Embodying Ancestry: Reem

Themes: Blackness, Arabness, first generation, diaspora, immigration, women’s empowerment, community, Egypt, hair

“I’m Egyptian. So I’m African. First generation American, but I’m the first of my blood to be here. My parents met in Alexandria. Met in ’88. Egyptian-Egyptian, my mom has pharaonic blood across centuries, across oceans. We’ve got family in Brazil, family in South Africa, family in Europe. Arab and African. And it’s fraught, right? Like, I don’t really conversations about being Arab and African with many people. You’re either Arab, you’re Middle Eastern; Or you’re African or African American, you’re Black. There isn’t a lot, in the communities that I’m in or with the friends that I have, an acknowledgement that Arabness is Blackness too. I’m coming into that for myself. Because it doesn’t matter what country you’re in when you’re 12 years old and you’re still called Black.”

“I like the word ancestor. I like saying that. It makes me feel like we are related, which we are. So it also cuts all the bullshit of strangers. When it comes to women, especially other women, approaching them as my sisters before anything else. I said, “before anything else!” B.A.E. you see? That’s real. It’s ingrained.” – Reem, founder of the B.A.E. Collective

“Ancestry is everything when it comes to my work with B.A.E. It’s about honoring every woman who busted their ass & who died & who was owned & who was bought & who was sold & who was killed. It’s about honoring them. All the struggles for freedom. The freedom to make our art in this space, in this moment with the tools that we have, the equipment, the resources. It’s like a re-evolution. It’s a re-evolving – putting everyone back together on the same tide so we all rise. Something like that is the feeling I get.” 

“Embodying Ancestry is like a coming home. It’s like a remembering, a resonance. It’s like a letting go of all the accumulated bullshit over how many centuries. And it’s interesting because some of my ancestors were slaves, right? Whose weren’t? But there is a freedom. There was a knowledge of who they were that we’re not afforded now. It’s like a coming home.”

“My aunt got me this [dress] when I was in Egypt, in January of this year. It was the first time in 20 years. The last time I was there I was 6 and she got me this. She got my mom a color and she got my sister a color too. I put it on and something happens because it’s this combination of queendom, regal ancestry and also this element of peasant-ness. Simplicity. The cut of it is very ordinary, but it’s so extraordinary. But it’s so extraordinary. And I’ve been playing a lot with elements. Like goal and silver. For me gold is the sun. Silver is the moon. So it’s curious that I gravitated to this one. Silver. The silveriness of it makes it feel a little bit more powerful. The lunar element. I’m tapping into that.”

“It’s weird because none of my mom’s side has curly hair really except for my uncle. None of the women have curly hair. They all straighten their hair. My mom straightened her hair for a really long time, forever. My dad used to have a really big afro of hair and that i would only see in photos. He’s been shaving it bold for years. So I never really had any visuals of ancestors with curly hair which is partly why I felt that fear and distance, you know? So just now, it feels a little bit like trailblazing for my family. You think that I would have gotten then courage to be curly from them, but feel like I’m giving that to them. I had my mom big chop her hair a couple years ago and she wore it curly for the first time in like forever, I had never seen it curly. And it’s just like, the bigger the better.” 

More Participants

Lontia | Marylin | Amy | Jasmine | Christie | Geraldine | Patricia | Laura | Angela & Diana | Tsedaye | Eddie | Lola | Briana | Simone | SINI | Italy | Ekua | Anika | Reem | Bobo | Kei | Macy | Sarah | DaMonique | Nandi | Anise | Yadira

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