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Being Otherwise: Notes on Black Feminist Relationality in Sola Olulode’s Where the Ocean Meets the Beach*

Being Otherwise: Notes on Black Feminist Relationality in Sola Olulode’s Where the Ocean Meets the Beach*

“A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non-sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility and women’s strength… Loves the Spirit… Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.”

Alice Walker, “Womanist,” In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983)

Two Black figures are painted, entwined, on a blue canvas. The figures are nude and their faces touch.
Entwined, 2020
Ink, oil, and wax on canvas
Courtesy the artist

Brown limbs melt together, shaping into the bodies’ grooves and surrounded by the blues of the indigo-dyed background. The faint creases and lines are a system of roots, heads cradled in maroon petals. Right arm encircles her neck, left hand rests on the fleshiness where the buttocks meets the thigh. Faces touch as the womxn 1I use womxn as a more expansive term than women to include non-cisgender women. embrace with eyes and lips closed. Hair is soft, curling black lines. A flower blooming from the scalp. The energy is feminine, existing in the “deeply female and spiritual plane” that theorist and poet Audre Lorde terms the erotic 2Audre Lorde. “Uses of the Erotic.” Sister Outsider. Reprint Edition. New York: Crossing Press Feminist Series, 2007.. British Nigerian artist Sola Olulode titled the piece Entwined as part of her recent exhibition Where the Ocean Meets the Beach at VO Curations gallery in London.

In my reflection on Olulode’s work, I return to the reading practice laid out by Black feminist theorist and activist Barbara Smith in “Towards a Black Feminist Criticism” (1979), intentionally attending to relationships of sensuality between Black womxn—whether romantic, sexual or otherwise—that are often overlooked in analyses limited by heteronormativity. 3When Black women’s books are dealt with at all, it is usually in the context of Black literature which largely ignores the implications of sexual politics…A Black feminist approach to literature that embodies the realization that the politics of sex, as well as the politics of race and class, are crucially interlocking factors in the works of Black women writers is absolutely necessary.” Smith, Barbara. “Toward A Black Feminist Criticism.” Women’s Studies Int. Quart. 2 (1979): 183–94. Smith cites the Radicalesbians manifesto “Woman identified woman”, which gestures towards a broader understanding of lesbian: “What is a lesbian? She is the woman who, often beginning at an extremely early age, acts in accordance with her inner compulsion to be a more complete and freer human being than her society cares to allow her.” 4New York Radical Lesbians. “Woman identified woman.” Lesbians Speak Out. Women’s Press Collective, 1974: 87. This essay holds space for all the range of expressions of Black womxn’s intimacies 5Evelyn Hammonds. “Black (W)holes and the geometry of Black female sexuality.” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Fall 1994. and develops alongside visionaries such as Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, M. Jacqui Alexander, June Jordan and Kevin Quashie, drawing from their synergy with Olulode’s work. I situate Olulode’s work within a larger discussion of Black feminist perspectives on intimacy and relationality that are the ways of loving, being with others, and collective consciousness that I learn from most and yearn to see in the world. It is my relationships to Black womxn and femmes that have allowed me to honor my own femme-ininity 6I graciously borrow this term from the brilliant work of scholar Julian K. Glover to think about femme subjectivity that extends beyond gender binaries and focuses on gender performance. as a Black queer man, while also reckoning with the fact that my position within masculinity is often predicated on the societal denigration of Black womxnhood. I invite readers to grapple with the intentional work necessary to create a world in which Black womxn and femmes can exist in the richness of their interior lives. 

Through her paintings, Olulode conjures the erotic in an embrace of the feminine with an acute attention to intimacy. She employs the Yoruba resist-dyeing technique Adire 7Jane Barbour and Doug Simmonds, eds. Adire Cloth in Nigeria. Ibadan: The Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, 1971. following in the histories of womxn in South-Western Nigeria, and treats different parts of the canvas to create the desired colors.  Her attention to the dimensions of Blackness engage it both to denote race and as a structuring racial logic, noting in an interview, “I am also interested in the relationship between Blackness as a colour, and identity.” Her use of blues to depict skin color, as shown in the pieces Entwined and In the Middle, relates to notions of “blue-black” as discussed in art history 8Darby English. “Introduction.” How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness. MIT Press, 2010. and African-American culture. The term is used both to characterize the depth of the colors of dark-skin and examine the nuances of Blackness beyond skin tone. It is explored by artists such as David Hammons in Concerto in Black and Blue (2002)and Carrie Mae Weems in “Blue Black Boy” (1997). As Glenn Ligon writes, regarding his exhibition “Blue Black” (2017), “Blue-black is the kind of black where you go, “Black!” 9Glenn Ligon. “Kinds of Blue Black.” The New York Review of Books, 2017.

