LOS ANGELES (AP) — Patrisse Cullors was sitting at a table outside the Crenshaw Dairy Mart, the art collective she co-founded in Inglewood, Calif., taking a rare break from the March rains when her phone vibrated with a text message a few days ago. a few weeks.
Cullors smirked: one of his works of art had just been sold. The work, a tapestry made of vintage mud cloth from Mali and adorned with cowry shells, is part of his current exhibit at the Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown, an exhibit honoring the traditions of the Ifa religion of the Yoruba in West Africa. .
A few nights earlier, the longtime artist and activist, best known for co-founding Black Lives Matter, had experienced another artistically satisfying moment: a solo performance at the Broad museum in which she unfurled a 360-foot-long sail ( 110 meters long). bonnet, conceived as a symbol of protection for black women, among other things, in a show about healing in the midst of hate.
Cullors is leaning into his art these days, gaining sustenance and perspective from it. She talks about it not just as a calling, but as a means of salvation: At one point, the impact of allegations of financial mismanagement at BLM, where she resigned in 2021, hurt her so deeply that her mental health was in jeopardy and she felt her own life was in danger, she says. What has ultimately saved her more than once, she feels, is her art.
“A lot of the last few years has been, to be really honest, deep depression and anxiety and a lot of trauma, a lot of freezing, a lot of fear,” she says, “and I kept going back to my art practice. I kept going back to art, and every time When I returned to art, I felt like myself again. I would feel more connected again and I would feel more hopeful.”
“My art practice has saved my life, time and time again,” he adds.
In 2019, after nearly seven years in the public spotlight as a co-founder of BLM, Cullors contemplated the quiet transition of the daily leadership of the BLM Global Network Foundation, Inc. But in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd and a tidal wave of donations to the BLM foundation amid historic protests for racial justice across the country, Cullors became the organization’s full-time executive director. She said that she intended to help build the foundation’s infrastructure so that she could manage the increased resources.
After the organization revealed that it had accepted close to $90 million donors Until early 2021, Cullors and the foundation came under harsh criticism from left and right and from within and without the broader movement. Critics on the far right published reports of Cullors’ purchase of a Southern California home and many on the left pushed unsubstantiated allegations that she misused donated funds. The controversy eventually died down, but not before Cullors hired security out of concern for her personal safety. She resigned from the foundation in May 2021.
Then, in 2022, criticism of Cullors and BLM intensified again, after the foundation confirmed in nonprofit tax returns who spent $6 million on a complex in the Los Angeles area that includes a house with six bedrooms and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a sound studio and office space. The foundation has said the property is being used as a campus for a fellowship for black artists, but Cullors is also acknowledged using the house for personal reasons on two occasions.
When the controversy died down last year, Cullors focused on her artistic practice. In early 2023, tragedy struck the family of Cullors, her 31-year-old cousin. Keenan Anderson, The father of a 5-year-old boy and a high school English teacher in Washington, DC, has died after receiving an electric shock during an encounter with Los Angeles transit police. Cullors joined family members and local activists in calling for police reform.
And he turned to art, in a sense, to express his grief: At the influential Frieze Los Angeles art fair, he staged a “performance stoppage” in February with fellow activist JaQuel Knight, a peaceful protest to draw attention to African American deaths. people at traffic stops.
The year so far has been a busy one for the artist, activist and author who also has a multiyear tv development agreement with Warner Bros. and is working on a show about the impact of local politics on women.
His recent exhibition at the Broad, his second at the museum of contemporary art, was part of an evening that focused on the effects of colonialism on the literature, language and music of people of color. She reflected on her experience with what she describes as “the impact of right-wing media on Black people and Black leaders through targeted misinformation and misinformation campaigns,” and focused on healing.
The performance, titled “Don’t Disappear Us/Keep us Leaping/Low Riders and Bonnets that Heal,” focused on some seemingly mundane artifacts: the bonnet, which she says has protective symbolism for black women; a partially built lowrider; and a trampoline. The piece featured a live singer and a recording of Cullors chanting in his daily Ifa religious practice.
Religion will also be the subject of a multi-artist exhibition beginning in October at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, highlighting Yoruba art and featuring works from Nigeria, Brazil, Cuba and the United States. Cullors will contribute “Free Us,” an installation accompanied by an audio track of prayers, along with various mixed-media works and a one-off live performance on October 28.
And Cullors’ religious practice is the subject of his current Chinatown gallery show, “Freedom Portals,” a collaboration with Los Angeles-based artist noé olivas, whom he met during his graduate art studies at the University of Southern California, which has been extended to April 15. Highlighting Ifá, it comprises 12 tapestries, illustrations of “Odù”, or oral literary books that contain poetic teachings. Eventually, she wants to create 256 such tapestries, accounting for all of Odù’s poetic tutorials.
Leading a guest through the gallery, he explains the simple materials (ancient Mali mud, black thread and cowrie shells), some cast in brilliant gold, which are symbolic in religion and also an element of decoration on crowns and garments.
“This work is really an ode to the Ifá tradition and ancient symbology,” says Cullors. She explains how a friend passed her the clay cloth: “It’s important for me not to be part of the world of waste, so the vintage clay cloth is essential to build these works.” As for the thread, she was thrown by her house.
The objects are meant to honor tradition, but also to be viewed “in response to the contemporary moment and its fast pace and consequent exhaustion,” the gallery materials say, referring to community-building and self-care.
And self-care is something Cullors is focusing on these days, especially through her art.
“I have spent most of my own life fighting on behalf of others,” she says. “But in recent years I have had a really hard time figuring out how to fight for myself and fight for my mental, spiritual and emotional health.”
“These works of art are a deeply personal call to fight for myself, especially as a black woman,” she adds. “Because a lot of people don’t fight for us.”
AP National Writer Aaron Morrison contributed to this report from New York.