Live Unchained

Welcome to the blog for Project Live Unchained, a multi-media anthology created for and by black women across the African Diaspora. Here you can learn more about the women and supporters of Live Unchained as well as issues, events, opportunities and people we think you'll find interesting. Please visit to learn more.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We've moved!

Hi everyone.

Thank you for visiting. The Live Unchained blog has re-located.

Please visit us at

Kathryn and Miriam

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Sister Helps Me Tear Down Walls I Didn't Know I Had Built--Tribute Post

Miriam and I started Live Unchained in the hopes of bringing women from different parts of the world closer to each other. Of course, appreciating women of African descent, starts at home. I am writing this blog for my sister, Ciara Arnise Calbert, one of the most brilliant and beautiful women that I know.
One of my favorite quotes from Hill Harper’s, Letters to a Young Brother, is “You can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends. So pick friends who you wish were your family.” It just so happens that one of my best friends, was reading that book at the same time that I was. She is like family to me so I always refer to Ciara as my sister.

I can be really demanding, critical and just in general, hard on myself. When it comes to school and Live Unchained, sometimes I think that I could and should be doing things quicker and better. But, I can say to myself, if God thinks I deserve to have someone as wonderful as Ciara in my life, I must be doing something right. Ciara leads by example. As Pearl Cleage said, “she taught me how to fly by flying.” She helps me be the woman I want to be, the woman I feel I ought to be to realize all my goals for Live Unchained…

Here is just one example of how wonderful she is…I had just gotten back from Madrid, Spain. Because, my bank hadn’t received some checks by the time that I thought they would have and because I hadn’t budgeted my money right, I returned to the United States broke and anxious. Who likes to ask their parents for money in situations like this? I called Ciara. After I explained the situation, she didn’t judge or suggest someone else that I should talk to about it or even give me “tough love.” She trusted that I would learn what I needed to learn from the situation without her having to lecture me. She paid for my shuttle, gave me a ride to the airport the next day and even gave me money for breakfast. After apologizing and thanking her profusely all she said was, “I’m just honored to have the opportunity to help.” By the way, she said this in a “don’t be ridiculous!” tone. Now, that’s a good friend…

She’s also my role model. After she completed the Honolulu marathon last December, I decided to boost my running and finished a half-marathon that summer. Ciara came with me the day before to pick up my race packet. That night she also let me borrow her ipod. I completed the marathon running to her music—Allison Hinds, Annie Lennox and Wyclef Jean got me through the race.

Ciara also loves travel and languages. She was fluent in Spanish before traveling abroad to Brazil. Ciara learned Portuguese during her stay there. (She’s now fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese, like one of her heroines, Phylicia Rashad). After her study abroad program ended, she stayed and worked as a journalist. It was her interest in Afro-Brazilian culture and history that inspired me to learn more about the African Diaspora—and, most importantly, recognize myself and my responsibilities as a person of African descent. She came back from Brazil knowing how to Samba and, even though I was timid and self-conscious, she got me to do it with her on stage at an event at the University of Maryland-College Park (before I even considered going to that University for graduate school).

We brought in the year 2004 together at my house—watching Waiting to Exhale (pausing after every major scene to re-enact lines and analyze the deeper message behind the dialogue), eating pizza and dancing. We were in different states on New Year’s eve 2005, but she sent me this message:

“I want to tell you how happy I am that we are friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend than you. We kicked things off pretty much the summer of 2004 and it has been going strong ever since. You brought in my 2005 and I look forward to the future. So, I think it’s time to say, thank You. You have helped me feel so much stronger in myself. You’re kind of like my conscience in that sometimes I think, would Kathryn respect this.? If not, then I don’t do it because I see you as my younger sister and I have to look out for you, or at least set a good example. (confusing – is she like your conscience or has she said that you are like her conscience) But, you have always been supportive of me in all the decisions I’ve made and I really appreciate that.”

Ciara was with me throughout the graduate school application process. I expressed to her my frustration and anxieties over graduate school. She knew just how to calm me down. She sent me this message:

“…for women like us--creative, healthy, highly imaginative women--planning is our saving grace. If you plan out what you're going to be doing for the next few months--anticipating all questions or "situations" that may come up--it will help you feel much better when you go into the activities that you have on your plate. Plus, if you prepare yourself for things now, you'll be ready when/if they come up in the future. As you start visualizing how you would like your graduate experience to go, you can plan it out so that you can make it happen that way. Maybe even think about other aspects of grad school besides the immediate application process--Where do you want to live? How do you imagine it being, living on campus/going to campus, etc? What will your first day of class be like?