Olulode’s brush strokes take on hatching and shading techniques, creating an ethereality to her figures. Her use of melted wax adds texture and structure to the bodies and patterns, their features etched and outlined with bleach. Her hands bring an intimacy to the canvas through dyeing techniques, working and stretching it while covered in indigo and turmeric. Employing charcoal and collage highlights the dimensions of tactility. Olulode’s paintings do not feel heavy handed or over-worked. Their lightness orients me towards my own vulnerability, engendering a softness to my movements and an awareness of my physicality. I follow the breath that animates my body as I move through the room. Tread lightly and do not seek to harm.

Entwined is the first piece I am drawn to in the exhibition in the twelfth floor gallery. I am alone, the sun streaming into the windows, providing an escape from the grey of London. The paintings generate a warmth I rarely find in galleries. “Sometimes I stand by the edge of where the ocean meets the beach and look out into the sea, so I can feel like something that does not have an end.” Olulode draws her show’s title from this line in artist Travis Alabanza’s  poem “The Sea,” in which they connect the freedom to express one’s gender and its possibilities to the vastness of the sea. The poem illustrates the malleable possibilities of gender, or no gender, and the ways Black people inhabit these experiences, making them their own. I both attend to Olulode’s work as a meditation on intimacies between Black womxn and femmes specifically and adamantly believe in Alabanza’s discussion of the expansiveness of gender. 10My notes engage terms like womxn, femininity and femme widely, more interested in what these terms make possible than seeking to close notions of representation. My larger work delves into conceptions of intimacy, care, relationality, and irreconcilability in Black feminist texts, as I repeatedly return to ideas of navigating the world in ways deeply sensed and felt.

Olulode and Alabanza express the spaciousness of the Black diaspora, interlinked by oceans and seas, archipelagos and continents now divided. Olulode’s use of Adire and vivid color schemes of blues and yellows invoke the orishas Yemọja 11Yemọja is a major water deity in the Yoruba religion. Yemọja is motherly and fiercely protective of her children, governing everything that pertains to women, including fertility, protection, love, healing. and Ọṣun, 12Ọṣun is a river deity in the Yoruba religion, patron saint of the Osun river in Nigeria. Ọṣun is goddess of divinity, femininity, beauty, fertility and love. protectors of womxn and femmes. 13Regarding the term femme, Rhea Ashley Hoskin writes, “femme identity (and femmephobia) is applicable to diversely positioned bodies…femme is femininity reworked, re(claimed) as one’s own and made in one’s own image” (2017:99). Rhea Ashley Hoskin,  “Femme Theory: Refocusing the Intersectional Lens,” Atlantis 38 (2017): 1. The dyeing technique is historically known for incorporating motifs of indigenous and contemporary Yoruba life, such as philosophy and religion. Sitting with her work, my body recalls feelings experienced at a celebration of Ọṣun in Trinidad and Tobago several years before. 14N. Fadeke Castor. Spiritual Citizenship: Transnational Pathways from Black Power to Ifá in Trinidad. Duke University Press, 2017. We sought her presence on the sandy banks where the Salybia river intertwines with the Atlantic Ocean. I lost count of the womxn and femmes mounted by her spirit and entering the waters. What memories lie at the intersection where the ocean meets the beach, where Alabanza’s words wash onto Olulode’s canvas? 15Vanessa Agard-Jones. “What the Sands Remember.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Vol.18, No: 2-3, 2012, pp.325-346.

Relationality: to be with. up against.

connection. to feel.

