Amena Brown: Hey, hey, hey. Everybody, welcome back to another episode of HER with Amena Brown. We are in the middle of season three and if you're new here, season three is going according to the theme, Create. Today, I'm super excited because, my guest today is one of my favorite people on the planet, is one of my closest, closest friends, is a family member. Let's talk about it. Based out of Atlanta, illustration and multimedia artist, author of Feminist Press published book, Avie's Dreams. Featured on nylon.com, bet.com, and various artist/author talks everywhere you want to be. Special shout out to my sister and my guest today, Makeda Lewis. Whew!
Makeda Lewis: Whew! Oh my gosh. Whew!
Amena Brown: You are the first guest who clapped with me. Nobody ever claps along.
Makeda Lewis: I mean I was really kind of hoping that we had a clap track, but since we don't-
Amena Brown: Oh it's happening. It's going to happen.
Makeda Lewis: Oh word. Okay. Okay. Are you going to add some radio sounds too like ...
Amena Brown: You know what? For your episode, I will see about that. I will definitely ask DJ Opdiggy because I feel like we ... I'm glad you brought that up. I feel like we need that.
Makeda Lewis: I need the Missy Elliot new shit in the background.
Amena Brown: Yes. Yes.
Makeda Lewis: I also need Jazze Phizzle, even though Jazze Pha is not here.
Amena Brown: Product shizzle. Because it's like you can't say Jazze Phizzle if you're not also gonna to go for the product shizzle. So yes, I'm in support of everything.
Makeda Lewis: Ciara!
Amena Brown: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I'm here for everything. Y'all, I'm so excited to have my sister on the podcast.
Makeda Lewis: Oh my gosh. I'm so excited to be here.
Amena Brown: I always make a list each season of ... sometimes it starts out with particular people's names. Most time I think it starts out with roles or things people do and then I just am trying to find the women that do those things. So I was like, I know I want to interview a visual artist. And I was like, I'm definitely about to ask my sister.
Makeda Lewis: That's me. I do that.
Amena Brown: You're only the second family member to be on a podcast with me.
Makeda Lewis: Oh yeah. Grandma was. Aw!
Amena Brown: Very excited. Okay, so those of you that may not know our sister story, my sister and I are almost 11 years apart. My sister being born was just one of the best things to ever happen to me. Also, if y'all want to know a reason I would go to jail is for somebody harming any millimeter on my sister. Those are reasons.
Makeda Lewis: Oh my God, pause. Can I tell y'all that when I went to prom, that my sister, I know she probably ... unexpectable. She didn't know I was gonna to say this. She definitely pulled my date to the side, he was also my boyfriend at the time. Unbeknownst to me, this is right before we get on the party bus, it was a terrible decision. She pulled him to the side and was like, "If anything happens to my sister, I will break your legs off and beat you with them."
Amena Brown: Yeah.
Makeda Lewis: I don't think he told me that for a week after the prom happened. And then I text my sister and asked her and she was like, "Yeah."
Amena Brown: Yeah. I said it. I said it to him. And he kinda like, you know that gif, that's Kevin Durant and another basketball player, and the basketball player talking to Kevin Durant and he's nodding.
Makeda Lewis: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Amena Brown: Yeah, that's how like... That's how your boyfriend at the time, did me, when I said it. He was nodding, in front of the bus... I think he didn't wanna give off to you or anyone around that I was threatening him. And so I said it and then I just smiled and I was like, "Y'all have a good time. Have a good time tonight." But I was dead serious, it was not a game. Not a game. You arrived back home safely...
Makeda Lewis: I mean also, Jeanne Brown, knew that we had to go to church in the morning. If I had any inkling of a thought that I was gonna have fun after prom, that was quickly dismissed.
Amena Brown: This was the exact experience I had with mom, going to prom. She was like, "Yeah, you can go, but you goin to church tomorrow. So, you better be back in this house by a certain time." I still am just laughing at the fact that mom was dead serious about it.
Makeda Lewis: That did not change. That did not change.
Amena Brown: 11 years went by but Mom didn't change, it's the same.
Makeda Lewis: Bruh, it didn't.
Amena Brown: Also, let's talk about the intended but underlying also statement of, "...so don't do anything tonight that you're gone be sitting in church, shaking like a whore, because you're ashamed. 'Cause you will be going to church tomorrow."
Makeda Lewis: I'm glad you're bring that to light because, how about that never entered my mind as to why that might've been the motivation for her saying that but, fair. That's a fair point right there.
Amena Brown: Girl...
Makeda Lewis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Amena Brown: So, we been sister's, forever. Since then. And I love my sister so much, and I'm also just really, really proud of you. I've had opportunity to... I know I'm just kinda getting super emotional... -
Makeda Lewis: You know it's Pisces season.
Amena Brown: Super proud of you because, I've had an opportunity to see you as, a published author and artist and your art shows. I have been watching since you were a little girl, that we knew you were going to do some sort of visual art of some kind. Because you were very good at it, very young. I wish I had... Wanted to show y'all... I need to find it. My sister learned how to use Paint, was it Paint? It was some program that was on the computer... -
Makeda Lewis: Oh yeah! That I used to...
Amena Brown: That you learned how to use. When I was in college... -
Makeda Lewis: Completely forgot about that.
Amena Brown: ...since we were so many years apart, by the time I was leaving to go away to college you were eight, turning nine. So while I was in college, you would send me these letters and different cards that you made using this program. You were drawing little Black girls with little mermaid dresses and all sorts of things. So we knew when you were little that you were probably going to do something, or we hoped you were gonna do something with that...-
Makeda Lewis: Right.
Amena Brown: ...but do you remember the earliest moment that you knew you wanted to be a visual artist, or wanted be an artist or wanted to do creative work. What was that realization like for you?
