performance

Vulnerability is Strength: Eight Questions with Mugabi Byenkya

Who are you?

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I am the identities given to me, the ones I have chosen, the ones I have rejected and the ones I have grown into. I am Mugabi Augustine Ateenyi Olatokumbo Mba Byenkya. I am incredibly proud of the fact that every single one of my names is from the African continent and that they do a surprisingly apt job of reflecting my artistry/humanity.

Mugabi is Luganda for ‘The Giver’, predispositioning me to generosity.

Augustine is the Libyan saint and sinner known for his vulnerability and for being as I like to say, the second most famous man to release his confessions after Usher.

Ateenyi is Runyoro for ‘resourceful, cunning and wily’ also the name of a mythical sea serpent.

Olatokumbo is Yoruba for ‘wealth and happiness from a foreign land’ reflective of my birth on foreign soil and perpetual status as a foreigner in different lands.

Mba is Igbo for ‘Death defies admonition’ foreshadowing the intricacies of my intimate relationship with death.

Byenkya is Runyoro for ‘God/Goddess/Ancestors are with us’ and leaning on others strength is the ontly way I get through the day sometimes.

How would you describe your artistic journey?

My artistic journey was born out of curiosity and curiosity continues to sustain it. I remember being a child and wanting to play with my siblings but they were all busy, curled up on the couch reading. Dumbfounded at how reading could be better than playing, I begged my mother to teach me how to read and nothing was the same. I fell in love with storytelling, worldbuilding and listening/absorbing in all forms.

My main challenges in my artistic journey have been: being pushed towards a more ‘practical’ career in the sciences, a lack of knowledge of methods to financially sustain an artistic practice and ill health. My spectacular family (blood and chosen) have and continue to nourish and sustain my artistic practice and for this privilege and blessing, I will forever be grateful <3

What role does healing have in your art?

My artistic practice has been diametrically opposed to my healing for a while. I suffer from multiple disabilities which manifest through chronic fatigue, chronic pain and seizures, amongst other manifestations. Too much or too little exertion makes my disabilities worse and for a long time something as little as 15 minutes of writing would induce a 3 hour long excruciating seizure, migraine, pain flare combo that made me heavily suicidal. I often wondered if creating art was worth the toll it put me through and I honestly don’t think it was. However, art is simultaneously incredibly healing for me, both receiving and creating art. I had to modify the way I view artistic practice and shift from a productivity mindset to one of abundance and acknowledgement of my disabilities and what they tell me, no matter how depressing the news may be. I owe a lot of the modification of my healing practice to my dear friend Naphtalie, who I’m forever grateful to. <3    

How do art, activism, and wellness intersect and intertwine for you?

My art, activism and wellness are intertwined through the new body that I wake up in every day. Every day and several moments within the same day, my limitations and abilities change with little rhyme or reason. This is infuriating to manage but leads to me always thinking through personal modifications/accommodations I can use for accessibility which is important! After all, it is not my marginalizations that truly limit me, more so trying to thrive within a marginalized body in a world not designed for me.

How do you care for yourself and your people?

I try my best to care for myself and my people in the ways that they want/need. Tenderly, lovingly with vulnerability, trust and validation. I want me and my people to be seen, heard and felt. To be celebrated, held consensually in heartspace/whichever space everyone agrees upon all within healthy boundaries. {try being the key word}.

What art of color are you excited about lately?

Fatimah Asghar! Her debut book of poems ‘If They Come For Us’ just came out and I’m VERY excited to buy/read it!! I’m a huge fan of her writing having stumbled across her via an internship. The ‘coming out’ scene in the web-series she co-created/wrote ‘Brown Girls’ was SO spot on to the qtpoc experience and the first time I’d seen that done in the largely whitewashed queer film world. She’s an incredibly powerful, nuanced storyteller whose work I revisit time & time again. It would be an honour to work with her as she seems to be two steps ahead of me in highlighting everything I want to in my work, before I do. Can’t wait to see what she creates next!

@turnjurrel !! The scenes he paints of people of colour doing the most mundane activities with so much tenderness deserve AWL the love and recognition. Can’t wait till I can afford one of his paintings for my space!

My homie Jacque of @adornedbychi has a graphic novel coming out following the adventures of magical black girls steeped in Igbo mythology that I’m SUPER excited to delve into as I respect and am always inspired by her writing.

And my internet cuz Aisha of @fathairjewelry just put out a new line of jewellery for locs and non-locd folk like myself that I just bought a choker off of and can’t wait to rock!

What are you looking forward to?

