Solange's epic Guggenhaim gig really is the gift that keeps on giving.
Before the singer's performance last weekend, the Red Bull Music Academy festival (the kind folks behind the whole thing) asked Pakistani photographer Seher Sikander to create a conceptual project connecting Solange and her audience together.
Inspired by Solange's a seat at the table album, and in celebration of her performance piece at the Guggenheim, Sikander invited 61 black women to her studio apartment in New York. She took polaroids of a broad range of women (with diverse backgrounds), glued them to the pages of a book and asked each one what they'd like to write next to their picture. The collection, titled Testimonies From the Table, was dedicated and then given to Solange after her show.
The resulting stories are a mix of inspiring, horrifying, uncomfortable and truly beautiful to read.
'To love myself threatens the American lifestyle,' says 28-year-old Cleopatra, verging on almost poetic. 'I am forced to live in rough waters, so I find refuge in the calm deep below.'
Many talk about the challenges of living in a world that appears to work against them, like 31-year-old Niama's entry: 'I find that people (generally white people) often ask "What are you doing here?" when I'm in a place a young, brilliant, fly black woman isn't "expected" to be. My response is usually, "Living my best life, you?!" with a massive – if unbothered – smile.'
The handwritten statements repeatedly demonstrate a steely determination to remain strong and feel beautiful, despite experiencing racism from a young age.
Calandra tells a tale that's stuck with her for nearly 30 years: "When I was fifteen, a young Caucasian boy repeatedly shouted 'ugly black girl' at me as I walked by. It struck me in my chest that day: the colour of my skin may "speak" for me before I can utter a sound—and may cause pain."
Many of the topics written about Solange addresses in her album. "I think it's one thing that Solange got long-overdue affirmations from the industry that had been shunning her for a long time," Sikandar said told The Cut, "but I think it's another thing to have your work affirmed and the resonance reflected back to you from the community you're trying to reach and who your work is for."
Sikander's aim is not for people to simply look at these pictures, or quickly flick through, but to really engage and consider them. As she says: 'For black women, my hope is that they're able to see themselves in some way, some part in the project.'
You can check out the full book online here.