I have been blessed with the privilege of blackness and femaleness, and sometimes, queerness on Karaoke Thursdays, or even on a regular Monday when the Rainbow is Enuf. My neighbors-in-otherness, borrowing sass and sugar from next door to spice the "T" we can all serve on the regular. I am fiscally a member of the working poor and culturally a member of the shrinking middle class. A graduate of an Ivy League University, I am also a college dropout. Go figure.
But ultimately I am an artist whose personal contradictions are not simply confusing, but fodder for my in-and-out-of-studio practice. I use social media, the comment thread cacophony of 'the internets', google alerts, information doppelgangers, contact microphones, contact paper, oil pastels, corduroy crotch shots, chalk, ink, combs, plastic action figures, the mythologies of identity and blonde hair as material to create experiences. Someone once told me that I was "all sparkle and no substance". I was so shocked at it's timing that it took nearly two hours before the tears fell, but now I think it a fitting description. You can't hold love in your hand either. And that's what I'm really serving. All "T", no shade.
Why do we equate a relief of responsibility with artistic freedom? What if serving as a spokesperson for other HUMANS (regardless of the many fictions of identity) was viewed as a privilege? What if we considered creative practice as necessarily transcendent and universal by default? What if someone, who does not identify as white or male, was relatively unconcerned with the modes of practice or how whitemen were viewed by an audience? What if all the aspects of identity that are described as "lesser", "oppressed", "minority", "black", "child", "female", "trans", "gay", etc. were exalted in status, and, in fact a privilege to carry?
Being a socialite and a philanthropist, I have had my share of ex-boyfriends. I have recently discovered that I still love all of them. The Indulgent with the champagne colored Infiniti? I particularly loved his fraternal zeal and the keg-o-ratorthat occupied a prized placement in the living room. And also his Shar Pei, whose name I can't currently recall, but appreciated it's slobbery attention and wrinkly skin just the same. Oh wait, "Pharaoh"! Very sensitive, he was. There were a number of failed romantic dinners, which I prepared, only to be disappointed by his absence - The Indulgent Boyfriend, not the Shar Pei. But life is nothing but a lesson - if you can't be vulnerable enough to cook a four course meal for someone you care about, what's the point? And besides someone's got to eat it - and roommates are in fact human beings (thanks Jeanette) so they count. He had an older sister who'd died before I met him and to touch the grief of that experience makes me understand the reality of my own process. You morn your family for as long as you live. And he had a girl's name which reminded me of my father - who coincidentally is becoming one of my best friends.
My first boyfriend on the other hand is now fat. Perhaps I exaggerate. He now has man meat on him but I still imagine him slim and fragranced in Lagerfeld Photo. I met him at an LL Cool J concert. We both had braces and he was tall and lanky, and, of course, there was the Lagerfeld to consider. It was my first attempt at femme fatality. There was no pen but I gave him my number and cautioned that "if you want to, you'll remember it". I still wonder where I got the cajones for that line. In either case, he had a Hyundai and even at 15 (a full year before I was allowed to officially date) there was the Lion King on Valentine's Day and various dollar theaters where we made out and he made my "love come down"- that's totally a real thing. He was my first time-- scared and fumbling, but I was infinitely more curious. I never told my mom, and thus began the gulf between us. He cheated, a discovery revealed through the technology of three way calling. But I was like, totally strong and independent, so I broke up with him (and everything). I still liked-ed him though. Lagerfeld Photo and all that.
And then there was He. I thought He was it. Nearly seven years and three states. And codependency. And physical abuse (both He and I as perpetrators). One of the first people I knew intimately who had been sexually abused. He worshiped me. But there is a lot of responsibility to being a goddess. And, despite my inherent fabulousity, I knew that maintaining this level of adoration wasn't realistic. However. However, to be cherished so completely was tremendous gift and he was amazingly talented and my understanding partnership was forever changed. I knew that my support of him would require a professional perspective. In fact, that perspective, was important for my own well-being. Because of him I am not afraid of therapy. He once told me that "no one will ever love you like I do"; he is absolutely right. But love is always unique in its expression. Our relationship existed as a tender protection, when my early twenties could have been drenched with an anxiety to please many different people, instead it was about considering the needs of myself and one other. Our breakup was not amicable. But it was necessary. I believe he has made a beautiful life outside the pressures of my ambition. He knew my Mother - He and She both Aquarius - this is a thing none other will have access to. Both sensitive to the point of fragility, and so very, very beautiful. Plus I spent an Extremely Jamaican Christmas in Miami with sorrel and that crazy drink made with condensed milk, carrot juice and Guinness, and smoking weed out of a Sherlock Holmes pipe with He's Uncle Keith. For these things, I love He still.
Now, like any woman of the world I have had those which are boyfriend-and-not-boyfriend. Bluesman, an ex-convict, I wept to hear the full story of his incarceration. But since black men are my favorites, most of my paramours have been through some phase of the criminal justice system. Bluesman sharpened my worry for the future of Blackmanchild years before Trayvon. Bluesman was Black with that Trans-Atlantic Prisoner Trade something that could easily be Indian (dot and feather), European, even Asian. The secks was off the chain. Always. But he was my boyfriend-not-my-boyfriend and so the double standard was in full effect. A furry Irishman took me to the Hamptons for the first time during our non-relationship. I didn't cover my tracks so well (a passive aggressive tactic) even after I'd agreed to cut off this additional non-relationship. Ah, The Irishman with kisses that disintegrated underclothes. And the headiness of really liking a blue-eyed-devil, and I, shocked at our common ground and utterly charmed by the easy confidence that privilege provides. The whole scenario taught me something I already knew: lying is death to any relationship. Sheer force of will extended Bluesman and I beyond that episode, but I think he closed a part of himself off with a question mark and exclamation point. Seriously, a white dude?!