Touch is sacred, now more than ever. It is a form of (mis)recognition, and it is deeply fraught, embedded in brutal histories that designate Black life as property. Literary scholar Hortense Spillers notes, “In a situation where flesh becomes a medium of exchange, it is hard to imagine what intimacy is.” 16Hortense Spillers. “There is in law, especially in injury law, and civil law, the concept of making whole, and our sole response to making whole so far is a dollar amount. But I think what we are talking about is not defined in a dollar amount. So what does it mean? I think it has something to do with the restoration of the force and power of touch in the circumstance of definitive alienation and it seems to me that’s really what we are looking for now.” Lecture at Northwestern University, “To the Bone: Some Speculations on the Problem of Touch” (2018). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM3EGoowAJk&t=1547s The foundation of touch, in what historian Saidiya Hartman has termed the “afterlife of slavery 17Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2008. is plagued by violent alienation. Attempts to touch, blood stained fingertips. Black lives were never conceived as human 18Frank Wilderson III.“Human life is dependent on Black death for its existence and for its coherence. Blackness and Slaveness are inextricably bound in such a way that whereas Slaveness can be separated from Blackness, Blackness cannot exist as other than Slaveness. There is no world without Blacks, yet there are no Blacks who are in the world. (41)” Afropessimism. Liveright, 2020; Sylvia Wynter. “The Ceremony Must Be Found: After Humanism.” boundary 2, Vol. 12, No.3, 1984., and yet, they make the concept of humanity possible. We need a reckoning! I am often launched into the throes of existential thought, and yet I know I cannot remain here. It is not sustainable, and I choose sustenance. I explore notes on relationality for other ways of being—what so many in the projects of Black Studies have associated with living otherwise. 19Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016); Marquis Bey, Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism (The University of Arizona Press, 2019); Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (W.W. Norton and Company, 2019) It is to consider what feels unavailable, to disrupt what is given as definite truth, to reimagine what can exist. To envision otherwise affirms the belief that there has been/will always be something else. I claim the potential for something else, while grappling with the irreconcilability of anti-Blackness. It is a choice for my own sanity. Olulode’s work animates these thoughts, her brushstrokes an ode to intentional intimacies.

two figures are etched in yellow onto a canvas that is also bright yellow. The painting is a diptych in which one image is on top of the other. You can only make out the profiles of the figures. In the top right corner of the painting is a sun.
The Feels, 2019
Ink, acrylic, pastel, and wax on canvas
Courtesy the artist

My eyes plunge into the yellows of the diptych The Feels. The womxn look at each other in profile, illuminated by a brilliant sun. Hair streams down her torso. Her head is crowned with an afro. They wear a yellow sleeveless blouse and an orange tube top. Eyes open or closed, I cannot tell. And yet I am acutely aware that they see each other. The colors of their bodies like photo negatives, revealing an interiority that emanates throughout Olulode’s work. Their bodies merge together in the scene below, faces enmeshed in hair. Naked, but not exposed. Her hand rests on her shoulder and fits in the center of her back. They could be lovers, friends, sisters. They are with one another. I understand this notion of with as a type of presence that extends beyond physical proximity. It is rooted in Black feminist theories of relationality and the spirit, following scholars such as Lorde, 20Audre Lorde. “The dichotomy between the spiritual and the political is false resulting from an incomplete attention to our erotic knowledge, for the bridge which connects them is formed by the erotic, the sensual, those physical, emotional and psychic expressions of what is deepest and strongest and richest within each of us being shared: the passions of love in its deepest meaning.” “Uses of the Erotic”. Sister Outsider. Reprint Edition. New York: Crossing Press Feminist Series, 2007. Jordan, 21June Jordan, Haruko/Love Poems (High Risk Books, 1993). and Jacqui Alexander. 22M. Jacqui Alexander. “The central understanding within an epistemology of the Sacred is that of a core/Spirit that is immortal, at once linked to the pulse and energy of creation. It is that living matter that links us to each other, making that which is individual simultaneously collective.”  Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005). It is a recognition of the complex existence of another. I see you. In a conversation with the Signified series, 23SIGNIFIED: Jacqui Alexander, ThisisSignfied, July 9, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBKbBSUq1W4. series, Jacqui Alexander notes:

The source of our connection is a deeply spiritual one. It’s a divine connection. It’s that mirror connection that Audre talks about a lot, too. The fact that you are reflected in me, and I in you, and the source of that, I believe, is a source that is divine. That source is the source of spirit.