Most of the time we do this anyway without really thinking about it--like when we're children and we say what we want to be when we grow up, and then become that. We also can take an active role by--when you think of anything that could come up--acting on it immediately before it happens.”

After much deliberation, I finally decided on the University of Maryland-College Park (where I first danced that Samba!). Ciara and I now live less than ten minutes away from each other. Before preparing to send my applications out, I tried the “speak it into existence” approach. In light of all the graduate acceptance letters I knew I was destined to receive (hahaha), I prepared a joke acceptance speech that I only shared with Ciara—its riddled with inside jokes, but maybe you can follow along (if you remember old episodes of “In Living Color” and are familiar with black Pentecostal or Baptist churches it shouldn’t be too bad). The original e-mail text is in standard font, my present day reflections are in bold italics. Here is what I sent to Ciara:

“You know what I realized, I'm bout to get accepted into EVERY SINGLE GRAD
SCHOOL that I apply to [This did NOT happen. The majority of schools I applied to said: “Hell No!” Ciara and I joke now and say that I’ll be asked to deliver an important speech or serve on a distinguished panel at a university that didn’t accept me…It would be a victory for both of us!].

And, so, I have prepared my acceptance(s) speech. Like to hear it?! Here it go! Remember this from Martin, Ciara?-I think that's what Jerome would say… [It’s actually from In Living Color, one of David Alan Grier’s characters said that—Ciara pointed this out to me later.]:

First and foremost, (clearing throat) I'd like to give an honor to God who is the head of my life, for making all the crooked places straight and all the rough places smooth.

Uh-dish-shu-nu-lee, I'd like to thank my parents and family members who stood (pause) in the gap, so that I could fly high!

And, I have to thank all my friends who supported me when I had to muster up the strength to support myself. I thank you for not losing faith in me and reminding me of my capabilities. Sometimes my only reassurance in knowing that I was talented was the awareness that I had to be doing something right to be blessed with such amazing women in my life.

I'd like to give a special thanks to my play sister Ciara. (starting to tear up) Ok, girl, don't look at me! You gone ruin my makeup, trick! I love you so much and I thank you for your friendship. Your faith in me is like wings. I'm a better person because of you. I remember you shared a quote with me that you thought truly captured our friendship, and part of it said that friendship is supporting someone in 'taking big chances.' Thank you for that support and helping me realize that those 'chances' were really steps to attainable and fundamental goals.

Because of your integrity, seeing you work towards your vision showed me that I could realize mine. I thank God for you and all of you everyday. The best is yet to come. Now, I would like to invite you all to the after-party. R A for life! (Gunshots and applause)…”

Well, the last line is truly an inside-joke, you kinda had to be there…

Ciara’s birthday is coming up soon—October 21st is the special day! And, so, I’m faced with the same dilemma I have every year: What do you get the person that you want to give the world to…? As selfless as she is, I know Ciara would like that her day serve to inspire someone else. I’m writing this post to honor her and let whoever is reading this know that everyone should have a friend like Ciara—someone that helps you tear down walls that you may not have known you built, does not judge you and makes you laugh so hard you cry uncontrollably and your stomach and back muscles hurt. If you haven’t yet found a friend like this, I hope this post would at least be a message that you do not have to settle for friendships that are more emotionally taxing than supportive.

As the Live Unchained community grows I hope it will bring more and more women of color together—if this project can spark a relationship like mine and Ciara’s, Miriam and I will have realized one of our greatest dreams for Live Unchained.

So, in advance, Happy Birthday Ciara! My wish for you on your 27th birthday is that this be the year that all your dreams come true. I love you!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Life is a Journey: Lola Akinmade Discusses Travel, Photography and Following Her Passions

Lola Akinmade's photography is simply stunning. She reveals beauty in ways that only a camera can capture. Just as impressive as her photos are all the places she's visited to take them. Lola has traveled across Latin America, Asia, over 30 countries in Europe and regularly visits her country of birth, Nigeria. In addition to travel photography, Lola is a travel writer and has submitted to several travel magazines. She has received numerous awards for both her travel writing and photography.

In this interview Lola discusses how she became interested in travel and got her start as a professional travel writer. She also offers advice to those who share the travel bug.

Most importantly, Lola demonstrates that when traveling to far away places, a sense of personal and spiritual grounding is important. We are so happy to have spoken with her. Here is what she shared...