Makeda Lewis: I think actually this journey has been really retroactive, in realization. I think when I was little and anytime between being a toddler and now. Or maybe between being a toddler and, let's see I'm finna be 28... So maybe between like four and 23, I was kinda just making it as a compulsion. Like the way that you pick your nose or, I don't know, whatever other thing... It's like a habit. I don't know that I really thought of myself as an artist, and I damn sure didn't, I wasn't like, "When I grow up I wanna be an artist." I never thought that about myself. Which, again, in retroactive realizations, that was because I didn't think I was good enough. Especially once I got to college and all the other art kids already had portfolio's and they were doing commissions, they had internships and all this other stuff. Nobody ever sat me down and talked to me about portfolios.
Makeda Lewis: I was like, "Oh. Kids that have portfolios are really good, they're really serious about art." Also, when I was in high school I was writing and performing, because I wanted to be like my sister... -
Amena Brown: And now I wanna be like my sister.
Makeda Lewis: That's what everyone thought I was gonna do when I left high school. At graduation I said a poem, at graduation. So people thought that I was gonna be a writer. I mean, I still write but it's for me now at this point. I don't for real, for real, unless I feel super pressed and I need the catharsis of telling other people this thing. I guess, at least within the last three to four years, I feel like I've taken myself really seriously and I've made changes, concerning the ways that I move in the art world; and the ways that I move in business and presentation. There are certain things about you as an artist that can show other people how seriously you wanna be taken. That's not you sitting down and telling them, "I'ma be famous, I'ma be great one day." Stuff like that. That's a recent sort of, acceptance, maybe.
Amena Brown: I always like to ask that question because I've... You'll have to tell me if this is true in your experience. I feel like there's a gap between... If I think about myself as a writer, there's a gap between when I started writing and when I called myself a writer.
Makeda Lewis: Absolutely.
Amena Brown: And there's this gap between, in your life, when you were making art, that you started making art very early. But there has to be this realization process for us, as people who make things.
Makeda Lewis: Absolutely.
Amena Brown: That we can now sort of, name that, inside of us.
Makeda Lewis: Yeah. Yeah.
Amena Brown: Right? Is that like the experience you had to?
Makeda Lewis: Yeah, pretty much. It's almost like when babies discover mirrors. It's not like, potentially, it's maybe not that they haven't been in mirrors before. It's like that realization of being like, "Oh I'll be in a mirror." Or, I guess when you're a baby you're like, "Who is that other person in the mirror?"
Amena Brown: Right.
Makeda Lewis: "What are they doing over there? Why are they so close to my face? What is this?"
Amena Brown: "Why they doing the same thing I'm doing?"
Makeda Lewis: Okay. "I feel like every time I move you move, this is really problematic." When you get older and you are self-aware and you're looking at yourself in the mirror and you're realizing that, that's my self. And this is my hair, and this is my face. This is what I look like after I've just finished crying, or when I'm sleepy. Or when I just woke up. Or with makeup on. So yeah, that's definitely accurate. Huge gap. Huge, huge gap.
Amena Brown: As a visual artist you've had the opportunity to not only, be an artist in the sense of your work being shown, putting your work into published form. You also have had the experience of being in the business of how art gets made. How those exhibits and shows happen. Learning about some of those things with various sundry, galleries and non-profits that you've worked with. What are some things you can share with us that you've learned about the journey of, making art and then the journey of the business sides, of making art.
Makeda Lewis: This is also something that I've been examining more deeply, more recently. I feel like in the world of art there are, lots of different factions. There's art, which is technically... I think the dictionary definition is, something that's been edited or manipulated by human hands or something like that. Which is interesting to think about in an age of technology where we can draw something and then upload it to a machine, the machine actually will make it a thing. So that's interesting. There's art, all the things we could consider art. Then there's, fine art, there's things that people would pay, exorbitant, really disgusting amounts of money for.
Amena Brown: Right.
Makeda Lewis: There's commercial art. There's art that... The kind of art that Doctor's offices might buy, or hotels, or art that's on t-shirts.
Amena Brown: We were talking before we started recording. I was kinda talking about how, a lot of times the fantasy about art, is for those of us who make it... -
Makeda Lewis: Okay, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Amena Brown: Right. But then, that's the front of Disney World ... -
Makeda Lewis: Yeah.
Amena Brown: ...that's where the rides or the sidewalks are so clear and everything. But when you start getting into what makes that exhibit happen. How do the artists get chosen for that. And thinking about all the different...-
Makeda Lewis: Politics man ... -
Amena Brown: ...ways that people can engage with art, interact with it, all those different aspects. Then, you start maybe getting behind there and sort of seeing Mickey Mouse, smoking a cigarette instead. So I think you were getting ready to tell us, what are the different facets of that... -
Makeda Lewis: Like the difference, between the front and the back end ...
Amena Brown: Yeah. And then how does that play a role in how you interact with it, as an artist. How artist’s interact with it. How the people who want to engage with the art, interact with it. And how money gets made, how capitalism edges in on that ... -
Makeda Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Amena Brown: ...more about that.
Makeda Lewis: I would say, there's a really huge gap because, I know for me as an artist, when I'm making art I'm really emotional about it. I'm drawing things from the heart. I'm drawing things or illustrations of just my thoughts at the time, of what I'm going through in life, etc., etc. When I finish it, I might be like, "Wow, I'm really proud of this. I sat here for a few hours and really got my emotions out." But then, let's say I enter it into a group show of some sort or maybe I'm having a solo-show, or a duo-show with someone, and now I have to think about all of these other things. So one of the galleries I intern for - I'ma go ahead and shout them out because, they actually do really amazing work and they're one of the only Black-owned galleries in Atlanta, but ZuCot, word up to ZuCot.
Amena Brown: ZuCot!
Makeda Lewis: They do a class that teaches people about investing in art.
Amena Brown: Wow.
Makeda Lewis: So they talk about all the different facets, things that you would look at when you're about to buy a piece of art. So that means that, me as an artist I'm making my art, I'm super emotional, I'm in my feelings about it. It's like my metaphorical little child, right. I want people to think it's as great as I think it is. I bring it to a gallery, let's say I bring it to ZuCot and I get there and it doesn't have a frame on it, or it has a stain on it from where I dug some wax outta my ear and then I touched it. Or it's kinda frayed on the sides from being in the backseat of the car. Or it's on paper that's really thin and probably isn't gonna last that long. Or it's been made with really cheap ink pens that are going to change color and look really gross, in a really short amount of time.
