For part two of this series, Mia Harrison has interviewed Fairygawdzad and Joy Ma from Ghetto Heaven Collective.
C&: How did your collective come into being?
Fairygawdzad (Ghetto Heaven Collective): We initially had a vision of bringing QTPoC organizers together in Seattle to support each other. Through this process we’ve been realizing that we really are helping to bring heaven down to other BIPoC folks… Reminding them that it’s acceptable and possible to hold space that is only for us. Where we can dream and just be away from the white gaze long enough to remember who we are again.
Joy Ma (Ghetto Heaven Collection): My brother was the House Father for House of Ninja and I aspire to be like him in many ways. So at some point I said: “Let’s form somethin’ that celebrates ballroom culture, healing, and the hood ass, and ratchet-tastic lifestyle love.” I didn’t give a damn that I hadn’t had too much experience with organizing somethin’ like that. My mission in organizing within the collective is to bring the multiplicities of Blackness together in this kind of utopia. There’s a lot of homophobia, transphobia, etc. in the hood. But I think both cultures can and should exist together.
C&: What does the word sanctuary mean to you?
F: A safe haven. An ornate temple of self love. A retreat from the ordinary. A place for preservation of important ideas, beings, and nature. As gentrification requires us to actively fight for space in this city, we HAVE TO start creating sanctuaries as a way to protect our culture, values, and ideas from the impacts of whiteness. To me, whiteness is that violent. It is a destructive force permeating many of the spaces we’re forced to navigate.
JM: Sanctuary means a place to rest, a place to see your fantasies come to life, a place for your physical and higher self. I resonate with what Fairygawdzad mentioned: that whiteness in America is violent and BIPoC communities in particular need to have spaces that are free from that violence. Sanctuary means being able to be loud and scream and be ferocious with my fro and not having to deal with non-Black people commenting on it the whole time. Sanctuary is a space where no one is fucking with me.
C&: How do you define the Black arts scene in Seattle?
F: I would say that it is tough, honestly. There are so many splinters of community here. Seattle natives, Seattle transplants with resources, Seattle transplants without resources, queer centered scenes, heteronormative spaces. It is very much a city where folks exist in their own worlds. Coming from places with larger and stronger Black communities, I often feel that our scenes here don’t have the same level of spirit that I felt in other Black artist spaces. Here we’re not inspiring or reminding each other of what it feels like to have someone scream “aaayeee” or “go awf”. But that affirmation of community is so important.
JM: I think the Black arts scene can be disparate in some ways. Many Black people in Seattle are just trying to survive this city and, sometimes because of that, it seems hard for us to come together. Personally, I don’t really feel good producing art in spaces where I have to question, who it’s really going to be for. But I also see people creating space and sharing it with non-Black folks and making sure everyone knows when and when not to insert themselves. Shout out to those people.
C&: Has collaboration helped in creating Black sanctuaries?
F: Collaboration is extremely important to the sustainability of our culture. As we splinter off, the traditions we’ve utilized to remain resilient get hazy. We only remember pieces of it. We’ve lost pieces of our power that came from a deep understanding of our collectivity. Collaboration allows us to bring back the pieces of the ritual that have stuck with us.
JM: The Black community has so much richness embedded in its culture, but historically hasn’t had access to certain spaces and resources. Collaborating allows us to share those resources. [F]airygawdzad always cooks up people who are dope to collaborate with.
C&: Where exactly do you see the intersection between nightlife, art, and the work your collective does?
F: We know that culturally, Black people come together around celebration, food, music, and fashion – and we oftentimes find a lot of healing in those spaces. We wanted that to be acknowledged as a variation of our ancestral traditions as descendants of a powerful line of people who “made a way out of no way”.
JM: A way to simulate being at your auntie or grandma’s house just chillin’ playin spades and gettin’ lit. That’s all I did growin’ up in Chicago. Someone would be at one of their family member’s houses and ask if the squad could roll through. If it was a go, we’d be pullin’ up and that’s how I grew up perceiving parties. ‘The club’ was not something I desired because it oftentimes did not represent a culture that reflected the ways I liked to turn up. So I went back home one winter in undergrad and someone turned an abandoned house into a kickback. We were all reciting lyrics to local drill cuts and it was so healing for me.
C&: How do you support each other in your collective vision?
F: In GH (Ghetto Heaven) we really lean on each other and create a vision that lives at the intersections of our collective dreams. We pour our emotions into a space and then step back to see what it will become. There is often a lack of clarity on why we want to do something, but we trust the spaces we create together and affirm each other’s contributions and gifts. We really honor intuition in the process.
JM: We all rely on each other’s energy to build and try and support the projects and ideas that we come up with and water them to keep growing. It can be tough surviving capitalism and at the same time doing the oftentimes unpaid labor of organizing, but I think I need to do this work to survive. So we all supplement each other with the labor we have capacity to do and make sure the projects align with folks’ capacities as best we can. And we try our best to GET PAID.
C&: Are there other groups that inspire you that carve out spaces for Black healing?
F: I want to shout out to Mystic Melanin. They’ve created such a powerful community and sanctuary for Black mystics to connect, grow, and thrive. I actually manifested my desire to be part of a queer collective in that space. I’d also like to shout out to the Darqness crew for holding space that centered queer folks of color for so many years in Seattle. That event held me when I felt there was no space for me in this city. I organize to help hold that space.
JM: Big ups to Dani Tirrell for the work he does in the dance and performance community centering Black healing. I’ve always admired the work he does since I moved here. Big up to everyone in the vogue ballroom scene who are creating space for Black folks to participate in something very much rooted in Blackness. And major shouts to NEVE for what she does with rad movement work and in the disability justice community.
C&: What’s next?
F: I’m really interested in getting into space design as an art form. As we continue to hold space for people of color to heal and build resilience, I want to begin to build fantasy space and inspire Black and Brown folks to dream and use their visions to shift the paradigm we currently live in. I think Black radical imagination has gotten us this far and I want us to continue to smash the glass ceiling of the communities we can live in knowing that Blackness is truly a divine experience on earth.
JM: I definitely see GH collaborating with organizations across the globe manifesting the spaces of our wildest fantasies. I want to keep throwing parties and connecting people and dismantling respectability politics in party culture.
To follow their upcoming events, check out the collectives’ Instagrams:
Mia Imani Harrison is an artist and writer currently based in Berlin.
This text was commissioned within the framework of the project “Show me your Shelves”, which is funded by and is part of the yearlong campaign “Wunderbar Together (“Deutschlandjahr USA”/The Year of German-American Friendship) by the German Foreign Office.