Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful. (A Live Unchained Event)

Live Unchained

Live Unchained

Most recently, I was asked to use this blog as a platform to hold an interview with Live Unchained, a DC metro area-based arts organization, about their work and their campaign to host London-based poet Warsan Shire at their first awards ceremony next year. I was excited for two reasons. First, it was an honor and an opportunity to be asked to use the blog as an information exchange resource. It’s also a challenge I appreciate undertaking as a developing writer. Second, I have most recently come to know Warsan Shire’s work and find myself in awe of it. In fact, in my blog “35,” I included her poem, “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love.” The poem was beautifully done as a video…one that I must have watched more than 20 times. On top of it already being a great opportunity to interview someone, I would be able to talk about an artist who I am fast becoming a fan of.

I sat down with Kathryn Buford, Co-Founder of Live Unchained. We discussed some of the great work Live Unchained has done, what they are doing going forward and their campaign to raise money for the “Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful” awards ceremony.

CC: Kathryn, it’s great to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with The Certified Chronicles. Tell us a little about yourself and Live Unchained.

KB: It’s great meeting you as well! Thank you for allowing me to share what Live Unchained is and what we are doing. In addition to being Co-Founder of Live Unchained, I am an artist, journalist and Ph.D. student in Sociology at the University of Maryland.

As an artist, I creatively express myself through writing, journalism and the work I do as a social entrepreneur. Live Unchained is an international arts, media and events organization that connects Black women artists from different countries across the African Diaspora. Their artistic disciplines vary in everything from painting to photography, music, film and more. We have featured over 100 women artists on our growing online magazine, www.LiveUnchained.com. We recently joined MTV, Caribseek News, +DESIGN and many other brands as a media sponsor for the International Reggae Poster Contest and previously hosted the sold-out film screening of “Middle of Nowhere,” the groundbreaking film by the first African-American woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. Live Unchained events include art exhibits, festivals, film screenings, concerts and now, with the help of creative communities everywhere, an awards ceremony called “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful.” Through our work at Live Unchained, we want to connect creative communities everywhere we can.

CC: Can you tell us about some of the artists you’ve worked with and events you’ve held?

KB:  Yes.  Live Unchained has been fortunate to feature some really great artists who give us their time voluntarily. We’ve interviewed Jechumba, founder of African Digital Art, who curates www.africandigitalart.com, a great creative resource for culture lovers across the diaspora.

We’ve also interviewed Rachel Gichinga, who used art to mobilize Kenyan youth to vote in the 2010 constitutional referendum, to adopt a proposed new constitution. The result was a victory for the “Yes” campaign, which Kuweni Serious had worked really hard to achieve. Additionally, we met with Ava DuVernay, the first African-American woman to win at the Sundance Film Festival for “Middle of Nowhere,” which she wrote and directed. To support the film, Live Unchained held a screening of it in the Washington, DC area. Not only did our screening sell out, but based on per screen attendance, Ava DuVernay’s film also outsold “Argo” as the highest grossing film during an opening weekend.

One of our most popular interviews was with Peju Alatise, a Nigerian mixed media artist. We also spoke with Noah Sow, who is an Afro-Punk musician. Her music style has branched off into different directions since then, but we interviewed her to discuss Punk as a culture and way of life.

In terms of events, Live Unchained, along with the University of Maryland’s Nyumburu Center and Institute for Policy Studies, hosted a film screening of Mya Baker’s “Silence in Search of Black Female Sexuality in America.” After the screening, we held a discussion about the film. Some really great questions were asked relating to what is viewed as appropriate sexuality and whether Black women have to live up to European standards of sexuality. I was really impressed with the dialogue.

We’ve also held an online creative collaborative event, a “digital potluck poem.”  I posted a blog where I started a poem with one line. Different lines were added to the poem by people who responded to the blog post. We received over 150 replies, including contributions from Farai Chideya and Pete Chatmon. The final piece was a poem collectively written about freedom and we had poet Tiffany Okafor read the full poem out loud.

More recently, we held Live Unchained’s anniversary celebration this past February. It was a cool event with various visual arts, music and food.  Live Unchained has been growing for 4 years now and the celebration allowed us to launch the crowd-funding campaign for our “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” awards ceremony (www.indiegogo.com/liveunchained).

(Laughs) I feel like I’ve rambled on with all of that! But really, Live Unchained has had the opportunity to work with so many great people and it’s exciting to be able to talk about it all.

CC:  What led to the idea of having the “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” awards ceremony?

KB:  We’ve wanted to honor the women we’ve featured on the Live Unchained site for a while now. They are usually very busy people and they graciously give their time by holding interviews with us voluntarily. The awards ceremony is our way of saying, “We appreciate you.”

