Spring creates a mindset that the grays of winter are behind us and better days lie ahead. As we shed these old layers and blossom into stronger version of ourselves, we want to remind you to always take up space, dare to be seen, and prioritize your healing. As memories of the pandemic are slowly beginning to fade away, we look at history for tips on how to create a better future.
Historically, black women are at the forefront of inducing change, but on the back burner of reaping its benefits. We are the first to speak up on injustices, and the first to take action. But the last to receive credit, and the last to receive protection. Over time, we’ve navigated through a world built against us while managing to heal our community, truly turning lemons into lemonade. Visual artist, writer, and storyteller Leeza Joneé uses her womanhood to do just this– producing art that puts healing at the center.
History always repeats itself, but experience equips us with tools to cope. This Women’s History Month, we look at the women creating new narratives on what it means to heal, what it looks like to create while being unsure of the future, and how vulnerability and softness can be used as a radical superpower. We caught up with the artist for some fresh ideas.
When things fall apart, how do you start over?
I remember that love is the revolution. Whenever theres bumps in the road or anything that hinders the progression of what I’m putting out into the world, I remember that love is the revolution and love is my purpose. And that is also why I create; the foundation of my creativity is love.
How does feminism play a part in your storytelling?
You know, as we talk about the loss of mothers [Leeza and I spoke on losing our mothers at a young age before this interview] and even speaking with fellow creatives and friends of mine who have lost parents and their mothers, we tap into the unknown a lot.
Like, we don’t know our mother’s touch as an adult. We don’t know our mother’s advice or a voice as an adult, whether we are a young adult or whether we’re well into our thirties, whatever the case may be, but when we haven’t had our mother in any of these parts of our lives, we tap into that unknown.
Thats when we put the pieces together of what their femininity looked like. And that comes through my art. I don’t know what type of woman my mother was because she passed away when I was so young. But I listen to stories from other people. Their ideas of my mother, their remembrances of my mother, photos of my mother, that softness…..that softness that she had, that to me is feminism.
She was so strong. She was so loved. That’s what I tap into. And that is what feminism means to me. I tap into that knowledge, which is how feminism plays a part in all that I do. I love honoring what I am.
What do you think is your strongest attribute as a black woman?
My softness. Honestly, there are so many beliefs that black women are too hard and too rough and too angry. And I am angry! I am rough! But all of that is what makes me soft. Black women literally shouldered this country, this world, we literally made so much possible. So the fact that I can remain soft through all that adversity and oppression and finger-pointing and being knocked down and pushed down, and being called a bitch, being called a slut, being called a hoe, being called all these things that made us small and the fact that I’m not running around, burning down, terrorizing the world that I built?! And I own my softness?! That’s my greatest attribute. And this is how I show up in this world. With grace.
But in a sense, I guess I would say I am burning down, with my creativity. I’m making you feel, you know?
“There are so many beliefs that black women are too hard and too rough and too angry. And I am angry! I am rough! But all of that is what makes me soft.”
Which black woman from any part of history would you say is your biggest inspiration?
8 year old Leeza.
When my mother passed away, I entered the biggest transition of my life. I had to, in a lot of ways, raise myself because yes, I had caretakers, my aunt was my legal guardian, but she didn’t have any other children and she wasn’t married.
She wasn’t a mother. So a lot of that mothering I had to do for myself. And through that mothering, I met other women along the way. Whether through literature, through movies, through actual in-person interactions, those women helped that eight year old girl to be who I am today. Through that experience of watching my mother take her last breath, watching my mother just no longer exist here. That eight year old little girl who struggled along the way and faced many challenges during her upbringing and her becoming. She inspires me constantly.
You curated “The Breathing Space” as a space where community is cultivated to promote healing. Unfortunately, your events are on pause because of COVID, but how do you create community given the times we’re in now?
I mean, the beauty of being a storyteller and a creative is that if one thing doesn’t work, there’s always something else, right? People lately have been saying multiple streams of happiness, instead of saying multiple streams of income. Multiple streams of creativity is really what drives me, and creativity furthers community.
Even the woman that I’m partnering with for my film project. I could have easily hired an editor, but that would be just a single story. By partnering with another black woman, and then having furthered our conversation and learning that we’re so aligned in a lot of ways, my story now multiplies. It only takes two people to create community.
“I mean, the beauty of being a storyteller and a creative is that if one thing doesn’t work, there’s always something else, right? “
How is vulnerability used as a driving force within your art?
It goes back to being dangerously and radically soft [Leeza described herself as this at one point of the interview, referencing a Ted Talk on Radical Softness by Nadia Nooreyezdan]. I’m always open, you know, even with my own personal growth. I’m open to trying new things to further my purpose and my grounding. So vulnerability plays a part because if I weren’t vulnerable, I’d be stoic. My work would not be vibrant. Vulnerability creates vibrancy.
My work has color in a way that if I were not a vulnerable, if I weren’t soft, if I weren’t open, no one would see it.
Your photography shows black joy in a very candid form. Where did the drive to portray this come from?
I love movement. I met a Rasta man who I shared my photography with and he said to me “you know, your work looks like something from a movie”.
And I thought about that. If my photography looks like a still from a movie, that means that anyone can interpret their own story. And that’s what I want. If I literally have a photo of a hand moving, someone can interpret it as a hand waving. They can interpret it as someone falling. They can interpret it as someone walking. There’s so many things about a hand waving, and it’s going to capture you. That story is now going to resonate with you in your own individual and unique way. So when it’s candid, it broadens the story.
And again, it goes back to the original goal of love as a revolution and that community is key.
How do you use your art to heal yourself? How does your art heal others?
I love that question. I don’t necessarily approach art as a direct form of healing. I just create. Art is just what I do, you know? And in turn, it heals. When I’ve created something that makes me feel, and I feel confident enough to release that into the world, my only hope is that it heals others. And makes them feel.
I feel like it’s not authentic if I approach [my art] with this divine, strategic way of healing. It’s like when I cook. If I’m cooking, I’m not measuring anything out. I’m kind of just going off of instinct and my ancestors patting me on the shoulder from time to time like, “oh, not too much salt now” [laughs]
Thats how I write. I literally have to wait for the words to arrive at my doorstep. You know what I mean? Like, I can’t just like force the words to come out. I literally have to wait until the words are on my window sill. Until the words are knocking on my door. And they always come right on time.
There’s a lot that I create that I don’t necessarily put out. When I do put work out, its because it’s something that I feel like it’s divine and that I share it. I don’t care if my work gets a response – it made me feel and I put it out because my hope is that it makes you feel too.
Photography and Editing: Rhianydd Hylton
Creative Direction: Tremeika Small
Assistant Creative Direction: Laikyn Fishburne