Makeda Lewis: Those are the sorts of things that people look at when they're investing in and collecting art. Alongside, once you get to a certain level, let's say like a Damien Hirst or something. Which, I went down a rabbit hole about him a while ago (but we're not finna get into that). Then people take into consideration other things like, the popularity and the, I guess I wanna say, the projected trajectory of your career. You're popular now, how much longer are you gonna be popular and can you get any more popular, to the point where this is gonna appreciate in value or whatever.
Makeda Lewis: So, it's interesting to think about those things because, also... One, how you treat your work, is a signifier to other people who handle it, about how to treat your work. -
Amena Brown: Message.
Makeda Lewis: So that means if I show up with my artwork, it's on a really nice wood panel, it has a really nice frame. I've got D-rings on the back so you can hang it, you can do whatever with it. I come in and it's wrapped, even if I'm hand delivering it. That means that you need to treat my art with the same level of care because that's how I feel about it. I spent money on this, I invested in this so I want you to treat it like its an investment. Versus, you know... And that's without me even having to say anything, that's them just looking at it and being like, "I can tell the care and time, effort that this artist put into their work. That it means something to them." Sometimes it's just really hard to think about that stuff when you just wanna make art.
Amena Brown: Right.
Makeda Lewis: When you're just really angry, which is really a place that I've been in for the last, honestly, probably the last two years but I didn't realize it until the last four months. And you just wanna make about it. And you just make and make, and make. Then after the making is over, then you have to think about money and capital and investment, and all the other stuff. Sometimes it feels dirty. Sometimes it feels, I don't know ... -
Amena Brown: It feels like it taints the purity of the process you experience when you make.
Makeda Lewis: Yeah, sometimes. It makes me sad that I guess, these are, this is the way that I have to tell you this is valuable. Other than the fact that I've really just cut myself open and put it on this, whatever, medium thing. And that I really hope that you are moved by it. And that is something valuable that we shared something and we never had to have a conversation about it.
Makeda Lewis: Sometimes I can suck. Also it can be exhausting because let me tell you, we are broke. We are broke okay. That's also the thing too, sometimes when artists really treat their artwork like investments, that means that sometimes... You know those little sample sizes of cosmetics that you get, they be like 4oz. Depending on the brand of paint you buy, a 4oz. thing of paint, could cost you $25.
Amena Brown: Wow!
Makeda Lewis: So that means, if I'm trying to make a full color painting... I can't just buy one, two... I'm spending hundreds of dollars on paint. I'm spending hundreds of dollars on paint, on paint brushes, on canvas. This is a big deal. So it really sucks when you want to give your art that ability to speak without you having to speak in terms of like, "Hey, I matter." But you be broke. You gotta work with what you have and it can get a point across, but it's not an eternally living thing sometimes. Just because of the materials that you used because that's what you had access to. It doesn't make it any less valuable, but it's hard and sometimes it can make an artist feel insecure, I think. When you realize how much money other people have been able to invest in their art.
Makeda Lewis: So, big gaps. I think I've definitely learned a lot. I still make my content the way that I make it, which is really emotional, like I said. I just try to be cognizant throughout the process or prior to the making, I guess. Of like, okay, I need this to outlast the apocalypse. Once I'm dead and I have to put all my art in a big metal time capsule, hopefully some humanoid creature like 200 years from now finds it. I need this to be legible.
Amena Brown: Right.
Makeda Lewis: 'Cause it's important. 'Cause the message that I'm trying to get across to you is so important that it needs to be here to be able to, for me to converse with you. No matter what plane of existence I'm on.
Amena Brown: Yeah.
Makeda Lewis: I hope that answered your question but I feel like I was just ranting.
Amena Brown: No, no. That answered. And it made me think about a conversation I was having with some students, some sixth grade students recently... -
Makeda Lewis: Oh sixth graders.
Amena Brown: It was kinda like a career day or career week kinda situation, so I was in there class telling them about what its like to be a poet and some of that process. And one of the kids asked me, "Do you have to do what you're passionate about for a living?" And first of all, it was just some realness to be there as an adult staring back at this sixth grader, which is probably around the age I started taking myself a little more seriously in my own writing. And I think some years ago, I would've been like, "That's everybody's calling, you should take what you're passionate about and you should do that for a living." That day, and I hoped I wasn't shooting anybody's dreams down, but that day I said to him, "You know, some people do and some people will. And some people will work another job that may not be this thing they super care about in the world. But they work that job so that they can have space and time or resource, to do the other stuff that they might feel really passionate about." And that that's okay.
Amena Brown: I think a few years ago I would not, I don't think I would've had the wherewithal to make sure I gave voice to it. Because, to your point, I think with people who are creatives and are making things that matter to them in the world; it matters to you what you make, it matters why you made it. You have in your mind who you hope feels seen or known, or understood when you made it. So it's okay to not have to muddy that process with all of the other financial whatever, whatever things. It's okay if you don't want to and it's okay if you do, but lets not put all that pressure on people who are making. All of the making is not about the money. We need money, to survive in the world. But to put that pressure on this thing I need to get out of my soul, to put out in the world, may not be fair.
Makeda Lewis: Absolutely. Yeah. I feel like more people might feel free also to feel that way if, if the alternate options weren't actually so fucking crushing.
Amena Brown: Yeah.
Makeda Lewis: I feel like there's so many alternate... Working this thing to take care of myself and to pay my bills and to survive, and to be able to go out and have drinks every now and then. Or take a little trip, go on a road trip with my partner or my friends or something. More people would be okay with not trying to put all that weight on something that's literally a compulsion of who you are in your existence. If their options weren't so... They can just really beat you down. They can really beat you down. So you feel like you have to go in the complete opposite direction of, "Well I really love doing this thing and it really makes me feel whole and people feel seen and heard when I do it and when I share it, so I'm gonna try to make this a thing."
