Tip Your Barber by Matthew Ponder

Much like the Christian church, barbershops and salons have served as a staple within the African-American community albeit with much less controversy. Very few industries exist in modern society where loyalty between the producer and consumer remain constant. An author by the name of Barry Schwartz touches on this phenomena in his book ‘The Paradox of Choice.’ He explores how the seemingly-endless range of consumer options may create dilemmas of the psychological and emotional variety. Schwartz expresses this view claiming:

“Whether we’re buying a pair of jeans, selecting a long-distance carrier, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions—from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs—have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented. We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of choice overload.”

The urban barbershop being a necessity industry happens to be an exception to Schwartz’ theory. Many African-Americans have supported these barbershops and salons because simply- no other businesses are equipped to properly manage ethnic hair types. This limitation has only strengthened the influence of most shops within these communities. Ironically enough, African-American barbers often wear many hats beyond their job title. My personal barber Brian Hill, embodies that notion.

Brian, like most entrepreneurs has always been enterprising and self-motivated. I recently sat in his chair located in Atlanta, Georgia and discussed not only his origin but his role within the community. Brian, who has been cutting his own hair since he was nine years old (to the bewilderment of his peers) is now thirty with his own shop and a family of employees and regulars who rely on him daily. Eight years ago he moved from Virginia to Georgia, graduated from Atlanta Technical College and has been committed to his community and his family since. Brian, who has a pre-teen son, frequently expresses the importance of accountability and ethic. His presence in the neighborhood represents a message of success and progression for young men who may be devoid of domestic stability and strong self-image.

Many of my earliest lessons about life as an African-American male originate not from school or organized sports but from my local barbershop. Comparable to a watering hole within the animal kingdom, these shops are a revolving door of characters, each with their own wealth of knowledge to share. No matter the city, there is never a shortage of discussions or heated debates in an African-American barbershop. The dialogue may range from anything to politics, sports, entertainment, sexuality or just humorously dramatic anecdotes. Historically, America has been a volatile environment for men of color. It is for this reason, a seemingly insignificant trip to the barber may feel like a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca.

Recent data from the NAACP shows that spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of spending on Pre‐K‐12 public education in the last thirty years, with African Americans being incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites. A criminal record can reduce the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent which leaves many men of color out of work in America. Barbershops regularly provide these men opportunities to work when options are limited which aids in slowing the rate of recidivism. The barbershop is a staple of the African American experience and it should never be undervalued. Please be sure to tip!

HAPPY S.A.D. by Matthew Ponder

Distracted by irrelevance. The stress and the tension. The stress and the tension. I’m in a lull.
— Radiohead

These lyrics from one of my favorite English rock bands accurately describe my feelings and maybe even yours these last few weeks. The stress and the tension from domestic and global tragedies, natural disasters, and political upheaval is enough to leave us all in emotional lulls. Lull or not, today is Stress Awareness Day which is observed annually on the first Wednesday in November. The day is described as an opportunity to identify and reduce the factors of stress in your personal and public lives. This year’s observance may feel extra appropriate depending on your expectations of last night’s election results.

When these non-government recognized days appear on our social feeds, many of us often overlook them entirely. Last month for example, World Mental Health Day may have come and gone for you in the blink-of-an-eye. Undoubtedly, it would have missed my radar if it weren’t for a notification I received from a friend’s organization, BLKHLTH. It’s so easy to bypass these days, yet, it requires little effort to gain and spread awareness. Whether you live in a buzzing metropolis or provincial town, stress is a universal occurrence that applies to us all. Whether you come from a history of poverty or fall into the highest tax brackets, you can not escape stress. As a wise New Yorker once stated, “Mo’ money mo’ problems.”

When untreated or ignored, our stress may lead to far more serious complications. Stress and anxiety disorders are “the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.” This statistic from the ADAA emphasizes the importance of setting aside days for such awareness and discussion. Celebrate this Stress Awareness Day and allow yourself to rest your mind and body before jumping into your next task or assignment. Celebrate today by contacting a friend or loved one that could use some relief in the form of conversation or a funny meme. Don’t allow the ominous cloud of worry to hover above you and have a Happy National Stress Awareness Day.

