>> Keith Webster: Everyday violence. Community archives represent one of the many tools used to address patterns of misrepresentation in the fields of law, education, arts and culture.
00:22 - Rather than serve silvius repositories, community archives and interpretive projects, where knowledge that has been obscured by the dominant culture can be centered.
00:32 - To better understand these efforts and the kinds of work done by those involved.
00:38 - Our series is honored to welcome community archivists like Bekezela, this evenings speaker.
00:43 - And our previous guest Harrison Apple, to discuss the methodologies of community archiving and the importance to our shared public consciousness.
00:53 - Events like this are the product of many hours of preparation and many hands.
00:59 - I’m particularly grateful to my colleagues Shannon Riffe, Heidi Wiren-Bartlett and Andy Prisbylla in the University Libraries.
01:07 - And a particular thanks to Ryan Freytag of the Alumni Association, and Katie Morris from University Events and Engagement, for hosting this webinar.
01:19 - Later this evening, you will be joined by our project archivist Emily Davis, who will serve as moderator of the Q&A session.
01:29 - If you have time, I would encourage you if you missed it, to look at the recording of our last event with Harrison Apple and their talk.
01:37 - “I Can’t Wait for You to Die: A Community Archives Critique from the Pittsburgh Queer History Project”, and that’s available on the CMU Libraries YouTube channel.
01:47 - And if you’re looking for other opportunities to engage with us, on Thursday the 25th of March at 7pm, do join us for “Kicking Butt in Computer Science.
01:58 - Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon and Around the World” with Dr.
02:02 - Carol Frieze and Dr. Jeria Quesenberry. And that event is jointly presented by the University Libraries and the Women in History of Science and Technology.
02:14 - But to this evening’s event, we are absolutely delighted to welcome Bekezela Mguni, an artist and librarian associated with the Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project.
02:25 - Bekezela holds a master of Library and Information Science degree from our neighbors at the University of Pittsburgh and brings over 15 years of community organizing experience in the Reproductive Justice movement.
02:39 - Bekezela was selected as an American artist in the 2016 Three Rivers Arts Festival and won the Children’s Choice Award for her first visual artwork.
02:50 - Bekezela has many accomplishments. She serves also as librarian in residence at the Pittsburgh International Airport, which sounds like a wonderful opportunity.
03:00 - But this evening, Bekezela will discuss what it means to approach the practice of archiving through a justice-centered lens.
03:08 - Archivists played a critical role in the preservation of our history, how we interpret the current moment and what evidence is left behind in order to help us understand and shape our future.
03:20 - Key questions arise, whose story is deemed valuable, whose life is seen as important enough to be remembered? And what cultural lenses will we use to look at our experiences? Archives can be both sites of powerful memory keeping, as well as of oppression and violence.
03:39 - We must interrogate methods used to acquire historical materials.
03:43 - And shape our cultural narratives, while naming the responsibility that archives have to the communities those resources come from.
03:52 - Everyone, please join me in welcoming Bekezela Mguni.
03:56 - Bekezela, over to you. >> Bekezela Mguni: Hi, everyone.
03:59 - Good evening. Thank you so much for having me.
04:01 - I’m excited to be here. I want to thank Andy for all of his work.
04:06 - He’s not on the video right now. But Andy invited me to this opportunity and has been very committed to organizing this program and sharing the voices of community-based librarians and archivists with you all.
04:21 - So, I appreciate all of his work and Emily as well.
04:24 - And the entire team Katie, Ryan and Keith as well.
04:26 - So, thank you all so much for having me. My name is Bekezela Mguni, and I am very excited to be here with all of you tonight.
04:35 - This opportunity means a lot to me because I feel I wouldn’t be here without all the contributions of the people within my community, and all the ways in which they’ve poured into me, and I appreciate your presence.
04:51 - I’d like to begin by sharing a little bit about myself.
04:54 - And I think it’s important when we are in conversations about culture and memory keeping that we ground ourselves in the places that we are.
05:04 - And that we acknowledge those who have come before us.
05:08 - I’m from San Fernando Trinidad and Tobago, and I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for 19 years.
05:13 - And I live in the Hill District, and I’m here because of many people, family, dear friends, loved ones, community elders.
05:21 - And because of the love of black people, it is what has sustained me, holds me and inspires me.
05:26 - I would like to acknowledge that this gathering is being held on the traditional lands of the Osage nation and older Nashoni Confederacy.
05:35 - People who have stewarded this land throughout generations, and I want to pay my respects to elders both past and present.
05:42 - The photo that you see before you is called “The Glue”, which was taken by Njaimeh Njie, who is a photographer and documentarian here in Pittsburgh.
05:52 - It is a picture of myself and Miss Tamanika Howze, also known as Mother-Sister Holding Hands in the Hill District at the Kauffman Center.
06:00 - And I’m sharing this image with you because it was gifted to me by Njaimeh, and also Miss Tamanika Howze is one of the reasons that I’m a librarian today.
06:10 - When I was 17 years old, I came to Pittsburgh.
06:12 - Getting my first job as a servant leader at Freedom School, which was an amazing program to develop a love of learning and reading within black children in our community.
06:23 - And it really taught me the power of literacy and reading in the lives of children.
06:29 - And why it was so important for them to see representations of themselves in the stories that they were reading.
06:34 - To get them excited about what they were learning, but also for them to see themselves in the world.
06:42 - I acknowledge my ancestors known and unknown, to come from all four corners of the planet who lived, loved, fought and struggled so that we can exist within the realm of possibility.
06:54 - And also to honor our birthright of freedom and self-determination.
07:00 - And as I’ve said, many members of this community have poured into me and one of the ways that we hold space for any important gathering is to offer libation.
07:11 - We invite our ancestors and we ask their guidance to gather with us today and for our time together.
07:19 - Because we aren’t together in person, I’d like to uplift this practice through a poem.
07:23 - And I can think of no better moment in time.
07:25 - When the world has ended as we know it, to lift up the words of black women who continue to offer us so much and for whom the world has ended many times before.
07:36 - I want to share the words of sister Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs from her book called M Archive: After the End of the World.
07:44 - And I want them to pour into you, and I want them to pour into this plant that I have beside me.
07:51 - So as to honor the cycle of life. And it’s important for me to begin this evening with practices that ground me.
08:02 - In my ancestral lineage, because that is the way that I have been taught to move in this world.
08:08 - It is a way that honors my soul. It’s a way that gives me great courage and gives me a sense of connectivity to the people who may be viewing this evening, and who have also supported me.
08:21 - So, I’m gonna pour libation into this plant.
08:24 - I’m also going to read a poem for you all, it is on the screen, if you have the ability to read along or if you’d like to just listen.
08:34 - So I wanna thank Alexis Pauline Gumbs for her writing, and for all of the offerings that she gives us through her study of radical black women and black feminism.
08:44 - And also Soraya Jean-Louis who is the artist who did the cover work for this book, and I have the book here with me.
08:52 - I highly recommend it and since we’re talking about archives today, I thought it would be highly appropriate to share.
09:00 - They were the first ones who learned to light themselves and find each other.
09:06 - The critical black marine biologists, scientists of the dark, of the dark matter under fathoms, suggest that there may be a causal relationship between the bioluminescence of the ocean and the bones of the millions of transatlantic dead, Oyeku Ogbe.
09:22 - They have been studying the relationship between blackness and light.
09:26 - Which is not to say that before the face of God, or the raise of capital move across the deep, there was no light within the deepest sea creature, but is instead a signal to remember the character of calcium, the meaning of the presence of magnesium, both of which catalyze bioluminescence.
09:46 - Don’t let me lose you, they are not saying that the light in the deep or the stars at the bottom of the sea didn’t exist before the weight of the bones of the captives, who would not live as captives.
09:56 - Before the introduction of the diving shark-cleaned the bones of the free into the complex environment of the one inseparable ocean.
10:04 - They would never say that, but who would suggest an origin for light, except blackness.
10:12 - What the dark scientists are saying is that now that the bones are there, as fine as sand.
10:18 - The marrow like coral to itself, the magnesium and calcium has infiltrated the systems of even the lowest filter feeders.