Question mark exclamation point-- the most recent entry on my dating resume was 19 years my senior (?!) with quite an impressive resume himself. Three ex-wives, three children (each half siblings), he had already led three lives by the time we met. Strikingly brilliant, fit, and handsome, I was a prime candidate for his brand of education. There were dinners with broiled animals that I didn't know existed, conversations surrounding the glory days of his professional world - think Wall Street circa 1997 - and he was infamous to boot. Money laundering (alleged) and modelesque lady friends (actual), appealed to my imagination, but the reality was much more complicated. Omitted details like the fact that he was living with one of his ex-wives when we first met, became a pebble in my shoe. It was obvious that his generous affection was counter balanced with a cold aloofness that would stun me with its surgical precision. That said, I became much more comfortable with the notion that the older I got, the more likely my partner would have children and/or an ex-spouse. The notion of a tidy "we" giving way to a more expansive "us". Plus after a couple of years of relative homelessness he offered a genuine sense of stability, of which I am still reaping the benefits. He also revealed, through example, the importance of slowing down; that the rush to accomplish could result in injury and break-ups via text sting like a MOFO (all caps, exclamation point).
Of course there are others,I do have great gams, but the sentiment is the same: there is love in my heart for each. I love who I am becoming and without these experiences of love and caring, disappointment and anger, miscommunication and understanding, affection and redemption, trial and error - I could not claim these as an enhancement to my own character. I hope that wherever they are, whatever they are doing, that love is abiding with them. Perhaps they might even think of me fondly - the memory of us a companion to their better selves.
ShapeshifterLab presents SACK OF STARS: THE VOCAL STYLINGS OF CHEEKY LASHAE
Performance November 23rd 6:30-8PM
(Brooklyn, NY __ November 1, 2013) ShapeshifterLab presents Sack of Stars: The Vocal Stylings of Cheeky LaShae, a one-night performance piece by artist Kenya (Robinson). Dressed as her enigmatic glittering alter ego Cheeky LaShae, (Robinson) will perform a one-hour musical experience curated by the audience.
Sack of Stars is a performance that weaves in and out of the familiar format of Karaoke-calling attention to the collaborative relationship between audience and performer in both music and the arts. As the artists’ body is obscured by the sculptural elements of the costume, the audience must revert back to the theatrical image of Cheeky. The performer simultaneously becomes object, a white cube draped in shimmer, an intergalactic amoeba, the gender filled embodiment of our celestial origins and the glamorous remnants of The Big Bang personified. .Evoking the history of drag performance, singing only songs by male vocalists, (Robinson) utilizes the equalizing nature of karaoke to create a new experience, the experience that is Cheeky LaShae.
Kenya (Robinson) is a community-taught artist from Gainesville, Florida. An aficionado of all things blonde, she is a past resident of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's WorkSpace Program (2009-2010) and the 2010 Triangle Arts Workshop. Her sculptural work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Aljira and the 60 Wall Street Gallery of Deutsche Bank. In addition, her performances have been featured at Rush Arts Gallery, MoMA PS1, The DUMBO Arts Festival, The Kitchen, The Museum of Modern Art (NYC) as well as the Home Section of the New York Times. An avid blogger, tumblr-er, and mischievous contributor to the Arts & Culture Section of the Huffington Post, she is also the inaugural resident for Recess Activities' online residency ANALOG and a recent MFA graduate from the School of Art at Yale University.
ShapeShifterLab is a performance space owned by bass player Matthew Garrison, son of Jimmy Garrison (bass player for John Coltrane) and his business partner/creative director Fortuna Sung. The project space is dedicated to bridging gaps between music, theatre, and visual arts providing a raw space for each individual artist to transform.
My personal style is admittedly classic with a touch of hooker, a sort of Jersey Girl leopard print aesthetic that often gives way to a Roman Holiday fullness of skirt or the Chelsea chic of a black sheath. Of course there's my trailer park staple of tank top and cutoffs, the butch realness of my authentic Dessert Storm fatigues, the drag finery of sequins and an obsessive hoarding of event tee shirts. But underneath it all I am a midwestern housewife circa 1934. Before world war II and nylon. The underneath me is a kind of salt of the earth creature who gets up mad early, tends to things, pumps water from a well and goes to church ev'ry Sunday. It wasn't always this way. High school demanded that everything thing adolescent and female be colored sherbet, sorbet or "hot" and smell edible. I was totally into it. My mother finally had to put her foot down on the Teen Spirit foolishness - it was Florida for goodness sake - and no amount of pina collada was going to mask the goings on of a 15 year old's armpits.
But somewhere along my earliest 30's I got tired of the picking and the adjusting and the sorting. A lone pair of knickers sacrificed to the dryer gods of denim care, a melted web of hot pink lace was the ultimate undoing of undermining undergarments. And we won't discuss the many horrors of the thong, although Calvin Klein does produce a comfortably wearable pair. I suppose it's the only something that can get between "me and my Calvins" - a joke more suited to the generation just above me.
I mention these unmentionables because they seem to parallel a shift in my own state of mind. I am learning to do more with less. The variety of a rainbow bright panty drawer feels more confusing than liberating and polka dots under white shorts is kind of ridiculous. In this regard I've become very New York. Black is now my go-to staple, a reliable choice that's always appropriate and offers effortless sex appeal - another revelation of my earliest 30's (Dear Twenty Somethings: You don't have to try so so hard.) It also mimics the strivings of my fiscal state - to remain in the black. But this sartorial expression signals a newfound questioning of expectations too. Perhaps even in the midst of a frustrating job-search (also very New York) I can distill my own expectations to their most sensible outcomes. A reliable revenue stream that won't ride up, will hold it's shape, provides full coverage and won't disintegrate in the wash.