Amena Brown: Yeah, agreed. I think that was a lesson, I mean you watched me learn it in a lot of hard ways in my career, especially in the beginning. Just trying to figure out. I think in a way sometimes... I think I experience a similar thing in the relationship that visual artist can have to, "the patron." You know, in quotes, "the patron."
Amena Brown: I think on my side, or those of us that are in the performing arts, that can become the label or the publisher. The entity that you think is going to come and be like, "Look at this stuff you made in your room, I would love to pay you more money to make that." And sometimes it happens that you find some good symbiotic relationship in those situations, but sometimes it's that, you're letting those entities do more of the work than you are. And for me sometimes that was like, "Okay, you need to get your head together here. If you're trying to make a business of this then be a business woman now. Don't expect someone else to walk in and have all the business knowledge and trust them to take care of all your things." And hope that they'll pay you fairly and they'll do all these things, while you sit in a room and all you do is create.
Amena Brown: That was a hard realization for me. To be like, I have to make with the same integrity that I'm gonna handle this business part of it, if I'm going to want to make a living at it. But also, I'm similar to you in that, there are certain things I could do that would make me more money, but my soul can't... -
Makeda Lewis: I can't stand it.
Amena Brown: I can't be at rest with it. So then some opportunities come where I could get paid a lot of money and I can't silence the thing in me that's like, "But that's not really what I do. Or that's not really why I do it." Or me going to there and doing that for this money is making a mockery of... I'll give you an example ... -
Makeda Lewis: Say no, 2019. Carry on.
Amena Brown: So there was a time that in the market where I've been in, which is a faith based kinda more conservative market. There's a time that it was popular to have spoken word, script. I don't know if I talked to you about this. So there would be different, larger kind of entities that might have an artist like me, write a script, for a spoken word piece, for Easter, let's say. So that this church, in Houston, could have sister so an so, buy and download that script and perform it on Easter, right. So at the time, that is a way that you could make money as a creator. You're making something that can go some places that you can't go. But then the more I returned to the roots of what it meant to me, to be a spoken word poet, the less good that that felt to me. Because then it started to feel like, spoken word's not a monologue. Those two things are not the same. Like how in a theater space you could take that monologue from Death of a Salesman, and then this person in Iowa can take it on a stage and perform it. That's in the ethos (pronounced like ee-thohs) of what making looks like in a theater space.
Makeda Lewis: Is that how you say that word? Ethos? (Pronounced like ee-thahs)
Amena Brown: I think you can say ethos (pronounced like ee-thohs) or ethos (pronounced like ee-thohs)? Can you say ethos (Pronounced like ee-thahs)?
Makeda Lewis: I have never heard anybody say ethos (Pronounced like ee-thahs).
Amena Brown: What people normally say?
Makeda Lewis: Ethos (pronounced like ee-thohs). I ain't never heard ... -
Amena Brown: You ain't never heard ethos (Pronounced like ee-thahs)?
Makeda Lewis: I haven't. But I kind of appreciate it 'cause it sounds a little bit... I don't know it sounds like something else that I really like, I don't know.
Amena Brown: I'ma keep saying it and then if it's not right, then the episode's gonna be like, "And then the ethos..." (pronounced like EEEE-thOHHHHs) It's gonna be some strange editing going on. I'ma keep saying it y'all and then if we find out after we recorded this that it ain't right, then we gone come back and fix it...
Amena Brown: That's the ethos in theater world, just like it's a ethos in singer/songwriter world that you cover the songs of other artists right. But in the roots of spoken word, spoken word is built on originality. It's built on me, as the poet, writing my piece and performing it. It's not built on me writing something that's general enough that anybody could perform my piece.
Makeda Lewis: And half of that impact is the performance. You can't trust other people to do your art the way you intended it to be done.
Amena Brown: No. So the ones that I had that I was selling, I took them down.
Makeda Lewis: Absolutely.
Amena Brown: When I still get those requests, and I get them less and less now, but I still get them. My response to people has been, instead of wanting a poem of mine to have another person in your church/organization whatever it is, perform that. Find a local poet, who was me 15 years ago. Where I was still learning what my voice was, but I was a good writer, I was a good performer. But I needed that opportunity. Find that person in your community. Don't look to create this assembly line way of building a creative element, there are creative people sitting there. Just like I was sitting in so many of the spaces I was, little shy girl, at 19 years old. But that's an example for me of trying to balance that... If I had a whole thing on my site where I was selling scripts, I could probably make money doing it. But it doesn't feel right to me, for the roots of what I do and the community that I come from. It doesn't feel like it represents well and I just couldn't sleep at night if I was taking the money for it. I know other people who can. I just, unfortunately, cannot.
Makeda Lewis: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I totally get that. You already know I used to sell stuff on bigcartel. When I first started selling stuff, like mugs that I had made or... Like the original coloring book, before it got published. I feel like that was one moment that I was really proud but either which way. I don't think I ever cared enough about that kind of traffic enough to do what it would take to make it pop. I didn't care enough to go out and get my art printed on shirts and tote bags, I didn't care enough. I did it for a little while then I was like, "Wow I'm tired, also y'all are annoying and I don't feel like going to the post office anymore. So, this is gonna be the last sale, don't ask me no mo'. And I will be doing what I want in the future, 'cause that's what I wanna do."
Makeda Lewis: But again, me as a visual artist, it's really not something that I see as, the intention is for that to be my main life line either.
Amena Brown: Which makes a difference in what you make, how you make it and how it gets presented into the world. I think as creatives, not that it's wrong if you are a person who can monetize what you do... -
Makeda Lewis: Absolutely, those people have talent, or skill I should say.
Amena Brown: ...you should. But there are always gonna be some things that you probably are gonna hold back that, you don't monetize. For some of us there will be things that we shouldn't, monetize. But I like that as creatives, we can have the option. You can have the option of being like, "I'ma make this stuff." But I don't want it to turn into a machine. Or, "I'ma make this stuff because I know it would be good for a machine." Just having the option right there versus it being, you have to do one or the other. If you don't do one, you're terrible or if you don't do the other, you're the worst. But you have to choose, based upon where you are and the work you're making.
