Art Through the Lens of Cultural Curiosity with Kianga Jinaki

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:47:53 Art Through the Lens of Cultural Curiosity with Kianga Jinaki

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Episode Summary

Kianga Jinaki is a fiber artist, a storyteller, a doll maker, a community organizer, a community artist, and an all-around extraordinary person. She creates community through her teachings online and in-person, and is a hands-on, fully-involved community member. She joins the Stitch Please podcast to share how she got her start in the art world as a fiber and needle artist. Kianga also shares her story of creating her first doll for her daughter and the process of creation that happened behind the scenes. Kianga also talks about the opportunities she’s received to travel around the world, furthering her craft in Ghana and South Africa. This opened up our conversation as we discussed Kianga’s curiosity and hunger not just for living her everyday life as a Black woman, but also to learned and rediscover her ancestry and legacy through the mediums of art and literature. This episode is a true exploration of art, culture, and legacy. So tune in, get curious, and get inspired by this truly powerful conversation.

Episode Notes

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Lisa Woolfork 0:13

Hello stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast. With more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I am your host, Lisa Woolfork. And I am delighted to introduce you to the inimitable Kianga Janaki. Kianga is a fiber artist, a storyteller, a doll maker, a community organizer, a community art person extraordinaire. This is someone who builds and creates community, who teaches in person and online, who is just really involved and has a really soft spot in my heart because she is living in Riviera Beach, which is a community very close to West Palm Beach where I grew up. And my grandmother lived in Riviera Beach. And my cousins still live there, and I have a lot of family in Riviera Beach. So Riviera Beach feels like home. Right? And so I went to high school all of it, all of it is just a really big deal. And so it's really nice to welcome you and feel like I'm talking to somebody from home.

Kianga 0:54

Yeah.

Lisa Woolfork 0:54

So thank you for being here for that. Kianga, I want to just again, welcome you and ask you, How did you get started? What are some of your earliest or earliest fond memories of sewing fiber arts, needle arts? How did this become your thing?

Kianga 1:53

All right, first of all, thank you so much for considering me for your show. Like I binge on Stitch Please in my studio. Yeah. So thank you. Thank you. I actually got started as a child. My mother insisted that I learn how to sew. Now this is interesting because she didn't sew. My grandmother didn"t sew, but she was like insistent that I learn how to sew, and I did not embrace it at first. I was like, 'Let me please. Why?' But you know, she bought me a sewing machine. And I remember the first outfit that I made for myself. I made a denim skirt with a matching vest to go see the Pointer Sisters.

Lisa Woolfork 2:37

Wow.

Kianga 2:38

And I made my junior prom dress gown. But after that I was like, you know, I was into writing. I was writing poetry and I wrote plays and stuff as a child. And I like theater, you know, but sewing didn't seem like it for me. Anyway, I grew up, got married, and we moved to Atlanta. And the house that we moved into had a sewing machine in it.

Lisa Woolfork 3:08

What!

Kianga 3:10

The person who had lived in the house before, left the sewing machine. And I was like, "All right. All right. I will sew.'

Lisa Woolfork 3:19

You buy a house. You move into the house. The house is empty everywhere else, but there's a sewing machine there.

Kianga 3:24

There's a sewing machine there.

Lisa Woolfork 3:25

Either that's just like a message from the universe or like somebody forgot something that was important to them. And they're like, 'Where's my sewing machine? Oh, it's back of the old house.'

Kianga 3:34

It was there. It was there. So I again, like you said, I took that as a message like, 'alright, so I'm going to be sewing,' you know. And so I started making our clothing. And that was mostly what it was. Then we moved from Atlanta to West Palm Beach. My husband at the time was an editorial writer and started working for the Palm Beach Post. So we moved here. That's how I got to Florida. But as a child, I mean, I grew up in Baltimore. I'm born and raised Baltimore. All my dreams started in East Baltimore, as Reginald Lewis would say. That's the case for me too. And so then when we moved here, you know, I continued with the sewing. My daughter was born in Atlanta before we moved away. So when she turned about five years old or six years old, she asked me to make a doll that looked like her. Now, at the time, I had locks, like, all the way down my back. I dressed in full regalia all the time. I was always head wrap, scarf, you know, head to toe, Africa, when you see me, you know. And my daughter, she begged me for locks. She was getting ready to start kindergarten. So you say, 'I'm not sure you want locks so she said 'yes, Mommy, I wanna look like you. I want to look like you."

Lisa Woolfork 4:28

I love it.

Kianga 4:55

At that time when she asked me to make the doll, you know I, just being a good mom, I went to JoAnn's, got a McCall's pattern for a doll, and I made the doll. And the process of making that doll. I can't even tell you what a magical feeling it was. It was a magical feeling as I was making the doll, and when I finished making the doll. And in all honesty, she still has that doll. I will not let her show that doll in public. Because it was, it was okay.

