Whose Stories?: A conversation with artists of color

Drea d’Nur, Andie Jairam, Julio Montalvo Valentin, Edreys Wajed
moderated by Karima Amin

“Look. Without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as people of color, nothing about fanboy and fangirl culture makes sense. What I mean by that is, if it wasn’t for race, X-Men doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the history of breeding human beings through chattel slavery, Dune doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the extermination of so many indigenous nations, most of what we call “first contact” stories don’t make sense. Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understand that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together. We’re the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible. We are… in the Green Lantern Corps? We are the Oath. We are all of those things. Erased, and yet without us? We’re essential.”
— Junot Díaz

This event will bring together artists of color working in different disciplines to reflect on their personal experiences making a life in the arts. In anticipation of Junot Díaz’s appearance at Just Buffalo Literary Center’s BABEL series on Friday, April 20, this event finds inspiration in Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA), an organization that Díaz co-founded. This community conversation will focus on the histories of storytelling as well as the importance of creating, maintaining, and preserving stories of and by people of color.

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About the participants

Karima Amin is a retired public school educator, curriculum consultant, justice advocate, and percussionist who often works as a professional storyteller, providing performances and workshops for audiences of all sizes and for people of all ages. A founding member of Spin-a-Story Tellers of WNY, Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of WNY, We All Storytellers, and Daughters of Creative Sound, her storytelling has taken her throughout the United States, Southern Ontario, Canada and to West Africa. Karima serves as a board member for Partnership for the Public Good, a teaching artist with Just Buffalo Literary Center, an Outreach Committee member for the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, a Public Art Committee Member for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and a member of the Erie County Probation Department’s Conditional Release Commission.

Ms. Amin has received numerous awards for nearly 40 years of dedication to education, community service, and the arts. Recent honors include: the 2009 Distinguished Humanitarian Award from the University of Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences; the 2012 Zora Neale Hurston Legacy Award from the National Association of Black Storytellers, for three decades of working to preserve and perpetuate the art of storytelling; and the 2014 Ntosake Award from VOICE-Buffalo for the leadership she has shown as the Founder/Director of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc.

Drea d’Nur is a singer and songwriter whose work has reached national and international acclaim. Locally, she focuses on highlighting the rich history of Black music and art in Buffalo. This 2017 Spark Awards Artist of the Year has performed overseas, released two independent music projects, produced two short films about Nina Simone, directed a music video, produced two stage productions, and has album credits on the new Gorillaz album, HUMANZ. Please visit www.spiritofnina.com to learn more about her original visual and musical homage to Nina Simone.

Andie Jairam is an emerging artist from Atlanta, Georgia, currently completing his Masters of Fine Arts at the University at Buffalo. His MFA thesis exhibition, Kweku Anansi Fables, uses relief prints, costumes, and sculptural pieces to create a speculative story where a West African superhero must prevent the great evil spirit Osa from stealing stories from the history books before they cease to exist.

Julio Montalvo Valentin is the author of two chapbooks, Don’t Give up the Ship and Ship Lost. He is one of the editors and founders of CWP Collective Press. Julio is also an editor for the Mutate Re and Portrait, as well as a blogger for Plurality Press. You can find him working on his next project, converting a school bus into a poetry caravan his next poetry tour.

Edreys Wajed is an artist, educator, performer, and entrepreneur based in Buffalo. Wajed is well known locally as a multi-talented artist expressing his talents through the creation of jewelry, spoken word, music, and educational activities. Wajed has said of his artistic ambition that his “inspiration is to actually BE an inspiration. I want to be an inspiration to others through my thoughts, words and actions.”