"Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?" We never thought we would be able to answer that question, but yes, we do know what it means. While we traveled quite a bit in 2016, New Orleans was our second home. We resided in the city for about 6 months last year, where we engaged with community members about politics, the new Planned Parenthood clinic, homelessness and conversed on many occasions about Louisiana's prison industrial complex and the role of racism in society. We attended protests organized by the youth in the city of Baton Rouge after the shooting of Alton Sterling, an unarmed black man shot at point-blank range by a white officer. We also attended a protest organized by BYP-100 in New Orleans in an effort to demonstrate our solidarity with their struggle. While racial tensions were high during the summer, they never seemed to disappear as the year progressed, only simmered below the surface of the southern heat. Louisiana is home to one of the world's highest prison population, and doesn't seem to be fighting the systemic issues that are the root cause of the problem. Gentrification is taking place at a rate unlike any other we've seen compared to other states we visited--with vegetarian restaurants in the 9th Ward that most residents are unable to afford, or post-Katrina homes in Hollygrove gutted, rebuilt, and rented to people from out of state, and public housing that was once for individuals unable to afford rent in the city being converted to condos. The city of New Orleans feels like a place of struggle and resilience; it's a place with people that bounce back no matter what, and despite any circumstance. We're so thankful to have been welcomed and embraced by locals. Robyn had the opportunity to help build a tiny house for the homeless with recycable materials and a solar panel for electricity. Our time engaging with neighborhood members and contributing in our way was the least we could do. While we contemplated moving we realized that with all the ongoing changes, the "New Orleans" yearned for in Armstrong's song will soon be unfamiliar to locals, and the many people who travel far and wide to experience the uniqueness that is "The Big Easy".
This year was filled with so many new opportunities and travels for us. We had the pleasure of visiting Philadelphia, better known as The City of Brotherly Love, for 5 days in September. We stayed in South Philly for a portion of our time, a very rough and gritty area with the clouds of gentrification hovering around its corners. In an effort to provide a little context of S. Philly one can reference Dubois' The Philadelphia Negro, which is often recognized as the first sociological study of its kind. Dubois was commissioned by Susan Wharton, an heir to one of the wealthiest families in the United States, in an effort to "understand the Negro problem." Philadelphia has one of the largest black populations in the US, and did so at the time of his study.
Our personal tour guide and friend, Diane, took us around on our first day through downtown to various historic landmarks such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. After completing the required cliché tour we headed West in search of The Fresh Prince’s old stomping grounds. We first visited the MOVE house located on Osage Ave. For those unfamiliar with MOVE, it was a black liberation organization founded in 1972 by John Africa (Let the Fire Burn is a great documentary to watch on subject). We chose to start our journey here because of our interest in the organizations history. The significant presence of the Black Muslim community was so new to us that we couldn't help but want to learn more and understand the scope of their contributions to an often-neglected historical narrative of Philadelphia. The Muslim and Caribbean areas were vibrant and bustling, with various Caribbean eateries and establishments alongside Muslim vendors, everyone moving in what appeared like synchronized chaos. The most memorable aspect of our journey through West Philly was the decline of this historic community and its proximity to a white liberal community that appeared cleaner, safer, and completely disconnected from the diversity a few blocks away at Malcolm X Park. We ventured to Mariposa Food Co-op in search of a bathroom, then walked to the park, which was much cleaner and better kept than its counterpart. We returned to South Philly, stopping at a Honduran restaurant to purchase natural juices before venturing to Chinatown to dine at a Thai restaurant.
The remainder of our weekend was spent at the Made In America festival. Music gives us life; we have soundtracks for every part of our lives and decided to save as much as possible to attend live shows and experience music in a different way. After attending Okeechobee Festival in Fl we debated between Burning Man and Made In America, convenience and money were the determining factors that led us to MIA. While we enjoyed the performances we felt displaced by the glitz and glam of fellow attendees, it didn't appear to be about the music or experience for a lot of people, it was about being seen at Jay Z's festival. It was commercial and heavily populated by white college aged attendees, as are most festivals, but we gave it a shot. I mean, how uncomfortable could it be listening to white college students shout "nigga" while rhyming along to their favorite trap song? (Turns out very uncomfortable/confrontational).
As we left the festival on the last night, I couldn't help but think about the upcoming election and the state of our country. With an impending Trump victory, where would Philadelphia fit in? How would one of the blackest cities, with a significant Muslim presence, and large immigrant communities carry on through a Trump victory? Would Philadelphia still be viewed as the "negro problem"?
Hebru Brantley- Chicago, Illinois
Sintexartist - Detroit, Michigan
Kevin Lyon - Brooklyn, New York
We travelled to Detroit in mid-September. The city felt...very industrious (duh) and empty. Many of the decaying and abandoned buildings filled the city, almost constantly reminding us that it too, was once great. Detroit has suffered immensely since the 2008 economic collapse (great documentary to watch on subject: Detropia), with many leaving in search of better opportunities in the South. While we had the chance to travel throughout the state, Detroit was our favorite destination. We visited the Motown Museum, which we highly recommend, and learned about the label's profound contributions to society-- musically, politically, and socially. In an effort to rebuild the city, many artists from around the nation came to "beautify" Hitsville, USA for an event titled Murals in the Market.
Robyn got a chance to engage and speak with several artists, including Hebru Brantley and Kevin Lyons. Although Detroit is in decline and going through many transitions, we should never forget its contribution to the American Dream for many people, especially blacks, who migrated north after WWI. This city's beauty is in its sense of hope and dreams, which somehow still exist amidst social and economic turmoil.
August 28, 2016
We would like to thank everybody who came by yesterday to show us support.
August 22, 2016
I had the opportunity to showcase my work in DC last week, where I had an amazing time speaking to new supporters about my work. A huge thanks to my sister and brother for helping with every minute detail and assuring that everything went smoothly. Thank you RAW Artists DC for a great time!
We did our official photo shoot for our Black Nostalgia collection, which dropped earlier this year. The collection pays homage to some of my favorite T.V. shows growing up, and they also recognize black television personalities that were chasing their dreams. For me, the collection epitomizes individuals who truly followed their passion and invested in their dreams. Working to bring these personalities to life in the form of Golden Piggy was one of my favorite creative experiences.
July 30, 2016
Fat Village Art Walk was a great experience, as it allowed me to meet new people, as well others who have been following the brand since we first started. It was great to have family and friends come out to show their support. A huge thanks to everyone who stopped by to show us love.
July 18, 2016