Lisa Woolfork 5:14

It was your first doll.

Kianga 5:32

It's not right. It's not what you see me doing now. You know, so I made the doll. And you know, I made a little African dress from an old dress that I had or whatever. She loved it. And it sparked something in me. And I remember mentioning to one of my friends that, 'You know, I think I'm gonna start making dolls.' She said 'what? You're going to be making Black dolls. I have a Black doll collection. I want one.'

Lisa Woolfork 5:59

Oh my gosh.

Kianga 6:01

Okay, well, I guess I'm making dolls. Yes, I made that doll. And then, you know, somebody saw that doll. And then somebody you know, so it became my life's work just then there. And that was like the early 90s. And that was really at the height of the Black doll circuit. All those Black dolls like LaVerne Hall out of Seattle, Washington. She had the Holiday Festival of Black Dolls, and it was a touring doll show, show and sale. And so she did a show in Ohio. I think she did one in Houston. I know she did one in Seattle.

Lisa Woolfork 6:37

Wow.

Kianga 6:38

She had a doll magazine called "Dolly Gram". I started writing for "Dolly Gram." And I was a vendor at some of the doll shows. I remember the one in Ohio where our guests, our keynote performer was The Crowatians. These brothers- are you familiar with them?

Lisa Woolfork 6:55

No I'm not.

Kianga 6:57

These brothers from out of New York that made these puppets that were crows that were life size that they put on top of their heads. And they did the Temptation's song.

Lisa Woolfork 7:08

Oh my gosh.

Kianga 7:09

I mean, all of that happened, but even before that, I got so

Lisa Woolfork 7:13

Oh, like the Temptations like the Crowatian. I figure you sayin "Croatia," like the city in Europe. Black Croatians, I'm confused. Alright, okay, I got you now.

Kianga 7:25

But even before that, I think in '91, I learned about the Dark Images Black Doll Show and Sale Convention in Philadelphia. You know, like, before that time, I'm thinking 'I'm in my little house making my little dolls. And it's probably like maybe five other people all across the country making, you know, Black dolls.'

Lisa Woolfork 7:45

Yes.

Kianga 7:46

But when I went to the convention there was like 2 or 3 ballrooms. I know there was more than three hundred dollmakers, Black dollmakers.

Lisa Woolfork 7:54

Wow.

Kianga 7:55

I mean, as far as the eye can see cloth dolls, porcelain dolls, pecan, clay dolls, oh, my goodness. Just all these different kinds of dolls. And I met all these amazing doll makers, you know, and it was like a love fest. So that was like, when I, you know, I kind of really got my feet wet with the doll making and the Black dolls. And, you know, when I came back here, people started asking me to do workshops and talk about Black dolls and the history of Black dolls.

Lisa Woolfork 8:29

Yes.

Kianga 8:30

That blew my mind because it's something, it's a quote that LaVerne said, "A doll reflects the history of a people as well as any book or photograph."

Lisa Woolfork 8:40

Yeah.

Kianga 8:41

And I found that to be true. When I started doing my research. The first Black dolls were made as servants to white dolls.

Lisa Woolfork 8:50

Wow. Yes, I do-

Kianga 8:53

And it wasn't until after the ending of slavery, that Black doll companies, the Negro Doll Company was founded and then there was this push to create dolls that uplifted and you know, reflected us more positively. And then, you know, you could just follow the history. Our history in this country, you can follow it with dolls as well. When the Civil Rights Movement happened.

Lisa Woolfork 9:20

Yes.

Kianga 9:21

So many people were demanding of the toy companies, dolls, and people that reflected us very positively. The smaller Black doll companies, [unclear] and a whole lot of those companies in the 70's and 80's- Mattel started, 'Oh, my God. You mean you want a Black Barbie?'

Lisa Woolfork 9:40

Right.

Kianga 9:41

I think we can do that.

Lisa Woolfork 9:42

Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

Kianga 9:44

You know, so. So all of that. So, that's how I came full circle to this.

I love it. I love it, Kianga. And one thing I want to pause and go back to the magic, because you were saying that your daughter's a kindergartener. She's looking at you, her mother, who is regal, in your own words. You got the regalia on. You've got the gorgeous fabrics, and you've got your hair and these wonderful locks down to your hip. You've got like all of these things, and she is looking at you, as her mother, and as her mentor, and as her model, and as her mirror.

Yes.

Lisa Woolfork 10:20

As her mirror. And you were like, there's no way you could go to the store and buy a Black doll. Right?

Kianga 10:26

Right.