The 3rd leg of my book tour! I’ve been touring in support of my debut novel Dear Philomena, for the past year and thus far have done 42 shows across 25 cities in North America/East Africa! I have another 20 shows lined up across 15 cities and some potential West Africa dates that I’m super excited for! It’s been a struggle touring while disabled, with plenty cancelled shows due to seizures and recovery days spent laid up in bed partially paralyzed but it’s worth it for: the amazing people I have met, stories shared and memories made! Also, a massive blessing and privilege that I couldn’t do without my amazing family (both chosen and blood) support systems <3   

What affirmations do you have for creatives of color?

Vulnerability is strength

It’s ok not to be ok

Recovery is not linear

Take ownership of the hurt you’ve inflicted on others

Hit me up if you ever wanna chat!

bonus message #fortheculture:

I’m touring through North America/East Africa for the remainder of the year and would love for y’all to come to my shows if the cities sync or hit me up to hang.

more about the artist:

Mugabi Byenkya is a writer, poet and occasional rapper. He was born in Nigeria, to Ugandan parents and is currently based between Kampala and Toronto.

Mugabi was longlisted for the Babishai Niwe Poetry Award in 2015. His essays, articles and poetry have been featured on The Good Men Project, African Writer, Arts and Africa and The Kalahari Review, amongst numerous other publications. He has been interviewed on Voice of America - VOANTV Uganda91.3 CAPITAL FM and Brittle Paper, amongst numerous other media outlets.

Mugabi's writing is used to teach international high school English reading comprehension. His debut novel, ‘Dear Philomena,’ was published in 2017 and he recently concluded a 30 city North America/East Africa tour in support of this. He is currently on a second tour aptly titled, "Is That A World Tour or Your Girls Tour?" which will take him across an additional 25 cities. In 2018, Mugabi was named one of 56 writers who has contributed to his native Uganda’s literary heritage since independence by Writivism. 

An advocate for the intersection of arts, chronic illness, social justice, and literacy, Mugabi leads workshops in effective writing, poetry, performance, vulnerability, mental and chronic illness for youth and adults.

Mugabi wants to be Jaden Smith when he grows up. 

You can buy Mugabi’s book here! You can follow Mugabi via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, their blog, and their website. All purchases go toward funding the tour and making sure they eat so it would be much appreciated!

Be Kind and Be Loud: A Q&A with AfroQueer Author Tarik Daniels

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Who are you as an artist & human? 
I consider myself an AfroQueer writer. I write to increase visibility of afro queer stories, wants, needs, and challenges as a community. As a human, my number one priority as I live on earth is to spread love and positivity. We live in a world full of clapbacks and pettiness; I strive to bring an alternative mainstream approach in living life. It's cool to be kind. I make art to simply add to the foundation created by queer artists before me who wanted to impact this world through lenses that’re often overlooked and ignored.

How would you describe your artistic journey? 
My artistic journey always begins with a dream. I am a dreamer and all my stories originate from a dream. Some might call it a calling; I consider it a vision of what my work needs to touch on. From the dream begins the writing process and research on paper. I still write everything on paper instead of typing. Writing on paper feeds my artistic hunger while typing is just a means of getting my stories to the people. It might take longer with writing everything by hand and then typing, but it’s worth it. The biggest challenge of my artistic endeavors has always been not relying on the approval of others in the stories I tell. I’ve learned art is not meant to be validated. If it happens, then fine. But you gotta put forth the work you believe in regardless if its widely accepted or not. I believe consistency has been key in sustaining and growing in my creative endeavors. You have to keep creating and keep challenging yourself and your work.

What role does healing have in your creative practice?
Creating art and surrounding myself with art spaces has always been my escape. Most of the time when I write, its usually coming from a past issue or experience that I still might be processing or a present issue or experience that still hasn’t been resolved in my heart or head. Writing allows me to go deeper with those things and most times after I complete a project, I have a better understanding and solution of what to do or better yet, I am at peace with what’s going on or what has happened.

How do art, activism, and wellness intersect and intertwine for you?
As a AfroQueer writer, my whole artistry relies on the intersectionality of activism and art as I strive to tell the stories that affect queer people of color and the struggles that come along with belonging to multiple minority communities that are often disadvantaged, mistreated, and lacking visibility.

What art of color are you excited about lately? (Maybe BeyChella..)
Watching Beyoncé is always inspiring on so many levels. You have to admire her ability to grow and elevate her artistry as well as her pure talent and work ethic. She brings it every time at such high level and you mix that in with her black girl magic and her black power messaging, you have a cultural renaissance woman. She lights a fire under all of us creatives to step it up. I’m also reading a lot of Tarrell Alvin McCraney, who co-wrote the movie Moonlight based on his play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, and I am highly impressed and obsessed with his The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy. Great work and very inspiring.

