By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
This month’s First Friday kicked off with a bang thanks to BOOM Concepts new art exhibition, “Black on Black Magic.” Featuring the work of D.S. Kinsel, his wife Anqwenique, and Bekezela Mguni, “Black on Black Magic” is a month-long installation at BOOM that explores the present and future of the black experience.
The concept for “Black on Black Magic” came in part through the source of the exhibition’s funding.
“Darrell and I were really honored to receive a grant through the Office of Pittsburgh Public Arts with the project ‘There Are Black People in the Future’ by Alicia B. Wormsley,” said Anqwenique Kinsel.
The “There Are Black People in the Future” project is rooted in a 2018 billboard that Wormsley imbued with the sentence that would become the project’s title. Less than one month after its installation, however, the text was abruptly removed at the request of the billboard’s owner. This decision was met with immediate backlash, and seen by many as a representation of East Liberty’s gentrification woes.
“I find it tragically ironic, given East Liberty’s history and recent gentrification, that a text by an African-American artist affirming a place in the future for black people is seen as unacceptable in the present,” said Jon Rubin, founder of The Last Billboard, who exhibited Wormsley’s work.
The billboard’s removal led to Wormsley’s collaboration with the Office of Public Arts, providing small grants to black artists, like the Kinsels and Mguni, allowing them to explore the relevance of the phrase “There Are Black People in the Future.”
The title “Black on Black Magic” originated in D.S. Kinsel’s temporary street installations, and is his way of steering the narrative around the phrase “black on black” in a positive direction.
“It’s making sure we bring positivity in our work, positivity in our messaging and positivity in the language connected to the black identity,” D.S. Kinsel said.
D.S.’ work for “Black on Black Magic” is based on his newly-released photobook “Sacraments, Totems and Shrines.” The book, which will be available throughout the exhibition, features found-object temporary street installations created by D.S. in various cities throughout America. His installation will consist of several screen prints of images from the book, juxtaposing traditional art against the commercial art of the photobook.
“It’s almost using my street art practices like geotags, like spiritual geotags, turning telephone poles into totem poles by putting these found objects on them,” D.S. said.
D.S. does not intend to keep this technique to himself, however. As part of BOOM’s Juneteenth celebration, D.S. will be holding a workshop to teach other artists how to create totems and shrines in his style. He hopes that this will allow his totems, meant to be symbols of safety and community in urban environments, to appear in places they have not before.
“It would be cool, when people learn how to make these totems like me, if I begin to see these items in other neighborhoods or my own neighborhood,” D.S. said.
Anqwenique will have her own visual art on display as well, with her work centering on the role black women play in shaping the future of the black community.
“Thinking about the phrase ‘There are Black People in the Future,’ I wanted to view that through the context of black mothers, how are we as a society taking care of black women as they parent, and how can we create a space that is conducive to black women having all that they need,” Anqwenique said.
Further supplementing this concept, Anqwenique, a trained vocalist and musician, will also be hosting her own workshop meant to teach black women how to use singing and music to improve the lives of both themselves and the children who depend on them.
“As a vocalist, musician and a new mom, I wanted to make a workshop space where I’m talking about how we use our voices in singing for self-care, for healing,” Anqwenique said. “I’m also going to be talking about how important it is for mothers to sing for their young babies, and how that helps babies and young children with developmental milestones.”
The final component of “Black on Black Magic” comes in Bekezela Mguni’s “Black Unicorn Library” project. With her background in library and information sciences, Mguni has archived a large selection of literature by black female writers, and created an experiential library to tell their stories.
“Black Unicorn centers on the literary and artistic contributions of black women,” Mguni writes on her personal site. “Using a black queer feminist approach, Black Unicorn brings a unique experience and lens to material collection, information sharing and community building.”
“Black Unicorn Library” serves as an important piece of the message “There Are Black People in the Future,” as its goal is to teach young people about the black perspective and tell the stories of black women. The ultimate goal is to provide knowledge, which Mguni argues will be the root of liberation.
“When Black writers, artists, musicians, teachers and creatives share the tools that help us think critically about ourselves and the world, they empower and awaken a part of us that cannot be touched by any physical force,” Mguni writes.
It is this sharing of tools that sits at the heart of BOOM’s June programming, and it is the hope of those involved in “Black on Black Magic” that these tools become a piece of that which shapes the future of the black community in Pittsburgh.
“We’re envisioning what the future for black people and black artists really look like and what it means, and this is our small way of representing that in a beautiful, intentional, unapologetic way,” said Anqwenique Kinsel.
“Black on Black Magic” will be on display throughout the month of June at Boom Concepts, 5139 Penn Ave., Garfield. The Black Unicorn Library Reading Room will at BOOM Concepts from 5-8p.m. 5139 Penn Ave Garfield every Tuesday in June. D.S. Kinsel will host a Juneteenth celebration and street art workshop June 19 at 6 p.m. Anqwenique Kinsel will host her Just Sing! workshop June 26 at 5:30 p.m.