Interrogating this connection that Jacqui Alexander highlights fuels my desire to delve into the concept of relationality, now more than ever. The stakes are collective survival, and to disregard that is fatal. This relationality is embedded with the divine force that Lorde calls the erotic, a source of power, information, and connection with others. Opening to the potential of the erotic involves a sensuous excess, 24Amber Jamilla Musser,  Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (NYU Press, 2018). a willingness to explore the depth of intimacy with self and others. Lorde’s erotic is another name for Walker’s discussion of love in her definition of womanist, an inclination to be open to the complexities of the Other.

In her envisioning of the term “womanist” in In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983), Walker writes, “A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non-sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility and women’s strength… Loves the Spirit… Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.” 25Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. Harcourt, 1983. “Loves” is italicized twice when referring to “spirit” and “folk”, and “regardless” is italicized once, encompassing all that is said. Regardless holds space for tension, feelings that often emerge in Black feminisms and seeks to find a meeting ground despite, or because of, intentional acknowledgments of difference. 26Audre Lorde, “An Open Letter to Mary Daly” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (State University of New York Press, 4th ed., 2015). To live in the world and recognize that one’s body is profoundly connected to each and every other body is difficult, the gravity of it almost unimaginable. And yet we must strive to do it regardless. To love the Folk is an affirmation of communal living. It is central to Black life, and in Walker’s context, recognizably Southern.

Love is integral to womanism and has come to represent a tenet of my engagements of Black feminisms more broadly. Throughout her work, Jordan explores love as theory and praxis,  proclaiming “love is lifeforce” in her text “The Creative Spirit and Children’s Literature.” 27June Jordan, “The Creative Spirit and Children’s Literature” in Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines (PM Press, 2016). This theoretical framework is amplified by contemporary Black feminist scholar Alexis Pauline-Gumbs in the manifesto “What We Believe: Love Made Manifest,” which states “Love is all that supports life… Love is a serious and tender concern to respect the nature and spontaneous purpose of other things and people… Love is lifeforce.” 28Alexis Pauline Gumbs,  “June Jordan Solves the Energy Crisis: Love is Lifeforce” in The Feminist Wire, March 23, 2016. Black feminist scholar Jennifer Nash analyses discussions of love in “second-wave” Black feminism as a “strategy for remaking the self and for moving beyond the limitations of selfhood (2011:3).” 29Jennifer C. Nash. “Practicing Love: Black Feminism, Love-Politics, and Post-Intersectionality.”Meridians, Vol.11, No. 2, 2011. bell hooks similarly highlights the relationality of love, writing: “when we choose to love we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other”(2000:93). 30bell hooks. All About Love: New Visions. Harper, 2000. hooks characterizes love as an active decision to develop interconnection with others. The Combahee River Collective situate their politics of liberation as emerging from a “healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community” (1977). 31Combahee River Collective Statement (1977). Love is theorized as deeply entwined, both in the self and the collective. As I work through the potential of love as theory, I ask what would it mean to understand love beyond scarcity and the romantic, but rather as an approach to being with others? Love must be theorized because it is hard work. To love regardless does not mean to subject ourselves to the violence of some forms of intimacy, but instead to affirm a belief in the wholeness of the Other’s existence.

Memories of quiet moments in a partner’s arms, my body finds a home in yours. Olulode’s work exudes quiet portrayals of intimacy between Black womxn and femmes, providing another narrative to the publicness often demanded of Black life. These moments are a private refuge for Black people who are under constant surveillance. Literary scholar Kevin Quashie interrogates the positioning of Black life predominantly in the public sphere, relegated as performances of the Other to be observed: “So much of the discourse of racial blackness imagines black people as public subjects with identities formed and articulated and resisted in public (2012:8). 32Kevin Quashie. The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture. Duke University Press, 2012.The subtleties of intimacy between Olulode’s figures present a refusal of the public gaze. Though the paintings are on display for viewers in the gallery, it feels like I am eavesdropping on private moments. Discussing this withholding, art critic Olamiju Fajemisin writes, “Olulode’s figures, unheeding because of the attention they give to one another, appear impervious to our gaze. If they look forward, they look past us (2020).”

If you know then you know. 