Amena Brown: So I wanna ask you a question about what, grounds your art. And the image that's in my mind, even though this might be ignorant but I don't think it is. It's a Marie Kondo image...-
Makeda Lewis: I love mess. (mimics line from Marie Kondo’s show)
Amena Brown: Hello, Marie! Listen. So you know how on the T.V. show on Netflix, what's it called, Tidying Up?
Makeda Lewis: Is it? I ain't never watched it. I just be seeing clips and little gifs, and stuff, and reading people's tweets about it. But it seems like it's lit.
Amena Brown: So I need to find the gif of this motion that is in my mind when I ask you about what grounds you. Marie Kondo, on the television show, has this way when she's working with clients in their homes; she'll chit chat them and everything, kinda talk about a little bit about them, get to know them. Then before they get into the process of decluttering, she'll say, "I wanna greet your home." So she'll get down on the ground, she'll sit like on her knees with her legs tucked back, Then she has this motion she does where she sweeps her hands on the ground in front of her, and then she kinda puts her hands just flat on the ground. That's kinda the image that has been coming back to me a lot because, the more that I create art and watch other artists make. It's like we all have a thing that grounds us. To me it's different than what inspires us, it's like the place from which we're creating.
Amena Brown: Which in our mind brings up who we're making this for. There typically is... It could be one person, it could be a group of people, but there's a specificity when you're creating. You're not just creating for mass amount of people, or maybe you are. I guess I'm trying to understand from you, what's grounding that? Is there, when you're making art that you intend to be publicly displayed in some way. Are you making it with the vantage point of wanting particular people to walk by and be like, "I see myself." Or is it some roots of your own story and experience that kind of ground how you go into your creative process. What's the centering for you? Does that question make sense?
Makeda Lewis: I think so. I'm gonna answer it and then if you feel like the answer is not accurate then you can do further explanation. I guess probably transparency. Wanting to be transparent enough to the point that people can see themselves. Transparency to the point of reflection I guess, is probably the thread that runs through everything. Which means that, I don't make things because I'm like, "This is a popular thing to draw right now." I'll be like, "I'm finna draw this because I'm pissed today. I'm gonna draw this because I'm actually really in love and I just feel like drawing that. I'm gonna draw this because someone that I follow on Instagram posted this really cool photo and I took a screenshot of it and I thought that it'd be cool if I turned it into mushrooms. Or I'm gonna draw this..." Yeah, that's probably the thing.
Makeda Lewis: When I first got in contact with my publisher and we were working through the book, and we coming up with... I think we were trying to come up with title names, because for the published version I actually drew like 15-16 more illustrations and we added text for each one.
Amena Brown: Wow. I didn't realize it was that many more from what your original was.
Makeda Lewis: Yeah. It was like half that size when I first made it. So, we added more things and we were considering changing the title. Of course that were inspiring me, first of all I'm sure were under copyright, like, "Girl you cannot quote this Black woman's poem. You cannot quote this Nikki Giovanni poem as the title of this book unless you pay for it, and I don't know how much money these people got girl."
Makeda Lewis: My publisher asked me why the book was called, Avie's Dreams. And I told her that it was because the whole... The couple months, like four, five, six months that I had been drawing those images, I was only eating avocado's for breakfast. I think sometimes, especially around the time of the book being published, it being released and stuff. People would ask me certain questions and they would expect a really deep, intricate answer. So when I say things like that, I find that people first reaction is to laugh. Not because they think it's stupid, but because they're just like, "Oh my gosh. What? Are you serious?" And I was like, "Yeah." So, it's 'cause I was eating avocado's and I decided that, the metaphorical character whose journey you're following, her name should be Avie.
Makeda Lewis: After I said that I think is when we started to, I think we started to go through different titles. Oh we were looking at subtitles, we were gonna do like, "Avie's Dreams: somethin, somethin, somethin." I remember my publisher being like, "Oh you know, when I Google Avie's Dreams, some other weird things come up." And this is a thing that I also really appreciate about the people I worked with at Feminist Press, is that, they would make suggestions and they would ask me questions and I was very clear about what I wanted to be in that book and what I wanted it to be about. So when I would say, "No. I don't like that, I don't want that." They would be like, "Okay, cool." And we would just move on to the next thing.
Makeda Lewis: 'Cause at first she was like, "Well I don't know, have you thought about changing the title to, not Avie's Dreams..." After I told her the avocado thing, 'cause I'm sure she thought that it wasn't deep enough. And I was like, "I mean, when I Google, Avie's Dreams, a BET article comes up. And a bigcartel page and other things that I've posted on my obscure presence on the internet. Also, no I don't wanna change it because, even as silly or potentially minuscule as it might be, it's true to me and it's a true thing." So yeah, even the silly things or the little things, the not so intricate or the, "Maybe I don't have a reason for that, maybe I just like how that line texture looked." Maybe it doesn't actually mean anything, or it was not intended in my mind, to mean anything in the context of this composition. If you wanna interpret it however you wanna interpret it, that's cool but sometimes lines are just lines.
Amena Brown: Huh. Tell that to an English professor.
Makeda Lewis: So, back to my original answer. The grounding is transparency to the point of reflection so that maybe people can see themselves and feel not alone.
Amena Brown: I love that. Okay. I wanna ask you because, this is a big part of your work as an artist. And I love that this is a big part of your work as an artist, that communal work and community work, community engagement, is a part of that. I really love that because speaking of grounding, I feel like when we as artist or creatives, are more connected to the communities, communities that we come from, communities that we interact with often. I feel like that is what grounds what we make. Because we are staying connected to what is the gumbo of inspiration, when we're connected to the community. Why do you feel like it's important for art to also include community engagement? Because like you talked about earlier, sometimes the only way people interact with art is in a high-art scenario. Which may or may not be engaging with the community of people who may not be those patrons that are gonna pay $7,000 for... -
Makeda Lewis: Or even $15 to get in the museum.
Amena Brown: Right. You know, like that. So, talk about why it's important for art to also engage with the community?