Many people think of traveling as an opportunity to learn about and renew yourself--people gain a lot by traveling. You’ve traveled to industrialized nations as well as developing countries. Do you think that what a traveler stands to gain or contribute varies in different settings? If so, how?

Travel is such a profound experience that touches each of us very differently. Travel renews the soul. It rejuvenates it by reminding you that you’re connected to something much larger than yourself.

While many of us see travel as a way of gaining new insights into different cultures, as a traveler, you contribute by being a cultural ambassador of sorts. You courteously introduce people to your values and your lifestyle without disrespecting or devaluing theirs.

Traveling through both industrialized and developing nations serves as a reminder that we’re all the same in terms of our intrinsic need for individualism and propensity towards prejudice. Travelling to regions where there may not be preconceived stereotypes of a certain group of people means the cultural interaction is much more organic, more pure.

Any tips for those of us traveling on a budget?

I think a common misconception is that travel is “expensive”. The word “budget” is extremely subjective. Budget could mean a $10/night shared dorm room for a frugal backpacker or a $50/night three-star hotel for a digital nomad.

The first tip would be to define your own meaning of the word. Once you’ve outlined what you can or can’t live without--preferences--while travelling, then you can start finding cheaper alternatives to the things you do need and ways of phasing out the things you don’t need.

The Matador Network, the world’s largest independent travel magazine provides an excellent library of resources for the budget traveler here.

Also, here’s a particularly popular piece that shows you ways you can also travel for free!

How did you become interested in travel?

Ever since I was a little girl growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I’d always been fascinated with geography. Yes, National Geographic played an early role as well. I loved maps and was always curious about the world. They brought the world to me through magazines and television shows, inspiring that little African girl’s dream to someday work for them.

My father also worked as a geologist for many years and I loved listening to tales about his international travels. Those stories fueled my wanderlust and kept stoking it until it became a matter of when travel would happen, not if it would.

Ironically, I’ve spent the last 14+ years working with interactive maps almost daily as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) developer.

How did you get involved in travel writing? What are some of the outlets you write for?

My very first foray into travel writing came when I volunteered with an expedition racing organization called Eco-Challenge back in 2002. As a field journalist, I wrote up dispatches and interviews with the competitors from deep within the Fijian jungles. Saying it was the experience of a lifetime is a gross understatement.

Then I discovered the Matador Travel community and submitted my first article to Senior Editor David Miller. He was willing to take a chance on me, providing topnotch mentoring throughout the editorial process and offering encouragement when I struggled.

So far, I have contributed to many publications such as National Geographic Traveler, Vogue UK, Travel Channel’s World Hum, Forbes Traveler,, United’s Hemispheres and many more...

The Matador team has put together a fantastic program – MatadorU – guaranteed to help aspiring writers grow and become published travel writers.

Do you keep a personal journal? How often do you write in it?

I do keep a blog,, and I used to keep a personal journal but not anymore. The only exception is while traveling. Then I’ve got at least 1 or 2 journals for each trip.

Now that I’m transitioning into fulltime freelancing at the end of this month, I’m hoping to find more time to get back to daily journaling.

I strive to write every day. Even if it’s just a few lines of random musings.

Do you have any words of advice for people interested in travel photography and travel writing as a career?

There are so many talented writers and photographers out there. This fact can inspire you to pursue those very dreams or even intimidate and discourage you. My very first advice is to be realistic in your expectations. Everyone wants to get paid to do what they love and standing apart from the crowd is going to be your biggest challenge.

That said, find ways to nurture and develop your photography and writing. Start promoting your photography online through outlets like Flickr. Enter contests. Submit your work to photo editors.

Be proactive. Be your own sales and marketing team.

For budding travel writers, write as often as you can. Develop a platform to showcase your work. The Matador editorial team recently put out an article “How Do You Advance as a Writer?” that’s worth checking out in addition to the travel writing course at MatadorU.

It ultimately boils down to resilience. Are you willing to stick with it when the going gets tough?

Are there any settings, groups, events, etc. you like to photograph the most? Why?

I absolutely love photographing people and connecting with them through the lens. I tend to capture the lighter side of our emotions. Those feelings of elation; of hope, of utter happiness. Those fleeting moments of absolute bliss even in the midst of the worst conditions. In travel photography, portraits are the most difficult to attain. You’re contending with strangers with different cultural rules, various social norms, and diverse traditions. Navigating those cultural differences with finesse is a skill that comes over time through trial and error.