When I first saw the video of the Warsan Shire poem, “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love,” I was really moved. And the line where she says, “you are terrifying and strange and beautiful” just stood out to me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I shared the video with like every woman I know!

CC: (Laughs) I did the same thing when I first saw the video! I felt like it was the answer to so many questions.

KB: Exactly! I really embraced the terrifying, strange and beautiful line because I feel like it reflects all of the women we feature on the Live Unchained site. There are so many layers and complexity to who we are as women of African descent. We tend to be put into boxes that we don’t fit in. Live Unchained artists defy expectations and limitations. The “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” awards ceremony gives us a chance to show that you don’t have to compromise yourself to be accepted by someone else. Allow yourself to be terrifying, strange and beautiful.

CC: I love that. “Allow yourself to be terrifying, strange and beautiful.” What a great concept.

So I know Live Unchained is preparing to host the phenomenal Warsan Shire at the awards ceremony. Why Warsan? What about her work is significant? What is it that you want to highlight through Live Unchained?

KB: Well, in addition to bringing Warsan here to perform at the awards ceremony, she will also take part in a series of Live Unchained events leading up to it. She will host a workshop on healing through narrative and participate on a panel about cultural activism.

We chose Warsan because she is just so in line with the Live Unchained brand, in terms of honoring women of African descent. Her heritage means a lot to her, as does her femininity and womanhood. She is so incredibly talented. As a growing online magazine, Live Unchained features artists who take time to develop their craft. We respect her as an artist who is committed to her art. We also respect that her values of sisterhood, Africana pride, creativity and freedom are aligned with Live Unchained’s values; and with all that in mind, we thought she would be a great fit.

CC: Will there be other honorees at the awards ceremony? If so, will there be categories for the awards?

KB: The overall purpose of the ceremony is to honor all of the women who have contributed to Live Unchained, but we will have some specific categories to highlight women individually. The Sunrise Award will go to a female musician who is working hard to build her craft. She has never been any one’s opening act; like Damian Marley says, she is “the sunrise.” The Visual Genius Award will be presented to a woman who makes visual art that is smart and powerful. We will give a Sankofa Award to a woman who honors our African heritage and combines the past, present and future in her work. (As a side note, the Live Unchained logo is based on the Adinkra symbol for Sankofa. One of the English translations of Sankofa is “Go back and retrieve it.”) We’ll also be giving a LOL award to a comedienne; a woman who expresses art through humor.

We’ll also invite supporters to help construct two other awards categories. They’ll be able to do this online. More details will come closer to the event in fall 2014.

CC: It sounds like it’s going to be a great event. Do you already have supporters on board? How can the general public get involved?

KB: We are fortunate to already have some great supporters on board. Our Events and Media sponsors include: Paintings by J’Nell Jordan, Sonic Diaspora, Everybody is a Journalist, Create.Ture Fashion Studio by Michelle Robinson, Everlasting Life Café, Howard Film Culture, I AM WE Howard University Dance Troupe, Bon Bon Vie and Sondai Expressions.

You can learn more about the campaign and make an online donation through our indiegogo page: www.indiegogo/liveunchained.

We’re providing rewards for various contributions. They include beautifully designed art postcards,  “Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful” tee shirts and more.

There will also be volunteer opportunities available as we get closer to the event.

CC:  And how can folks get in touch with you to learn more about the campaign and about Live Unchained in general?

KB: You can reach Live Unchained through a variety of social media outlets. First, our website is: www.LiveUnchained.com.  We’re on Twitter: @liveunchained and on Facebook at: facebook.com/iliveunchained. We also have some videos at www.youtube.com/liveunchained.

You can also find us on Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest. I can be reached directly at: Kathryn@liveunchained.com.

CC: This has all been such great information. Any final thoughts you want to share?

KB: I just want to say that no contribution is too small. We greatly appreciate everyone supporting our campaign, from monetary donations to encouraging words. We don’t take anything for granted.

CC: Kathryn, it’s been great speaking with you. I’m excited to see all of the great work Live Unchained is going to continue to do. I’m also looking forward to the awards ceremony!

KB: It’s been great speaking with you as well. Thank you again for the opportunity!

Contact Information

Follow the author of “The Certified Chronicles” on Twitter: @biracialmama





Instagram, Tumblr

“For Women Who Are Difficult To Love:”  vimeo.com/38766162


2 Comments on “Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful. (A Live Unchained Event)”

  1. Alison says:

    Woohoo!!! Get it girl! This is great! I gotta retweet on twitter!

    Sent from Ali’s iPhone

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