Lisa Woolfork 10:27

Instead, you are like, 'You know what, I am gonna make this for you.' And I just wanted to see if you can remember the process? And what about it felt so magical when you were cutting out the fabric, when you were stitching the seams of that first doll, when you were stuffing that doll with the different fiber fill or whatever you're using to kind of help it to form shape? What was that process of creation, what was it about it that felt magical to you?

Kianga 10:55

I felt that one, I was doing something for the love of it. This was something that my daughter had asked me for. And this was something that I felt that I could create for her. And it was like, as I was stuffing it, as I was picking the fabric for the clothing, I was like, 'oooh, I can put on a, she can have on, you know, a grand booba.' You know...

Lisa Woolfork 11:35

Yes.

Kianga 11:20

Make a little lapa. Oh, she could have a headwrap. Oh, my goodness, I can make earrings! Oh, and I can string beads for her necklace.' And it was like, you know, all of that. Now, as a child, I was into collage. I liked putting things together, pictures and stuff. And to me, the doll was a form of a collage on a 3D level. You know, once I did the face and the hair and the stuff, I was like, 'this is a person inside of me.' You know, it's like, that's what I connected it to. Every time I make a doll, I look like 'oh, so who is this?' You know? 'Oh, that's inside. Okay!" It was like a birthing process.

Lisa Woolfork 11:42

Yeah.

Kianga 12:02

I say to this day, my daughter gave me my life's work, you know, because I think a few years after that, that's when I kind of dabbled into quilting.

Lisa Woolfork 12:11

Yes.

Kianga 12:11

And I was introduced to Faith Ringgold's work, which was a lot like what I was doing.

Yes, yes. And the ability to see in her work, a connection, and that's something I appreciate about Black women artists, Black women writers and Black women in general. You know, even as we have incredibly distinct experiences, we are not all the same. We are not a monolith. None of that is true. None of that is necessary. And there are ways that we can find and recognize ourselves in one another.

Absolutely

Lisa Woolfork 12:48

Or different aspects. And I think that that is very important. That's really important. And your work beautifully illustrates that, and how generous to say that your daughter gave you your life's work. It's a beautiful and powerful process of reciprocal giving, right? You gave her a doll. And in the opportunity that she gave you to make a doll, you made something of a larger artistic practice, that became a lifelong process, a continuation, a new direction and a lifelong process. So that's really very beautiful. Very.

Kianga 13:26

Thank you.

Lisa Woolfork 13:27

Now I want to talk about some of your sewing travels. You have had the opportunity to travel places to do sewing, to learn from... So you've traveled to Gee's Bend to work with the Pettway family who have those fantastic quilts. You travel with Lisa Shepard Stewart, who's been on the podcast a couple times. She did her sojourns to Ghana.

Kianga 13:49

Yes. That's when I met Lisa actually.

Is that right? So tell us about the Ghana trip.

Okay. Okay. A friend told me about it on Facebook, that there was going to be an exhibit of quilts in Ghana, and you could submit your quilts to be in the show. And when I did the research, it was not only that you could submit your quilts, but you could travel with your quilts to Ghana, for the show that was going to be there for the two weeks that we were going to be there. I was like, I was excited. You know, I have only been to Africa twice. I'm planning to go again in the spring. But both times it was my dolls that took me there, and my artwork that took me there. The first time I went to Africa was in 2000 with LaVerne Hall. And this is the story that I was told that during Apartheid Black dolls were banned, and after apartheid what we did was we collected Black dolls from all over the United States. And I did two doll making workshops prior to that trip. I invited people to make dolls because we were going to distribute them...

Lisa Woolfork 14:56

Okay.

Kianga 14:57

...to the children of South Africa, right. So people made dolls. I got the pre-stuffed dolls. And I dyed them all shades of brown and gave them like some general instruction. And people wrote letters and put them inside each doll. And so we took those dolls over to South Africa and distributed those dolls amongst the children there, which was, oh, that was just life changing. So that was the first time that my dolls took me to Africa.

Lisa Woolfork 15:27

Now, can I ask you what the children's responses were when you passed out the dolls? Did you go to different townships? Or did you go to like a community center? And what was the reaction from children who had never seen a doll, or who may not have seen a doll before that looked like them?

Kianga 15:42

Well, we went to Soweto.

Lisa Woolfork 15:44

Okay.

Kianga 15:45

I have one particular memory of our trip to Soweto. There was a women's collective where the women were learning printmaking, papermaking and skills that they could use so that they can employ themselves. And in that other room where their children were in a daycare situation. And I distinctly remember handing a little girl- and I probably, I'll dig up the picture because I know I still have it- I handed her the doll. She lifted up her little top, and put the doll on her breast. Really like you know.