See Also

Two Black women figures painted onto a canvas. They are laying in a field of green grass. The figures are painted so that their left and right cheeks touch respectively although their bodies are facing opposite of one another. One is wearing a bright yellow t-shirt. The other is wearing an orange tank top. Their eyes are cloed.
Laying in the Grass 1, 2020
Ink, oil, oil pastel, oil bar, charcoal, and wax on canvas
Courtesy the artist

Laying in the Grass 1, their bodies lie in opposite directions as their faces touch, cradled by a crown of black locs. Soft tones of brown skin. Her hand falls on her bicep, palms upturned. Dressed in a pale orange and sunflower yellow, on a green Adiri background with short brushstrokes of grass. The field is theirs as they rest. Rest is essential. Quashie highlights the inability for Black womxn and femmes to simply be in the world and to care for themselves, without the constant pressure to do so for others: “The right to be nothing to anyone but self—this is the right that black people, and black women specifically, don’t get to inhabit (70).” I think about the work needed to create spaces for Black womxn and femmes to access quiet as a form of self-preservation. Walker emphasizes these acts of self-care, describing a womanist as “not a separatist, except, periodically, for health” (1983:11). Poet and scholar Elizabeth Alexander speaks to the possibilities made available through this move inwards: “Tapping into this black imaginary helps us envision what we are not meant to envision: complex black selves, real and enactable black power, rampant, and unfetishized black beauty (2004). 33Elizabeth Alexander. The Black Interior: Essays. Graywolf Press, 2004. It is through this beautiful imaginary that otherwise living becomes available.

10 figures painted onto a bright blue background. They are moving in a dance like motion. They are painted wearing clothes that are the yellow, red, orange, purple, and green.
In the Middle, 2018
Oil, acrylic, oil pastel, wax, charcoal, and collage on canvas

In the Middle, they dance close together, painted in shades of brown, black, and blue. Each has a different outfit: a green crop top and joggers, a fuschia tube dress. Some womxn have arms raised in the air, others closer to their sides. Legs bent, readying the wining waist movement of the African diaspora. Some hold up cell phones to take selfies. The relationships between the womxn are not explicit, but the energy is collective, embodying what Walker identifies as a sign of womxn’s culture. 34Barbara Christian. “And women, at least the women I grew up around, continuously speculated about the nature of life through pith language that unmasked the power relations of their world” (52).  “The Race for Theory,” Cultural Critique, no. 6 (1987): 51–63. This concept of womxn’s culture animates the history of Adire dyeing techniques, invoking over a century-long practice of Yoruba Nigerian women working collectively to produce and distribute the cloth. In “Uses of the Erotic” Lorde claims that these connections are a form of consciousness that arise from collective existence: “As a Black lesbian feminist, I have a particular feel-ing, knowledge, and understanding for those sisters with whom I have danced hard, played, or even fought. This deep participation has often been the forerunner for joint concerted actions not possible before (1978:91).” Erotic relationships, imagined broadly, become a catalyst for collective action—a site of possibility. In a studio visit with the art publication boundary, Olulode notes, “my relationships with womxn and femmes are the most important to me in life as they are the people I relate to the most… I want to depict all these different relationships that I witness.” Olulode’s portrayal of Black womxn’s culture generates an affective pull that draws me to her work, even in the opacity created through techniques of abstraction in the painting of the figures.

I find beauty in the absence of specificity of facial or bodily features in Olulode’s pieces. Though her work is inspired by personal experiences, there is subtle abstraction in the simpler human forms, producing an obscurity that allows them to translate beyond the limits of specificity and foster an empathic engagement that resonates between viewer and the image. Philosopher Édouard Glissant considers opacity integral to a poetics of relation that holds space for difference. Opacity may breed obscurity through the inability to demand transparency, but understanding the other does not necessitate reduction. I participate in Olulode’s paintings precisely because I cannot know the figures in their entirety; rather, I come to them and create meaning through my own experiences of the world. Her engagement of opacity moves me in ways similar to several other Black womxn artists, including Chicago-based Brittney Leanne Williams, 35www.brittneyleeannewilliams.com London-based Davinia-Ann Robinson, 36www.daviniaannrobinson.com and Trinidad and Tobago-based Brianna McCarthy. 37www.briannamccarthy.com Each interrogates the boundaries of the body, desire, and intimacy in ways that center Black womxn and femme subjectivity, employing abstraction while wrestling with the materiality of Black embodiment.

