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 www.liveunchained.com to learn more.

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 (http://liveunchained.blogspot.com/2009/08/live-unchained-had-opportunity-to-ask.html) 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, ....in an unusual way. Not just of mixed tribes as Barack Obama, but understanding that it can manifest on many levels.....as of chocolate and mohogany Africa America that bore a vanilla-fudge baby girl.......

Somalian noses can be quite narrow, and Eastern Europe quite wide.........lol.... 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: www.Madwoman2.com/members

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