Black by Popular Demand: The Arts by Matthew Ponder

Yanique Norman

Yanique Norman (Jamaican, b. 1981) is a multidisciplinary artist whose multimedia drawings deal with a confluence of disparate and contemporaneous subject matters. Work is infatuated with class, overwhelmingly feminine, totally obsessed with archives, has a penchant to erotize pain, insists in being prolifically black while still genuflecting its surrealist impulses and lastly, work is deeply committed in remaining incessantly blue despite itself.

Norman migrated to the United States at the age of 12 and was raised in New York City. In 2005 she relocated to Atlanta and studied at Georgia State University (BFA, 2014) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA, 2018). Her work can be found in numerous public collections throughout Southern region including The High Museum of Art, Hammonds House Museum and Clark Atlanta University Art Museum.

Norman lives and works in Atlanta and is represented by Sandler Hudson Gallery.

Tiffany Charesse

Tiffany Charesse was born in Atlanta, GA, where she studied and graduated at The Art Institute with a BFA in Graphic Design. Since then, she has maintained a career working in the art & design industry. 

“It’s the intimacy of portraiture that I enjoy the most. There is no hiding or pretending when someone is studying your every wrinkle and strand of hair, and there are no flaws in raw beauty. From the very moment a first stroke is laid, my subject on paper turns into a real person in my mind - with whom I’m building a relationship with. I’m talking to that person, shaping its features, creating a personality. Some of them I fuss and share tears with, while others capture my heart and make it hard for me to let go... I want people to look at my portraits and want to know the story behind each face - or at least the stories we shared together in the studio...”

“Faces tell the greatest stories... I want people to look at my portraits and want to know the story behind each face.”

Tiffany combines her love for classic portraiture with her background in graphic design to create unique portraits with geometric flair. Her technique is characterized by smooth blends and a soft richness that she achieves by combining PanPastel powders with pastel pencils. 

With a strong emphasis on visual balance, you can find influences of constructivism, cubism and minimalism in her compositions. She often explores themes of self-awareness, empathy and spirituality in her works

Martine Syms

Martine Syms (b. 1988, Los Angeles) uses video and performance to examine representations of blackness. Her artwork has been exhibited and screened extensively, including presentations at the Museum of Modern Art, Hammer Museum, ICA London, New Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among other institutions. She has lectured at Yale University, SXSW, California Institute of the Arts, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, and MoMA PS1, among other venues. Syms’ recently presented exhibitions include Projects 106: Martine Syms, Museum of Modern Art; Borrowed Lady, Simon Fraser University Galleries, Vancouver; Fact and Trouble, ICA London; COM PORT MENT, Karma International, Los Angeles; Vertical Elevated Oblique, Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York. From 2007-2011 she was the co-director of the Chicago artist run project space Golden Age, and she currently runs Dominica Publishing, an imprint dedicated to exploring blackness in visual culture. She is the author of Implications and Distinctions: Format, Content and Context in Contemporary Race Film (2011). Her first US solo museum exhibition Projects 106: Martine Syms, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in May of 2017. She is a faculty member in the School of Art at the California Institute of the Arts.

The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto

The Rise of the Celebritician by Matthew Ponder

Yo Taylor- I’m really happy for you- I’ll let you finish- but your recent political rally cry is one of the best of all time. One of the best of all time!

Celebrities and public figures outside the realm of politics have zero obligation to express their partisan views and Taylor Swift is certainly no exception. Earlier this week via social media- Taylor endorsed Tennessee Democratic candidates Phil Bredesen for U.S. Senate and Rep. Jim Cooper for the House in this year’s midterm election. Swift, who has admittedly been disinclined to share her views throughout her career credits objectionable voting records, gender inequality, LGBTQ rights and racial injustice as the catalyst to her new voice. Taylor also noted that “several events” she now feels differently about contributed to her post.