Lisa Woolfork 16:20

She's like, 'This is my baby. This is my baby.'

Kianga 16:24

It goes back to what you were saying about the connection between me and my daughter. This child connected when she saw this little baby doll. That's what her mommy did.

Lisa Woolfork 16:33

That's right.

Kianga 16:34

She lifted up her little shirt and put that doll. I said, 'Oh my goodness.' You know, so we did that. We went to an orphanage, and we distributed dolls. And we also did a workshop. LaVerne led a workshop, because her thing was sock dolls. She can take a sock, girl, and make the most fabulous doll. Fabulous dolls.

Lisa Woolfork 16:56

Wow.

Kianga 16:56

We did a workshop at a church where they learned how to make sock dolls. So we were all over. Like I said, we went to Soweto. We were in Johannesburg. We went to an orphanage. We went out to the countryside. You know, everywhere we went we had dolls. It was, I think it was like 20 of us that went, and we had more than 2,000 dolls, more than that, because I was collecting all that cause I also produced Celebrating Black Doll Art: A Black Doll Show and Sale here in South Florida prior to going to South Africa. I collected dolls. Everybody was collecting dolls. You know, at the doll show a part of your admission was you had to bring a doll that I could take with me. And I took empty suitcases. My suitcases were full of dolls.

Lisa Woolfork 17:45

Wow. Oh my gosh.

Kianga 17:48

That was such an amazing experience. And then with Lisa, you know, it was the quilting. And to have a show open. We were at the Day Center for Contemporary Art, African Art and Culture. Just to have our work within the walls of this phenomenal gallery space that had all of these contemporary African artists. Girl, they had one room- and I have a little video. I'm a have to find it, where me and Lisa, we just went crazy. Back to the ceiling vintage Kente cloth, vintage [Uber] cloth. Vintage mud cloth. Like every room was something different. But yeah, that's how I met Lisa. When I found out about the trip, she was organizing it. And you know, Lisa's energy is so light and beautiful and fun. You can judge people on social media if you see enough. And I watched how she was moving and, you know, how she was posting, and I said, 'I'm going with her. I'm gonna go with her.' I think it was 28 of us that wind up going.

Lisa Woolfork 18:57

Wow.

Kianga 18:58

That was another life-changing trip, traveling to Kumasi to shop for fabric in the marketplace? I wish I can do that every day. I be like visualizing transporting myself to Kumasi market where you know, the sisters have these little teeny stalls, man, and it's just African fabric stacked to the ceiling all around them. And that's as far as the eye can see in every direction. These little narrow pathways in this fabric that we lost our minds. We lost our minds.

Lisa Woolfork 19:34

It's like you had to travel with an empty suitcase there as well so you can bring (crosstalk) back.

Kianga 19:39

Oh, when I came back, you know we were going through customs and the customs guy was going through my suitcase. He opened it up- cause I had one of those retractable suitcases. Girl, that thing was as high up as I was. He opened it and he's like "Fabric fabric. All you have is fabric." I said "yes."

We left clothes. I gave away clothes to make room for more fabric.

Lisa Woolfork 20:09

"I can get more jeans when I get back home!"

Kianga 20:12

But I have always had a love since I was a teenager for African textiles. Like, I've been Black all my life, you know what I'm sayin?

Lisa Woolfork 20:21

Yes, I do.

Kianga 20:21

I've always loved my culture and my heritage. And I've always had this connection. And you know, someone asked me one time he said, "Well, did your parents teach you a lot about African culture?" Not really. But I grew up in Baltimore. I went to an all Black elementary school, an all Black middle school, an all Black high school, and I went to a historically Black college. And from eight years old, when I got my first library card, I would get stacks of books. My books are all about us. I read everybody's autobiography. I read all the stories, all the Langston Hughes, all the Zora Neale Hurston. You know, I fed myself on our culture, and then I was surrounded by it, you know, growing up. And so that was it. I'm reading right now 'Read Until You Understand the Profound Wisdom In Black Life and Literature.' What! And she's taking me back through a lot of those books that I read as a child, and just reminding me of the power of our wisdom and the life that we live. And I'm hopefully going to take that into the work that I'm creating for the fellowship, you know, just honoring the profound wisdom of Black life.

And I'm so glad you mentioned that, because that was gonna be my next question. But before we turn to that, I wanted to just say, what I'm hearing from you, is that you had from the very beginning, a deep curiosity. It sounds to me a deep curiosity, about your culture, that you were not just living Blackness, you were not just going about your everyday Black life. You were, of course doing that. But you were also really curious about the Black lives before you. Yes, our ancestry and legacy and the legacy of our art, our intellectual and literary legacies. And so that kind of curiosity, which is not something that they really, at least in my experience, cultivate in school. And so- especially now, not in Florida- but it's really, really powerful to hear you talk about how you fed your own spirit, how you fed your own critical imagination, how you fed your own need for a cultural representation, and a cultural reflection. And it seems as though what you're describing is your very deep and loving Black formative years, as well as your college years. All of that seems to be preparing you to do the work you're doing now.