Two Black figures are painted onto a bright yellow canvas. They give the impression of a mother and daughter. The younger figure embraces the maternal figure by placing their arms around the shoulders of the maternal figure. The maternal figure holds onto the child like figure with both hands.
Eternal Light, 2020
Ink, acrylic, and wax on canvas
Courtesy the artist

We Are All in Relation

She reaches to grasp the arms wrapped around her back, four hands clasped together. Cheeks lean together, eyes and lips closed. Braids fall down the side of one face, the other has an afro crown. Brown skin covered by red dresses patterned with drops of orange. Bodies immersed in the sunbeams of the yellow background, they hold each other tightly. I read “Eternal Light” as a mother and child, but perhaps it is two friends or lovers. The way they hold each other is protective. I got you. Olulode’s work holds Black life gently, without insisting on a performative Black subjectivity for viewers. She does not reproduce the often binary position that limits Black existence solely as resistance to anti-Black violence. Her portrayals of intimacies between Black womxn and femmes are an avenue towards imagining otherwise lives, putting breath back into our bodies. 38Christina Sharpe. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke University Press, 2016 (p.111). She cultivates a quiet for her figures to live and be with each other regardless of the violences that surround them. Her work emphasizes the beautiful possibilities of Black interior life.

*We are afraid of touch. Though for some of us, that fear is constitutive of our being in this world. Some are positioned in fear, with the lingering hope that this may change. Touch is filled with anxiety is filled with longing is filled with impossibility. How will we reimagine intimacy and touch when the violences of COVID-19 are once again masked under capitalism and anti-Blackness? I believe some of us will search for other ways, because we have always been searching.

Notes:

  • I am grateful for the support and insight of the Northwestern University Black Arts Initiative graduate working group for their support in reading and providing feedback on this essay.
  • I am grateful for the support of Candice Merritt and Tavis Vera in providing extensive feedback and edits for this essay.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gervais Marsh is a scholar and artist whose work is deeply invested in Black life, concepts of relationality and care. His artistic practice interweaves with academia and is deeply rooted in Transnational Black feminist theory and praxis. He is currently completing his PhD in Performance Studies at Northwestern University and his dissertation focuses on affective responses to Blackness, particularly within visual culture in the Black diaspora, and connects Kingston, Jamaica, London, U.K. and Johannesburg, South Africa. He grew up in Kingston, a home that continues to shape his understanding of self and his relationship to the world. If you would like to reach him, please email gervaismarsh@gmail.com or connect via social media @blackofcentre.

References   [ + ]

