By Kia Labeija
In the womb we share everything with our mothers. This is by definition our first home. We are connected by blood, flowing and pumping oxygen into our small developing bodies, and before we even have a conscious, we have love. When she died, I cried just as hard as the day I met her. I became homeless. Not because I had nowhere to live, but because the body that had once been my first home had stopped breathing. When I arrived at the hospital that night, she laid there so quietly. I grabbed her in an attempt to hold her in my arms, but her body was too heavy, her face was too purple, and she had already left. So I didn't get to say goodbye.
Routine doctors appointments felt void in her absence.
My doctor of over 20 years still recalls the first moment we met. In those days HIV was still considered a death sentence, and my four year old self couldn't have seemed any farther from it.
So every time he takes my blood I think of her, because we share it. Because she has sat here on this same table, and because I am the last piece of her left in this world.
+ 24 SERIES
Excerpt from Kwans Song and the Allure of Immortality
By Sean Black for A&U Magazine
Drawing from loss and the early memories of her mother, as well as the challenges of living with HIV herself, Kia Labeija offers, in her enigmatic self-portraits, glimpses of a contemplative yet transformed identity that resolves the void of her mother and the issues surrounding the disclosure of her own positive status as a young, attractive, and sexually active female. While the issues of her photographs may at first glance seem more easily relatable to other young women of college age pining for the normalcy of womanhood, they speak more directly to those who have walked in her shoes. Embedded with clues about having lost her mother at the age of fourteen to AIDS and growing up as HIV-positive, Kia’s intense presence in her photographs underscore the significance of what may not be readily apparent; her deep and necessary healing process with the promise to never forget. Beyond voyeuristic representations of physicality, desire, personal belongings and time, these portals on paper or digital display are earmarked as sacred space for a daughter to mourn the loss of her mother while making impact in the role of artist educator.
In Search of the Sweet Life | Kia Labeija on Sugar Hill, 2015
+ HARLEM POSTCARDS FALL 2015
In Search of the Sweet Life is a reimagining of the time when migrating from the South to New York meant finding opportunity, when moving uptown symbolized safety and the New Negro was in style. This is the time when Harlem was en vogue, according to Langston Hughes, a time when men and women strutted down the avenues between Amsterdam and Edgecombe in their Sunday best, when the neighbors were Lena Horne, Joe Lewis, Ella Fitzgerald and the Duke, Mr. Ellington, of course. This was the Harlem Renaissance. And this is Sugar Hill today. Since the arrival of brown and black bodies on “American” soil, we have been on an endless quest to understand what our American Dream should look like, a dream in which our brothers and sisters do not swing from the tops of trees and are not gunned down by those who are supposed to keep our neighborhoods safe, in which we are not falsely incarcerated and left to die in solitude, in which our children can grow up, know they have worth, and can never be denied access because of the color of their skin, in which we are not pushed out of neighborhoods once called ghettos. This image is dedicated to my great aunts Pauline, Gladys and Flora.
Your White Walls Can Kiss my Black Ass, Kia Labeija 2015
OFFICIAL STATEMENT ON ART AIDS AMERICA'S LACK OF BLACK REPRESENTATION
REPLY TO APOLOGY FROM ROCK HUSHKA
What's done is done. An apology will not make a house slave, who has been raped repeatedly by a slave owner, feel forgiveness and compassion. Black and Brown Womyn — both Cisgender and Transgender — are affected immensely by HIV/AIDS, and I am sick and tired of under representation. I am sick and tired, physically, from this virus; passed down to me in the womb of a Womyn who was a survivor of rape and incest, and was sick and tired, until she died of AIDS. Its that same sorry that keeps an abused Womyn in a relationship with a man who continues to beat her, who continues to say he didn’t mean it, until one day, he kills her — and he is sorry about that too.
Art AIDS America was a decade in the making, that is a third of the AIDS crisis, and still the efforts of Brown and Black Womyn are sitting at the back of the bus; waiting for a chance to sit in the front of an epidemic they never asked to be apart of. My skin is the color of the soil, with roots so deep that no colonialist could ever remove me from this earth, no plague could ever make me crumble from the inside out, and no white man could ever cut me down, and use my limbs to burn fire for his rioters — who call my people savages.
So do not apologize to me, you apologize to them:
To all the Brown and Black womyn who have died in vain and lie in unmarked graves.