Lisa Woolfork 23:04

Hey, friends, hey. What are you doing on Thursday around 3pm or so? You got 30 minutes to hang out with Black Woman Stitch? You got 60? If so, come through for Thirty Minute Thursdays, Thursdays 3pm. Eastern Standard Time. You can chill with Black Women Stitch on Instagram Live or talk with us through the two-way audio on clubhouse at 3:30pm. Eastern Standard Time. That's Thursdays for 30 minutes. Come hang out, chill and have fun with Thursday.

Kianga 23:44

I believe so. And my father, they didn't spend a lot of time talking to us about our heritage. They still made sure like my mother made sure I got to see Angela Davis when she came to town when I was 13 years old. And I walked in the room and that was the biggest Afro I had ever seen in my life to that point. And I think at that point, when I said I am not shaving my head anymore. I was like 13. My mother said, "What not even when you go back to school?" You know, over the summer, I could have Afro all summer, but when it got time for school, I was supposed to go get it straight. I was like 13. I told my mom, "I am not, absolutely not."

Lisa Woolfork 24:20

But look, I don't have to look at Angela Davis. She's incredible. (crosstalk) She's wonderful. She's free and so was her hair.

Kianga 24:30

Yeah. And you know, I also not only made it my life's work to learn about who I am because I feel like when you know who you are and you know the history, can't nobody just come and say stupid shit to you about your heritage. (crosstalk) But I also made sure that my children knew that, you know, like, books that I remembered from childhood or books as they were growing up. Like my sons, they read all of Walter Dean Myers, cause this brother was writing about young Black men and the experiences of being a young Black man. So they all had to read that, you know. "Of Water And The Spirit," when I read it, it was assigned to all of my children so we could discuss it. During the summertime, they had book reports. 'You have to read the autobiography of Malcolm X. You're reading the autobiography of Malcolm X. You're reading, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." You're reading "A Choice of Weapons" by Gordon Parks".' And then we discussed it. And it's like, I fed them with that, because I knew that they weren't going to get that anywhere else in the world. You know, when they stepped out of my house, they were gonna get something that wasn't them. And I wanted them to be armed with that. When I hear people say, 'well, they don't teach it in schools.' Well, so! It's you're responsible? I think it's our responsibility. It's my responsibility to learn about myself. They should. They should. But they never done that.

Lisa Woolfork 25:58

We have never been a priority in any public (crosstalk)...

Kianga 26:01

...taught us about ourselves. They candy coated it, you know. Like we're just hearing about the fact that when Martin Luther King was alive, he was considered public enemy number one. You know what I'm saying? So like, we can't sugarcoat all of that. We need to teach our children the truth. And we need to learn ourselves. When you see people who are connecting you to your truth, like a lot of what you do, Lisa, with your show, you're reconnecting me and connecting me to other people like, 'wow, I need to check that sister out. I didn't know she was doing that. I didn't know that was going on.' I've always been a teacher. I've always been a student. It's just who I am. You know, it's just who I am. That got all worked up (laughs).

Because it's exciting, right? And it's just like, not everybody gets to- I know this this phrase seems kind of trite, and I don't mean it to be- live in their purpose. Sometimes, I think because Black life can be so embattled. We are confronted by things that just challenge our regular basic humanity quite frequently, that it's easy to slip into this mode of resistance all the time. And what I have been celebrating is thinking about just Black being and Black aliveness and Black touching and Black joy. Just making deliberate shifts in perspective, right. And that's what I'm seeing in your work: your deep curiosity, about yourself, about your culture and legacy, curating experiences for your children so that they too can develop and be fortified. And one word I came up with when you were talking about your kids being kind of armed with this knowledge, is that it's equipping, that you are equipping them with truths about themselves and their history and heritage. Because you're absolutely right. When you know who you are, and where you are from and whose you are, it makes it a lot harder for people to lie to you and you believe it.

That's it, right!? It makes it so much harder and you have an arsenal to come back to the [unclear]. You know. That's not true. I know it's not true. And this is why I know. I look at my kids now, because they're all grown. I have three sons and a daughter, and they're on fire. They're on fire.

Lisa Woolfork 28:33

That doesn't surprise me. Not at all, not knowing your children at all, but knowing you it surprises me not at all that your children are actual fire.