Makeda Lewis: Interestingly, the community engages with art every day. But I think that sometimes, a lot of the times probably we just don't realize it. There are so many things in this world that require design. Or that design was born out of something really visually beautiful. Or some random thing that someone's, someone's different eye, or someone's eye interpreted that in a different way and then they decided to make this thing based off of that.
Makeda Lewis: But to actually answer your question, I think it's important because, in my experience I find that art can sort of touch these recesses of you that you can't seem to always find the language to access. To the point they can express themselves. There've been times where I've looked at art and cried.
Amena Brown: Yeah, me too.
Makeda Lewis: Which is interesting, I mean it ain't interesting to me but maybe it's interesting to other people. Because you would think that you need some sort of active interaction to have an emotional response. Even when it comes to theater, right... The last couple of months me and my partner have been to so much theater. I have left the theater in tears. Of course there's people on stage, there's inflection, there's lighting, there's all these other different facets, I guess, of what's coming together to make you feel a thing. So I guess, in saying that, this doesn't just apply to visual art actually. I feel like that's just kind of the importance of art, is that it touches you in ways that... The daily spaces that you move through, might not give you access to.
Makeda Lewis: So many times, I've read poems and cried 'cause I was like, "Oh my God, this is literally how I feel, but you already said it. I feel...I feel like I just got something off my chest, you wrote it. First of all, that means I'm not alone. That means that there's nothing wrong with me. I don't feel abnormal. I think that's important because, I think that sort of feeling and that catharsis or feeling a sort of weight lifted. Or like an expansion of self as you open up and kind of like, "Oh my God, I feel things that I've been avoiding or that I haven't had access to."
Makeda Lewis: I feel like, those things can lead to conversation and they can lead to introspection, and they can lead to seeing people differently. Being more open to other people's views. For example, another example and then I'm gonna stop answering this question. There's an Octavia Butler book that I read, I think I've read like three or four of her books, but the one that I read... Wild Seed. I read Wild Seed, and for anybody who might be listening and has never read Wild Seed, one you need to get on that. Two, I feel like Octavia Butler, among many things, among many reasons why she's such a great writer. I feel like one of the things that she does really well is, building worlds and crafting narratives around, habits, or things, or events, or happenings or whatever. That are actually really uncomfortable, and if said to you in a non-fiction sort of way, your first reaction might be to be disgusted. Or to get angry, or get offended or be like, "Oh I'm not watching this. I'm not participating in this."
Makeda Lewis: But she writes things in such a way that, whatever's happening in that fictional society or world, that she is telling us about or bringing us into. You just can't get enough of it. And she does such an amazing job of taking you on this journey of emotional access and emotional... Just all these different feelings. And for anyone who has read Wild Seed, you know what I'm talking about, you know that book is crazy. Wild. Literally, Wild Seed. But I remember getting to the end and feeling really tender towards the world.
Amena Brown: Wow.
Makeda Lewis: Feeling really soft and open and accepting. At the time, I think when I read that book, I wasn't too far removed from a break-up, getting out of a serious relationship. You know how sometimes... I know some of us are super evolved when we break up with people and it's like, "That's dead, whatever, moving on, whoop, whoop. Happy for y'all." But for folks who is not like that, you know it's them couple months afterwards when maybe y'all play games a little bit. Maybe it's a gray area. Maybe this month, I'm sick of your shit and I hate you. I'm blocking you on everything and anytime anyone brings up your name to me, I'm gonna puke on their shoes.
Amena Brown: True break-up feelings.
Makeda Lewis: Maybe the next month, I coincidentally forgot to block you somewhere and you hit me up to say, "Hey." And then I realize that I do wonder how you're doing, and maybe we go to lunch and maybe I actually have a really good time. And then maybe at the end of lunch you tell me that you have a girlfriend, then I'm like, "I hate you, and I..." You know it's a rollercoaster, right.
Amena Brown: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Makeda Lewis: It's so many things. I think, before reading that book I'd gotten to this point with specific ex, or whatever. That I was like, "You know what, I don't think we ever finna be cool, and I don't hate you. But also, I don't like you..."-
Amena Brown: "And I don't want you here..." -
Makeda Lewis: "...I don't want you in my space, honestly, maybe I don't really want any good things to happen to you. I don't want bad things..."-
Amena Brown: I want you to live, I want you to have breath in your lungs I just don't want you to have blessings.
Makeda Lewis: Okay! Like I'm not damning you. I don't want bad things to happen to you, I don't want you to get hit by a car or anything...-
Amena Brown: Stay alive. Live.
Makeda Lewis: ...but I don't want you to find three dollar bills on the street.
Amena Brown: No. I don't want you to reach in your pocket and find that pink Starburst ...
Makeda Lewis: When you go out to a party, I don't want you to get nobody's number. I don't want your car to get booted but I might want you to get a ticket.
Makeda Lewis: So I was in that space with this particular ex, then I read Wild Seed, and I got to the end of the book and I felt like the softest I had ever felt, in months. Not just about that person but about the world and about life. I just felt very insightful and very like, you know what, it's not even that serious. That's life. Sometime after that I also had this super tender dream and I ended up hitting him up and being like, "You know what, it's like all whatever animosity, I'm letting it go." Which, do listeners, explore this on your own time but let's, do remember that sometimes when we need the presence of the other person to apologize for things, it's really about ourselves. I was really thankful that this person allowed me to come into their space and use their presence to do some cathartic things, but it really wasn't about them. I wasn't apologizing to them for being mean. I was apologizing 'cause I wanted to do it, I need to say it out loud. So let's do remember that guys, thanks.
Amena Brown: Come on, let's do remember.
Makeda Lewis: Let's do remember, yeah.
Amena Brown: Okay. We got a couple of questions for you off Twitter. Assata Shakur asks, she actually has three great questions for you, so I'm really glad she brought these up. She asks, "What is your favorite medium to create with?"
Makeda Lewis: Ink and paper. Specifically print making, but I haven't had access to a print making studio since I was an undergrad, so I've really just been drawing. But I love print making. I also like, found object use. I guess this is a quirky thing now that people are gonna know about me. I have an obsession with tiny things.