I do have a preference for color photography because we live in such a vivid world, and color instantly sets the mood of a photograph.

What do you like the most about photography?

Similar to painting, photography provides you with a blank canvas and millions of opportunities to create, compose, recreate, and recompose your perfect vision. There’s an instant gratification that comes with looking at a beautifully composed photograph seconds after you’ve just snapped it.

Is there anything you’re particularly interested in seeing or learning from Live Unchained the anthology and movement?

Live Unchained is such an exciting movement that needs and deserves more coverage.

I love the concept and it’s time for women of color to start living out their dreams and talents. Reminds me of a speech by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie on “The Danger of the Single Story” and her thoughts on the infusion of characters like her, like me, into modern day literature.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Living unchained means living your authentic self to its fullest potential. It means developing your values, your belief systems, and being able to defend them when cornered. It means making choices that are focused on growing you into the best individual you can be – spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

If responsibilities are tying you down and other obstacles are preventing you from truly living the life you were meant to be living, start taking baby steps towards those passions.

A full life can only be realized if the “real you” shows up to participate.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Virginia Buika--¡Vuelvo a por más!

Virginia Buika es músico, actriz, cineasta y empresaria. Ella nació en Madrid y se marchó a Londres en busca de más oportunidades artisticas. Ha viajado a través del mundo para hacer performances y colaboraciones con otros artistas. Ella ha consiguido todo esto aunque los criticos le dijeron que su color de piel no era comercializable. Ella ha encontrado muchas dificultades en su lucha por sus sueños. De cualquier modo, nunca te darñias cuenta al mirarle. Ella tiene una sonrisa y demuestra estar muy segura de sí misma-- así qu ella hace que los desafíos se vean fáciles.

En esta entrevista, ella explica algunos de los cambios que tuvo que enfrentar en la industria de la actuación en Europa. Ella explica por qué la integridad y la seguridad en uno mismo son tan importantes en esta industria. Además, Virginia sabía que ella no estaba sola en este esfuerzo. Su compañia, Virginia Buika Entertainment lanzará el documental, Nos Quitamos La Venda/Can we take off the blindfold, a explicar los desafíos de los actores negros en Europa. En esta entrevista nos habla de sus experiencias, sus intereses, que se encuentra persiguiendo sus sueños, y por qué está participando en Live Unchained.

¿Puedes contarnos un poco de ti? ¿De dónde eres? ¿En qué lugares has vivido? ¿Dónde vives ahora?

Soy actriz, cantante y productora. Nací en Madrid, capital de España y crecí en Londres, capital del Reino Unido. He vivido en Nueva York por una temporada y actualmente me encuentro entre Londres, Madrid y los Estados Unidos, un poco locura, pero por mis compromisos de trabajo es lo que toca, jajaja.

Puedes contarnos un poco de tu documental, "Nos Quitamos La Venda/Can We Take Off the Blindfold" ¿Por qué elegiste este título? ¿Sobre qué trata?

Bueno, Nos quitamos la venda/Can We Take Off The Blindfold, surge de la necesidad de contar al mundo una realidad de las muchas que hay en nuestras sociedades, una realidad que por las razones que sean parece ser que se le da la espalda para no ver o no querer ver, pasando así un tanto inadvertida. Elegí este titulo porque en el nuevo milenio ya es hora de ver las cosas por lo que son y no por lo que parecen, dar el debido respeto y aceptar a las personas--sin vendas, sin excusas--aceptae las realidades que existen en nuestras sociedades, comunidades y poder tener una verdadera voz, poder ser vistas bajo una nueva luz que realmente, se merecen--Donde se reconocan los éxitos y logros que influyen y contribuyen de manera positiva a la sociedad que vivimos actualmente.

La película documental habla de la diversidad en los medios de comunicación y el mundo del entretenimiento, presentan artistas de la diáspora, celebridades dentro de los medios de la comunicación que exponen aquí en Europa. Se habla de la trayectoria profesional de estos artistas y se exponen sus realidades, las dificultades, los logros y éxitos de estos Artistas de la Diáspora en Europa y en otros países del mundo. Una película que puede abrir heridas a muchos e inspirar a toda una nueva generación de jóvenes emprendedores llenos de talento. Esta película en España ha sido tachada de controvertida y problemática en su contenido, hecho que aun no termino de comprender y encajar, cómo el hablar del talento, éxitos y logros alcanzados por una comunidad de artistas en el mundo del entretenimiento y medios de comunicación puede ser algo controvertido.

¿De dónde vinó la idea de hacerlo?

