Today I honor my ancestors. I honor all the women who stood and spoke in their power. May they rest well. May we live well as we continue moving forward in the footsteps of giants.
For a few years now, I’ve wanted to do a road trip focusing on historic African American Women. The pillars for me are Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. I’ve been mapping out sites they lived and worked for a while.
Throughout March and April this year, I finally got on the road for an extended trip. This one wasn’t focused on African American Women exclusively, but it was deeply saturated in African American history and culture. However, because I AM Woman is named for one of Sojourner Truth’s speeches, I truly wanted to make sure she was part of this road trip. So Battle Creek, MI was added to my route. I visited a monument dedicated to her and her grave site at Oak Hill Cemetery.
We think of history as being so distant, but standing at Mother Sojourner’s grave site made me very aware that her time was not so long ago.
In 2009, I had the pleasure of meeting Nnamdi Okonkwo at an art show in Manhattan.
Pictured: Nnamdi Okonkwo, Sculptor, with Resolution
A couple of years ago I started following him on IG and told him I was looking forward to the day I could purchase my first piece of art from him.
Have you thought about what your first real art purchase would be? I’ve long suspected mine would be sculpture. Something three-dimensional.
When I moved to New York City in 2005, I began visiting art galleries. My favorite one is on Central Park South. There’s some beautiful work in that gallery. But even if I could swing the exorbitant price tags, the pieces I liked best didn’t really reflect me.
When I met Nnamdi with his lady Resolution, I wanted to lean in, take a seat and speak with them both. Not only did he speak to me but so did his work.
Last month while on a cross country road trip, I asked if he was available for a studio visit. He was. I visited and it was the highlight of my trip and a true joy I will remember throughout my life. I placed an order for two small sculptures, “Joy” and “They are Waiting.” I wanted to select art that not only reflected some of my physicality, but also expressed where I am spiritually and emotionally. My whole life is long waits dotted with bursts of joy.
The below video shares some of my exploration of Nnamdi’s studio as well as his graciousness in opening his space and answering my questions. I’ve also added pictures of him from the art show in Manhattan and of me sitting with his “Friends” monument installation in Harlem in 2012. I refer to this statue as “Sisters,” in the video but please note “Sisters” has three more figures than “Friends.”
When we sat to talk in his studio last month, Nnamdi started off by saying he remembered meeting me all those years ago. My first inclination was to dismiss his comment. Then I had to reject my dismissal. He and his work had made such an impression on me I’ve literally remembered one of his pieces with me as a figure in it (see video). ☺
We live in a superficial world where people change their interests with the shifting winds seeking instant gratification. I’ve never been one for the quick fix. I’m purposeful and methodical. I come through on the follow-through eventually.
For those of you who may be beating yourself up for taking too long to do something or acquire a wishlist item, remind yourself it’s your life to live at your pace. When you’re in a comfortable enough space to do that unnecessary, but pleasurable thing, your satisfaction will have no limits.
Check out Nnamdi Okonkwo’s work at http://www.nnamdiart.com. Yo can find him on IG (@nnamdiart) and Facebook (@nnamdi.okonkwo.96).
“In my indigenous culture, womanhood is venerated. In my sculpture I want to express the noble virtues of humanity such as empathy, love, humility and inner strength which women possess. The voluminous shapes are aesthetically pleasing and intoxicating to me, but why also serve to emphasize the largeness of the soul of womanhood.”
In 2018, I hosted a number of mini photo shoots for women interested in free photos and possibly being part of my final project titled, I AM Woman. The portrait sessions took place in New York City, Chicago, Gary, Milwaukee and Phoenix. The various backdrops include skyscrapers, water, desert, green parks, and museums.
Though I wanted interesting backgrounds, the backdrops were not a focus or priority. The locations were chosen for convenience and diversity. New York sort of lead the charge here as I held about six sessions around town. One was a practice shoot with a former co-worker in Central Park North. My second practice shoot took place at a women’s conference in Harlem. The third shoot was someone else’s photo project that I asked to join in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Permission was granted to tag alongside her photographer for my own shots and I offered to share my work with her for her project. After this, I scheduled my own sessions and accepted whoever showed up. Battery Park, Central Park, Columbus Circle – the City is certainly a huge part of I AM Woman.
Meeting in open, well-populated landmark locations seemed to work well. All the women were, for the most part, comfortable and almost immediately at ease.
In Milwaukee, the meet happened at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The landmark architecture of the Burke Brise Soleil, designed by Santiago Calvatrava, had to be the backdrop for this Great City on a Great Lake.
At the end of the shoots, I didn’t think I had done such a good job capturing the building. It was blurry and cut off in a lot shots. In others, the angles were unattractive. Again, since the building wasn’t my priority, I went about selecting the images of the women that best represented how they saw themselves.
Luckily, I don’t really delete my digital images. Years ago, I decided to keep everything I shoot with the belief that what I don’t like today will be amazing to me tomorrow. Because of this, editing the images for I AM Woman is exposing a great deal of possibilities by blending images I would normally do nothing with into images that need a bit of umph! I stitched four such photos together that didn’t work by themselves to get a great final image that will be the background of one of my portraits from that day in the final cut.
These were shot with my Sony A7iii and Rokonon 14mm wide lens; composited with Microsoft ICE; color and cropping were done in Lightroom; removals and smoothing done in Photoshop; and final finishes were done in Topaz Labs Impression. What do you think?