June 19th, 2020

Words & Artwork by Tina Tona

I was 12 years old when Trayvon Martin died, and watched in confusion as his murderer got away. Every week after that I would watch my parents plead with my brothers to stop leaving the house in a hoodie. The summer before I started high school, Mike Brown died. It was the first time I felt truly angry at my country, and my consciousness of what it means to exist in a Black body grew more potent. After that, it was Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Grey, Sandra Bland, and an innumerable amount of names that only a few of you would recognize.


For my entire teenagehood, it felt like two weeks couldn’t pass by where I wasn’t bombarded by images of dead Black people. It’s painful to admit, but I reached a certain threshold where I was desensitized, mostly because at that age I didn’t know what I could possibly do to help end the police violence against my people. I felt helpless. So, I focused on school, on friends, on protecting my joy. But the weight of being Black in America never lifted itself from my chest. It’s a constant state of confusion and rage that ebbs and flows.


The only things that helped with this, in my case, was the resurgence of Black art that came out of the movement. When Solange sang “You’ve got the right to be mad!”, I felt that shit! When Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele, Mati Diop, and Boots Riley showcased the multifaceted nature of the Black experience, I felt that shit! And when Tyler the Creator said “Tell these Black kids they can be who they are”, you know damn well I felt that shit too. 


Now I’m 19, and reliving the exact same cycle. Because I attached myself so much to the Black art that came out of the movement, artistic expression soon became my favourite outlet to express my frustration. I no longer feel as helpless as I did when I was 12 because I’ve found new ways to articulate myself and cope with this hyper-awareness of what it means to exist in a Black body. 

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Burn, Baby, Burn


I made this collage after I watched LA 92, a documentary about the riots that happened in LA after the cops that assaulted Rodney King walked free. The documentary starts off with archival footage from the Watts Rebellion, where riots were triggered by excessive force unjustly being used on Marquette Frye, a Black motorcyclist. Someone in the documentary said the words "burn, baby, burn" and it instantly reminded me of the reason for the violence and unrest happening today. This led me to find the Marvin X poem of the same name, which could have easily been written in 2020. 


Would you rather be a peace with the world and war with yourself, or at peace with yourself and at war with the world?


I heard this quote in a Nipsey Hussle interview, and it instantly stuck with me. Being a black femme, it was never stated plainly, but always implied that in order to fit into the spaces I wanted to, I needed to be more palatable. I needed to do more to make sure that people were comfortable with my existence. These words were what I wish someone told me at the age that I believed that doing this was my only option to be welcome in spaces that were never necessarily built for my being there. That prioritizing what I think of myself and what I want to do is far more important than what others may expect or want from me. 

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Screaming Is Healing


In the same vein as my "burn, baby, burn" piece, I've always felt like it was a black woman's right to be angry, and express that anger however they see fit. My biggest inspirations in making this were Kelis, and Rico Nasty, two artists that I think show us that unbridled aggression can be the best catharsis when the world wants to silence you and try to ignore your existence. When the whole world doesn't listen to you, screaming is the only way to make sure you're heard. 


Tina Taught Me


I made this in 2015. I used to put glitter in my afro, and I once wore that hairstyle to a debate competition. I remember that's where my competitors looked first, and I could see them instantly underestimate me. Putting glitter in Angela Davis' afro was a way for me to try to defend black creativity and expression. The word in the speech bubble are from the "Tina Taught Me: Interlude" on Solange's album A Seat at the Table. In the interlude, Tina Knowles laments "It's such beauty in black people. And it really saddens me when we're not allowed to express that pride in being Black."

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Daydreaming And I'm Thinking Of You


I just made this to highlight an image of black joy and talent. Aretha Franklin has one of the most soothing voices, and Daydreaming is a song that I listen to all the time to calm down. 


America, God Bless You If It's Good To You


The inspiration and title for this piece came from Kendrick Lamar's song XXX. It means what it says. America is a cruel and unfair country, and those who can thrive in it while the rest of us struggle for the recognition of our humanity are truly the lucky ones. 

Tina Tona is a 19-year-old multi-medium Rwandese/Ugandan artist from the DMV. They specialize in film photography and collage art, and use their work to highlight the nuances of Blackness and femininity. They are deeply inspired by black artists such as Solange and Andre 3000, and hope that one day their work can be used as a tool to engage with Afro-futurism the way theirs is.