10:28 - So any light that you find in the ocean right now, cannot be separated from the stolen light of those we long for every morning.
10:36 - I don’t need to remind you that the ocean, that place where the evolutionists and creationists all agree that life began, the source of all the salt we breathed to get here, lives within us.
10:49 - All light is shared with those at the bottom of the ocean.
10:53 - Thank you, thank you for listening to that poem.
10:57 - Thank you to Alexis Pauline Gumbs for sharing her work, her writing, her vision.
11:02 - And, I think that blackness, as the origin is a wonderful place to start.
11:08 - Blackness as the origin of light is a place that we should begin as a source.
11:13 - And this is how we begin to reclaim and free ourselves of colonial legacies.
11:18 - When I think of using our creative ability to name what’s true for ourselves, to envision possibilities beyond the white imagination and its limitations, I am really encouraged that I have the capability to refuse the internalization of narratives that have been given to myself that seek to destroy, enslave and exploit me.
11:41 - And because of the harmful ways that we’ve been indoctrinated for centuries of colonization, slavery, racism and white supremacy, I think it’s important to remind myself as I think about and learn, and experience what it means to see myself in less distorted ways, that there are other ways of knowing.
12:00 - And I can’t rely on a cultural worldview that doesn’t acknowledge my existence unless it’s in the form of labor or service.
12:08 - I think it’s important for us to remember, those of us who are of African ancestry, direct African ancestry, those of us in the world, all of us in the world, actually, that we are one.
12:23 - And yet the false constructions of race have separated us in many ways and they have created extremely harmful histories, and they have impacted black and brown people around this world.
12:36 - And as a black person, as a queer librarian, as an activist and archivist, it is important for me to examine the ways that these institutions have power.
12:45 - And the ways in which influence how we come to believe what is real and true in the world.
12:52 - And I think we have to look at these faces and think about how they provide access to information, how they function as memory keepers, and how we rely upon them as sources for historical truth.
13:04 - And how they serve our communities, and we need to ask ourselves do archives, do museums, do libraries serve our communities in ways that are meaningful and support our realities, support transformation of our current reality? And I think it’s really an important time for us to think about that because we can see the ways in which being quarantined have kept us from accessing communal space.
13:33 - And libraries in their current form, public libraries especially have such a critical role in providing access to digital resources to books, magazines, and news sources for people who don’t traditionally have access.
13:46 - As well for those who enjoy sharing those resources with the community, and they continue to do that work during this time.
13:53 - But the origins of libraries and archives have not always been significant.
14:01 - There’s been a long history of exclusion, of classism within these institutions.
14:09 - And it’s important for us to really think about that as we move into the future, and how we think about how we shape our world.
14:19 - I’m the founder of the Black Unicorn Archive Project.
14:22 - This project works to celebrate the writing of black women, black LGBTQ people, and to honor our literary contributions.
14:31 - Black people were the only group of people specifically forbidden to become literate in this country.
14:36 - And that was something that I learned in a speech that was given by Nikki Finney, who won the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry.
14:44 - When I heard that, it struck me in a really powerful way, that we were the only group of people forbidden to become literate by means that were extremely violent and harmful.
15:00 - So you could be in prison, you could be beaten, you could be killed.
15:03 - Anyone who dared to teach us to read or write could also be exposed to those consequences.
15:10 - And the reason behind this is because reading and literacy gives us an innate power that accesses power within us, right? It’s the ability for us to express ourselves, to ask critical questions, to read the world around us, to read power dynamics and to see what is happening in the world around us with a critical eye.
15:34 - And it gives us a vocabulary to express ourselves.
15:37 - That is not something that you want the enslaved people to have.
15:41 - And so this country has done everything in its power to oppress us, and to keep us from being able to become fully determined human beings, self-determined human beings, and we’ve still not been able to successfully kill our spirits and to kill our ability to be resilient.
16:01 - And we’ve also created one of the most powerful literary canons in the world.
16:06 - One that has changed the ways people think about themselves, one that changes the way that people think about freedom and liberation and the possibilities for the future.
16:15 - And that is something that we should celebrate and we should continue to uplift and to share with others in the community.
16:21 - So my work is really about centering our stories, lifting those up and continue with the sharing of that with as many people as I can.
16:31 - As we continue this evening, I’d like for you to think and I’ll share that with you soon, I want you to think about some questions that I have for you.
16:42 - I won’t be able to see your answers in the chat, but we hope that you’ll be able to ask some questions at the end of this.
16:50 - These are some images of the Black Unicorn, which was located in Allentown just above the South Side.
16:57 - And these were images of Essence magazines that were given to me by the Mayor of Make Believe who was on the Mr. Fred Rogers Show.
17:06 - And she was a previous [INAUDIBLE] president and this is an example of how something as every day as a magazine can become a historical fact and have great value.
17:22 - And it is of great value, no matter if we determine it to be ourselves or someone else’s return these magazines contain so many beautiful images of black people.
17:34 - They have covered news and significant events, and they are one of the publications, one of the few public publications in popular culture to focus and center black culture.
17:46 - So when we think about publications in the works that black people have created, we don’t typically [INAUDIBLE], and mainstream collection.
17:58 - And I was really grateful that [INAUDIBLE] donated this to us and we could print them and [INAUDIBLE].
18:09 - We were able to partner with the Braddock Library and the Carnegie Library to build our collection at the Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project, and to really center the writing of black people.
18:22 - And it was really exciting to work with these libraries who are both significant in terms of their history in the world and the ways in which they’ve supported literacy around the world.
18:33 - And they partnered with us to do a pop-up library for a year and a half in Allentown.
18:38 - We were able to serve many community members because there was not a lot of very specifically functioning in that area.
18:46 - And folks were able to borrow books, they were able to get fines waived and rejoin the library and also attend various types of programming.
18:57 - Each of us has been touched by the impact of colonization and that is a global phenomenon.
19:05 - And the practice is ancient, but the advent of European colonization and child slavery informs how all of us have learned about ourselves.
19:14 - And how we’ve learned about who’s defined as human, who has value in society, and who has the right to exist and seek fullness of their human and divine potential.
19:25 - And archives are one of the spaces that we go to in our culture, to look for our historical information, to look for the stories about who we are as people.
19:36 - And some of us are able to find a lot of information about our lineages, and many of us aren’t.
19:44 - And some of us when we do find that information about our cultural lineages, it’s from [SOUND].
20:02 - Excuse me, you’ll have to give Zoom graces, because we are operating in a time of multiple screens, and so thank you for your patience with that.
20:23 - And so archives are designated as these sites of importance, they are able to decide what is a value and they are the spaces that are designated to preserve what is important to us in our culture.
20:38 - One of the things that we typically don’t think about, I’m just gonna stop sharing my screen for a moment so that you all can see me.
20:48 - [INAUDIBLE] All right. Thank you. One of the things we don’t talk about with our communities when we think about the ideas of archives and museums and libraries is the origins of those places and how those places came to be.
21:18 - You don’t talk about their relationship to European colonization and to child slavery.
21:23 - One of the things we need to be reminded of when we think about what it means to reclaim cultural stewardship and to become the ones who are empowered to tell our stories and to take care of our cultural contributions.
21:39 - We have to remember that this has not been an easy road, this has been a road where people of various cultures have had to fight to protect their languages, their land, their right to dress, their right to be naked, their right to practice their sacred religions, rites and rituals, and in the practice.
22:01 - And excuse me, in the colonial project what we saw is invaders violently settling lands across the world to expand their empire through genocide and forced servitude.
22:16 - And in doing so, they appropriated ownership of those places through stealing the natural resources and destroying cultural artifacts.
22:24 - They impose borders and defined territories, and they created and distorted maps and service to mythological ideas of European and American greatness, and they renamed nations.
22:35 - Additionally, Europeans criminalize sexual and gender expression beyond the SIS heteronormative binary, enforced through carceral punishment, cultural, physical, and sexual violence.
22:47 - With denial of people’s rights to speak their languages, to name themselves, to practice their religions, there’s [INAUDIBLE] And something that they were never able to snuff out was the heartbeat of the talking drum.
