Saturday was Voices Breaking Boundaries or VBB’s latest Living Room Art production: Homes and Histories. Full disclaimer: I have assisted with producing last two before this one. The process is always full of challenges, laughter, learning. The first was about Third Ward and Karachi, the second was about Women’s Reproductive rights and Karachi temples under attack, the latest was about the gentrification, history, and the complicated present + future of Houston’s Fourth Ward and similar issues affecting a forgotten demographic in Karachi- the African population living there.
While pasting photos to the streets of Fourth Ward, I met a newcomer to VBB – a new volunteer. She said she’d just moved from another part of the country where she was involved in activism and social justice. So naturally when she came to Houston, she sought out the players in the local social justice scene. She found Voices Breaking Boundaries. Then she immediately volunteered to do whatever the organization requested- including spraying adhesive to photos of people she didn’t know on a street she definitely didn’t know. This instant dedication and fervor for participation is a testament VBB’s reputation as an organization that welcomes all and is committed to social justice work. The organization is just over a decade old and has yet to face competition for its mission, audience, and programming niche.
This got me to thinking: I love the opportunity to develop a web of working and personal relationships that in some ways transverse boundaries of life experience, age, race, gender. Well, sort of. VBB is truly multicultural. Really. Not in that way gloated about in reports about Houston’s “diversity”, but in a way that you don’t even notice right away. For example, after an event you might find yourself sipping beer (or eating leftover samosas) with people from Pakistan, Mexico, Argentina and Third Ward talking about how FUCKING hot Houston is in DECEMBER. Its nice when its organic.
But that’s not what I’m about to talk about.
Before I drown in this melting pot, I have some questions. This gushy feeling made me wonder about where are the Black/African Houston-based organizations that address social justice through art? Not institutions, but organizations of artists? We have artists who address important ideas. We have groups that get together to push forward progressive hyper futuristic thought. We have exhibitions. All of this is great. There’s visibility. But I’m wondering about concentrated visibilty. I think that we young Black local artists are struggling to distance ourselves from the didactic rhetoric of community-based organizations. The politics are sincere, but we worry about the aesthetics. These are just questions. No need to mimic or re-invent VBB. Its origins and its mission probably cannot hold the necessary space to encompass Black Houston phenomena. Just wondering if its a model that can be applied to organizing within racial boundaries, but attempts to move beyond different factions of the black community to flip, paint, perform equally important issues.
If there are examples of this absent thing I am railing about, please let’s begin a beautiful conversation about it and I’ll recruit some of best the best young Black minds Houston has to offer.