a daughter’s cosmography

Inspired by Ntozake Shange’s A Daughter’s Geography, “A Daughter’s Cosmography” is a series of nine pairings of poetry and photography that reflect on concepts of self-care, self-love, ritual, healing, daughtership, mothering and “the politics of the personal.” These ideas, which blur the boundary between theory and politics, reflect my interaction with Audre Lorde’s writings and poetry such as “Winds of the Orishas” and Ntozake Shange’s works we read in class, especially for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. In addition to studying their literary texts, I used the Ntozake Shange papers in the archives at Barnard College, the Audre Lorde papers at the archives in Spelman College and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

My photos and poems in “A Daughter’s Cosmography” draw on political, social, and affective forms of knowledge in Lorde and Shange’s works, which meditate on the voluminous concepts within Afro-Spirituality. Analyzing the supposed divide between the sacred and the secular, my work channels the energies and essence of the female orishas — Yemaya, Oshun, and Oya — from Afro-Cuban spiritual tradition. I drew inspiration from my Afro-Cuban dance class at Barnard which helped me adopt much of the physicality and presence which I express in my photos.

In addition to individual research and movement exploration, I composed the photos in collaboration with Barnard student make-up artists and photographers. Using the digital skills I acquired and inspired by our discussions of artistic collaborations at the International Center for Photography, my project invites the viewer to engage in a visual and verbal dialogue with me through poetry and images.

we need a god who bleeds

Make-up: Annya Serkovic
Photo credit: Anta Touray
A poem inspired by Ntozake Shange’s “we need a god who bleeds”

we need a god who bleeds now

a god of flesh & blood

with the fragility to feel

a paper cut’s sting


we need a god who bleeds now

a god who sweats blood from her brow

at the sight of injustice in our courts

at the sound of Earth’s vengeance against the

negligence of our land

at the smell of bodies burning unnoticed in the



we need a god who bleeds now

in life’s cycle of ruin & renewal

who spreads her lunar vulva &

showers us in shades of scarlet

who’s battered breasts flow rivers of Life,

bearing new out of old,

love out of pain,

light out of the shadows,

pearls out of ashes & sand


like our mothers bleeding

the planet is heaving / mourning our ignorance

the moon tugs the seas

the rivers spill into the oceans

to hold her / to hold her

embrace swelling hills

do not look at me

with pity or eyes full with condolences

i am not wounded // i am bleeding to life

we need a god who bleeds now

whose wounds are not the end of anything

but are the beginning of all Living things

let her be born

Make-up: Valerie Jaharis
Photo credit: Valerie Jaharis
Poem inspired by Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf”

let the blk gurl prophesy

to dry bones:

  come / breath / from the four winds  

sing her songs & sighs

to life

she’s been dead so long

closed in silence so long

she doesn’t know the sound

of her own voice

let her be born

let her be born

& handled warmly


Make-up: Simone Folasayo Ige
Photo credit: Yemisi Olorunwunmi
Poem inspired by Ntozake Shange’s Spell #7




birth to

a child







Make-up: Valerie Jaharis
Photo credit: Valerie Jaharis
Selected lines from Audre Lorde’s poem “Winds of the Orishas”

     i will become

       myself an


    warning winds

       announce us

        living as Oya,

   Oya my sister         

my daughter

dance is

Make-up: Annya Serkovic
Photo credit: Anta Touray

Dance is : survival :: life :: death

  war / peace / breath

  change / fire,  

earth, water & wind

Gestures emit

      // energies

  Contractions //

    produce reactions

Bodies are vessels

of ancestors’ spirits

The generations of my own ::

being past / present / future

reside in this


the consummation of self-love

Make-up: Simone Folasayo Ige
Photo credit: Yemisi Olorunwunmi
Poem from Ntozake Shange “i found god in myself”


   i found god in myself

    and i loved her

       i loved her fiercely

oshun’s cackle

Make-up: Valerie Jaharis
Photo credit: Valerie Jaharis

dare do // harm

her cackle will

cut // you

embodied knowledge // carnal intellectuality

Make-up: Annya Serkovic
Photo credit: Anta Touray

:: carnal :: knowledge :: carnal ::

:: embodied :: carnal :: embodied ::

:: knowledge :: intellect :: intellectual ::

:: embodied knowledge :: intellect ::

:: carnal intellectual ::

:: embodied intellectuality :: carnal ::

:: intellect :: carnal knowledge ::

:: carnal intellectuality::

daughters of Shange

Make-up: Simone Folasayo Ige
Photo credit: Yemisi Olorunwunmi

   Daughter dear :: in all Your splendor & glory

You have mothered many Daughters

   Your words have watered seeds

neglected in the sunless soil

   of little girls’ hearts

Mother Shange ::

   You have taught me some truths are unspoken

some knowledge is unwritten :: that the

   deepest understanding is in the

marrow of our bones

   & thickness of our blood :: that resolution is in

gesture & breath :: renewal comes with

   inhaling & closure with exhaling

rather than resisting the tide

   i now yield to the moon’s

magnetic pull :: let

   my body speak

allow myself to weep :: give permission

   the beasts of the seas within me :: to

emerge :: i have emerged &

   am emerging as do all

Daughters of Shange

View the original publication http://bcrw.barnard.edu/digitalshange/projects/portfolio/a-daughters-cosmography/.

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