Kianga 28:42

Yeah. And you know, throughout the years, I've also tried to balance that with understanding how we need to connect back to our inner peace. And I think that's what took me on the path to becoming a yoga teacher. Because when I was exposed to yoga, and the calming, the inner focus, the cleansing and the clearing of your breath and the stillness, I was like, 'don't nobody need this more than us.' You know? And I was introduced to it at 15. There was a sister who was teaching yoga. She invited us to come into her home every Thursday evening, me and two of my friends. And that seed stayed with me until I was an adult. And I bought that. And you know, even becoming a massage therapist, which I've done for the last 22 years. I just stopped to be a full time artist, but that was also something that I felt that I could bring to our community, because it's not a luxury to relax your muscles, relax your body and let some healing take place. Some drug free healing, you know, from healing touch, you know. And so, my life work has always been about us in different levels. You know, the art is another thing too. Bringing it to the community and helping people to connect to that as an option for healing and growing, because too often, alcohol and drugs especially- I grew up in the 60's and 70's. I remember when heroin had a hold on our community.

Lisa Woolfork 30:16

Yeah, yeah.

Kianga 30:17

You know, I remember that. And so, growing up I was like, I wanted to change that. I wanted to do something to help our community. Like, you know, I'm a self taught artist. I know, we're talking about my whole art thing. But I have a bachelor's degree in Community Mental Health.

Lisa Woolfork 30:33

Hey! That is a natural extension. But you keep talking. I'm gonna tell you why, but you keep talking. So you said you have a background in Community Health?

Kianga 30:43

Yeah, my bachelor's degree from Oregon State is in Community Mental Health.

Lisa Woolfork 30:50

You know what, when I hear you say that I am not at all surprised to hear that and here is why; because to me, wholeness and health go hand in hand. Yes. And based on listening to your story about your work, not just your work as an artist, but your work as someone who is so deeply and innately curious about our culture, our people, our history, our community, and that you share that through your craft- through doll making and now through quilting- that seems to me part of this whole larger story about liberation. Right? And that liberation, this is a quote from Alexis Pauline Gumbs that I love and she says, "Freedom isn't a secret. It is a practice."

Kianga 31:44

Absolutely.

Lisa Woolfork 31:45

And what you seem to be doing since you were a small child is practicing that freedom.

Kianga 31:51

Yeah, I'm trying to, you know, just as you were talking just then, it made me think back to when I first started doll making and I started doing the lectures, I was also doing workshops of doll making in the school system. I kept getting invited to come in. And then I started working with a lot of the social service agencies. And I mean, I remember doing a workshop for adjudicated youth who had committed crimes against the elderly, and part of their community service was to make a doll for an elder. You know, along with a letter of apology and some other things.

Lisa Woolfork 32:33

Yes.

Kianga 32:33

And, I mean, it was mostly, you know, young men, full gold teeth, and you know, baggy and the whole thing. And I remember my daughter (unclear) She's also been on this doll journey with me. All the traveling that I did, she came with me. She made her little buttons. She had these buttons, another doll at work that you could buy from her. And like she was 7, 8, 9, 10, I had a little palette under my table so when she got tired, she could go to sleep under the table while I was vending at a dolls show. You know, we were at this workshop and these brothers came in, because usually I'd be like, I don't know if this doll's good for this group or that. You know, she said, 'Oh Mommy, everybody loves dolls." And that is that same magic, Lisa, that I was telling you that I felt. I see in people when they're creating a doll.

Lisa Woolfork 33:26

Wow.

Kianga 33:27

I can't even tell you. So these young men, they made dolls that had baggy jeans, that had gold teeth and stuff. And then they said, 'Can we make another doll? Can we keep these and make another doll for the elders?' So I wind up getting a second workshop. You know what I'm sayin, like, I can tell you so many stories over the years. I've taught doll making to severely emotionally challenged young people, to elders, to teenagers to moms, I got a grant from the Cultural Council like years ago. I went to 10 different Head Start sites in Palm Beach County. And at each Head Start site I taught the parents at that Head Start site how to make dolls.

Lisa Woolfork 34:17

Wow.

Kianga 34:18

They made the dolls and the dolls got to stay at the Head Start site where their children went. And so when the children got to play with dolls, they were playing with the dolls that their parents had made for them.

Lisa Woolfork 34:34

Oh my heart.

Kianga 34:37

I have had a lot of fun with this. But it's been very important for me to help people connect to their own creativity, because you know, you hear people say 'I'm not an artist.' Yes, you are! There's something that you connect to that brings that light out of you, that you will do no matter what whether you get paid for it or not. You'll do it. Do it, do it. You know but just to tap them into their own creativity and to see the smile on people's faces and that sense of pride that they completed something, you know.