Time Magazine’s recognition of Swift as a “Silence Breaker” for outing David Mueller, the radio DJ found guilty of groping her in 2013 positioned her as a voice for this generation. Unsurprisingly- there has already been a wave of backlash towards Swift- something akin to Nike’s decision to support former NFL quarterback and activist- Colin Rand Kaepernick.

No artist or living being for that matter is expected to remain static. Many celebrities, in fear of tarnishing their brands embrace the risk-averse approach and remain as apolitical as possible. Be that as it may- the vulnerability and high stakes of current politics has led to celebrities willing to put political correctness aside en masse for views, likes and air-time. These opportunistic figures e.g. Kanye West, Hulk Hogan, Dennis Rodman, Teresa Giudice, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, Mike Tyson, Dana White, Stacey Dash, Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson and Roseanne Barr (to name a few) are the personification of inimical influence in the 21st century.

Celebrities using their platform to call for change is to be expected. The problem arises when adoring fans forget these people are not in positions of appointed power, but rather-- just one voice among countless others. Our current administration’s success at exploiting our infrastructure along with the the anxieties and xenophobia of our nation should be the ultimate red flag. More than ever, we should be encouraged to remain informed, respectful and undeterred by political affiliation.

What the World Needs Now by Matthew Ponder

The United States is considered the premier free market of the world. When effective, it will pinpoint and promote the least-inexpensive and short-term options for its citizens. It's the state's responsibility to make the most affordable option for corporations the ideal choice for society through focused policies and taxes. Unfortunately, our elected officials have neglected the issues while we and our posterity have been left to foot the bill.

The ramifications of this blatant dismissal are much more dire than most could have imagined. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that “Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.”

If not addressed with proper urgency, this increase will prove catastrophic and potentially irreversible. The American government has been dragging its feet on the topic of climate change for decades and to say not enough has been done to combat the threat would be a grave understatement. This news paints a grim forecast yet- hope is not lost. Developed countries like the Netherlands have already begun adopting and enforcing polices to mitigate climate change. The Implementation of the National Climate Adaption Strategy of the Netherlands (NAS) has already set their country in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by the end of 2020. Will we continue to deny or douse the fire before it spreads? Only time will tell…

Everybody Meet Mr. #METOO by Matthew Ponder

Western Society recoiled at the blitzkrieg of sexual misconduct that now hovers above some of the world’s most prominent and powerful men. Accusations of discreditable behaviors have now infiltrated nearly every major industry from entertainment to politics. It is only natural that we, the people, as a collective body would wish to find some immediate resolve. Only, this star-spangled bandage cannot simply be ripped off. Not quite yet. This ever-evolving scenario, not without nuance has seemingly outpaced any existing and credible forums for discussion or support. This has been on view these last few weeks with the hearing and imminent probe of Supreme Court nominee, Brett Michael Kavanaugh.

As critical as this time may be, we should not assert a belief that the accused are guilty without proper evidence. It is doubly critical that we not unresistingly perpetuate the interests of any predators operating sans-scrutiny. These camouflaged predators have entered our homes, entertained us and pushed countless products on us over the years. Comparatively, those days appear to have dwindled as we have seen with the recent sentencing of America’s dad, William Henry Cosby. Cosby’s conviction is an unquestionable victory for his victims however, a tiny step forward in the race for America’s dignity in this uncertain age of Trump.

Get to Know Anne Dereaux by Matthew Ponder

“We can all relate to how it feels to be broken by life, and I wanted to create a larger narrative about what happens when one is repeatedly broken. What makes good people do bad things, as a result of personal heartbreak, or as result of being disenfranchised. What are the consequences? I created a character to tell that story, Lolita. When you listen, try to imagine this as the score of a movie; following the life of a good girl who got hurt a few too many times, and took a few wrong turns.”

-Anne Dereaux

Listen to and Purchase Book of Lolita, the debut EP from Anne Dereaux