La idea surge en 2007 a raíz de un evento internacional que quería llevar a cabo en España para los artistas de la Diáspora en Europa, las excusas y pegas que me ponían para financiar y buscar sponsors eran increibles, tan increibles hasta el punto que me dije, ok, si no creen que hay suficiente talento como para poder realizar eventos como éste, les voy a demostrar que sí que lo hay. Que mejor manera que ponerlo bajo un formato que todo el mundo entienda, así vamos a conocer o al menos ser conscientes de la existencia de los artistas de la diáspora en Europa y veremos si solamente somos uno o dos, o si realmente somos un gran número que necesitan y quieren cubrir un gran hueco que hasta ahora sigue virgen en Europa...” y aunque fuera de presupuesto, me embarqué en esta producción con el apoyo inicial de una fantástica amiga y compañera, la periodista Lucía Asué en España y el actor británico Will Johnson.

El punto de partido de esta película documental comienza desde mi propia experiencia en 1998, donde comencé un viaje de auto-conocimiento, potenciación y realización. Trata de cómo una joven Afro-Española tuvo que salir de su país de nacimiento, España, alentada por las motivaciones principales de los medios en ese entonces para marcharse a alguna parte fuera de su país persiguiendo su carrera artística. Como muchos creyeron y todavía creen que gente de origen africano no vendemos, ellos nunca podría escribir cualquier papel para mi aparte de los estereotipos, prostituita, etc.

Una persona en el documental decía que las oportunidades para los actores en Inglaterra son mejores que en otras partes de Europa. ¿Estás de acuerdo con esto? ¿Por qué crees que ocurre esto?

Bueno no estoy totalmente en desacuerdo porque lo que yo veo es que la problemática en si de los actores y personajes de la diáspora así como los que trabajan en los medios de comunicación está generalizada en toda Europa. En Inglaterra ser negro o mestizo o mulato quizás no presente ningún impedimento, pero si encima tienes acento como es mi caso--¡Olvídalo!--así que me da lo mismo que lo mismo me da. Si en España por ser negra o mulata no tengo las mismas oportunidades en mi sector (Comunicación y Entretenimiento) que en Inglaterra, pero ahora el tener acento no británico sí que supone un problema, es aquí donde comienza el drama, entonces que quieres que te diga...Los prejuicios dentro del sector del entretenimiento, espectáculo y medios de comunicación en Europa y en parte de Estados Unidos también como en otras partes del mundo, son ridículas y obsoletas, no se corresponden con la realidad que vivimos, la mente del ser humano evoluciona muy lentamente en cambio nuestras sociedades se desarrollan a la velocidad del viento y crecen de manera vertiginosa...y esto es algo que debe ser cambiado.

Puedes ver ella en esta secuencia:


Como eres actriz, el tema del documental es algo más personal para ti. ¿Has aprendido algo nuevo o sorprendente acerca de ti misma o de la profesión de actor durante el proceso?

He aprendido una cosa, que NO ESTOY SOLA, algo que en mi pais querían hacerme creer los altos directivos. Creí que mi historia era la única y como la mia desfortunadamente hay mil y perores, como la de una presentadora mulata en Alemania donde leía que le mandaron una carta bomba a su redacion con la suerte o la mala fortuna de que no fue ella quien abrió dicha carta sino su secretaria.

El tema que tratamos en el documental es más personal, puesto que a día de hoy, tanto yo como la gran mayoria de artistas (entertainers) de la Diáspora tenemos que seguir aguantando (para aquellos que no les quede mas remedio que aguantar) y luchando por poder brillar con luz propia, fuera de esteriotipos dentro del sector. Y quien no lo quiera decir publicamente por sus compromisos personales o profesionales está bien, para eso ya hay gente como Halle Berry, Spike Lee, Will Smith, Naomi Campbell o yo misma para hablar y comunicar una realidad QUE NECESITA UN CAMBIO, UNA INTEGRACION EN TODA SU TOTALIDAD POR DERECHO.

Estás desarrollando el documental por tu , Virginia Buika Entertainment. ¿Puedes contarnos algo acerca de tu compañia? ¿Por qué decidiste empezar tu propio negocio?