Lisa Woolfork 35:14

I think it's incredible. I absolutely think it is incredible. And I want to ask you about your Artists Innovation Fellowship for 2022, and how exciting that is. That's another award. What is your project that you will be doing under the auspices of that fellowship?

Kianga 35:32

Okay, so I am an Artist Innovation Fellow from the Palm Beach County Cultural Council, and it's a fellowship that allows you to develop yourself as an artist. I'm going to be doing a couple of things with that. One of the things that I wanted to do is mentor with other artists whose work that I respect and honor. And two of those artists that I will be mentoring with is Gwendolyn Aqui-Brooks. She's a collage painter, quilter, dollmaker. International world-renowned artist, and she actually lives just north of Tampa. Okay, so I'll be spending time with her in her studio. Her husband is also an artist. He's a collage artist. Like these artists that I have connected through and with over the years whose work that I admire and respect. I was like, 'Man, I wish I could just go be in studio and hang out with them.' That's one of the things I want to do. So she is one. The other artist is Lauren Austin and Lauren is a quilt and fiber arts. Her work was just featured in Quiltfolk, when they did the Florida issue. Amazing artists. I connected with her years ago. So I'm going to be going up to New Smyrna and the Art Center there, and she's into dyeing cloth. She does some fabulous printing on fabric that I want to learn to do. So after all of that, I'm creating a series of quilts that I'm calling "The Divine Feminine in African Spirituality, Black Culture and Life." So right now it looks like it's going to be about seven quilts.

Lisa Woolfork 37:11

Okay.

And I'm going to address the divine feminine in African spirituality and through that I want to create several quilts that honor the Orisha, Oya, Osun and Yemoja. Of course do something on Harriet Tubman because to me, she is the divine feminine. And, you know, not your typical Harriet. You know, she gonna be fly with full regalia. And she gonna have her shotgun.

There we go.

Kianga 37:23

And I want to honor my dear Great Aunt Mary, who was a domestic and had her madame, and her whole life was taking care of other people. To me, that is divine. There is this divinity in that. I'm exploring the divinity in our lives, our daily lives and in our spirituality. I want to do something on the Black Madonna. When I got this opportunity, I began to think about the quilts I'd always wanted to make. And as I started thinking about it, I realized that I could kind of put them in this category of the divine feminine and African spirituality, Black life and culture, you know, so that's that. The Black woman is God. The Black woman is God. I've been following the readings of Christina Cleveland, who just wrote a book about that, but she did another book that I got and read and it's like, you know, I'm gonna explore how the Black woman is shown as being God. Like when I think about the series of futuristic movies. Neo is the name of it...

Lisa Woolfork 38:48

Matrix.

Kianga 38:49

Thank you. But yes, The Matrix. 63. No, I really am 63.

Lisa Woolfork 38:57

Fantastic. You're inspiring me to drink water and mind my business. So in a couple, two, three years, when I get up to your years, I'll have skin like yours, but I don't drink enough water.

Kianga 39:08

Yeah, but you know, that's also living down here in Florida, because it's hot. You need to drink. You know, you have to hydrate? Yeah. Hydration and exfoliation secret. But you know, I thought about those movies. And I remember distinctly when they showed you who God was, and she was a middle aged Black woman. You know what I'm sayin? I want to express that in my art. One more piece that I had, like on the shelf, I've actually had started on it. "A Woman Is Not a Potted Plant," and that is from a poem by Alice Walker that I read in the '90s. And I actually did a piece kind of a little bit but this time I really want to explore that idea of a 'woman is not a potted plant,' something you could sit on the shelf while you go off and do your life and then you come back and she can just be there waiting for you. No.

Lisa Woolfork 40:06

Wow.

Kianga 40:06

So anyway, that's what I'm planning to do.

Lisa Woolfork 40:08

Oh, man that is that. This is exciting.

Kianga 40:14

Yeah. And we have like the whole year. We have from January 1, 2022 to January 1, 2023. And the showcase of our work is not until June 2023. So I have like a year. Yes.

Lisa Woolfork 40:29

So you're gonna be working this year, all of 2022, working to get ready for the show. Next year.

Kianga 40:36

Yes! The next couple of months. I'm just going to be doing research. I'm reading. I got a real nice reading list. And you know, just taking notes and pulling ideas for each of these pieces.

Lisa Woolfork 40:49

Can I give you two book ideas for your lists?

Kianga 40:51

Yes.

Lisa Woolfork 40:52

So two- they're by the same author. He is a scholar who specializes in like Black feminist theory and poetics. And his name is Kevin Quashie, Q-U-A-S-H-I-E, and he's got two books that I think would be perfect for you. One I just finished teaching recently, and it's called Black Aliveness.

Kianga 41:16

Ooooh.