23:03 - They also tried to deny us the right to practice our dances in our art forms.
23:07 - It was illegal. For enslaved Africans to use this instrument as a form of communication, as a way to call our ability to organize ourselves and resist.
23:22 - It lives on though, in all of our musical traditions, from our the blues, and rock and roll, to house reggae and hip hop.
23:31 - The failure of white supremacy to end that heartbeat is an ancestral promise.
23:36 - Europeans, also clearly define themselves and other a creation of moral, racial, and religious superiority, which is based on the oppressive understanding of Christianity.
23:45 - And imbued them with a sense of rightfulness to become the ones to name, define, and civilize all the people, places, plants, animals and things they came into contact with.
23:57 - And as they continued in their exploration and domination, some of the practices that emerged were collection, categorization, preservation.
24:07 - Exhibition of objects and subjects of interest and study.
24:11 - >> Bekezela Mguni: The early origins of zoos, Botanical Gardens, museums, libraries.
24:16 - And archives are all rooted in an attempt by elite classes to elevate the status of their nations by demonstrating who was able to share bounty and the highly exotic nature of their conquests.
24:30 - For example, many people don’t really think about this.
24:33 - But those institutions are able to share exotic plants and trees came from a practice of taking that which was not given or asked for because of its difference only to be held in captivity.
24:47 - But it masquerading as stewardship, while indigenous people were robbed of and displaced of their land and disconnected from their sacred herbs, plants and foods.
24:58 - Additionally, black people, as those exhibited in zoos, freak shows and museums reinforce the idea that African people were inherently different and inferior to Europeans.
25:09 - And continue to solidify the idea of race and racial superiority in the minds of people around the world.
25:15 - This endeavor to become the ones who name who are in control of what knowledge is, and wasn’t an intentional attempt to shape what is defined.
25:23 - And known as the foundation of all cultural contributions through a Eurocentric lens.
25:28 - It places Europe as the origin of the end or the beginning of the world, and whiteness as a source of the civilization’s brilliance.
25:37 - Using a Eurocentric and white supremacist lens to view the world isolates us and distorts our relationship from ourselves, all living beings in the land and it’s violent.
25:48 - It’s a violent intellectual, spiritual and emotional apparatus that attempts to rob us of our humanity and our rich and abundant cultural legacies.
25:58 - As we heal from the distortions of white supremacy and cultural and work to reclaim what is ours we’re able to participate in our own practices of decolonization.
26:08 - And name ourselves, create meaning of our own experiences and experience the potential for self-determination and freedom.
26:21 - I think it’s important that we are able to center our ways of knowing.
26:25 - That we celebrate multiple literacies, that there are many ways to read the world.
26:30 - There are many ways to express ourselves and there are many ways of being intelligent.
26:35 - And that we think about what it means to change the power dynamic, and the gaze of traditional western anthropological and sociological approaches to creating, studying and classifying the other.
26:48 - And it’s also important for us to form an appreciation within ourselves and within our spaces versus external measurement and validation from European culture.
26:58 - Excuse me, an archive is a space that records things for enduring value.
27:06 - When we view things of value through a European lens, we’re only able to see it from a smaller myopic place.
27:16 - And when we invite, multiple worldviews and a practice of abundance.
27:20 - We’re able to open it up to honor, the actual realities of the world, that we live in.
27:29 - And I think it’s important for us to really think about what do we need? How many of us have been able, To learn from our elders without experiencing struggle, without experiencing and engaging in historical trauma.
28:01 - It’s important for us to think about what creates our ways of viewing the world.
28:09 - When we have textbooks in schools that are informed by historical repositories and social scientists.
28:17 - And people who determine what culture is and determine meaning through the archive, that creates a sense of what we’re able to imagine.
28:29 - And because archives build the imagination they have the power to shape and inform the way we understand the world.
28:38 - So I asked you earlier to think about, to make space to think about some questions, and I’m gonna share those questions on the screen.
28:49 - And as I said before, thank you so much for your Zoom graces because this is the time that we are in, so I ask you just to take a moment.
29:00 - Take a breath with me and look at these questions.
29:06 - What stories can you tell about your ancestors, your neighborhood, or your community? What ways has your family been able or not been able to pass down stories or information about themselves? What are some of the reasons for either response? In what ways do you share and pass stories to those in your life? Just take a look at those questions for a moment.
29:35 - What stories can you tell about your ancestors, your neighborhood, or your community? We learn through stories that we see.
29:53 - We learn through the stories that we hear. We learn through the stories that are told to us.
29:58 - And by witnessing. And when the stories don’t reflect people who look like us, folks who have lived experiences similar to us.
30:09 - It can often feel as though we don’t exist in the world.
30:14 - And that is a harmful cultural practice that white supremacy continues to proliferate.
30:23 - It tries to create a sense of invisibility of anything that does not center itself in that mold.
30:32 - And so that is why exploring black literature, exploring literature written by people of the global majority by indigenous authors, that people of color is very important.
30:47 - That is why reclaiming that literature is significant in the lives of young people in the lives of people of all ages.
30:53 - And it is really a life-saving and culture-saving act for librarians of color, and people of color to be encouraged.
31:04 - To know that the works that the people in their communities create are a value.
31:12 - >> Bekezela Mguni: For so long we’ve been taught to see our culture through Eurocentric lenses.
31:16 - We haven’t been able to know, but what we contribute is of value.
31:21 - And so all of our ancestors who have been radical and resisted the lie that was told to us, they have really done some incredible life-saving work to ensure that we have an inheritance and a legacy.
31:39 - That we don’t lose. And I’m so grateful for the writing of black women and black women trans-people.
31:48 - Without them it would seem as though many of us didn’t exist in history, or didn’t have experiences that were not singular.
31:57 - And we can see ourselves and our humanity in these works.
32:06 - So the reason this is important to me is because it is about power.
32:11 - And if you want to take a moment, you all are able to see the screen as well.
32:19 - The slide as well, and we wanna think about who has the power to name, who has the power to record ideas.
32:28 - Who has the power to label things and to categorize things? And with that power, what is it that they do? I always say that the Dewey Decimal System makes me laugh.
32:41 - And Melville Dewey and his attempt to categorize all things in existence is a really interesting example of arrogant, white, patriarchal nonsense.
32:53 - Because I think about this idea that we could categorize every single thing in the world, and why we would feel the need to do that.
33:04 - And what the implications of what that might mean.
33:08 - It is important to cherish wisdom and knowledge.
33:12 - However, in the practice of how colonialism has unfolded in this world.
33:24 - That pursuit of knowledge, that pursuit of knowing and naming, it was not done in a way that respected the humanity of all people.
33:35 - And it created actually how we experience race now.
33:42 - And it’s created racial violence and it’s created, long legacies of culturally [UKNOWN] that continue to harm the psyche and impact the psyche of entire communities of people.
33:55 - Especially the psyches of young children who have to grow up and try to figure out where they are where they fit in this world because they’re constantly being told.
34:05 - There aren’t examples of them already, and we have to refine and do the work every single generation to connect those linkages and build those bridges again.
34:16 - And so the work that people are doing in your communities, the work that you do to remember stories, the work that you do to honor your ancestors.
34:23 - Is important work, you don’t have to have a degree.
34:25 - You don’t have to have gone to school to learn about library science or archivism to be a steward of culture.
34:35 - If you are someone who likes to scrapbook, if you are the photographer at your family reunions.
34:41 - If you remember the stories of your grandmother, you are a cultural steward.
34:46 - And I am excited about the possibilities of us remembering that and reminding each other of all the various roles that we play.
34:56 - And all of the possibilities that exist for us to keep our stories and to determine the narrative and about what’s said about who we are.
35:10 - Another issue that we see in the United States is that 85% of archivists, curators, museum workers are white.
35:18 - And 87% of people who are credentialed as librarians are white as well.
35:23 - So this means that amongst black, Latino, indigenous folks, Asian folks is that we make up the remainder of those percentages.
35:34 - And we are always striving and struggling really, to find access to resources to create spaces that will hold our cultural production, that will honor our stories.
35:48 - And that will reflect spaces that are useful to our communities.