1.I use womxn as a more expansive term than women to include non-cisgender women.
2.Audre Lorde. “Uses of the Erotic.” Sister Outsider. Reprint Edition. New York: Crossing Press Feminist Series, 2007.
3.When Black women’s books are dealt with at all, it is usually in the context of Black literature which largely ignores the implications of sexual politics…A Black feminist approach to literature that embodies the realization that the politics of sex, as well as the politics of race and class, are crucially interlocking factors in the works of Black women writers is absolutely necessary.” Smith, Barbara. “Toward A Black Feminist Criticism.” Women’s Studies Int. Quart. 2 (1979): 183–94.
4.New York Radical Lesbians. “Woman identified woman.” Lesbians Speak Out. Women’s Press Collective, 1974: 87.
5.Evelyn Hammonds. “Black (W)holes and the geometry of Black female sexuality.” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Fall 1994.
6.I graciously borrow this term from the brilliant work of scholar Julian K. Glover to think about femme subjectivity that extends beyond gender binaries and focuses on gender performance.
7.Jane Barbour and Doug Simmonds, eds. Adire Cloth in Nigeria. Ibadan: The Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, 1971.
8.Darby English. “Introduction.” How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness. MIT Press, 2010.
9.Glenn Ligon. “Kinds of Blue Black.” The New York Review of Books, 2017.
10.My notes engage terms like womxn, femininity and femme widely, more interested in what these terms make possible than seeking to close notions of representation. My larger work delves into conceptions of intimacy, care, relationality, and irreconcilability in Black feminist texts, as I repeatedly return to ideas of navigating the world in ways deeply sensed and felt.
11.Yemọja is a major water deity in the Yoruba religion. Yemọja is motherly and fiercely protective of her children, governing everything that pertains to women, including fertility, protection, love, healing.
12.Ọṣun is a river deity in the Yoruba religion, patron saint of the Osun river in Nigeria. Ọṣun is goddess of divinity, femininity, beauty, fertility and love.
13.Regarding the term femme, Rhea Ashley Hoskin writes, “femme identity (and femmephobia) is applicable to diversely positioned bodies…femme is femininity reworked, re(claimed) as one’s own and made in one’s own image” (2017:99). Rhea Ashley Hoskin,  “Femme Theory: Refocusing the Intersectional Lens,” Atlantis 38 (2017): 1.
14.N. Fadeke Castor. Spiritual Citizenship: Transnational Pathways from Black Power to Ifá in Trinidad. Duke University Press, 2017.
15.Vanessa Agard-Jones. “What the Sands Remember.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Vol.18, No: 2-3, 2012, pp.325-346.
16.Hortense Spillers. “There is in law, especially in injury law, and civil law, the concept of making whole, and our sole response to making whole so far is a dollar amount. But I think what we are talking about is not defined in a dollar amount. So what does it mean? I think it has something to do with the restoration of the force and power of touch in the circumstance of definitive alienation and it seems to me that’s really what we are looking for now.” Lecture at Northwestern University, “To the Bone: Some Speculations on the Problem of Touch” (2018). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM3EGoowAJk&t=1547s
17.Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2008.
18.Frank Wilderson III.“Human life is dependent on Black death for its existence and for its coherence. Blackness and Slaveness are inextricably bound in such a way that whereas Slaveness can be separated from Blackness, Blackness cannot exist as other than Slaveness. There is no world without Blacks, yet there are no Blacks who are in the world. (41)” Afropessimism. Liveright, 2020; Sylvia Wynter. “The Ceremony Must Be Found: After Humanism.” boundary 2, Vol. 12, No.3, 1984.
19.Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016); Marquis Bey, Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism (The University of Arizona Press, 2019); Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval (W.W. Norton and Company, 2019)
20.Audre Lorde. “The dichotomy between the spiritual and the political is false resulting from an incomplete attention to our erotic knowledge, for the bridge which connects them is formed by the erotic, the sensual, those physical, emotional and psychic expressions of what is deepest and strongest and richest within each of us being shared: the passions of love in its deepest meaning.” “Uses of the Erotic”. Sister Outsider. Reprint Edition. New York: Crossing Press Feminist Series, 2007.
21.June Jordan, Haruko/Love Poems (High Risk Books, 1993).
22.M. Jacqui Alexander. “The central understanding within an epistemology of the Sacred is that of a core/Spirit that is immortal, at once linked to the pulse and energy of creation. It is that living matter that links us to each other, making that which is individual simultaneously collective.”  Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005).
23.SIGNIFIED: Jacqui Alexander, ThisisSignfied, July 9, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBKbBSUq1W4.
24.Amber Jamilla Musser,  Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (NYU Press, 2018).
25.Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. Harcourt, 1983.
26.Audre Lorde, “An Open Letter to Mary Daly” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (State University of New York Press, 4th ed., 2015).
27.June Jordan, “The Creative Spirit and Children’s Literature” in Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines (PM Press, 2016).
28.Alexis Pauline Gumbs,  “June Jordan Solves the Energy Crisis: Love is Lifeforce” in The Feminist Wire, March 23, 2016.
29.Jennifer C. Nash. “Practicing Love: Black Feminism, Love-Politics, and Post-Intersectionality.”Meridians, Vol.11, No. 2, 2011.
30.bell hooks. All About Love: New Visions. Harper, 2000.
31.Combahee River Collective Statement (1977).
32.Kevin Quashie. The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture. Duke University Press, 2012.
33.Elizabeth Alexander. The Black Interior: Essays. Graywolf Press, 2004.
34.Barbara Christian. “And women, at least the women I grew up around, continuously speculated about the nature of life through pith language that unmasked the power relations of their world” (52).  “The Race for Theory,” Cultural Critique, no. 6 (1987): 51–63.
35.www.brittneyleeannewilliams.com
36.www.daviniaannrobinson.com
37.www.briannamccarthy.com
38.Christina Sharpe. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke University Press, 2016 (p.111).
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