What are you looking forward to artistically?
I have a new book, No Bonds So Strong, that released on April 27th and I definitely want to ride the wave with this new body of work. I am planning a book tour and want to impact our culture a little differently with literature. I came from so many backgrounds as far as scholarly, community, organizing, non profit work, ballroom, and party kid. I mean you name it, I’ve probably done it and I want to merge all those experiences and find a new lane in telling stories from a black gay perspective by a gay black artist. By us for us approach. Social media is opening doors for us creatives to try different things in getting our work out and I’m ready to explore. Of course, in the future I would love for No Bonds to be a series or a movie. I’m actually working on a new web series now.

What wishes, affirmations, and advice do you have for other artists of color?
I say do work that will shake up the ground a little bit. Don’t be safe. Uncomfortable is where the work is needed. Those who are denying great quality of life for queer people of color are not quiet. They are making a lot of noise and we must do the same. Be loud in your art. Be loud in your message. It’s just not the time to be quiet or passive.

Anything else you want to share?
Love life and being kind is cool!

You can learn more at mistertelltales.com and on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

more about the artist:
Tarik Daniels is a AfroQueer writer from Detroit, Michigan. He has written and produced four plays, THE COUNSELING SESSIONRose University, STIGMA, and PrettyBoy Realness. His writings focuses on telling stories about the realm of intersectionality and the bondage of queer people of color. Tarik founded and serves as Executive Director of Whatsinthemirror?, a social movement that provides mental health awareness and suicide prevention through art and advocacy to communities of color. 

Poetry, Authenticity, and Sustainability: An Exchange with Jackie Torres

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Tell us about your artsy self. 
I am a poet, a performer (I struggle with the label of "actor," although I do act), a writer, and a theater maker. All of my work tends to live somewhere at these intersections.

Tell us about your artistic journey. 
I started taking my art seriously from the first time I began performing in theater. I also wrote when I was a young teenager, mostly for myself, but found my voice suppressed by the conditions I was surrounded by and told myself I wasn't good at it. I gave it up for a long time. My love affair with theater, which also began when I was a very young teenager, got warped by the toxic culture surrounding the performing arts and after particularly traumatizing high school and college experiences, I very seriously considered giving up acting and theater altogether. Coming back to writing, ironically for a theater company that ended up being equally traumatizing, reminded me of the work I needed to be doing and allowed me to rediscover my voice, as well as collaborate with folks who were interested in saying and doing the same things. My community of artists and my family, both chosen and of blood, have sustained me through navigating and bucking against the white supremacist, cishetereopatriarchal institution of theater as it currently exists.

What role does healing have in your artistic practice? 
All of my work is about healing. My purest, earliest experiences of theater and spoken word were religious to me. I maintain that all experiences need to achieve that religious essence, which is why authenticity is always a priority, and why I would prefer something to be truthful rather than "good." Art has healed me, little by little, and my philosophy is that if I am honest about my struggles, it will resonate with someone else who will, in turn, be healed by it. 

What art of color are you excited about?
There are so many things I'm excited by! First person who comes to mind is Amber Iman (@afrodeity), an incredible black visual artist who I had the honor of meeting when she did a live painting at an event my collective curated. Spoken word poet Elizabeth Acevedo and her debut novel, The Poet X, gave me every ounce of life when I read it earlier this month. I do think there is a character in the novel who could have been written much better with some applied queer theory, but the novel fed my need for Afro Latinx representation and recreated many of my teenage experiences with an unmatched authenticity. It is an astonishing, gorgeous debut work. One of the BEST new plays I've seen in a long time is Is God Is, which is currently playing at Soho Rep in Manhattan. Aleshea Harris writes us into the world of two twin sisters tasked with enacting revenge against their father, who nearly two decades previously attempted to murder them and their mother (referred to as God). The sisters travel from the South to California to find and kill him; and along the way encounter a mosaic of characters including their father's new family. Laced with beautiful sardonic humor, the show tackles misogynoir, vengeance, and justice through a spaghetti western-style adventure. A violent, cathartic thrill ride and I lived for every minute. 

What are you looking forward to in the coming months, years, decades artistically?
I am very excited to continue my spoken word work, and get more involved in competing! I am also so excited to be one of the book writers for a new musical, The Legacy Project, which tackles black ancestry, identity, and future. I am also super excited to be working on a new play called Desarrollo by Juliany Taveras about Latinx queer babies, the Bronx, and memory.

What wishes, affirmations, and advice do you have for other creatives of color?
If something feels at odds with your artistic vision, trust that instinct. That's not to say you shouldn't exit your comfort zone; but rather, to develop a keen awareness of who is trying to subvert your vision and who is there to support it. School is not the only avenue towards creative work. In fact, formal training often lacks the lens to properly train black and brown bodies, as well as tell black and brown stories. The best training you could ever have is life experience. So live it, in whatever way that makes sense to you. Don't overextend yourself; don't do things that feel like you are being pushed to a breaking point. 

To keep up with Jackie’s radiance and rants, follow her on Instagram @jackieines or on Facebook!