Creé VirginiabuiKa Entertainment con la idea de poder crear mayores oportunidades para mi misma como artista y creadora que soy, ya que como artista en mi país ,a día de hoy, todavía existe un recelo y miedo a representar a artistas de raza negra o procedentes de la raza negra y como comprenderás no puedo estar esperando a que el director fulanito de tal coja el teléfono para darme el OK y poder desarrollar mi trabajo, que es crear y poder compartir con el público. Hablan y dicen que no hay mercado para los artistas de raza negra o procedentes de la raza negra, es la EXCUSA BARATA QUE PONEN para un problema mucho mas profundo que nos lleva hasta los tiempos de la Esclavitud. Ésta es una de las cosas que esta producción me reveló, aunque también me entristeció escuchar las opiniones y testimonios de las personalidades que entrevisté ...Hasta el punto que me tuve que tomar unas vacaciones recientemente para poder recuperarme un poco, digo que es triste porque parece ser que ni Martin Luther King Jr. o Mandela o Bob Marley o el mismo Michael Jackson con sus canciones de luz han servido de nada al ser humano, parece ser no haber evolucionado en este sentido y todavía aunque la esclavitud fue abolida hace años LA ESCLAVITUD MENTAL SIGUE LATENTE Y ESTO EN EL NEW MILENIO ES MUY TRISTE.

¿Has encontrado muchos desafíos siendo empresaria? ¿Tienes algún consejo para las mujeres que quieren ser empresarias? ¡También eres cantante y rapera! ¿Qué es lo que haces para mantenerte equilibrada y no agobiarte?

El hecho de ser mujer y de raza negra es un desafió diario en el sector que me muevo, el entretenimiento y medios, ya que es un sector hombre orientada y esto a veces puede ser una ventaja y otras una gran desventaja, hasta el punto que te hacen propuestas indecentes y chantajes que, obviamente aunque para realizar lo que me proponga me lleve 50 años más, en la vida accedería a este tipo de chantajes. MI CONSEJO TANTO PARA LA MUJER COMO PARA EL HOMBRE EMPRESARIO es que tienes que vivir con unos principios, tienes que ser honesto, tienes que hacer las cosas con subsistencia e integridad… y seguir hasta que consigas lo que quieras... y más importante, nunca parar, porque no se termina hasta que tu triunfas. La gente confunde el hacer negocios con el ser rudo y sucio con los clientes pero digo lo que aprendí de Les Brown, los negocios son crear y desarrollar relaciones con otros empresarios/as para que la confianza y la lealtad puedan fluir. Lo demás es una ilusión, es decir, una mentira.

¿Qué quieres ver en un proyecto como Live Unchained? ¿Por qué estás interesada en Live Unchained?

Bueno me parece importante dar voz a artistas alrededor del mundo con diversas experiencias y culturas diferentes y Live Unchained es una gran iniciativa que cubre estos puntos que te menciono. Mi interés como te digo nace de la diversidad que es lo que realmente da color y sabor a nuestras sociedades.

Puedes ver un vídeo acerca de su próxima documental, "Porque Tu Eres..." aquí:

Virginia esta haciendo unas nuevas versiones de "I am back for more/Vuelvo a por más"...Disponibles proximamente...

Visita a ella en MySpace:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Question of the Day: What do you think of pole dancing classes? Would you take a class?

There are many negative connotations associated with pole dancing. Check out this clip from Chris Rock:

The first time I heard about pole dancing as a form of exercise, was from one of my students in Tokyo (I teach English as a Second Language online). When I first heard about it, I laughed and thought I would never participate--I was too bashful, too insecure and intimidated. However, after Miriam and I did an interview with TaMara Campbell of Beautifully Me, the pole became more appealing...

In a discussion piece I submitted for a sociology course, I explain how I became interested in pole dancing. I also discuss why I'm disappointed with critiques of how black women should not be depicted sexually--not because I think such criticisms are wrong or untrue, but because I think no one has an idea of what is "appropriate sexual behavior" for females in general, and black women in particular.

Here is what I shared:

What is appropriate sexual behavior for black women? How big a stake does academia have in answering this?

Two readings demonstrate that black women are freighted with a particular historical baggage concerning our sexuality. A presenter at the University of Chicago’s feminism and hip hop conference argued that the asexual mammy, sapphire and jezebel have been re-coded in hip hop as mama, wifey, bitch and hoe. For black women who understand these tropes, their sordid past and continuity, where do we go from here? How ought we express ourselves sexually?

I laughed when I read: “We now live in a porn saturated culture…women can take exercise classes with a ‘stripper’s pole’” (Hunter and Soto, 174). I hope to start pole dancing and sexy flex classes this Saturday. I hadn’t been self-reflexive about my decision as a feminist—I just knew I was getting on that pole. Now, that I sit with the idea, I think one could argue that women who participate in these classes are appropriating symbols of exploitation, nullifying and inverting their meanings—similar to the way in which black men and women (but mainly men) are said to have appropriated derogatory words associated with blackness.

