Radical Black Femme Project (RBFP) is a brand new artist-in-residency program created by renowned local artist Jade Solomon Curtis, who is well known for four seasons as a soloist with Spectrum Dance Theater, her award-winning performance and choreography, as well as the arts organization she founded, Solo Magic, which is the parent organization of RBFP. Supported by BASE Experimental Arts, the residency program is curated by Solomon Curtis along with Associate Curator Randy Ford. Ford and Solomon Curtis have each focused their artistic careers on creating and facilitating socially-relevant artwork that explores their lived experience as Black femmes. Ford’s most recent work, Queen Street, debuted at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center in 2019 as the highest grossing and most attended show in its season. She is also a member of Seattle’s Au Collective, one-third of the podcast team for the Living Room, and works on behalf of the WA Black Trans Task Force.
In line with Solomon Curtis and Ford’s many artistic accomplishments, RBFP fosters creative projects that resist racism, subvert transphobia, and support justice, safety, and equity. RBFP creates spaces for cross-cultural conversations between members of the global Pan-African community, and centers the voices of Black femmes, who are continually silenced or ignored in the art world and beyond.
The inaugural cohort of artists kicked off in December of 2020 with a group of 8 artists representing 5 countries: Ghana, South Africa, Norway, Germany, and the US. It is important and intentional that artists in each cohort represent diverse and varied perspectives in terms of their locality, nationality, gender-identity, artistic medium and process. “When you think about the Black community, or as I like to say the Pan-African community, there are so many different ways in which we exist” Solomon Curtis explains, “I don’t think there are conversations that are had enough around those different perspectives and experiences.” The definitions of Radical, Black, and Femme are expansive and RBFP is committed to supporting the work of artists who embody those identities in powerfully different ways.
RBFP artists can be nominated by Solomon Curtis, Ford, or other community members and fellow artists. Each selected artist is given the opportunity to focus on their own artistic process for a minimum of two weeks and awarded a $500 honorarium, mentorship sessions with Solomon-Curtis and Ford, and studio equipment and space in their respective city. Because of the variation in the artists’ processes, needs and desires, Solomon Curtis are mindful of taking the time to individualize the residency process for each artist. There are no predetermined outcomes, and nothing specific to be produced by the artists in exchange for the time. It’s a welcome breath of fresh air in a world where artists are often asked to fit their work into the preferences of arts organizations. Solomon Curtis describes an opportunity where she benefited from this kind of artistic autonomy:
“The most I’ve ever gotten out of any residency I’ve been in, and that probably has a lot to do with why RBFP is framed in this manner, was in a residency where I moved and created when I was compelled to. And just the healing that happens in that, in really taking back and exercising your own agency, especially as artists who are expected to produce something and also reevaluating what that something is, it doesn’t have to be this polished thing.”
I had the opportunity to ask a few of the artists what it means to embody the phrase Radical Black Femme. Their responses are a peek into their artistic worlds.
“It is a revolution that denounces colonial representations and the stereotypes,” wrote Ghanain artist Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi (pronoun: sHit), also known by sHit’s artist name crazinisT artisT. “It means self empowerment and celebrating our beauty. It is our pride to be us and to be Radical Black and Femme.”
crazinisT artisT’s residency culminated in a recent workshop entitled ‘Blacksitioning’ in which participants were invited to come prepared with materials such as healing herbs, salt, clay, and food dye for a “reclamation ritual and a transitional rite exploring Blackness, human mortality, and our sense of belonging.”
The upcoming artist in residency, SWAMP XADDiii describes their particular flavor of Radical Black Femme-ness as:
“A gallon of dis-respectability, a cup of gender fluidity, a few heaping spoons of the erotic, two (on a day where I’m particularly on my bullshit, ten) shakes of hood realness, and an unapologetic flush of rage. My Blackness is informed by my Southside Chicago-raised, Black American parents. My Femmeness by my maternal grandmother who was not to be fucked with.”
RBFP gives artists a chance to showcase their artistic process and work in unique ways and give audience members a chance to get to know the artists. Currently in residency is artist Mia Imani, who describes herself as “an international interdisciplinary artivist (art + activist) and arts writer.” On March 13, RBFP hosted her live on Instagram along with stand-up comedian and fellow artist Nekia “peddyBetty” Hampton for a conversation entitled ME, I AM A BUILDING. The event invited “Black femmes to construct a new reality in the moment by using forms that are already built and extending their meaning to fulfill an emancipatory project.”
Keep an eye out for upcoming events and workshops hosted by RBFP and their artists in residence. The first round of residencies will continue through August, 2021. To stay up to date, support the organization and get involved you can visit them on their website, www.RBFP.org and follow on Instagram @solomagicorg.