35:54 - Many of the archives that are held in universities and institutions that are not connected to communities are inaccessible to the folks that are actually represented in what the content of the archive actually is.
36:10 - There are archives full of the papers of folks whose families don’t have access to that, there are archives of indigenous peoples, the photographs of indigenous peoples, of their objects, of sacred weaving.
36:30 - So many other types of artifacts and those communities don’t have access to them.
36:36 - And one of the ways that indigenous archivists and scholars are trying to write this is by creating systems and practices that inform archivists and cultural workers on how to appropriately engage communities cultural contributions.
36:57 - When you think about the fact that many of these institutions received these objects through illicit means and violent means.
37:07 - When we think about the fact that most of Africa’s riches is in Europe, you know that is through looting and colonization and robbery, outright robbery, it’s not because they were given over to Europeans.
37:25 - And so, when we as African people and people of color and people of the global majority go to find ourselves in history, we have to go to white institutions a lot of the time.
37:34 - And we are interpreted through a white lens.
37:36 - That is typically harmful to our psyche and to the ways in which we can communicate about ourselves with our young people, and with our communities.
37:49 - And it’s important for people of color to be in these roles to inform these practices.
37:56 - It’s also important for us to think about whether or not these spaces are always still relevant.
38:03 - Sometimes these works need to be repatriated to their homelands and to the peoples who are the actual stewards of that culture.
38:13 - And those are conversations our archives and museums have to have.
38:18 - We don’t exist without those objects and that’s okay.
38:24 - If that is not what is desired by the people who are the cultural stewards of that work.
38:33 - So, another reason why archives, record keeping, memory-making is important is because culturally racial happens every single day.
38:43 - It happens in our communities. It happens in our neighborhoods.
38:46 - We see it, especially as gentrification continues to move further along, especially in a community like Pittsburgh.
38:56 - You see the erasure of names, we see the erasure of neighborhoods.
39:01 - And this is an example of how we create documents.
39:06 - It’s an example of one of the oldest examples of how mapmaking has erased communities of people, specifically people of color and black people, more specifically in Pittsburgh.
39:22 - And this image on the left is an image that the Carnegie Mellon University created as a guide for students to know about the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.
39:34 - And also for them to be able to explore the city.
39:39 - If you look at this map on the left, several of the neighborhoods are quite present.
39:45 - You may be familiar with them. And then if you are familiar with some other neighborhoods, you might notice that they’re missing.
39:54 - >> Bekezela Mguni: Ebony Thomas is the maker of the image on the right.
39:57 - She also sells this as a T-shirt, hoodie and other ways of expressing it wearing it in the world, was really outraged.
40:06 - That this map existed. And she created this as a response.
40:11 - And you can clearly see the university chose to remove and not highlight black neighborhoods that are here in Pittsburgh.
40:21 - The Hill District, Garfield, Lincoln-Larimer, Homewood, East Hills, Hazelwood uptown.
40:26 - All of these neighborhoods have significant contribution.
40:30 - And Wilkinsburg gets a distant light shout-out [LAUGH] in the gray in the upper right corner.
40:37 - And that’s also a neighborhood where black people live, work and play, and contribute to this city.
40:47 - And so when an institution creates a map like this for the record when it says this is something that students who are coming to the city or who are from the city can reference as a tool, it conveys many, many messages.
41:05 - And one of the messages that it conveys is that people in these communities are not to be recorded for enduring value.
41:13 - One of the messages that it conveys is that these neighborhoods may be of any adjective that they’d like to share.
41:24 - When I first came to Pittsburgh, a Pitt Pathfinder told me that the Hill District was a rough neighborhood, as a euphemism.
41:31 - And rough can also mean it’s a black neighborhood, or etc.
41:36 - And so when we think about what’s erased and what’s lost when people who are informed by their bias or their lack of awareness, or lack of responsibility to communities in creating documents that speak about our existence.
41:54 - We lose so, so much. When you erase the Hill District from this map, you lose August Wilson, you lose the Centre Avenue poets, you lose Rob Penny, you lose Maisha, you lose Nick Flournoy, you lose so many wonderful contributors.
42:11 - You lose Dr. Vernel Lilly and Kuntu Repertory Theatre.
42:16 - You lose so many people who literally live in a neighborhood that was once known as a crossroads of the world.
42:27 - You lose people who have contributed to the world in art, music, science culture.
42:35 - You lose the neighborhood that created the first ambulance system in the world, excuse me in America, that we use our ambulance system is based on that.
42:47 - And you create a message that says these neighborhoods aren’t important enough to be recorded and included in our map in this document that will live for the future.
43:06 - When we had the opportunity, when we had the privilege to travel to Palestine with the librarians and archivists with Palestine and one of the things that we learned was that librarians there had to fight for a call number.
43:24 - And similarly to the cultural erasure of that map, one of the ways that libraries can erase culture and fact and truth, is by not calling something what it is.
43:36 - Librarians and there’s a from the university, they fought for the Intifada, which is the resistance that however you are in your own perspectives on Palestine and Israel.
43:56 - These Librarians fought for the right for the Intifada to be called the Intifada.
44:01 - To be named as a struggle of the Palestinian people and to be lifted up within the broader histories that this place was experiencing.
44:13 - And, so, I think it’s really important that we’re able to connect those dots because when we think about map making, you think about a place like Palestine.
44:25 - One of the things that we know is that the map continues to shift, continues to change.
44:32 - And the land, and who has access and right to the land, continues to change.
44:37 - And one of the ways that the legacy of colonization, occupation continues to further itself in Palestine, is by the erasure of culture.
44:51 - And one of the things that happened in 1948 was a great book burning, The Great Book Robbery.
44:58 - And books were stolen and destroyed from Palestinian families and private libraries.
45:05 - And we went to Palestine to connect with people who were doing cultural work in Palestine to really get a sense of why it was important for them to be participating in cultural stewardship because there was a continuous erasure of Palestinian cultural expression.
45:25 - And one of the ways that Palestinians continued to resist is by saying existence is resistance.
45:30 - When you can erase someone from a map, you can say that they never existed.
45:35 - You can take their land and you can displace them from their homes.
45:39 - And that’s important for people, black and brown people around the world who continue to experience forcible removal from their land, their cities, their communities.
45:49 - Whether it’s through classism and gentrification, or forcible removal in other ways.
45:54 - Environmental racism as well is one of the ways that we remove people from their lands.
46:04 - And we see examples of cultural erasure in our communities as I’ve said before, anywhere.
46:11 - If we look at East Liberty, this is a mural called Lend Me You Ears, and it is no longer in existence.
46:20 - This is a beautiful image of it. And it featured children who lived in that community.
46:27 - And as it was erased, this is what it looked like.
46:32 - And the company, the community, various levels of dynamics occurred that didn’t allow this mural to remain, which was supported by the community and are a reflection of the people who live there.
46:52 - And as East Liberty has been gentrified, as people have had to move from the neighborhood, as it’s become more expensive to live, the reflections of those faces have been erased and have been changing.
47:06 - And so this is what the building looks like now as an example of it in process.
47:13 - And the title of that piece is called To Be Human.
47:16 - And a Detroit-based artist is the person, Ann Lewis who created it.
47:23 - She tried to work with school youth and community members to get their input into it.
47:30 - And I think those were some of the ways they tried to ameliorate the harm that was done.
47:35 - However, I think it’s really interesting when we actually had human beings who were reflected on the building, we’ve replaced it with an image like this.
47:47 - And so I think it’s always important for us to be critical even with the good intent of folks.
47:55 - To be mindful of that while it may not be important to you, it may not matter to you, that image and those images represented the lives of people who lived in that neighborhood and it mattered to them to see themselves there.
48:12 - And similarly in that neighborhood you receive another message from our community.
48:21 - We had a wonderful artist, our dear friend Alisha Wormsley, who has been lifting up this mantra, this prophecy, this truth, this affirmation in her work, and she had opportunity to put this work up on a building in East Liberty, there are black people in the future.
48:42 - And this affirmation was really hotly contested by so many people and eventually had to come down.
48:53 - She’s been able to continue to spread that work around the country which is really powerful and around the world because this is the truth.