A friend and I did an interview TaMara Campbell ( the woman who owns the business that offers dance and sexual education classes including a tele-class in which, women call in to share their personal experiences and questions about sex and sensuality. This interview made me interested in the classes.

In terms of getting in touch with my sexuality (or, as I like to say being the C.E.O. of my sexy), I feel I’ve only been told what to avoid and who I shouldn’t be. Perhaps taking the classes places me in that feminist morally grey area that Clay highlights with a quote from Rebecca Walker (57). I don’t believe that this class is about equipping me to fulfill a man’s objectifying sexual fantasy (still, one can argue that in strip clubs, the line between subject and object is blurred)—certainly, I don’t see it as a stepping stone to a side hustle as a stripper. Yet, I do believe sex, sexuality and sensuality are important parts of life. I’m searching to learn more about this aspect of myself. I think I will the same way I learned about other important parts of me, by looking to other knowledgeable black women, who I happen to admire, for assistance. Maybe I’ll see you on Saturday…


As a class, we discussed the politics of the pole and came up with several interesting discussion points and questions including:

  • Women approach the pole with different degrees of privilege. As one of my classmates stated: "You have some women paying to take the pole dancing classes while other women are getting on the pole to make $100 to hopefully pay their rent."
  • The degree to which a woman can be empowered by pole dancing depends on whose watching her and if she gets a say in whose watching her.
  • Why is the sexual exploitation of black women so profitable?
What do you think??

The question of the day is: What is your opinion of pole dancing? Why would you take a class or not?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Travelling...You Can Do and Learn a Lot with a Little

Candice Johnson is a native of Chicago. Here she discusses the places she has traveled, what she learned and why she loves Live Unchained--she loves it so much she had to say it twice! And we love her too...

You may think that it requires a lot of money to visit many places--especially faraway ones like Candice has. However, being creative and flexible in terms of where, when and what you do when you travel may lead to opportunities you had not considered.

One option is to travel for free as a volunteer. Also, many people are taking advantage of the new opportunity to Couch Surf. Couch Surfing is a worldwide network that connects travelers with members of local communities, who offer free housing, food and sometimes transportation.

If you were able to travel without (financial) limits, let us know how you did it!

Below are pics of Candice in Italy and Morocco.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Lessons From a Madwoman: M. Nahadr Discusses Art, Self and Madwoman: A Contemporary Opera

Live Unchained is grateful for the opportunity to speak with artist M, also known as Mem Nahadr and Madwoman.

Possessing a six octave range, her voice is as powerful as her spirit--both are demonstrated here, in her performance of "Stay." I heard this song and felt like it was holding me in its arms...

M has various passions and pursues them as a composer, performance artist, musician, actress, dancer, author, producer, audio engineer, filmmaker, graphic artist and philosopher. "What 'drew' me to all of these things," M says, "was simply the continuous desire to expand and explore art form...and inevitably needing to express my feelings. It is only natural to gravitate to or resonate with that which you are. I am an artist. I express."

The song "Stay" is included in
Madwoman: A Contemporary Opera, which M wrote and performs in. The opera addresses many issues including difference, authority and the search for self in a world that encourages conformity and the supposed security it affords. The audience is encouraged to reflect on their personal and collective identities as the production calls for active audience participation. This unique performance with elaborate visual and audio works is achieved with innovative and experimental technology. "Supported by a Master team of Artists and Technicians, this presentation includes state of the art customized surround sound created by James P. Nichols, Broadway, Jazz and Grammy Award Winning Producer/Engineer with Dolby Laboratories; as well as Creative - Stage Direction by Claude E. Sloan, Jr., of the LOEB Drama Center Experimental Theater at Harvard, and the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Public Theater."

Here M discusses Madwoman, race, albinism and her interest in Live Unchained.

Madwoman is a contemporary opera. What makes it a contemporary opera? Why did you choose the format of an opera for this performance?

What makes Madwoman a contemporary opera is merely the fact that it is not presented in the tradition or standard of 16th century “operatic” works. On the other hand, it does adhere to the basic definition of “opera” as described in the Western dictionary. “Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text (called a libretto) and musical score."

I chose to present this particular collection of works as an opera, as these selections had a consistent theme throughout that needed to be accentuated in a way far more demonstrative than merely the band and singer scenario. The opera involves dramatic stories told predominantly through rock, pop or contemporary music.