Lisa Woolfork 41:17

Aha. It's called "Black Aliveness." And it's like something like ‘Toward a poetics of Black something, something,’ but it's about Black aliveness. And it goes past resistance. It goes past resilience. It's just about confirming and sedimenting and reveling in Black aliveness. The other that I think you will really like- and I haven't spent much time with it yet- It's called "The Sovereignty of Quiet."

Kianga 41:45

Oh, wow.

Lisa Woolfork 41:47

Right. You know what he does? He starts the book with that famous moment with John Carlos. And who's the other Black man at the '63 Olympics where they raised their fists.

Kianga 41:57

Yes. Yes, yes. I have that picture. Right over here on my wall.

Lisa Woolfork 42:01

Exactly. Right. And so that became this huge icon, right for like Black militancy, et cetera, et cetera. But what he does is he notices that the two Black men have their heads bowed as if in prayer. And he's talking about how it might have looked loud to everyone else. But that's actually a gesture of quiet. Of silence, right? They weren't shouting. They weren't screaming. They were quiet. They were introspective. They were deliberate. And it was about quiet and reading that through quiet. It's just so beautiful.

Kianga 42:38

I think thank you. I have them down. I'm gonna check them out.

Lisa Woolfork 42:41

Yeah, I love those books. And I'm going to be revisiting them myself. So they were kind of like top of mind. And then I just wanted to kind of as we start to wrap up, I was thinking, of course about Audre Lorde, saying yes.

Kianga 42:53

Oh, yeah, I have. Yeah,

Lisa Woolfork 42:55

Poetry is not a luxury. Yes. And when you said mental health, our wholeness, a massage, meditation,... that's not luxury, either. Right? And if we approach these things as "Oh, no, no, I can't have poetry in my life. I can't have art in my life. I can't have rest in my life. I can't take it..." We have to write our own story.

Kianga 43:17

Absolutely.

Lisa Woolfork 43:18

Otherwise, if we let the world write it, write it for us. We're doomed.

Kianga 43:22

Yeah, we'll be suffering. You know, you brought up the point about rest. You know, I've been following the sister, The Nap Ministry and one thing, when I first started reading, that really kind of resonated with me, and that was that our ancestors were not allowed to rest. They work from can't see in the morning till can't see at night. And even after enslavement was over, laws were created. So they couldn't just stand around and chill!

Lisa Woolfork 43:53

Them vagrancy laws that created the second incarnation of slavery through what they call convict leasing. They would find Black people who were "idle," quote unquote, and capture them, and sell them to farms, where white people would buy them. It's just horrible. And even looking at some 1920s, 1930s No, no, this was the '40s actually, some 1940s advertisements complaining about negro women not wanting to work in white women's houses, and that these negro women wanted to stay home and tend to their own families. And it disrupting the social order, because these negro women were idle, because of course, we're idle when we don't want to work for white women. Right?

Kianga 44:39

Absolutely.

Lisa Woolfork 44:40

And so it's this idea, I think of the Nap Ministry and her claim as rest as resistance- no, not resistance, rest as reparation, that rest is reparations. I think that that is a powerful reminder that we come from a history where our labor was mandatory, was not compensated, or valued, or recognized, or appreciated. And so...

Kianga 45:08

We weren't considered lazy until the end of enslavement.

Lisa Woolfork 45:11

That's right. That's right, exactly. And so it's just such a powerful construct and you are undoing it. And that is something that I find really powerful and beautiful. Before we wrap up, which I can't believe the time has flown so fast. I know right? We'll have another conversation. This is not our only time to chat. But one thing I wanted to ask. And I've been asking, folks, this year, the slogan for the Stitch Please podcast is 'we will help you get your stitch together.' What advice? Would you offer someone who wanted to get their stitch together? What would you say to help them get their stitch together,

Kianga 45:49

I would say connect to other people who are also in that same flow that you are, and that they will help you get your stitch together as they are getting their stitch together. You know, because ‘I am because we are’- Ubuntu. And that's the same with getting your stitch together. Get together with the other sisters and brothers, and it will help you to get your stitch together.

Lisa Woolfork 46:15

I love it. And on that note, we are so grateful to Kianga Jinaki. Thank you for being with us today. This was fantastic. Thank you.

Kianga 46:23

Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me. I'm honored, and I'm just tickled. Oh, I had so much fun.

Lisa Woolfork 46:33

You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at blackwomenstitch@gmail.com. If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, p-a-t-r-e-o-n and you can find Black Woman Stitch there in the Patreon directory. And for as little as $2 a month you can help support the project with things like editing transcripts and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcast directories or services allow for reviews. But for those who do for those that have a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us at the Stitch Please podcast. That is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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