49:01 - There are black people in the future. And this is one of the ways that we do archival work and memory keeping so that we can exist in the future when people try to erase who we are.
49:15 - In these moments, those are attempts to diminish our presence, attempts to diminish our cultural contributions and attempts to harm us.
49:26 - And we have artists to thank for combating that in every way, shape and form.
49:31 - And this is one example of the way that an artist has done that.
49:36 - Another project that she did in Homewood, was by lifting up the actual people in the community through a project called The People Are The Light.
49:43 - And so, one of the things I really appreciate about this project was that it really connects to the idea that we can have these institutions, we can have books and we can have these vessels.
49:56 - As objects of memory, but really and truly is the people, our community members, our friends, our loved ones, our elders and our ancestors who hold the stories that we should cherish and revere and support and hold dear and make sure that we talk about them.
50:14 - We are new ancestors, we will be ancestors one day, and we are leaving a legacy behind.
50:20 - And we have to really think about what the legacy is that we are leaving and what’s the evidence that we’re leaving about the types of lives that we lived, what we believed in, and what we fought for.
50:35 - I wanna lift up people who are doing community-based work in Pittsburgh, who have been doing it in a way that is community-centered and is inspiring.
50:50 - I already shared some of the work of Njaimeh Njie in the earlier slide, but this is an image of Njaimeh, I encourage you all to visit her site and the Hill Homecoming site.
50:59 - To learn more about the digital archive she created to capture stories of Hill District residents, and this is what we lose when the Hill District is erased from a map.
51:12 - We lose hundreds and 1,000s of stories and that is a very, that’s a disturbing thing to think about.
51:25 - But I’m joyful in the sense that I know people like Njaimeh who are thoughtful and committed to holding the stories of their elders with dear respect and extreme creativity.
51:39 - This is one of the archives and monuments she created in the community on the steps of the Kauffman Center, the Hillhouse Kauffman Center, and this is also on Centre Avenue.
51:50 - And so you can visit this place and see elders in the community who’ve contributed to, you can see who contributed to the everyday life and history of the Hill District and Tamanika Howze is also featured on this monument on these steps.
52:10 - She’s in the center right there. And I also want to lift up Emory Biko.
52:16 - Emory Biko is one of the first artists that I met in Pittsburgh, and he formed his own museum, Museum of African’s Experience in America.
52:26 - He created artwork, he collected artifacts.
52:30 - He would go to flea markets and he would go to junk shops and old stores and antique shops and would collect on his own way.
52:39 - He was not connected to a formal institution or white institution to do this work, but he knew finding these artifacts and finding a way to share them with the community, he did not keep them to himself, he didn’t hoard them.
52:52 - He shared them with community so that people could learn about themselves and see what the history was that we had experienced and he was really free with his sharing, and he did this on his own.
53:05 - I don’t know if he had exhibitions in different communities in Pittsburgh, but what I remember is.
53:16 - First working with Biko at the Gallery on Ninth, which was a previous gallery by the August Wilson Center had and he had one of his installations there.
53:27 - And I don’t know if many people, if folks who are listening tonight, how many of you know Biko but we do send our love and lift him up.
53:37 - And I really think about what it means for people in Pittsburgh who are from this community to have contributed so much to the culture of stewardship here.
53:48 - Not to be supported by institutions who have so many resources and don’t reflect typically the experiences of the people that live here, we have world-class museums and institutions here.
54:02 - And they do there are wonderful efforts to reflect some of the histories of the people that live here.
54:10 - However, there can be so much more relationship building and so much more intentionality around how we hold space for the stories of the people living in this community and to reflect them in an intentional and thoughtful way.
54:27 - In our work and in an ethical way, in a way that doesn’t feel like we are just extracting their stories for an exhibition, but we are collaborating with folks to preserve things of importance to them so that future generations can find them with ease and can know that they don’t have to start from scratch to learn about their cultural legacy.
54:56 - And I just wanna close with an image that I created from an archival image of Zora Neale Hurston, and it’s called Jump at the Sun.
55:05 - It’s in honor of her legacy. And she was a dynamic woman of her time.
55:12 - She was a cultural anthropologist, amongst many other things a dynamic writer and why she’s important to us is because she’s one of the folks who collected our stories and collected our songs.
55:27 - Collected photographs of us, wrote about our religious traditions and our perspectives and collected our proverbs and our jokes.
55:37 - And she wasn’t ashamed to write about us in the way that we spoke, she wasn’t ashamed to speak about us in the ways that we moved.
55:48 - And she lifted up black people in a way that was deeply, deeply loving and saw us in our full humanity.
55:58 - And I think that archives have not traditionally been informed by that cultural lens.
56:09 - The traditional lens of archives have been rooted in the Eurocentric lens of othering black people and people of the global majority, and have not held us as self-determined beings who can tell our stories on our own, who can direct our own narratives.
56:28 - And I think it’s important for us who are interested in this work, who do this work in formal and informal ways to know that each human being is capable in their own ways of self-determination and sovereignty and we need to respect that.
56:43 - And we need to decolonize the ways of our thinking where we are deeply embedded in practices of ownership and practices of expertise, and thinking that we know it all and move towards the space of collaborative learning.
56:59 - >> Bekezela Mguni: And co-stewardship with communities and really think about what it means to, when we think about justice, what it means to repair, right, reparations, what it means to repair those relationships of colonization where objects, artifacts, stories, people, beings have been stolen and exploited.
57:20 - >> Bekezela Mguni: What it means to repair that harm and to return things to the source.
57:25 - What does it mean to really honor the power within communities to hold their own stories and to direct that lens from a place of our own internal celebration? And I just want to end with her quote.
57:41 - She says I’m not tragically colored. There’s no great sorrow dammed up in my soul nor lurking behind my eyes.
57:48 - I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a low dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it.
57:58 - Even in this helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less.
58:08 - No, I do not weep at the world, I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
58:14 - And so I share her words and I share her spirit in this moment because I think it’s important for us to reclaim our narrative.
58:26 - The ways in which white history speaks about black people, indigenous people and people of color is not the way that we speak about ourselves.
58:37 - It’s not the way that our elders would tell the truth of our lives.
58:41 - And we have a responsibility to ourselves to deepen our commitment, To resisting the continuous false projections that whiteness tries to place on us.
59:01 - We are deeply capable. We operate from spaces of power.
59:05 - We operate from spaces of abundance, we are not lacking.
59:08 - And so I think we have more than enough within our communities to take those reigns and to direct the future.
59:18 - I think that we have multiple examples of people doing that within our community.
59:22 - And I think it’s important for us to see those people and to celebrate them and to not take them for granted.
59:27 - And so I just encourage you to really think about what it means for you to act as an empowered being, and not imbued with power from an institution or from a white-led space, but knowing that you have an ancestral legacy of storytelling and memory keeping.
59:43 - >> Bekezela Mguni: And that in order for us to pass that on to people in the future, we can be the ones to do that moving forward.
59:51 - So thanks for listening, and thanks for navigating with patience with the Zoom.
59:56 - And I’m here to answer any questions if you have any.
59:59 - So, thank you. >> Emily Davis: Thank you.
60:07 - [LAUGH] I’m Emily, as Keith said at the beginning.
60:12 - I’m one of the archivists in the University Archives, and I don’t know how to start this, Bekezela, I feel like, I don’t know, the hairs on my [LAUGH] arms are standing up.
60:24 - Thank you so much, that was such a powerful talk.
60:27 - I’m so honored to be here tonight. And to host this Q&A.
60:33 - >> Emily Davis: And maybe before we jump-start, I just also want to thank the audience.
60:37 - We already have a couple of really great questions in the queue.
60:42 - If anyone else has any other questions, please feel free to put them in the Q&A box and I’ll try to get to as many as we possibly can.
60:52 - [LAUGH] Cause I feel like I could talk to you all night, Bekezela, [LAUGH] I really feel like I could, but I know we don’t have the time for that.
61:01 - [LAUGH] So I’ll kick us off with one of the prepared questions that we put together beforehand.
61:11 - And I think it ties in nicely with the last image that you showed perhaps.