Amena Brown: Okay.
Makeda Lewis: There are so many miniature makers and artists and stuff that I follow on Instagram, and I lose my mind every time they post something new. I have a tiny baby on the keyring of my keys, that's like one of those babies that you get at the baby showers when you gotta find it in the cake. I've had it on my keyring for a couple months now, it definitely has lost an arm. Which may or may not be an indicator about my ability to raise children. But either which way...
Amena Brown: That's fine.
Makeda Lewis: I like tiny things. I also like collecting. Which, after a conversation with an administrator of mine I realized that might actually be a function of trying to control things because, I don't feel like I have any control in other parts of my life.
Amena Brown: Oh, but I didn't ask you to get in my business... -
Makeda Lewis: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was in the wrong house, my bad. I thought was... -
Amena Brown: I didn't ask you to get into my things that I'm working on with my therapist.
Makeda Lewis: I thought I checked my PO Box...Anyway...
Amena Brown: Continue.
Makeda Lewis: Yeah, so ink and paper. No, I think that's it.
Amena Brown: Okay. Assata also wanted to know, "What is your favorite medium to observe?"
Makeda Lewis: That's a really great question. What is my favorite? I feel like I have a lot of favorites, depending on, how it's executed. My first thought is the same answer as the same question. Ink and paper. Simply because, I really like print making and I like other people's prints. Particularly like traditional Japanese prints. I think they had some really intricate line work that I really love and the gesture of bodies is really amazing. And sort of the story telling and the myths, the cultural myths and stuff I think that stuff is really beautiful. But since that was also my first answer I wanna think of another answer.
Makeda Lewis: I guess I'm gonna say, I like installation. I really like installation art. Felix Gonzales-Torres is top five of my favorite visual artist. And if you don't know who he is, I implore you to go to Google right now and read about him.
Amena Brown: Come on implore.
Makeda Lewis: I like installation art because, it can literally transform a space. I think a lot of people probably don't realize this but, how a space is or how it's designed, or how it's set up or even the color scheme, affects how you feel in that space. Like, if I went to the Doctor to get a pap-smear and the lighting was dimmer, and maybe there was an accent color wall, maybe there was some art or something in there. I think I might not have my inner thighs so tight.
Amena Brown: Right.
Makeda Lewis: Versus the fact that... It makes me feel like a frog being dissected. It makes me feel anxious...-
Amena Brown: Yes. The fluorescent lights.
Makeda Lewis: ...I totally understand though that the Doctor needs to see what they doing and see what they seeing, so I guess it's not realistic. But even in the front office, it just be a bunch of grays... So I appreciate installation art for literally quite, changing spaces. Which means they're changing a mood, which means they're changing thoughts and they're changing whatever. I think that's it.
Amena Brown: Assata also wanted to know, which I'm curious to know too, especially 'cause on your Twitter you've been doing some really cool art history threads, lately. So she wanted to know, "What is your favorite period of art so far?"
Makeda Lewis: I feel like at this point of my art history learning journey, that I don't have a favorite period. I think I have favorite works and often times the reasoning behind that being my favorite, outside of just the visual aspect, is usually the concept. Oh, that's probably my favorite! Even though I know we already passed question two, I really love conceptual art.
Makeda Lewis: It's usually concepts or how the inspiration behind that art ties back to real world circumstances. Like for instance, when the conversation first started about Roe versus Wade, sort of being in danger of being overturned. I think that was around the same time that I realized that I've actually been angry for the last two years. So I decided to do an art history thread update that day and I found, which you know... Anyone who has taken any sort of art history class of some kind. Maybe if you've taken a women's art class, we all know who Barbara Kruger is. She has this piece that I think says, I wanna say it says, "Your body is a battle ground." Or something like that. When she made it, it was during one of the many times where it seemed like the state was just hammering down on women's rights and really trying to inflict suffering on people. So, I appreciated that it was tied to something, some real world event. But also it was kinda depressing 'cause I was like, "Wow, you made this in 1973 and I'm feeling this way in 2018."
Makeda Lewis: That makes me depressed 'cause I'm like, damn, are you telling me they really not ever gonna stop doing this? Whatever I'm not gonna get into my depressing whatever's. But yeah, I don't really have a favorite period I think I just have favorite concepts, or things. Reasons why I like Felix's work or because I feel like, Felix does a really, or did a really great job at conveying what it's like to be in love. Or what it's like to be in partnership, or what it's like to lose people. To either general spreading apart or to death. What it means when the ways that you lose people are influenced by the society's view of the value of those people. And I think, just really brilliant, really, really brilliant. Maybe favorite genres? Do I have favorite genres of artwork?
Makeda Lewis: I've come to appreciate minimalism more than I used to. When I first encountered minimalism and installation, honestly, even though it's one of my favorites. I really thought that they were lazy as hell. 'Cause there's sometimes installation art will be like, it's like one thread that's attached to the ceiling and then it's attached to the floor. And then I'm like, "Bro what? You didn't do anything. This is not..."
Amena Brown: Or like when I see a painting in a gallery and it's just like...-
Makeda Lewis: One shade.
Amena Brown: Yeah. And I'm like, "Wait, what?"
Makeda Lewis: See that's where the concept comes in for me. 'Cause that's how I learn to appreciate minimalism and appreciate I guess, the ways that they still change the space even though it looks like not much is happening. Also I appreciate the way that it's in some ways, a reaction to previous years of the popularity of art that's full of colors and full of figures, and full of intricacy. And minimalism is like, "Nah. We good. We gon' do something else, we don't need all that. We straight." So maybe minimalism and installation... Honestly if Black people are making it too, I'm probably with it.
Amena Brown: Supporting everybody Black.
Makeda Lewis: Yeah. I mean, some of it do be trash but... I feel like that's just generally. -
Amena Brown: In general.
Makeda Lewis: People's stuff be trash. But honestly if it's bomb art and then on top of that it's somebody Black, I'm with it...
Amena Brown: Rooting. Rooting.
Makeda Lewis: Yeah.
