Salimatu Amabebe

Below you can read about their practice, their installation project at 2727 - Black Convenience, their weekly culinary gathering - Tea and Toast, and how you can contribute to their upcoming exhibition.

Dear Papa J,

I’ve been thinking a lot about my handwriting lately. I saw Eremi and she complimented it, and I told her that the funny thing is I used to write like this. That was the style when I was in middle school, big bubble writing. Then she wrote me a Valentine’s day card and I just liked how she wrote. I started writing that way and over time it evolved into what it looks like now - a little bit more spindly and a little more rushed. She told me she had been copying her friend’s writing style too.

I’ve been thinking about how easily we absorb these things that seem so mundane. How we pass them between each other and they become a part of us. Handwriting feels so fundamental, but it is taught, learned, absorbed, just like everything else.

I remember how you told me once that people would see me as black before anything else. You told me that my mom would never understand my experience as a black person in this world. You told me it didn’t matter if my mom was white, no one would see that in me. Obama was running for president at the time and you told me that the world would know him as the first black president of the United States, not the first biracial president. That prediction was, of course, correct - as I’m sure you’ll love to hear.

It’s only in retrospect that I can crack the code of my childhood. I’m sure this is true for most. I understand now why people said the things they did. As a child, I remember looking at the back of my hand and thinking that mine were different from everyone else’s. They were a different color from yours, from Mom’s, from anyone else’s in our town. I remember the distinct feeling of surprise at my own newness. I was acknowledging that this body was still new to me, so new that sometimes I would forget that I was in it.

By now we’ve lived in so many places that no one place feels like home. I don’t know if you feel that way too. I feel at home in places where I don't feel inconvenient. Often, I feel that even well meaning white folks are not sure how to treat me. They stumble over words, they check my eyes for clues of offending me. I check theirs to gauge their level of discomfort. It doesn’t make me angry. It just makes me feel tired. Being around my community feels like a reprieve. Like the break I take before standing up, inhaling deeply and going back out into it. The more breaks I have, the stronger my laugh gets. Sometimes it gets so strong it shakes those shaky nervous folks into ease and we can pretend for a few minutes that we’re all in this together.

I don’t know what it would be like to always feel convenient. I’ve learned to suss out the scene before stepping in. I’ve learned to move with caution, to see where I fit in. I know that you grew up in a place where you didn’t have to do that, and you moved to a place where you did. You started a family here, built a life here. What did it give back to you?

Black Convenience is an installation from multimedia artist and chef, Salimatu Amabebe. Through a collection of hand-crafted objects such as Chocolate Afro Puffs Cereal, Amabebe reimagines the convenience store as a place for celebrating both personal and political black histories.

Coming in the Spring: Tea & Toast, Love Letters, & Black Feast