61:17 - And that is to talk about your new piece downtown at the Benedum Center, which is beautiful.
61:26 - Congratulations on that. Could you tell us a little bit more about that work and what it was like to work with the Cultural Trust? >> Bekezela Mguni: Sure.
61:36 - Well, I will like to say thank you for just having me and talking with me.
61:42 - And Tereneh Idia who is the mind, the wonderful black genius mind behind that exhibition, which is called Constellations: A New Constellation 202021, is really a collection of various black artists from Pittsburgh sharing their work in different public spaces.
62:04 - And so it’s a real honor to share space with those folks and to be lifted up with them.
62:10 - And Tereneh, is just really thoughtful, really committed and generous in the ways in which she shares about black culture and also contributes to it.
62:20 - And my work that I shared downtown is called The Spirit Series.
62:26 - And it’s a series of screenprints that I created to honor black women and their contributions to our lives.
62:35 - For me, I have felt that images of spiritual iconography didn’t always reflect me.
62:46 - I did grow up Anglican, which is I would say, diet Catholic, no offense to anybody.
62:53 - [LAUGH] But I was deeply rooted in this Christianity, but I didn’t see a representation of myself and people who look like me.
63:06 - And when we think about colonization, we know that the moral and religious superiority and thinking that there’s a God-given right to instruct people on how to think and be with the divine really was used as a force of destruction of culture and of people’s own spiritual practices.
63:28 - And so, even the inspiration of being able to create your own spiritual practice.
63:35 - Alice Walker in the Temple of My Familiar, there’s this beautiful section of the gospel according to Shug where Shug and Celia have created their own religion and were just like.
63:47 - And so I am inspired by all of these types of things and I created a body of prints that honor Audrey Lord, Ida B Wells, Zora Neale Hurston.
64:05 - Manny Helen Burrows and Henrietta Lacks, and I encourage folks to learn about those women and their contributions to the world.
64:13 - And one of the ways that I use archives and archival information to remix things in my art is the challenge the narratives that we’ve learned.
64:23 - So there’s a piece called Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy Meet Their Midwives and it features two midwives from 1930s Florida, who are known as granny midwives.
64:34 - And they’re the names of Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy, and always try to lift them up because we’re always hearing about J Marion Sims as a father of gynecology.
64:43 - And what he did to these women who he owned, was he operated on them without anesthesia, and they were just three of the names of some of the women we know that he operated on, because they were enslaved and because he believed black women didn’t experience pain.
65:00 - So one of the ways that I’m able to use the archive in my work is to lift these images into the contemporary moment.
65:08 - And also experience time travel where I can hold my ancestors Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy in the spirit of midwives, of black midwives who would hold them with tenderness and with care and pray for their healing and their transformation and for black women and black birthing people and you know for Reproductive Justice to be real.
65:29 - So that we can actually learn about the ways in which we owe so much of what we know about reproductive health and well-being to the bodies of black women.
65:41 - So please check it out there’s lots of wonderful artists in the show Njaimeh’s in it Darrel Kinsel is in it, so lots of people.
65:46 - >> Emily Davis: And it’s all downtown. >> Bekezela Mguni: It’s all outside.
65:49 - So you could just wear your mask and be safe [LAUGH] >> Emily Davis: It’s getting warmer, so sounds like an afternoon stroll downtown.
65:56 - [LAUGH] So one of our first questions from the audience is this.
66:03 - Could you speak more about the connections between archive and memory and imagination? >> Bekezela Mguni: Can you say it one more time? [CROSSTALK] >> Emily Davis: Can you speak more to the connections between archive, memory, and imagination? >> Bekezela Mguni: Okay, thank you to whoever asked that question.
66:20 - [LAUGH] So when I hear that question, one I appreciate it, and the second thing I think about like I shared with you, in my mind and in what in the ways in which I’ve learned about history and how I’ve learned about history.
66:37 - I feel that the archive shapes, it gives us material in our subconscious and in our conscious, right, it gives us material, what we learn about history, whether we learn it in a book or whether we learn it on television or we learn it from others.
66:51 - It gives us material in our minds to work with and that material is the fuel for our imagination.
66:59 - Right? And some of the things that we’ve learned.
67:02 - So we think about, there’s wonderful people like Aisha Marie Brown and Alexis Pauline Gumbs and many others who think about the work of Octavia Butler.
67:12 - They study her work, and they think about what does it mean to, what can we learn from her writing? And her collection of words is an archive in of itself, of her thoughts and of her vision, that gives us material to think about potential futures, potential ways of being and knowing and other ways of thinking how we can exist with one another.
67:35 - And in regards to memory, I think that the archive can serve us.
67:43 - It can let us down [LAUGH] you know, we can find many things about, you can find things we can find things depending on who you are.
67:57 - You know and one of the other things I was thinking about today, some of us in this poem that I read earlier by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, when I think about memory and the archive.
68:09 - I think about what we think an archive actually is.
68:12 - A lot of us think archives only really exist in like repositories with temperature control rooms and white gloves and boxes and those sorts of things.
68:22 - But in that poem, I thought about the Atlantic Ocean being an archive.
68:25 - You know, what does that mean? For enslaved black people, what does that mean for the descendants of the enslaved is the descendants of Africans.
68:34 - You know, what is the grief ritual for the Atlantic and for that journey? You know, I think of elders in my community as living archives.
68:46 - I think of the barbershop. I think today I was thinking especially about the national choice.
68:51 - And I was thinking about Nate Mitchell and I lift him up as well and how that space which was one of the first places I worked in Pittsburgh is a living breathing archive.
69:00 - So many people have who make Pittsburgh what it is have gone there to be cared for, to share with one another people have worked there.
69:10 - And I think about the bus stop as an archive the way that I when I was growing up and when I’d be going to school, and I would have so many memories and stories and like the bus stop can be an archive.
69:22 - So I think about when I think about imagination and memory and the archive, I think about how they are intertwined how they feed into one another.
69:29 - And what I think about too is, you know when I, what we decide to keep of our memories, sometimes it’s a choice.
69:40 - Sometimes it’s not, you know, but we decide to keep of the memories that we create is informed by many things.
69:51 - And it is also it’s informed by our bias or by our values by our desires and so.
69:57 - You know, when we. We are each holding memories for other people, for other beings and institutions like libraries, archives, museums whose job it is to hold those things.
70:18 - When we have spaces of, that lack awareness about certain things, certain memories aren’t held.
70:25 - So certain people’s, certain people are left out, certain memories are left out.
70:30 - And so we see community archives and people of various backgrounds, whether they form a formal archive or not.
70:39 - Really doing that work of holding those memories.
70:42 - So, I think we make, we’re making memories every day, we’re creating archives every day.
70:48 - Everybody’s on. Well, not everybody, but many people aren’t Instagram.
70:51 - [LAUGH] That’s a consistent personal archive.
70:54 - We’re always doing it. We’re always doing creating archives in some way, shape or form.
70:59 - We’re always collecting, we’re always trying to tell a story and find information from something.
71:04 - So I definitely just mostly what I was saying and I’m sorry to go on for too long is that the imagination is important especially for us in a critical moment of.
71:20 - What will be? Like I said, the world has ended for us many times before and it’s imagination that has created the world again and again.
71:33 - What we are informed by through our memories, through the memories that we’ve kept, through the archives and the records that we’re able to access.
71:41 - Let’s us know what worked before and what didn’t and we can confer with that to really create and to inform them in our imagination.
71:50 - For what we want to create moving forward. So.
71:55 - >> Emily Davis: Yeah, that’s great. I love this idea of the bus stop is.
72:02 - Archive [LAUGH]. Okay, the next question is how does your work intersect with the indigenous community and descendants of indigenous people who do not know their history? >> Bekezela Mguni: So, thank you for that question.
72:28 - I would say that one of the ways that I’ve learned, and she is not in Pittsburgh right now, but she’s from Pittsburgh, Julia Johnson, who is just a wonderful, powerful activist in our community, and just amazing person.
72:46 - She really did a lot in her community around activism, but she’s a whole human being, and she’s contributed a lot, so I just wanna honor that.