Amena Brown: I wanna ask you the three questions I ask every guest.
Makeda Lewis: Okay.
Amena Brown: What inspires you to create?
Makeda Lewis: I have to, or I'm a really bad person. I think I'm really mean, and really restless and unfocused, and just generally all these things that don't make me feel good when I'm not creating consistently.
Amena Brown: Question two, what is one thing you've made that you are really proud of?
Makeda Lewis: I've made time, for myself. To do what I wanna do.
Amena Brown: A word. A word today, "I've made time for myself..." So that's our episode because, I don't need to let my sister talk no more. Wow. Wow. I love it. Wow.
Makeda Lewis: That really is my favorite thing though, especially as someone who has had 7,000 internships and works a lot, and then I have a partner, I'm always going out. When it's my days off, it's my days off. Don't ask me to do anything. Don't ask me to anything. No I'm not covering that shift. No I'm not coming in. No I'm actually not e-mailing you back until business hours on Tuesday.
Amena Brown: Come on, business hours. Just 'cause the e-mail's on my phone, doesn't mean I'm not gonna respond to you during the business hours.
Makeda Lewis: Honestly, if I'm keeping it funky, I could reply at midnight. I ain't really got business hours but also, whoa whoa whoa, it's my day off. I'm taking shots, I'm having coffee, having a cigarette. Chillin with my dog. Not doing whatever you want me to do. It's my favorite thing, very proud of myself for telling people, "No."
Amena Brown: That's a good thing. That is one of my favorite answers to that question so far. Question number three, which I ask every guest, every season. If you could give another woman a, She Did That Award, who would it be and why?
Makeda Lewis: She Did That Award, that's what it's called?
Amena Brown: She Did That.
Makeda Lewis: My She Did That Award goes to you, the listener. You woke up today. You maybe even put pants on, maybe took a shower. Maybe you didn't wake up 'cause you've actually been really tired and you've been fighting sleep, so you slept a long time. You got that promotion, maybe you didn't get it but you resolve to reply again to something different, and still keep working. You went on a date. You were kind to someone, you were kind to yourself. You laughed or you cried when you needed to, and you acknowledge when you were feeling things that maybe wouldn't make other people feel comfortable. You didn't explain yourself.
Amena Brown: A word today.
Makeda Lewis: You didn't explain yourself. You said no, and it didn't have a last name. You said yes, to things that you really wanted to do. Maybe you bought yourself some nice shit, maybe you didn't buy yourself anything 'cause it was responsible for you to not do that. You filed your taxes. Technically you're a little bit early 'cause tax day ain't really 'til the middle of April. So you doing good! You doing good! You made a payment. Maybe you were quiet, maybe you were just quiet. Maybe you worked really hard today. Maybe you picked up your kids, you took care of them like you be doing. But I just wanna shout out to you even though you do whatever you do, everyday, or maybe just today. Maybe today is the first time in a long time that you've done it. I am giving you this, She Did That Award, because I am super fucking proud of you. And I want you to keep doing it, or keep not doing it.
Amena Brown: That was one of my favorite, She Did That Awards. Because it was like an affirmation and a manifesto, in addition to being a, She Did That Award. You did that, that was dope.
Makeda Lewis: Oh wait. I have one more. Listener, I am proud of you for being okay when the journey that you are on didn't match up to what you were told it was supposed to look like.
Amena Brown: I didn't ask you to be in my business, either.
Makeda Lewis: This looked like the mailbox that I was supposed to be at, I'm just saying. I'm proud of you for being okay and for not being okay. Being okay with saying that you're not okay. I'm proud of you for being vocal. Or I'm proud of you for being quiet when people would gladly dig into your throat and pull out everything they can. Okay. I think that's it.
Amena Brown: I want y'all to just understand, the ways that my sister be like, "Oh I don't write anymore I'm doing my visual arts stuff." And then she just gon' bring out here, you're gonna no and it doesn't have a last name. I want you to know, that I have not forgotten that that's what was said.
Amena Brown: If people want to follow you. Want to, get a copy of Avie's Dreams.
Makeda Lewis: Oh true.
Amena Brown: Want to, just know when you are doing these solo shows, group shows, curating shows. Just they wanna know. Where do they need to go, what do they need to be doing?
Makeda Lewis: Okay, so I be on the twitters, I be on the bird. I be on the bird bein real messy. And my Twitter name is themakeda, Makeda as in the song by Les Nubians. I'm also on Instagram as hungermakesme, and I host events and I organize things in Atlanta. So if you're local or if you're ever in town, send me a message, come through to a thing. I cannot guarantee that you'll get a response if you send me a message because I am actually very picky about responding. I'm sorry, I just wanna be honest with you guys I don't want y'all to think that y'all finna be hittin me up and that I'm gonna reply to y'all.
Makeda Lewis: And also if you are gonna send me a message and ask me a question. First, I want you to ask yourself, is this something you could Google. Because if you could find the answer from Google, don't ask me that. Other than that actually, I do really like connecting with people. I know that seems antithetical to what I just said. I really like connecting with people. I'm also really awkward and sometimes I don't... I don't know I'm like a, what they call it, a ambivert?
Amena Brown: Oh ambivert. I think I am too.
Makeda Lewis: Yeah. Like sometimes I'll be on and then sometimes I'll be like...
Amena Brown: It's like when I'm on, I'm really on. But when I'm not on though, I'm really by myself.
Makeda Lewis: So I don't ever want you to feel offended. If you see me out somewhere and you wanna say hey, please do say hey. Whether I'm on or off, please say hey. Follow me on the things.
Amena Brown: My sister, thank you, for joining me on my Podcast.
Makeda Lewis: Thank you my sister for joining me on my Podcast.
Amena Brown: Yeah, you know I think you're dope. So I'm happy to, not only share you with my listeners, but you just closed this episode with such a wonderful affirmation everyone. I might have to take that chunk out and re-post it again. And be like, "Go back and listen to this. Listeners you did that today." Thank you my sister, I appreciate you.
Makeda Lewis: Yeah. I love you, this was great.
Amena Brown: I love you.