“Speak earth and bless me with what is richest/ make sky flow honey out of my hips rigid as mountains/ spread over a valley/ carved out by the mouth of rain.”
It’s hard not to be spellbound by the momentous opening of Audre Lorde’s “Love Poem.” For Briona Simone Jones, editor of the 2021 release Mouths of Rain: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Thought, the passage holds personal meaning.
“In 2018, I was able to visit her papers at Spelman College and I saw the drafts of the poem,” she recalled, “and so, I think that I understood the work differently in her handwriting and the process of creating it. I think in understanding the history of it, I became more connected with the poem because the poem is about love between women but I think it’s also a textual reminder that Black lesbians won’t be written out of history. That there’s still this investment in getting the word out and finding oneself on their own terms. The poem is revolutionary to me in that way.”
Mouths of Rain includes the works of Lorde and other Black lesbians and Black feminists such as Alice Walker, Pauli Murray, Cheryl Clarke, Barbara Smith and Bettina Love. Since its publication, Jones has worked with partner and co-curator Alexandra Jane to create a visual arts exhibit called MÔR: A Collective Exhibition of Black Lesbian Thought, set to premiere on Friday, Jan. 21 at Goodyear Arts on Camp North End.
A literary force herself, Alexandra Jane is the gallery director for the Charlotte-based Brooklyn Collective and contributing writer for publications like The Root. She has in the past contributed to Queen City Nerve. Jones and Jane enlisted fellow artists Sokari Ekine, Shan Wallace and Makeda Lewis to coheadline the exhibit.
Another topic tackled by Lorde is how Black lesbian art can often be perceived as something pornographic, which is a mistreatment and misunderstanding of the art in totality. As Lorde once stated, “Pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.
“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings,” Lorde explained further. “It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect, we can require no less of ourselves.”
That fulfillment of feeling is meant to motivate us in all aspects of our lives, which I think is what people often overlook or don’t even consider when regarding Black lesbian art. Yet the common thread I see in art by Black lesbians, and hopefully in this exhibit, is that our fulfillment is present in our work, our art, our love and in building community with one another.
In the lead-up to Friday’s opening, I was able to chat with Jones and Jane about the message aim to send with MÔR: A Collective Exhibition of Black Lesbian Thought and how they avoided perpetuating the typical misperceptions around lesbian art.
Queen City Nerve: What was the process like for finding artists to showcase for this exhibit?
Alexandra Jane: Well, we actually had a few folks in mind to co-headline this operation and we had the thought from the very beginning to make it intergenerational and that’s how we pulled the three co-headliners. Then we decided that we wanted to put out a call for artists. If you consider yourself to be within that lineage, we wanted to support your work. So, we put out the call in November and we had so many applicants! At first we were like, “Is anybody going to email us?” but as soon as we put the call up, we were overwhelmed by the amount of response. We took about a month for the final selection and that was it.
Briona Simone Jones: Like Alexandra said, the intergenerational connection was important and as the anthology had the units and parts that build upon each other, and as folks view the exhibition, there’s this unraveling of a story. We wanted multi-theorist forms of art, so there will be sculpture, collage work, photography; there will be a rhythm. We selected people we felt we could place in conversation with one another and situated within the same lineage regardless of spatial location and identity.
In viewing this show, what do you hope viewers who are Black lesbians get from this? And what would you hope non-Black lesbians and non-lesbians get from being in this space?
Alexandra Jane: I think what we wanted to strive for primarily was a sense of community. Most of us being in our thirties, we have looked for places in Charlotte for Black lesbians to hang out and socialize and support each other. We just haven’t seen that space. And since none of us will be hosting parties anytime soon, we thought that this was something that felt genuine to the both of us that we could open up to the Black lesbian community.
Briona Simone Jones: I don’t think we have a prescriptive way to describe what we want non-Black folks to think of the art that’s represented, but I do think that what we’ve learned through Black lesbian histories is how to deal with community and coalition through difference. So, I hope non-Black folks don’t take up too much space and, figuratively speaking, they open up their purses because the art will be for sale. It’s burgeoning, and it’s beyond the financial compensation, but really affirming someone through supporting their work. And so as people come, [we ask that they] come with purpose and intention to contribute to the life of the work and the artist.
Alexandra Jane: We also wanted to manage the expectation of the crowd when it comes to Black lesbian art. I know in the art world, we’re always trying to define what Black art is. And so when we think about Black lesbian art, some of the same questions come to mind and I didn’t want it to be this oversexualized depiction of Black lesbian intimacy, although the erotic is present as well. I wanted the body of work to speak specifically to that artist, so if erotica is not what they work in, it’s going to be a true reflection of the message they wanted to convey. I didn’t want the expectation to be Pornhub.
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