72:53 - She actually held a conference to bring into conversation, what is the relationship between black and indigenous peoples, right? What is our relationship, what it has been in the Americas, and where we’ve been in solidarity with one another and where we haven’t been? And I would say for me, that’s one of the spaces where I’ve really had an opportunity to grow in terms of my relationship and the ways in which indigenous practices inform my work as a black person.
73:29 - And then also learning and remembering the inherent indigeneity of people of African descent, because we are also indigenous peoples, right, who were stolen and displaced from our lands.
73:41 - So what does it mean for us to be on this land which is settled by colonizers? So I think for me, the intersection with the indigenous community is examining that question, cause I think that sometimes there is that question of, can black people be settlers as well? And so I think anybody could be anything on some level, but where we have to complicate it, right, is the fact that we are stolen people on stolen land.
74:17 - And there is not one simple way to define how we arrived here.
74:23 - And so I think recognizing the inherent indigeneity of black people increases my awareness and potential for understanding the experiences of the First Nations peoples of this world, of this on Turtle Island of the Americas.
74:44 - And then to realize that we have more to gain, and more from our actual relationship with one another, because we’ve been in solidarity with one another before, right? So there have been spaces where we’ve not been in solidarity with one another, and that we’ve acted against one another.
75:11 - But when we move in collaboration we can change the world, and I think the space of alignment is seeing how indigenous people were forced into these schools.
75:29 - Where they were forced to deny their culture, deny their heritage, deny their language and their spiritual practices.
75:37 - Those were the same psychological practices of genocide that were enacted upon people of African descent, right? So I understand in that regard, the ways in which oppression and white supremacy have acted upon us in similar ways.
75:55 - And then in order for us to be reclaiming the fullness of ourselves in the work that black people do to reclaim our culture, we can share those strategies, we can share those legacies and those stories, and we can learn from one another.
76:12 - One of the special things that we can learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters and people really, is really thinking about how important their relationship to land is, right? And that land is not something to be owned.
76:33 - The world around this is not something to be owned, but to be in relationship with.
76:41 - And as people who have been a commodity, who have been owned, that’s a really important value for us to meditate on and to really think about.
76:53 - Because just even the concept, the introduction of this idea of property, is a completely different worldview that we didn’t hold, right? And so I just think that there’s a lot for us in finding ourselves, and I mean that in both spheres, right, for people of African descent, indigenous folks, and the spaces where those overlap.
77:18 - There’s a lot that we can share in terms of energy, resources, and support from one another in reclaiming that.
77:28 - And strategically doing it too, because we’re on this land now, so what does it mean for us to honor indigenous sovereignty? What does it mean for us to honor the worldview of indigenous people, and what our worldview is? And for us as black people, we were robbed of what our worldview was, and we had to hold on in so many different ways, right? And so as we remember that we are also of the land, right, we can tap into and reach across that ancestral archive of the Atlantic, right? To times when we had much more grounding, much more space, and really connect to what it means for us to be grounded in our relationship to the land to nature, and to be as expansive as possible.
78:22 - And I just think that I don’t know if I have the best words for it right now, but I feel really excited thinking about just what it means to return to your own relationship to the Earth because we have been so disconnected from the land because of colonization.
78:42 - We were brought here as people who were experts in agriculture.
78:49 - And we made the United States, a world dominant, the most powerful place in the world, most wealthy place in the world because of our expertise.
78:59 - And now we have to teach young black children to fall back in love with the Earth again because we were so brutalized for that relationship, right? So I think it’s powerful the potential that we have to work with learning indigenous histories and building indigenous solidarity.
79:18 - And I think that the work that indigenous scholars do to teach us about appropriate ways of cultural stewardship.
79:28 - We can learn from their teachings, from the things that they’ve offered, their practices.
79:34 - Everyone can learn from indigenous scholarship in regards to that.
79:37 - So I would just say that it really offers us a really powerful foundation for both cultural solidarity and doing our work in different ways.
79:50 - >> Emily Davis: Yeah, thank you. So at the beginning of the presentation, you talked a little bit about your project, the Black Unicorn Library and Archive.
80:00 - Could you share your favorite initiative or story about the Black Unicorn Library? >> Bekezela Mguni: Yes.
80:06 - [LAUGH] Cause it is my favorite, it’s one of my favorites.
80:14 - Okay, so my favorite memory of the Black Unicorn Library Project, well, I have two.
80:21 - Okay, the first is really something I prayed for and worked for, for almost a decade.
80:29 - When I first came to Pittsburgh, a friend of mine gave me a chapbook by Staceyann Chin, who is an amazing spoken word artist, poet, writer, playwright who is of Black and Chinese descent from Jamaica.
80:43 - And she’s a lesbian and an activist and just a powerful person.
80:47 - And as a black woman from the Caribbean who is also queer, I didn’t have many people to look to as examples of how to be and how to show up in the world, and that we could be, that we had a right to be.
81:05 - And when I found her book, when I got her chapbook, I fell in love with it.
81:10 - And when I founded the Black Unicorn Project, one of my dreams in my heart was, it’d be so great if we could bring her to Pittsburgh and she could share her work, her memoir with people.
81:21 - And my favorite memory so far is that we were able to bring her here and she was able to read from her memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, at the Homewood Library, to a wonderful audience of various types of people who came and were really endeared.
81:44 - They were really attentive to her, really a wonderful audience.
81:48 - But my dear friend, she begins, one of the things she shared with me that one of her students shared with her was that she was the only living author that he had studied in his work in his program at school.
82:05 - And it was just really powerful for him to meet her.
82:08 - And I was just really both touched by that and grateful [LAUGH] and excited by it.
82:13 - And I was so grateful that I got to share my love of her writing with my community.
82:22 - Because it is the writing of black women, their courageous storytelling about their lives, that affirms my life and that has saved me.
82:32 - So that is what I try to do is to share what is life-affirming for me through this literature and through our cultural contributions.
82:40 - And so the fact that we got to bring her, we got to share time with her, and folks really appreciate her being here is one of my special Black Unicorn moments, so.
82:51 - [LAUGH] >> Emily Davis: Thank you for sharing.
82:53 - [LAUGH] >> Bekezela Mguni: Yeah. >> Emily Davis: Let’s see, it looks like we’ve got room for a couple more.
83:01 - Here’s one. How can archives lead us through generational trauma? >> Bekezela Mguni: How can archives lead us through? >> Emily Davis: Mm-hm.
83:13 - >> Bekezela Mguni: I wish I could ask a follow-up to that.
83:16 - >> Emily Davis: [LAUGH] Well, maybe you could.
83:17 - >> Bekezela Mguni: [LAUGH] Cause I wanna know more.
83:21 - But, so one thing I can share as a thought that comes to mind because I was thinking about the different kinds of archives and I was thinking about family trees.
83:34 - And I was thinking about how some of us can only go back so far on our family tree, and how some of us can go very far back because of our race, because of our privilege, because of our access and our class, right? So there’s layers to who has access to their legacy and their family legacy.
83:54 - And I was thinking about the stories I’ve heard by people who found information about their family tree by looking at the property ledgers of enslaved by people who were slave masters, of people who owned plantations.
84:12 - And I was thinking about what it means for people to have to look through property ledgers for their grandfathers and their grandmothers, and to maybe have a birth date or to maybe have a little bit of information.
84:29 - >> Bekezela Mguni: And I think that while that can be challenging, it could be scary, it could be filled with uncertainty, I think one of the things that is powerful for me and what I’ve been learning in my personal journey.
84:49 - My grandmother, Yulan Harrison, she passed away on New Year’s Eve of this year.
84:59 - And I learned more, I’m learning more about the generational trauma that exists in our family because of her death than when she was living.
85:16 - Because all of the ways that people refused to share or ask questions or were unsure, now there are all these pictures.
85:24 - And so the family archive, the family collection of photographs, has given us space, has given my mother space too, for us to share with love about the reflections, the questions that we had, and the things that we may have also wished for.
85:44 - And I have found that to be a space of healing, I have found that to be a space of encouragement.
85:51 - And I think when we think about archives as a space to address generational trauma, they may present stories that we aren’t familiar with.
