. This pouring is representative of the malleability, the fragility of black girlhood,healing and self-reflection. It is a statement that healing is not monolithic nor is the outcome predictable. “Feeding myself” is about the expansiveness of mothering in its multifaceted forms. Queer motherhood has been central to my engagement with the works of Ntozake Shange as I have reconceptualize the definitions of care taking. Through this healing process, I have archived my pains through vulnerability, bravery, strength, love and kindness.

Prose Poetry

my recovery time is long and intense.

smalls things gifted to me/ they keep me whole/ they remind to stay alive/ to be alive.

Death circles. Sometimes it does not leave. It sits on your lap. You caress and nurture it. You know better than to treat things and people unkindly.You have been raised better than that. So you let death loom and sit a while longer. You let death overstay its welcome. But today and most days or some days you whisper gently to death “leave”.

it is the thing that stands in you. that you know to be true. you know it to be true because there is a feeling. and you have found god in yourself. you have found god in yourself when you thought you could not or cannot stay alive or be alive. but you stand in your godliness, you are standing in your godliness. you wallow in it because to stand out of it would be a dishonor to your ancestors the ones who have given you love. the ones who dreamt you into existence. and you dreamt yourself alive. you brought yourself back to life. You brought yourself back to life because your ancestors did that.

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