This performance is interactive. How does the audience participate? Why do you think their involvement in this way is important?

The Madwoman audience is engaged to use as many of their senses as possible to discern the artistic expressions offered. There can be many elements that affect the senses, and stimulate the audience to react: Each element structured to a specific part of the opera; Such as, video imagery that triggers sense memory, which compels feedback, aromas, industrial sounds, questions posed to the audience in the midst of an Aria, etc. Many of the pieces have lyrics of double-entendre which can engage audience imagination as well. Sculpted pieces, and an after performance discussion on the topic of difference, are also features of this work.

This kind of dynamic audience participation is important in that it creates a strong current of connection between artist & audience, allowing for the deep engraining of the work into their memory and emotions, creating a proactive word of mouth response, as audience members then desire to share their experience with others, as well, it allows for deep consideration by the receiver of the precepts offered.

The opera is said to address: "issues of conflict and chaos in our current critical mass mindset toward the inherent differences in human existence by evaluating existence in the one single individual. The Madwoman. The woman who is black but white. The embodiment of the polar. The symbol of the conflict and the union.” What does the “critical mass mindset” represent to you? What does the Madwoman help us to understand about ourselves?

Critical mass mindset in my opinion represented the “Mindset of less than” the “Mindset of NO”.

Whereas “Madwoman” offers the idea of “Self Sovereigned Soul” the concept of “I am” and the understanding of it therein.

Madwoman offers the consideration of ... Existence being its own Validity.

The Madwoman is understood as "black but white" as opposed to "neither black nor white." Why?

To use the word "Niether" is not quite accurate in terms of what we know those labels to mean in regards to People.

I AM genetically "Black" AND asthetically "White." The transcendence is not in disallowing either, but integrating both, an unusual way. Not just of mixed tribes as Barack Obama, but understanding that it can manifest on many of chocolate and mohogany Africa America that bore a vanilla-fudge baby girl.......

Somalian noses can be quite narrow, and Eastern Europe quite isn't it lovely???
Interestingly enough, a well known documentary on DNA tracing learned that our venerable African American Scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., himself, is European in his genetic.

Irony abounds!

I am both and more...What is still insinuated by "White" but a culture of affluence, and what is insinuated by "Black" but a culture of endurance... Whatever the combination... WE ARE ALL...the same. We Share Difference. Diversity. Dominance in Ourselves.

We can all say "I". Both or Neither.

The more the contrast...the more the definitive proof.

A description of Madwoman was featured in National Geographic Magazine in an article on
genetic inheritance and Darwinism. In this edition photojournalist Robert Clark took the portrait of M to the right, which was later named one of the magazines "Best of the Year" picks. M has also been featured in Maxim as well as Elle Magazine Germany.

M has also been invited to discuss albinism and her art for the Discovery Channel.

Can you explain to us what albinism is? What do you think are popular misconceptions about albinism?

From the clinical point of view, albinism is a genetic condition created when recessive genes to exclude melanin are passed from parents to offspring.

From the metaphysical point of view albinism is a stark representation of the infinite variation and amazing paradox of existence. Another revelation of the Human spectrum.

Off the wall misconceptions about all things exist everywhere. The list is endless….some are real, some are not. The most propagated myth is that People with albinism are Sub-Human, or Super-Human. Contrary to popular belief….people with albinism are PEOPLE.

In the Discovery Channel piece you discussed some of the difficulties you faced when learning about yourself emotionally and scientifically. How did you navigate these challenges?

I’ve navigated challenges of knowledge & acceptance of myself in my life using the gages of purely natural occurrences.

First, how did it feel to be stigmatized?

Why are the plants and animals all so different?

Through observation, instead of acquiescence I was shown by Nature that there’s nothing around us that demands uniformity, and plenty enough around us to let us know all is varied, volumes and valid.

I got it...Early.

When asked to contribute to Live Unchained, you said the topic was dear to you. What interested you in this project created for and by black women across the African Diaspora?

This particular subject interests me as even in the African Diaspora, Albinism is stigmatized, those prejudices propelled by ignorance. We are often demeaned within the community for the sake of difference, as the community itself is demeaned for the same reason. The cycle of ignorance and insanity.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Know Yourself. Being aware of your own feelings and preferences deeply enough to value them as you value breathing.


You can learn more about M and madwoman by visiting:

Magazine pics from Elle Germany and Maxim are (respectively) below.