86:02 - They may present stories that are hard to hear.
86:07 - And what I have found in my experience by learning about stories I wasn’t familiar with, stories that were hard to hear of heartbreak and violence and really difficult things to navigate, in the space of also seeing her as a full human being, and being able to offer her spirit and her legacy just more care and compassion, I find a lot of gratitude in that.
86:40 - And so I don’t think it’s a one answer fits all for everybody.
86:43 - I think that we’re all gonna navigate our processes as we begin to uncover the trauma within our families, and we all heal in different ways.
86:54 - But it has been a space of healing for me and just its transformation in my family where I see that in this person’s passing and honoring her ancestral legacy and telling the truth about her life, we’re able to do a lot more reckoning with what is true for us and true for the family.
87:19 - >> Emily Davis: Thank you. I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing, that’s.
87:23 - >> Bekezela Mguni: Thank you, Yulan Harrison, a sassy Sagittarius that liked to wear red.
87:27 - >> Emily Davis: [LAUGH] >> Bekezela Mguni: I lift her up today.
87:29 - >> Emily Davis: Love it. [LAUGH] Okay, the next one is kind of an in-depth question, but I think it’s super interesting.
87:38 - I recently gained interest in the world of archiving when videos of police brutality during the summer started getting deleted on Twitter or hidden behind a flood of hashtags on Instagram.
87:53 - How can videos or pictures that have been shared on social media, through various people be archived? >> Bekezela Mguni: That’s an interesting question because I know that they are being archived by different types of entities, right, so, there are individuals that are archiving those videos.
88:16 - There’s Twitter [LAUGH] and Facebook and Instagram and all of the other, interfaces that we’re working with that are archiving them with their metadata, which is like the way that they name and label those archives for the content that they have.
88:36 - And I think for I don’t know the person asking the question, but just from me to you, those images, I mean and videos excuse me, those videos are being archived and are being held.
88:56 - I know that there are attempts to shadowban certain types of content on the internet and specifically on social media sites.
89:07 - And that’s something we also have to work against, I don’t know if that is something of your interest to do in terms of like cataloging that work collecting those videos.
89:18 - But there are individuals I can’t name for you, someone who is collecting just bodies of those photographs.
89:26 - I mean of those videos because I know that for many of us, it’s very traumatizing to watch those videos and so they exist in the world.
89:37 - And we know that they’re there because we’ve either seen it and we’ve put it or we’ve seen it multiple times, right? And so I’m not sure how I know that some people incorporate it into their creative work, I know that some people incorporate it.
89:50 - I’m sure, there’s the attempt by the Library of Congress to document things and the lack of capacity that they may have as well.
89:59 - So I know if you were to do more research, to seek people who are probably doing more on a small scale, right smaller institutions that are archiving those things, it’s out there.
90:11 - Unfortunately, I don’t have like a specific name but I know that there are institutions that are probably designating space and time and resources to capture that information.
90:23 - Because while it is really challenging and traumatizing is still an important part of the work and what I will say is when I did go to Palestine with the librarians and archivists for Palestine.
90:35 - One of the people that we met, one of the strategies, one of the cultural workers, one of the strategies that they were using was documenting the ways in which they experienced military violence.
90:51 - And they were using that as a form of evidence in courts to show that they were not the initiators of violence when they were brought into, brought up for offense.
91:04 - And so I know that’s like one project that came to mind immediately of people documenting the experience in this way.
91:13 - It’s relevant because one of Israel’s greatest exports is surveillance and police technologies and so what is being used against Palestinians is being used against all people who are organizing and resisting.
91:27 - In this country specifically, for example, the tear gas that was used in Ferguson, similar to the teargas, is made also by a company located not too far from here in Pennsylvania.
91:39 - It has also used the tear gas canister similarly used in Palestine as well, so we are directly related to people around the world through our proximity and their experiences that we may or may not know about.
91:59 - And so, if you have a question, I know they’ll share my information, I’d love to learn a little bit more about your question to answer you more thoroughly, but that’s what I’ll share that comes to the top of mind.
92:11 - >> Emily Davis: Yeah, I also think witness archiving does a lot of work internationally with protest videos, but I don’t know about that.
92:22 - And this is our last question [LAUGH]. What does the future of archival collaboration look like between institutions and cultural workers/archivists? >> Bekezela Mguni: You all think I can answer that whole question? >> Emily Davis: [LAUGH] >> Bekezela Mguni: What did you say? >> Emily Davis: I can always throw another one out there.
92:47 - >> Bekezela Mguni: No, no, I’m chuckling because I’m like, that’s so big and it’s fine, what is the future of those collaborations? I think those are all being, those are all unfolding, right now.
93:05 - Right they’re unfolding as we’re speaking, they are unfolding as we, as archival institutions.
93:14 - Decide to engage in work that asks them to be reflective about themselves, about who’s on staff, about who, what worldviews are present, what values are present in the work, as those institutions do the work to look at themselves and how they came to be.
93:36 - My hope is that there will be a deepening of the commitment to move in more ethical ways and to move in ways that repair harm.
93:46 - And also to move in ways that honor the knowledge and the scholarship of communities of themselves, right? So, we don’t assign value to what communities bring versus in comparison to what academic institutions might bring.
94:03 - Because a lot of what academic institutions bring are based off of what they learned in community.
94:11 - They just have access and privilege to say it or to represent it in a certain way.
94:15 - I hope that people, I hope that each person on this call, I think, I hope that for me, my hope is that everyday people will become clearer about their inherent value as a contributor to culture.
94:33 - And I hope that we will value our voices and our contributions and I hope that we will begin to value the contributions of the people in our community.
94:44 - And in our society, and I hope that we will feel strong in knowing that the ways that we can tell a story are just as dynamic as any other entity.
95:03 - So I think in terms of that collaboration and that future, I want to see one of the things that the reason why we have.
95:11 - Inequity in museums and archives and who’s represented in the culture who was decided, who was deemed as important and notable and significant enough to be remembered and to be lifted up.
95:27 - The reason why we have statues of European men everywhere and not of black women everywhere is because we value those people more.
95:36 - And I’m hoping that with all of our efforts and all of our work, that we will come to know our inalienable value, our deep value everything [LAUGH] all of our rights, I hope you will know all of who we are.
95:53 - So that we find value in ourselves, we become committed to celebrating ourselves and we don’t rely on external sources for validation.
96:04 - And I hope that in community, we’ll be able to create the resources that we need to become the stewards of our stories and of our creations and our cultural production.
96:15 - And as we transform those institutions, archives, libraries, museums, I think those partnerships will emerge when we start to value various ways of knowing various types of intelligence.
96:29 - And that just change, you change who gets to be centered, we change who gets to be centered, we change who gets to be seen.
96:41 - And everything from like a trap museum matters to the little free libraries on in our neighborhoods, those matter, to the quilts in your family, those matter.
96:57 - Those are archives, those are legacies, those are ways of keeping knowledge and story and so I hope you’ll be able to just transform what we deem a valuable archive? >> Emily Davis: Yeah, I look forward to the future too.
97:15 - >> Emily Davis: Yeah, [LAUGH] >> Emily Davis: Yeah, this was great, thank you so much that that was our last question and we have lots more that got that went unanswered and Bekezela has agreed to email everyone with responses.
97:33 - So yeah, sorry to everyone whose question we didn’t get to tonight but Bekezela, thank you again.
97:44 - Very, so honored to be here with you, it’s been such a privilege to listen to you and everything that you’ve shared with us tonight has been so great.
97:54 - And thanks again to Andy who’s helped put this on and to Katie and Ryan, Shannon, Heidi, and everyone else behind the scenes, and Keith, who helped make tonight happen.
98:09 - >> Bekezela Mguni: Yeah, thank you all so much for having me and for allowing me to share my wisdom, ideas and to bring people into the room with me because that’s how it works.
98:18 - And yeah, I’m just grateful for everybody that came through and thank you, I really truly do thank you.
98:24 - >> Emily Davis: All right, good night. >> Bekezela Mguni: Thanks everybody, good night.
98:28 - >> Bekezela Mguni: Thank you. .